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  • 'An liceat cum Iudeis participare' A consilium of Giovanni of Capestrano
  • Filippo Sedda (bio)

To ensure that the perfidious Jews and their accomplices, defenders and supporters, do not seek their own frivolous exception from the burdens of the statutes of the church or the abrogation of laws, it has been deemed expedient, by the approval and confirmation of recommendations, to extend the commission of the devout friar Giovanni of Capestrano, which he has with regard to the conduct of the Jews and the renewal and confirmation of the regulations of the church concerning the Jews issued by the lord Pope Nicholas IV (sic!), the tenor of which is the following.1

These words in an incunable edition containing a Tractatus de Iudeorum et Christianorum communione et conversatione, which in all probability is from the hand of Giovanni of Capestrano,2 introduce the apostolic letter Suger gregem Dominicum from 23 June 1447, with which Nicholas V appointed the Observant friar minor Giovanni of Capestrano as [End Page 145] executor of ecclesiastical laws concerning the cohabitation of Jews and Christians.

The tenor of this apostolic letter presents a kind of summa iuris Iudaici, in other words, a compendium of the canonical requirements on how to regulate matters of socializing and cohabitation between Jews and Christians. Control over these canonical and civil dispositions concerning the Jews is entrusted directly, and with full powers, to Giovanni of Capestrano, who has been asked to 'inquire, admonish, exhort, and solicit princes and prelates and lords, both ecclesiastical and secular' ('inquirendi, admonendi, exortandi et sollicitandi principes et prelatos ac dominos tam ecclesiasticos quam seculares'). He is the executor general of such laws, and he is the gate-keeper of the societas Christiana, who watches over the adherence to the rules of a cohabitation between two worlds that, while different, are in fact not separated.3 The legislation highlights a strict separation between Jews and Christians, as an anticipatory move towards the physical and geographical segregation that would become reality only in the sixteenth century. Precisely the theme of the legitimacy of Jewish participation in Christian society is the question to which Giovanni had to respond in an interesting legal brief, written by the same friar in one of the manuscripts in the Capestrano convent that has remained inedited until now. Among the salient examples that the friar-lawyer brings to bear on this question is that of Jewish doctors, an example he would use again almost in its entirety in the treatise De conscentia serenanda, also known as the Speculum conscientiae.4 [End Page 146]

This contribution aims to provide an edition of this legal brief of Giovanni of Capestrano, and to place the brief in proper context, both with regard to the manuscript sources that transmit it, and with regard to the other works of our friar from Capestrano. The intent is to add another stone to the mosaic of a sensitive topic: the separation and segregation of Jews from Christians in the fifteenth century.5

The Manuscript

Manuscript Capestrano, Convento San Francesco, ms. 7 (ACAP 7) is a tangled miscellany that was part of friar Giovanni's library, and that contains various materials of a legal character. It was described by Aniceto Chiappini,6 but I offer a more detailed description here. It is a parchment and paper manuscript from the fifteenth century, measuring 250 x 195 mm, and with various foliations: an original foliation in the second codicological unit, and a modern pencil foliation on the top right of the recto folios, but interrupted and with several errors. The manuscript is written by several hands, including that of Giovanni of Capestrano, and 'with a nice binding with boards covered with cow's leather, closing clasps and decorated corner pieces on which is written in German: Maria hilf uns'.7 The manuscript consists of 12 quires with a total of I + 193 + II folios,8 clearly organized in three well-delineated codicological units:

  • A. ff. 1-15: An eight-bifolio quire with the first and the central bifolios in parchment. The final leaf of the quire has been cropped. This quire once was contained in another parchment bifolium, of which only the first folio remains...


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