Francesco da Montepulciano Sermon Florence 1513

Sermon of Francesco da Montepulciano (1476-1513)

(Florence, Santa Croce, 18 December 1513)

Prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap

The sermon is translated from the version found in Michele Londone, I segni della fine: Storia di un predicatore nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Viella, Roma, 2021, pages 215-228 (Kindle edition).


Francesco da Montepulciano (1476-1513) emerges from the pages of the early Capuchin chroniclers as the precursor heralding the Capuchin reform. According to Londone, Francesco is perceived as a figure that sits between John the Baptist, the precursor par excellence, and Moses, who sees the promised land without entering in. Amongst the early Capuchin historiographers this serves an apologetical function of establishing a clear identity for the Order. The shadow of Ochino’s apostasy has the friars seeking to construct an unbroken link back to the founder, Francis of Assisi.[1]

The first chronicler of the Capuchin Order, Mario Fabiani da Mercato Sarceno (c. 1512-1581), who was elected General Minister in 1567, gives Francesco da Montepulciano a very brief but positive mention, calling him a most fervent preacher and promotor of the reform amongst the Conventual friars.[2] The second chronicler of the Order, Bernardino da Colpetrazzo, promotes Francesco da Montepulciano as the last link in the long line of reforms within the Franciscan tradition. Francesco is the herald in the sixth and last attempt at reform before the seventh,[3] the bella e santa riforma that gives fruit to the Capuchin friars.

Francesco in both his attempt at reform of the Conventual friars and in his preaching helps to contextualise the atmosphere in which the Capuchin reform was born. While most early friars came by way of the attempts at reform among the Observants, similar attempts at reform were taking place throughout Europe among lay people, religious and diocesan clergy. Amid the decadence of the Church, the Spirit of God was fermenting an atmosphere of reform amongst his people. For more detail go to The Capuchin reform: what’s in a name?

The spirit of the renaissance period was a return to the sources, both in the humanities and in revelation, especially to the scriptures and early Christian writers. For more detail go to Kerygmatic elements of the Capuchin reform. Francesco fleshes this out in his life and preaching from the little we can glean about him.

The early reforms would often shipwreck on the reef of obedience. The Capuchin Constitutions will lay the foundation for obedience in the example of Christ himself as lived and taught by St Francis:

101. According to the teaching of Christ our humble Lord, Christian superiors should not be like the gentile princes who aggrandize themselves with their rank. Instead let them abase themselves according to the greater burden they carry. They should also bear in mind that where the other friars must obey their superiors, the superiors have to obey all the friars. For the Chapter that elected them imposed on them under obedience to serve and minister to the friars in all their needs, especially their spiritual needs, according to the example of Christ who came to serve and minister to us and to lay down His own life for us. Therefore we exhort all superiors to be ministers and servants of all their friars. They will do this if, according to the teaching of the Seraphic Father, they minister to those subject to them spirit and life by teaching and example.

Francesco da Montepulciano always remained in obedience. He was entrusted with the reform of the Conventuals by General Minister Egidio (in office between 1500 and 1506). When this reform fell apart at the 1506 General Chapter, with an obedience from the new General Minister, Francesco retreated to a hermitage in Puglia. After several years he leaves the hermitage to begin preaching. The importance of obedience in his life and in the Christian life in general is stated clearly in paragraph 20 below of his preaching in Florence:

20. And further I give you an utterance, that I am a friar of Saint Francis: if I did not have this burden of obedience, I would go and hide myself in a cleft in the rock, and you would not be hearing me today in Florence. But for now I cannot, for God’s will must be done. If he wants me to flee, I will flee; if he wants me to be found by the tribulation, let it be in the name of God. I have given all of myself into his hands, his will be done. But if it were up to me, I would not be here today.

The preaching style of Francesco resonates with the early Capuchin preaching: evangelical, that is, based in the scriptures, quoting the scripture text in Latin but then paraphrasing it into the vulgar in applications that spoke to the heart of the people, with the use of imagery and context they were familiar with (e.g. par. 12 where a crack in local bell is referenced); revealing the spiritual meaning of the text (e.g. par. 23); mixing in references demonstrating that he, like the early Capuchin preachers, was well educated and steeped in the spirit of the renaissance, as expressed in the opening paragraph of the sermon below where Scylla and Charybdis are referenced in a dramatic way; engaging the people as interlocutors by appealing to different groups of listeners: women in general (e.g. par. 7, 9, 25); breastfeeding women (e.g. par. 24,30); those men who have only come out of curiosity (e.g. par. 27); presuming to ask the questions they have and then answering them (e.g. par. 21, 22, 23, 37); dramatic gestures to evoke an emotional response among the listeners, such as in the final paragraph where Francesco kneels down and begins to cry our “mercy” repeatedly, and the people join in his cry for mercy.

On 18 December 1513 in Florence, Francesco preaches the sermon translated below from the pulpit of Santa Croce. He dies in Florence on the last day of that same year and was buried in Santa Croce. Several decades later, some of his companions enter into the beautiful and holy reform. Liberale da Colle Val d’Elsa took on the Franciscan habit as a Conventual at 12 years of age, after listening to a sermon of Francesco preached at Barberino (in the Val d’Esla), then years later he enters the Capuchin reform. Bonaventura Fei did the same and in 1532, returned to the friary of Maddelena, near Montepulciano, that had been recently taken over by the Capuchins. Bonaventura had previously lived in this same friary along with Francesco.[4]

Francesco da Montepulciano, Sermon

(Florence, Santa Croce, 18 December 1513)

1. When the sea is disturbed, when the waves roar as in battle, and all things are turned upside down, when the deep waters agitate and bring the big fish to the surface, where they find no place where they can rest; when the squally seas are so fierce that there is no ship or galley that dares to plough the sea or go anywhere, but everything is dangerous and everything has become like Scylla and Charybdis,[5] then people will flee without looking back, fearing that the greatness of the waves will pass beyond their set limits and everything will founder, be shattered and ruined. When the clouds have obscured the sky, and everything is made gloomy, when the thunderbolts strike the trees, break down the towers, and smash the palaces; when the lightning bolts are blazing such that there seems to be a continual light in the darkness; when everything is darkened, then there will be no one who will dare to show themselves in any place, then everyone will flee, searching for hidden places, seeking out caves, everyone hiding themselves in some secluded and solitary place because of the great fear they both feel and see around them. When one sees above the waves serpents sucking up the waters, and then from the air throwing the fish down on the darkened earth, then it will be of not help for birds to be under the foliage of trees or under branches, it will be useless for people to be under roof in houses, for the fury and the tempest will shatter all things, and everything will be destroy, all shattered, such that doves and other birds will be found dead where they have been struck, and deer and stag and other large beasts will be found stricken, and all will be found lying on the ground, having perished.[6]

2. O how many men will believe themselves to be safe by fleeing under some shelter or standing under some tree trunk, and, despite this, the thunderbolt strikes, shears and kills them! When the earth opens up and everything is shaken, it pulls the tree with him into the fissure, along with lakes and ponds, and well supported houses, the earth swallows up everything, then people will tremble, everyone will be lost, of those who hear and see these things it will make the hair on their heads stand on end, they will become like pillars of salt, they will lose their minds. And then it will do no good to say, “he is a great master”, “he is strong”, “he is brave”, “he is full of spirit”, because each one will be so frightened at heart that the hairs on their scalp will so stand on end that it will raise their caps, such will the very limbs of each one be unnerved.

3. Now, if the natural tempests of the world can so frighten people that they lack strength, tell me, what do you think will be the terror, the din, the fury of the wrath of God, that, when his anger has been spent, will have released portents and wonders against the creature who has rebelled against him? Is there a man who could withstand the thunderbolt from such a strong crossbow? What man is there that can hold out against a huge fierce fire when it is kindled in the dried fodder and has the wind blowing hard? Who has that fierceness that when he encounters a lion enraged with hunger can defend himself such that he is not dismembered and completely torn apart? Well then, in the tempests and thunderbolts that come from the left hand of God, one could say that Lucifer has been unleashed and left free [Rev 20:7]; with God’s mercy being restrained, and his wrath allowed to flow, who will be able to resist? Is there anyone who will be able to hold out, when the wrath of his fury sets ablaze and burns heaven and earth?

4. Now I lack strength, my tongue sticks to my palate, my voice fails me, considering the fear of God’s horrendous punishment; considering that from the throne of his majesty he has sworn that he wants to destroy his creation. He wants to burn and smash all things; he does not want to leave even a leaf or straw. Because man is not willing to convert out of love, God wants to turn him back by force! However, as it says in Saint Matthew: Cum videritis abhominationem desolationis que dicta est a Daniele propheta stantem in loco sancto, qui legit intelligat. Tunc qui in Iudea sunt fugiant ad montes. Erit enim tunc tribulatio magna, qualis non fuit ab initio mundi usque modo [Mt 24: 14-16; 21],[7] that is: When you see the abomination sitting in a holy place, whoever can understand it. Flee from Judea, flee to the mountains, [8] which will be as great tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the world until now.

5. Therefore, I want that my tongue be able to declare to you what and how much this tribulation is, and that the Lord may give me a strong heart that I may say it openly, so that no one may have any excuse for the future, and say: “I did not understand”,[9] or “I have been deceived”, and that everyone may understand everything directly and openly. For this reason, with all our affection, with all our heart, let us have recourse to our most holy Mother, and let us obtain this grace from her and from our Lord, and let us all kneel, if not with our bodies, at least with our minds, and let us greet her by saying: Ave Maria etc.[10]

6. Cum videritis abhominationem desolationis[11] etc. This is the Gospel we have proclaimed this morning. Saint Matthew says, or rather our blessed Lord Jesus: When you see the abomination in the holy place, which Daniel the prophet said, qui legit intelligat, let the reader understand, that is, he who has the spirit understands. Tunc qui in Iudea sunt, fugiant ad montes. Then, said the Saviour, when you see this abomination in Judea in the holy place, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, flee early, not late, but disperse. Et qui est in tecto non descendat tolere aliquid de domo sua: and whoever is on the housetop do not descend to take even a small thing from his house. Et qui est in agro non revertatur tollere tunicam suam: and whoever is in the field working and has left his cloak or anything else in the house, do not return for it, but flee quickly. Ve autem pregnantibus et nutrientibus illis diebus: woe to the women who at that time will be pregnant and nursing their children.

7. Listen here, my mother, open your eyes, women.[12] Woe to you, says here the Gospel: this touches you more than anyone else. Woe to pregnant women, for they shall not be able to flee because of their pregnancy; woe to them that are breast-feeding: for they cannot leave their children, they shall not be able to flee. Woe, I say, to women, for there shall come upon you that which you do not believe! Men shall seek to save their lives, and women shall seek to save their lives and honour but, as such, not all the women shall be able to flee for their lives.

8. Orate autem, ut non fiat fuga in hieme, that is: pray to God that it is not winter when the tribulations arrive and you then must flee, when everything is full of mud, the weather is dreadful and full of every type of impediment. And pray again to God that it be not the Sabbath day.

9. And so speak to me a little, O my mother: if it were necessary for you to flee, how are you going to do it, are you fit to walk? You must leave your garments and your adornments. Do you not think so? No? The tribulation will be immense! Erit tunc tribulatio magna qualis non fuit ab initio mundi usque modo neque fiet: and it will be such, this tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now. Read as many books as you like and as many stories as you can find: you will never find one in the world like this. Et nisi breviati fuissent dies illi, non fieret salva omnis caro, that is: if those days were not shortened, no one would be saved. Sed propter electos breviabuntur dies illi: but, for love of the elect, they will be shortened.

10. It will be, I say, the greatest tribulation in all of Christianity. And this is not that of Antichrist, because that will be greater and more universal throughout the world, and this is a figure of that. Our Lord has compassion on our frailty, and will shorten it, because if it lasted longer, your faith in Christ would be lost. Always hold to this above all: keep it in mind, be prudent. And si quis vobis dixerit “ecce hic Christus aut ilic”, nolite credere, that is, if anyone says to you “Christ is on this side or on that side”, do not believe it. And if anyone should say to you “est in deserto” [he is in the wilderness], do not believe him. And if anyone should say to you “est in penetralibus domus” [he is in the inner room], say “it is not true”. Surgent enim pseudochrists and pseudoprophets: false Christians and false prophets will arise. And yet I say unto you: hold to this above all, keep it in mind, be not deceived. For there will be signs and wonders ita ut in errorem inducantur, si fieri potest, etiam electi; indeed if it were possible, even the elect of God would be led astray. And you will say: “can the elect of God be lost?[13] No, they cannot be lost; but ecce predissi vobis: behold, I have told you beforehand, so that you cannot say “I did not know”.[14]

11. So says Christ here to the Jews, and I also say to you in this regard: convert to God, understand the truth that I say to you. Otherwise, woe to you! I, as you know, have made you pray many times[15] already that God would make me speak the truth as he wills and according to his pleasure; that if I should say anything that was not God’s will, that he should tie up my tongue in my mouth, or that he should do me some harm so that I should not say it. Thus, I pronounce and reaffirm: keep this well in mind, so that afterwards you do not say, “he said nothing to me about it”. I tell you the truth clearly and openly, so that you then have no excuse if you do not convert. I announced to you from the beginning that your city of Florence was sentenced to burn. Now you have heard.

12. This morning I found myself in danger of death. I confessed this morning: I pray that God will make me tell you his will and nothing else. I have no desire to say anything against God nor outside his will. May God send me to my death first! And therefore Florence, if I have told you the truth and the sentence, it is God’s will. Do not wait to be told more clearly. Wait for no more prophets: the prophets have come and gone. I said the other day about your bell being cracked, the chime is gone, and only the sound remains.[16] Keep well in mind and note what I say to you, that this tribulation will be very great and soon, et quod res est in ianuis [it is at the door]; but it is not yet that of Antichrist, that will come at the end of the world and throughout the world. This will be the figure of that: this will take form within Christianity, and especially in Italy and Tuscany, and principally in the city of Rome.[17]

13. I tell you clearly. I have never known how to pretend or feign – for that I thank God and the Virgin Mary and Saint Francis – nor do I want to learn how. Now you take the whole of Scripture and the things that are foretold in it: you will find that they are never perfectly understood except when they have been fulfilled. In many places the Scripture speaks of Christ before he came, but it is only after he has come that they are better understood. The prophet Daniel predicted the coming of Christ by the number of weeks but only after were then understood better, because they were referring to weeks of years [Dan 9:24]. In the same way, I do not tell you clearly and definitely the time, because this is not granted to me; but I tell you that someone who lives to ninety years old may see it.[18] Keep this well in mind what I say to you, keep it well in mind: I am speaking to you. I am not speaking to your children nor to your grandchildren, I say this to you, keep this well in mind! Now we come to the text of our Gospel.

14. So, it says: when you videbitis abhominationem desolationis, that is, when you see the abomination in the holy place, then tell yourself that the ruin is near, flee from Judea to the mountains. The abomination that was placed in Judea in the holy place, that is, in the Jerusalem temple, was after Christ had come. Aelius Hadrian the Emperor had the statue placed in the temple and worshipped, and so the abomination was made and placed in the holy place.[19] Therefore Christ said: when you see the idol placed in the holy and principal place, where more than any other place one must and adore and be just, then you will say that it is a sign that the city must be destroyed. So, when you see these signs which I shall now tell you, note these points, which are three.

15. The first sign will be when you see the King of France almost ruined and annihilated: I tell you he is the first sign of the ruin to come. The second sign will be when you see him of the house of Frederick and of the house of Aragon made emperor over nearly all: well then, I tell you that the downfall is coming. The third sign that I want to tell you is this: when you will see another pope elected by this Emperor over against the canonically elected pope, then make the sign of the cross, and go to the mountains, because then you will see the abomination standing in the holy place.

16. These are the three signs that I have given you. Well then, that will do you for now. Alas, when he who is the shadow of goodness sits in the holy place, keep this word well in mind. Keep it in mind, for it weighs heavily. God holds it in horror, nature holds it in horror. O alas, how much I suffer to know that a rebel will be installed in that place. This is the sign of the abomination of which I told you. When you see him, I tell you that it is he who will knock down, uproot, and destroy – alas, what more can I say? – and crush everything. I do not say that it is the time of Antichrist, but I speak to you of the coming tribulation, which will be the figure of that. Then last will be that which is being prefigured. Then Elijah and Enoch will come.[20]

17. Qui in Iudea sunt fugiant. It says here that when one sees the abomination, then those who are in Judea need to flee. What is this Judea? Read the Apocalypse, where John calls it Sodom and Egypt [Rev 11:8], and yet Jerusalem was not the city of Sodom, nor Egypt, but because it had similar vices to theirs. Now what for us is this Judea and this Sodom? Alas, we have it before our eyes, and there is no province in the world where this vice of sodomy abounds more than in Italy! Go to the capital: there is no other place where there is greater abomination of this vice, of greater avarice, nor of greater carnal acts. Hence it may be called Sodom and Egypt.[21]

18. Judea also means confession: where one confesses and must confess the name of God.[22] I will expound it ad litteram: when you see the abomination where the name of God should be confessed, flee to the mountains. Judea also means the one who confesses the name of God, that is, the one who is good. When you see this abomination, you who are good flee to the mountains, go into a cavern, remain there, and do not come out.[23]

19. Judea is also to be taken for the religious and their leader, that they more than others should confess the name of God. Here I speak to you by figure, and I care not that you understand me. As much as you see this abomination in them, you need to flee underground.

20. Et qui in tecto sunt, non descendant aliquid tollere de domo sua. He goes on further and says that those who are on the roof should not descend. He means ad litteram that if one could fly from roof to roof, one should do so without descending, so great will be the fury of the tribulation. O friar, shall we have no place, nor space? I say to you, there will be no refuge, because tribulation will suddenly pillage everything, he who comes will lay waste everything. Look to where there is a king left with a son.[24] That one in the Levant has become a lord over everything: there will be no remedy on any side.[25] And therefore I say to you: flee to the mountains! And further I give you an utterance, that I am a friar of Saint Francis: if I did not have this burden of obedience, I would go and hide myself in a cleft in the rock, and you would not be hearing me today in Florence. But for now I cannot, for God’s will must be done. If he wants me to flee, I will flee; if he wants me to be found by the tribulation, let it be in the name of God. I have given all of myself into his hands, his will be done. But if it were up to me, I would not be here today.

21. Furthermore: what do you say, friar? I say that the one who is on the roof is the contemplative, who has left father and mother, relatives, and everything. Let him flee and fly away, flee to the mountains, to the wilderness, do not seek consent from anyone, neither from people of esteem nor persons of state nor dignities of the world. Because that which I have said to you, cardinals, bishops, prelates, and other dignities must also do, and they shall be divided into two: keep this well in mind! And Christianity will be divided into two parts.[26] And therefore open your eyes, so that no one will deceive you. When you have seen who will be in the chair, let the contemplative man leave everything, and go away.

22. What do you say? I say again: e qui est in agro non revertatur tollere tunicam suam, that is, he who is working in the field, that is, in the vineyard of Christ. Open your eyes wide, I say to all: let each one go away, even the one who is feeling strong. I leave no one out. I say it to the cats, to the birds, to the flies. I do not even leave out dogs or cats. A holy man said: “And they will not believe anything”.[27] But in any case, know that they will not escape the hand of God. If your spirit is not strong enough to support scourging and death then leave, because one does not want to forfeit their soul for any price [Mk 8:36-37].

23. What are you saying, friar? I say again that those who are in the field, and also the pope, bishops, archbishops, fathers of families, and other leaders, do not take on more affairs and troubles, lest you be surprised by the tribulation. Go to the mountains, that is, to the doctrine of the Gospel, that is, to the doctrine of the Church, if you are not to be deceived. For he has authenticated unto himself a writing which is not true.[28] See that you are not deceived! And you, Florence, know that you will be deceived more than any other city of Italy, if you let yourself be overcome by passions! Keep it before you, keep it before you. Keep it well in mind, that you need to do.

24. Ve pregnantibus et nutrientibus. Furthermore, I say to those women who will be pregnant and breastfeeding. Now this is the women’s turn, but we need to catch our breath here, because I want these my mothers to understand me, which is necessary.

25. Ve pregnantibus. I want to turn to you, my mothers, because this concerns you: you must convert, because the devils are out of hell, and already the figure has begun. Know that when I preached this Gospel in a land, the devil appeared up there five times in the “eye” of the church. Therefore, be cautious and on your guard, because the Gospel says here: “woe to women”. Tell me, my mother, how do your legs feel for walking? For you must go to the mountains. How can you leave your little children? But I tell you absolutely: there is no other remedy but to leave everything, and to do as Ezra says in the last chapter: qui vendit quasi qui fugiat, Let him that sells be like one who will flee; let him that buys be like one who will lose; let him that does business be like one who will not make a profit; and let him that builds a house be like one who will not live in it; let him that sows be like one who will not reap; let him who plants be like one who hopes to gather nothing; them that marry, like those who will have no children.[29]

26. My mother, I know no other remedy than to say: I want to lay down my life for the love of Christ and save my soul. If you give yourself to understand that all can flee, you are mistaken. There will remain more women than men. Seven women shall seek a husband and shall not find him. Ve igitur pregnantibus, woe therefore to women who for love of their children cannot flee. And this comes about because love deceives them, and therefore many will lose their lives and also their souls. So as not to lose their little children, they will lose everything. Now seek your little children as much as you want, or seek to marry, seek magnificent dresses and your apparel. I say this to you, but you still do not believe!

27. I will not take leave until I tell you some other things. So, you men are curious and come to the sermon to hear new things, not to hear the word of God and do what you have to do. I will see you will leave your vices, if you will confess and do what I have told you.

28. Ve pregnantibus. Woe, I say to the pregnant women! Woe, woe, woe, I say to the pregnant women, who are like those who have an evil notion in their hearts, and in this way are pregnant: for this makes them submit in that way in which they should not.

29. Woe, woe, woe, I say to you, woe to you who take sides![30] And I regret to say it: Christ was crucified for us, and he was neither white nor black. Christ is not divided. False prophets are coming, and you will believe them more than me. Pay attention, I say, to Christ, not to partiality. If you have first or third Orders, do not make sects or factions for anyone. Keep in mind that these passions will drive you into the devil’s house! Leave the factions, leave the sects. O Florence, that you had never been born! I have told you other times: Popule meus, qui te dicunt beatum te seducunt [Isaiah 3: 12 O my people, they that call you blessed, the same deceive you]. And you have need, Florence, of becoming good: I do not know if you understand me.

30. Ve nutrientibus. Woe to those who are breastfeeding. Do you know who are these who are breastfeeding? They are those who, in addition to the things they already have, maintain themselves by means of force and usury and dagger. But woe to your soul![31] Ve nutrientibus means woe betide, and keep it in mind: woe, I say, to him who cultivates a good resolution to do good and does not fulfil it, but just continues to nurture it and procrastinate. I say to you: do not delay any longer. Keep well in mind what I say to you: do not delay, I say to you, to another year. I put my life at risk to tell you the truth. I do not tell you things which do not come from heaven. Do not delay, I say to you: and you must divest yourself of all affection. You must go to the mountains, find the caverns: there is no other remedy.

31. Orate autem ut non fiat fuga vostra hieme vel sabato, that is: pray to God that the time of flight may not be in winter. I do not know this, but I believe that God wills it and that it will be in the middle of that season; but keep it before you, as I keep it before myself. By this you have been warned that winter means when hearts have grown cold, when charity is lacking [Mt 24:12]. Do you not see, alas, that God has withdrawn from it? We no longer care for doing good works. We no longer care for fraternities or guilds.[32] All good deeds are forgotten; there is no more charity. Masses and offices[33] are no longer done for charity: Our Lady Simony controls everything, everyone robs. God says by way of Isaiah: Odi festivitates vestras [Am 5: 21], I hate your sacrifices and your feasts and your banquets. I find in them nothing but blood, I find in them nothing but abomination: therefore pray to God that when you are compelled to flee that charity has not grown cold in you. Alas, what times we are living in today? What are we waiting for? Where is charity towards the poor? We wait for nothing but banquets, parties and binges, and to dress ostentatiously and sumptuously. You do not want to believe this of your garments. You don’t want to leave behind your big jackets, your big capes. Leave now! in the name of Christ, or you will leave behind your body, your life and your very soul, which will be worse [Mk 8:36-37].

32. Et erit tunc tribulatio magna. Look here: we must arm ourselves, because it will be the greatest tribulation that ever was, and it will be the figure of the last that will then be for the whole world, but this one will only be for Christianity.[34] Have you never read of Caesar and his wars? Worse will be this one! Have you read those of King Xerxes, who made bridges across the sea?[35] This will be worse! Keep it well in mind, keep it well in mind. There will be wars, I tell you, from the Oceanic waters all the way to Syria, terrible battles, the greatest of tribulations. You continue to say ‘peace, peace’, then in your factions you plan everything.[36] But when you believe that everything has been determined, then all these things shall germinate war, famine, and pestilence. Understand this well what I say to you: Christ has determined to leave ten people per city, and two per mansion. The mother will search for her son and will not find him; the wife will search for her husband and will not find him; father for his son, brother for his brother, relative for relative, and will not find them.

33. I say that God wants to flatten, wants to swallow, wants to spoil everything. Blood will be everywhere, blood in the streets, blood in the rivers, they will set out in ships in blood: lakes of blood, rivers of blood! The great leaders, I tell you, will set out to sail in blood! Having seen the tribulation, having seen signs: you will see greater still. You will still see heresies, false friars, false interpretations of Scripture. I say to you, and keep it in mind, carve these words in stone: you will go three years without Masses, without sacraments; you will not find churches open, and if they are open, they will be broken and overrun. You will find no religious to minister to you the sacraments. There will be no faith or clemency among the people. Father and son will kill each other, kin against kin.[37] Understand me, and then do not say, “I did not know this”. God has sworn that he will not cease this tempest until the dregs have been drained.

34. I don’t know what to tell you: I have opened my heart and cried out as much as I can, and all the same, I am not believed: this is what you do. I say that there will not remain a tonsured cleric. They will have bishops, twofold and simple, and simple and twofold on every side, and simple on the devil’s side too.[38] The people will all be scandalised, these are going to be huge events. Two million devils will be loosed from hell.[39] See also what is being done: that things have grown worse in these eighteen years than in the past five thousand years:[40] there is no more simplicity, but malice is everywhere. I remember having heard and learnt from my father that the men went without underwear until in their thirties,[41] the women did not wear a pair of white shoes, because such were reputed to be something for a whore.[42] Go, see how it is today. O scoundrelly Florence, the women and girls have become usurers. If you don’t do what I tell you, woe to you Florence! You will cultivate much blood, so much blood that woe to you! Confess, I say, give alms, make processions, as I have told you! You don’t believe it, do you? If you don’t believe it, it’s up to you. It’s of no consequence to me.

35. Woe to the men, woe to the women, woe to those who cultivate bad thoughts in their hearts. If you will not give yourselves to God, he has already given the sentence.[43] If you do not change your ways, if you do not make confessions every month and processions as I have told you, then cut off my head if it does not go as I have told you! Make confessions and processions, and it belongs to your leaders to have this done. Otherwise, God has sworn, God has sworn, bear it in mind, and this is the third time that God has sworn to bring down palaces and ruin everything. You do not believe me. But why, why do you not believe me? You think that God is coming to put a royal crown on your heads. Women, you think the Lord is going to make you Empresses. I say this to you, if you do not convert, if some person does not mediate between us and God, woe betide you!

36. I said unto you the other day, and bear it well in mind, so I say it to you again, that by that measure you measure out to others, you shall be measured [Matthew 7:2].[44] If you steal, youvshall be robbed; if you murder, you shall be murdered; if you kill, you shall be killed; if you take factious sides, you shall be divided. This sentence is determined. Await yet for Christ, await yet for Christ: and there is not time. Repent, I say, and understand this word which I say to you absolutely: that God has already given the sword into the hands of someone, it is sharped on both sides, wo shall pass through mountains, until there are only corpses, since God has said, “Go, go! And have no respect for anyone, neither for friars nor priests, nor for women or children.” And his horses have hooves of stone, to go everywhere. I say unto you, that the cast of the bell has been made, the metal has been poured, and there is nothing left to do but remove the spigot, and all will be done. He is coming, and he will be seeking neither state nor honour, but will only seek to knock down and ruin all things. Make ready, make ready, make ready!

37. Moving on: friar, how is it going to be? As much hatred, discord as there ever has been. And it has begun with father and son, one against the other, it is already in motion. And it might be that God could mitigate this, but you have no faith in our words. He will speak to you as Isaiah says: Vade et obceca cor populi huius et aures agrava, ut videntes non videant et audientes non intelligant [Isaiah 6: 10: Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears…]. And therefore, you shall not understand, because you are blind.

38. I say again that there will be false knowledge, and it will be declared what should not be. You will see fire descending from heaven, you will see signs and wonders. You will see the dead rising- not resurrecting, because there will be the devil inside them: they are bodies, underground, still warm, with nails and hair, that the devil has kept and continues to maintain, and they will be unearthed, and it will seem that they are corpses that have been resurrected. Is it that God wants me to lie through my teeth! I tell you surely that the devil preached this past year in a certain place and ate and drank and that he wore ragged clothes.[45] Know that the devil will do terrible signs and portents that cannot be known. Commend yourself to God! You go seeking signs and miracles: I tell you that miracles will deceive you. A man who is holy says that this rebel and his followers of whom we speak will perform miracles. I am not saying this to you definitively but wait and see.

39. O God, do you then bear witness to falsehood? No. Behold I have foretold it to you, that you may be on your guard. O friar, how shall we escape it? Alas, Alas, Alas, how shall you women be able to do it? I don’t know any remedy, I have put my life into it, and I asked (as you know in Santa Riparata) that I could die, with all your iniquities placed upon me, and I lowered my head three times, waiting for it willingly. But my life is not sufficient remedy. What then is to be done? There is nothing other than to ask mercy of God.

40. Meditation and invocation. O Lord, is it possible that there are so many churches, so many hospitals and so many pious places you wish to knock to the ground? O Lord, so many children who have not sinned, so many widows who are good, so many virgins: yet will you slay everyone? O Lord, so much blood! Is it possible that you want to feast on blood? O Lord do you want so many people to be eaten by dogs? O Lord, do want so many people to be cut into pieces? O Lord, is it possible that so many people should suffer perdition? O Lord, do want that they will be roasted? Do you want them to be basted?[46] O Lord, do you want it that so many will be killed? Do you want it that they are roasted like piglets? Alas, alas, alas these poor little ones, O Lord! Do you want that so many will be drowned in human blood? Do you want that they will be dragged along, disembowelled and their guts spilled out on the ground? Do you want that this poor city goes to ruin? Alas, that these beautiful streets, oh my, such beautiful palaces be ruined? Do you want to put everything to flame and fire? Do you want that so many women will become widows? Do you want that this land becomes a dishonest place? O Christ, O Christ! Do you want that they will have their teeth knocked out? O Christ, do you want that little children’s arms be broken so that they can eat these little ones because of hunger? Do you want that they will have them roasted in the fire, and all things go to ruin and evil?

41. O Lord, Lord, open, open your arms, open your heart, let the blood of your mercy be poured out here. Listen, do you hear the voice of the little poor ones, do you listen and sigh? Mercy Lord, mercy, mercy I demand of you. – Kneeling here, the preacher and all the people cried out for mercy several more times to God. Then the preacher, standing up, said: “My daughters and my sons, I tell you on behalf of Christ and Our Lady that if you will convert to God, that he will give you peace and tranquillity and concord, in as much as you do not, you will be given the opposite”. And he then gave the blessing. This sermon was preached in Florence in 1513 by Brother Francesco Politiano of the Order of Saint Francis. Transcribed and copied today this 22nd day of May 1527. Deo gratias.

  1. Cf. Michele Londone, I segni della fine: Storia di un predicatore nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Viella, Roma, 2021, p. 170; also cf. Michele Camaioni, Il Vangelo e L’Anticristo. Bernardino Ochino tra francescanesimo ed eresia (1487-1547), 2018, Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici – Napoli, Mulino, p. 87.
  2. Cf. Londone, I segni della fine p. 167 (Kindle Edition).
  3. Cf.Londone, I segni della fine p. 163. The succession of reforms: 1. Bonaventura da Bagnoregio; 2. Gentile da Foligno; Angelo Clareno; 3. Paoluccio Trinci; 4. Bernardino da Siena, Giovanni dal Capestrano and Giacomo della Marca; 5. Giovanni di Guadalupe and the friars of the Holy Gospel (descalzos); 6. Francesco da Montepulciano.
  4. Londone, pp. 174-175; 194; 196.
  5. Bernardino of Colpetrazzo, one of the early chroniclers of the primitive Capuchin reform describes both the situation of atrophied preaching in the so-called sermo modernus current at the time, and compares this with the different style and content of the Capuchin friars: “Whereas at that time nothing was preached except the questions of Scotus and St Thomas, and at the beginning [the preachers] always recounted a dream, saying: “Last night it appeared to me, etc”. They preached philosophy, the fables of Aesop and always at the end sung some verses from Petrarch or Ariosto. They never mentioned the Gospel or the Sacred Scripture” MHOC IV, pp. 159-160. Yet the Capuchins in their preaching will demonstrate their broad learning by inserting references to the Greek classics, in line with the tradition of Francesco da Montepulciano and other like evangelical preachers of the time. Scylla and Charybdis, in Greek mythology, are two monsters of the sea localised in the Strait of Messina, cf. Homer’s Odyssey, book XII: “No sooner had we left the isle behind than I saw spray, and huge breakers, and heard their thunder. The oars springing from my crew’s grasp in their terror slide into the sea, and the ship lost way without my comrades’ arms tugging at the tapered blades…”.
  6. Michele Londone notes that the passage echoes the motif of the fifteen signs preceding the Day of Judgement, a topos often used in the 14th and 15th centuries. Leonardo da Vinci drew natural cataclysms, with floods and inundations and was in Rome at the time Francesco was preaching this homily, in his book Libro di Pittura, Leonardo writes in minute details the effects of the disturbances of the sky and sea; Michelangelo painted the universal flood on the Sistine Chapel during the years of his sojourn in Rome (1513-1516), Machiavelli made use of the imagery of storms and inundations, and Savonarola prophesied catastrophes from the pulpit. Cf. Londone, I segni della fine: Storia di un predicatore nell’Italia del Rinascimento, Viella, Roma, 2021, pp. 91-94.
  7. Londone notes that the sermon is devoted to the exposition of Matthew 24:14-25. The passage from Daniel referred to in the gospel is Daniel 9:27.
  8. “Flee to the mountains” is used as a topos by Francesco. He will use it repeatedly throughout his sermon but only reveal the significance at paragraph 23: Flee to the mountains, that is, to the doctrine of the Gospel, that is, to the doctrine of the Church. Here Francesco places himself into the whole spirit of reform of the late 16th century, before even the Protestant reformation; it is the return to the gospel sources and a markedly evangelical preaching that sets it apart from the atrophied preaching referred to in note 1 above that had become prevalent at the time.
  9. See paragraphs 10-11 below. Londone notes that the motif of the inadmissibility (and unforgivability) of ignorance is recurrent in prophetic literature: see e.g. Rupescissa, Vade mecum (ed. Tealdi), p. 218.
  10. On this customary introductory prayer or salutation to Mary, “to obtain the grace to expound persuasively and listen attentively to the sermon”, Londone references Delcorno, A Lei nel principio Andiamo, p. 165.
  11. This style of preaching will be common to the early Capuchins: The gospel is proclaimed in Latin; it is quoted in Latin throughout the sermon but the sermon is delivered in the vulgar. For just one example of this cf., Cargnoni, I Frati Cappuccini, (Roma, 1991, III/I pp. 2134-218: Predica prima di Bernardin Ochino [Lucca 1538]. The translation available in CapDox, so as to make it easier to read for the English reader who is unfamiliar with Latin, has the English translated biblical passage in italics but the original is in Latin.
  12. Londone notes that it was not uncommon for preachers to directly address females in the audience, or – as Francesco da Montepulciano did in Assisi, prominent citizens, cf, Londone, I segni della fine, pp. 147-152. See also Norman, The Social History of Preaching, pp. 166-171, 180-184.
  13. Londone notes that Francesco da Montepulciano often directly addressed hypothetical reactions of the audience. With this type of rhetorical expedience, the preacher transformed the listeners into interlocutors, and stimulated their attention by explicating or simulating questions and objections from the audience. See Berandini, Est enim eloquentia valede neessaria preadicationi, sections 16-23.
  14. Londone notes that Francesco repeatedly insists on the prophetic motif of the inadmissibility of ignorance (see paragraph 5 above).
  15. Londone notes that according to Piero Parenti, Francesco preached the entire Advent cycle in Santa Croce, and even earlier did some preaching in Santa Maria del Fiore (Parenti, Storia Fiorentina, III, p. 460).
  16. Londone notes that the reference is perhaps to the bell of the church of Santa Croce itself, whose bell tower was struck by lightning on 14 July 1512 (shortly before the sack of Prato): see Landucci, Diario, p. 320; Masi, Ricordanze, p. 90; Nardi, Istorie, I, p. 456.
  17. On the topos of the common fate of misfortunate Rome and Florence, Londone notes the difference between the preaching of Savonarola and Francesco. Savonarola is more prophetic and political. His is a messianism tied to the French monarchy. He sees in Charles VIII of France the new Cyrus, ready to both castigate and renovate the Church. Whereas Francesco is apocalyptical but remains within the ambit of Matthew 24 with some vague references to the punishment of France, but primarily holds Florence and Rome in his call to penance and conversion, cf. Londone, I segni della fine, pp. 101-105.
  18. Londone notes that the motif of the imminence of the prophesied events is evangelical (Matthew 23: 36; 24: 34). See also the poem attributed to the friar Stoppa, Apri le labra mia dolce Signore, in Carducci, Rime di M. Cino. p. 277: “Before many of the old are taken by death/ the above will take effect”.
  19. The erection of a temple to Jupiter over the ruins of the Temple Mount was one of the proximate reasons for the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt, also known as the Third Jewish-Roman War circa 132-136.
  20. Londone notes that of the motif of the two witnesses of the last times (already identified with Enoch and Elijah by Tertullian and Hippolytus), a symbolic and collective interpretation was widespread in monastic and mendicant circles, starting with Joachim of Fiore. However, on the basis of this mention, it cannot be said whether this interpretation – shared by Pietro di Giovanni Olivi, Ubertino da Casale and Angelo Clareno – was known to Francesco da Montepulciano. See Niccolo, Profeti e popolo, p. 128; Peterson, Preaching in the Last Days, pp. 32-40.
  21. Londone notes that calls against sodomy were recurrent in 15th century Florentine preaching, from Bernardine of Siena to Savonorarola: see Rock, Forbidden Friendships, pp. 135-36, 204-222; Polecritti, Preaching Peace, p. 61 e passim. In this passage, however, the friar addresses the accusation to Rome rather than to Florence.
  22. In regard to this interpretation Londone refers to Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, II, p. 1038 (on Ps 75: 3).
  23. Londone notes that the mention of the “cavern” as a refuge from the corruption of the world perhaps conceals an autobiographical reference by the friar to the period he spent in Apulia, on the Gargano: see Cerretani, Ricordi, p. 313 (“I stayed a while in solitude in Apulia”); Bernardino da Colpetrazzo, Historia, I, pp. 63, 505 (“in Puglia I retreated to a secret place”; “in a place in Puglia I retreated into a cavern”). Further see paragraph 20 below, where there is mention of “a cleft in the rock”.
  24. Londone notes that this reference is to Ferdinand of Aragon and Louis XII of France. Fernando died in 1516 without a living legitimate male heir. Louis XII died in 1515 without a living male heir.
  25. Londone notes that rather than Sultan Selim I (1512-1520), the preacher probably refers to the Shah Isma’il (1501-1524), founder of the Safavid dynasty and at that in Europe, the centre of rumours and expectations of a different kind, which also found great echo in Florence. Shortly before 1513, for example, Francesco da Meleto had identified the Shah with the basilisk prophesied by Isaiah, interpreting his rise as the prelude to the mutual destruction of the Persian and Turkish empires: see Meserve, The Sophy, pp. 602-603.
  26. Londone notes that the image of a Christianity divided at its summits alluded perhaps to the recent schismatic Council of Pisa, which opened in November 1511 and forced Julius II to take corrective action by summoning the Lateran V. Just in December 1513, however, the Pisan assize – transferred first to Milan and then to Lyons – was witnessing the defections of its protagonists, such as Abbot Zaccaria Ferreri, and its main promoter, Louis XII. After two months of rapprochement, on 19 December (on the occasion of the 8th session of the Lateran Council) the latter was definitively reconciled with Leo X: see Landi, Concilio e papato, pp. 369-370.
  27. Londone notes that the reference escapes him and suggests it may echo the words of Moses in Exodus 4: 1.
  28. Londone notes that it is difficult to know which text the preacher had in mind. Discoveries and “authentications” of mysterious texts such as the prophecy attributed to Saint Cataldo and the new Apocalypses attributed to the blessed Amadeo were frequent in those years: see Tognetti, Le fortune della pretesa profezia; and above, ch. 6, § 2.
  29. 2 Ezra 16: 42-45 Londone notes that on the controversial reception of the second (or fourth) book of Ezra see Hamilton, The Apocryphal Apocalypse, p. 48 for a mention of Francis of Montepulciano; pp. 44-53 on contemporary authors, such as Francis of Meletus or Pietro Colonna Galatino, who made extensive use of 2 Ezra.
  30. Londone notes that pendete is a reference to those who take sides, who incline to one side or another (see Vocabolario degli accademici della Crusca, III, p. 543). On the frequent condemnations of factions by the preachers of the time see Bruni, La città divisa, pp. 281-341.
  31. Londone notes that usury, after sodomy and factiousness, is the third typical theme of 15th and early 16th century preaching.
  32. “fraternite né di compagnie” here refers to what was common in the church up until recent times: fraternities, confraternities, associations, societies, etc.
  33. Reference to the prayer of the Church: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer etc.
  34. It will affect only the Christian peoples, not the Muslims, who were a current threat to Europe, or the rest of the world.
  35. Londone notes of the pontoon bridge built by Xerxes on the Hellespont during the so-called Second Persian War (480-479 B.C.), Herodotus tells in Book VII of the Histories, published in Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla in Venice in 1474, and vulgarised by 1491 by Matteo Maria Boiardo (whose translation was, however, not printed, again in Venice, until 1533).
  36. Ezek 13: 10; Jer 6: 14, 8: 11. Londone notes that on the spread of this motif see Rupescissa, Vade mecum (ed. Tealdi), p. 231; Savonarola, Prediche sopra Ezechiele, I, pp. 244, 292.
  37. Londone notes that on the apocalyptic motif of the subversion of human and familial relations see Lederer, Dragged to Hell; Lerner, Millenarismo medievale e violenza, pp. 65-72.
  38. This passage is difficult to understand and so to translate. Londone notes that “scempio” used here has the meaning of simple, not double (cf. Dante, Purg. XVI 55: “First it was simple, and is now made double”). The passage perhaps alludes to the creation of a parallel, diabolical ecclesiastical hierarchy.
  39. Londone notes that Machiavelli makes use of this type of imagery and has it unfolding in Florence. He ridicules and makes comical the apocalyptic preaching of Francesco da Montepulciano, highlighting the aspect of Florence being sacked and put to flame in such preaching. He makes comical the images of devils that roam about and take possession of human bodies. Writing in 1502, Machiavelli jokingly imagines that the devils have chosen Florence as the place to stay for Carnevale (“in questa città vostra/ abiàn preso il governo/ perché qui si dimostra/ confusïon, dolor più che in inferno” [in this your city/ they have taken up government/ because here is to be shown/ there is more confusion, more pain than in hell]). Cf. Lodone, I segni della fine pp. 30-31.
  40. That is, from 1495-1496. The Savonarola movement, therefore, is not regarded as a moral and religious turning point.
  41. I am unsure of the meaning of this sentence “che gl’uomini andavano sanza mutande infino in anni trenta”. For this reason, I have translated it rather literally. My guess, from the context, is it is connected to the reference to a previous period of time, more than 18 years before, when people lived with more simplicity, innocence and self-respect. It sounds very odd in English!
  42. Londone notes that for restrictions on ostentatious footwear, and for preachers’ polemics against women’s too-high platforms, see Muzzarelli, Guardaroba medievale, pp. 198- 201; Ead., Sumptuous Shoes, pp. 54-62.
  43. Londone notes that as in the biblical account of Jonah and the inhabitants of Nineveh, Francis’ prophecy is comminatory, i.e. conditional on the people’s repentance or otherwise the penalty is inflicted.
  44. Londone notes that the preachers often repeated what had already been said, so that it would stick in the memory of the audience.
  45. Ladone notes that this is another Dantesque echo (Inf. XXXIII, 139-141: “”Io credo,” diss’ io lui, “che tu m’inganni;/ ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche,/ e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni” [‘I think,’ I said to him, ‘you’re fooling me./ For Branca d’Oria is not yet dead: he eats/and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes).
  46. Londone notes that “pillottare”: is to drip lard, or similar boiling lardy matter, over roasts while they are being turned cf. Vocabolario degli accademici della Crusca, III, p. 626, in accordance with the picturesque gastronomic imagery of the passage.