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  • De vita spirituali: San Vicente Ferrer, Cardinal Cisneros, and Fifteenth-Century Devotional Practices in Castilla
  • Taryn E. L. Chubb

Gonzalo Jiménez de Cisneros, Franciscan friar, confessor to Queen Isabella, Archbishop of Toledo, and Spanish Cardinal, has long been known as a great collector and patron of both manuscripts and printed books. In 1510, he commissioned a Castilian edition of Vicente Ferrer’s Treatise on the Spiritual Life, printing it alongside the Book of Angela of Foligno and the Rule of St. Clare (Huerga, “La Edición Cisneriana” 298). Although several scholars have written about Cisneros’ edition of the treatise, most of them, including Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Alvar Gómez de Castro, Alvaro Huerga, Erika Rummel, and Pedro Sainz Rodríguez, regard it as part of a larger collection of mystical writings that the Cardinal commissioned to be printed. There is little consideration of whether or not it might be of particular significance that Cisneros commissioned a text written by a fellow Spanish mendicant, the Dominican Vicente Ferrer, a native of Valencia who had been canonized [End Page 93] only a few decades earlier in 1455.1 Can this commission be explained by simply mentioning that Cisneros gathered the writings of mystics to include in a collection of devotional texts, or is there more to the relationship between the two mendicants that has yet to be explored?2 How did Cisneros intend for his copy of the treatise to be used? And, finally, what might this commission tell us about the relationship between the Franciscan Cardinal and the Dominican saint?

The Treatise on the Spiritual Life was probably written sometime between 1394 and 1407, although most recent scholarship favors a date in the latter half of this range (Robles, Obras 296). Originally, the text was titled Tractatus de vita et instructio pie in Christo vivere et in spirituali vita proficere volentium, but it was often shortened to Tractatus de vita spirituali or De vita spirituali. It was also published under the Castilian titles Tractado de la vida espiritual and Tractado del bienaventurado sant Vincente: de la vida e instrucción espiritual que deben tener los religiosos e personas devotas, the title given to Cisneros’ 1510 edition (Huerga, “La Edición Cisneriana” 298; Robles, Obras 296). Vicente Ferrer’s name does not appear anywhere in the early versions of the text and it is not mentioned in either the records related to his canonization or in any of his early biographies. Later writers, however, list the treatise among Vicente Ferrer’s published works and by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, he is consistently identified as the author of the text in both biographies and in published copies of the treatise itself (Robles, Obras 293–94). [End Page 94]

Although it may be impossible to know the exact date of the text’s original publication or whether or not Vicente Ferrer was, indeed, the author, it is clear that by the end of the sixteenth century, people (apparently including Cisneros, whose copy is specifically attributed to Vicente Ferrer in the prologue) believed that it was originally written by the Dominican saint at the end of the fourteenth century or the beginning of the fifteenth. There is certainly evidence that the author was Dominican, particularly in the use of the order’s constitution as a source for the treatise. Given the probable dating of the original work to the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century, it is reasonable to attribute it to Vicente Ferrer, who was one of the most prolific authors of religious texts on the peninsula during that period and who was also a Dominican friar. Furthermore, I argue that the association of the text with the recently canonized saint was crucial to its popularity and reception at the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth.

Adolfo Robles documents 60 complete extant copies and one fragment of the treatise published between 1493 and 1981 in his Obras y Escritos de San Vicente Ferrer. Of these, two date to the fifteenth century and 19 were produced during the sixteenth, the highest number of copies published in a single century. The sixteenth-century...


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