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THE EPISTLE OF MERLIN ON THE POPES: A NEW SOURCE ON THE LATE MEDIEVAL NOTION OF THE ANGEL POPE By KATELYN MESLER Lege, lege capitulum mei libelli veteris Merlini. — Cola di Rienzo to Charles IV, 1350 "Two angels shall lead him," predicts The Prophecy of the True Emperor, offering signs by which the people will recognize a foreordained holy leader, sent to restore a divided, besieged, and weakened Christendom. Although this prophecy, which was translated from Greek into Latin in the second half of the thirteenth century, spoke only of an emperor, western Christians soon came to ignore or even change the word "emperor," preferring to read the text as a prophecy concerning the papacy.1 The peculiar reception of that prophecy cannot be understood apart from a crucial conceptual development that occurred in Italy during the years surrounding the turn of the fourteenth century. Whereas many thirteenth-century hopes and fears of the future were expressed through the medium of prophetic writings, these texts mainly emphasized the influence of the emperor and other secular rulers on the future course of history, for better or for worse. However, the election of the hermit Peter of Murrone as Pope Celestine V in 1294 offered unprecedented hope — especially among groups of Spiritual Franciscans — that the papacy would become the vehicle of social, moral, and spiritual reform. So great the hope, so great the disillusionment, for Celestine stepped down a few months later. He was replaced and imprisoned by Boniface VIII (r. 1294-1303), who shared none of his predecessor's sympathy for the Spiri1 Katelyn Mesler, "Imperial Prophecy and Papal Crisis: The Latin Reception of The Prophecy of the True Emperor," Rivista di storia della Chiesa in Italia 61 (2007): 371-415, quoted from lines 104-5 of the edition (413-14). I am grateful to Robert Lerner, Richard Kieckhefer, Luca Potestà, and Sylvain Pirón for their invaluable assistance throughout this project. I would also like to thank Paul Dutton, David Burr. Alexander Patschovsky, and Ron Musto, who lent their particular expertise on certain points; Thomas Madden and Jesse Njus. who helped me access materials that were crucial for this project; and the reviewer for Traditio, who offered helpful suggestions. I am also grateful for comments received from members of the international workgroup on prophecy during our annual conferences in Modena (2008) and Budapest (2009). 108TRADITIO tuais or their ideals. In the wake of this turmoil was born a prophetic narrative according to which the papacy first had to be usurped by one or more wicked popes before finally being restored by a particularly virtuous one. The latter would be no ordinary pretender to the throne of Peter, subject to the political machinations of cardinals and barons, for he would be elected by divine providence and crowned by an angel (Fig. 1). Thus originated the concept of the angel pope, the pastor angelicus, which was to remain a powerful image of dissent and reform in the following centuries. The rather complex idea of the angel pope, however, did not derive solely from the Celestine-Boniface affair. Rather, it was built on existing traditions of imperial prophecy and papal reform, and it developed through the literary production of papal prophecies that responded to contemporary crises. When Telesforus of Cosenza, one of the most widely read prophetic writers of the late Middle Ages, turned to the question of the angel pope, he cited a common cluster of texts that formed the basis of the narrative: the pseudo-Joachite Liber de Flore, a set of pope prophecies attributed to Merlin, the Horoscopus, and a set of illustrated pope prophecies designated by the incipit Genus nequam. Despite the prevalence of the notion of the angel pope in the prophetic literature of the late Middle Ages, to date only one of these four important texts, the Genus nequam set, has been edited.3 Further research and editions of the Horoscopus and the Liber de Flore are great desiderata in the field, but Merlin's prophecies on the popes, although known by name, have never even been studied, for they have hitherto remained unidentified. In fact, they remained a mystery for nearly eighty years after Herbert Grundmann...


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