Monday, October 14, 2019

"L'Antipapa Veneziano" by Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose - Venice vs. Rome -The Battle Between Church and State

Galileo displays his telescope to Doge Leonardo Dona and the Venetian Senate (painting by HJ Detouche, c. 1754)
(Venice, Italy) When Galileo Galilee first invented his telescope back in 1609, within 24 hours he was with Doge Leonardo Donà and his advisors demonstrating his new invention at the top of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco in Venice, brought there by Fra Paolo Sarpi, the cutting edge Venetian theologian and humanist. As Doge Donà gazed at the ships far away on the Adriatic sea, Galileo emphasized the tactical advantages of being able to see enemy ships hours sooner than with the naked eye.

Galileo would go on to discover the moons of Jupiter and observe the rings of Saturn. His discoveries confirmed the Copernican theory that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun. This put him in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, who taught that the Earth was the center of the universe. He was condemned for heresy, and lived out his days under house arrest. Unbelievably, it wasn't until 1992 that the Church admitted its treatment of Galileo had been wrong. 

This is an example of the dark power the papal authority had over Catholic Europe during the time of Doge Leonardo Donà.

Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose at Ateneo Veneto - Photo: Cat Bauer
Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose presented his book L'Antipapa Veneziano (The Venetian Anti-Pope) about his ancestor, Leonardo Donà (1536-1612), the 90th Doge of Venice, to a packed house at Ateneo Veneto on Thursday, October 10th, supported by authors Ario Gervasutti and Walter Mariotti. Doge Donà was the leader of the Republic of Venice from January 10, 1606 until his death on July 16, 1612. During his rule, the battle between Church and State came roaring to a head.


Under Donà's predecessor, Doge Marino Grimani, two clerics had been tried, convicted and imprisoned in Venice for crimes such as rape, fraud and murder. This was a shock to the system, as previously members of the clergy had always had Vatican immunity. Pope Paul V declared that the clergy were outside the jurisdiction of the Venetian Republic, and demanded that the prisoners be handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities, who would take whatever action they deemed appropriate. Venice knew that if they released the prisoners to the jurisdiction of the Vatican, their crimes would go unpunished.

Venice had also challenged the Holy See by passing a law restricting Church building -- in a small island city like Venice there were already numerous ecclesiastical buildings, which paid no tax -- there was room for no more -- but Pope Paul V wanted the law repealed. During the fall of 1605, these arguments raged on, growing exceedingly more heated as the year drew to an end.


Doge Grimani died in 1605 on Christmas day, the same day that a missive from Pope Paul V arrived. Leonardo Donà was elected Doge on January 10th. In addition to being a seasoned diplomat, Donà was part of a group of scientific thinkers who met regularly in Venice, whose members also included Galileo and Fra Paolo Sarpi. Even though he was a Catholic prelate, Sarpi was a firm believer in the separation between Church and State. Sarpi was appointed official counselor to the Venetian Senate, and drafted the replies to the papal briefs.

Both sides refused to budge. Pope Paul V was outraged, and called Venice's actions heresy. The Holy See ordered Venice to hand over the clerics or face banishment. They were given 24 days to submit or the Pope would excommunicate La Serenissima.

Venice doubled down. They threw out the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's Ambassador to Venice. Doge Donà retorted that as Doge of Venice, in temporal affairs he recognized no superior power except the Divine Majesty itself and told all the patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, vicars, abbots and priors throughout the territory of the Republic to continue to celebrate the Mass. On Sarpi's advice, Donà banished all the Jesuits, Theatines and Capuchins from the Republic of Venice, declaring: "We ignore your excommunication: it is nothing to us."

Venice had been excommunicated in the past. This time she was challenging the Holy See's authority in secular matters. In spiritual matters, Venice wanted to remain part of the Church. Paolo Sarpi wrote countless letters and held endless debates, defining the boundaries between what fell under celestial matters of the Church, and what were secular matters of the State. He was called before the Inquisition, but refused to appear.

The clergy in Venetian territory continued to celebrate Mass; the churches were teeming with more worshipers than ever. Other nations began taking sides. It was decided that France would mediate. Eventually, Venice agreed to release the two clerics to the French Ambassador, but reserved the right to judge and punish them. They refused to let the Jesuits return. Finally, Pope Paul V lifted the Interdict. Venice, under Doge Donà, had won the battle between Church and State. It was the last Interdict in the history of the Church.

L'Antipapa Veneziano by Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose published by Giunti Editore
On October 25, 1607, Paolo Sarpi was stabbed three times, but survived the attack. The would-be assassins fled to Rome, where they moved openly and freely, and were never charged. Two more attempts were made on his life, which he also survived. Sarpi died in his own bed on January 15, 1623. His last words were "Esto Perpetua" -- "may she endure forever," referring to the Republic of Venice. These words were recalled in an 1820 letter by John Adams to Thomas Jefferson when Adams wrote "I wish as devoutly as Father Paul for the preservation of our vast American empire and our free institutions."

On July 16, 1612, Doge Leonardo Donà collapsed during a heated debate in the Collegio, the main executive body of the Republic of Venice, and died an hour later at the age of 76.

Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose signing L'Antipapa Veneziano - Photo: Cat Bauer
That's a brief part of the story. For the rest, we'll have to read the book. The Donà family can trace its origins back to the beginnings of Venice. It is astounding that members of the noble family still exist today, and that one of them has written a book about his distinct ancestor. Right now, L'Antipapa Veneziano, published by Giunti Editore, is only available in Italian. I am looking forward to reading the English edition when it comes out and learning more about the life of Doge Leonardo Donà and the critical times in which he lived. Bravo Gianmaria!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. When Galileo Galilee first invented his telescope back in 1609, within 24 hours he was with Doge Leonardo Donà and his advisors demonstrating his new invention at the top of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco in Venice, brought there by Fra Paolo Sarpi, the cutting edge Venetian theologian and humanist.