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‘For many are called, but few are chosen’: Preaching Predestination in Renaissance Florence

posted on 2016-12-07, 04:59 authored by Stephanie JuryStephanie Jury
This thesis asks the question “why did preaching on predestination re-emerge in 1480s Florence, and what shape did it take?” I argue that the key to answering this question is through the examination of sermons and doctrine, and their relationship to the social and cultural changes of the fifteenth century. Sermons both influenced and were influenced by society. I demonstrate this symbiotic relationship through the exploration of a collection of previously understudied sermons by Simone Bartolomei de Bertis, and a collection of sermon reports (reportationes) by an anonymous author. The thesis argues that humanism and autodidacticism, in conjunction with the social and religious sense of “crisis” apparent in fifteenth-century Florence, led to the re-emergence of preaching on predestination, in the form of highly theological sermons which combined Latin and vernacular theology in order to reach a wider audience.
    In Chapter One, I argue that the sense of “crisis" which permeated Florentine society was a collection of calamities, as well as the increasing interest of humanists in debating theological issues regarding the role of God in the lives of people. Sermons, I posit, act as a catalyst for understanding and responding to these calamities, and drive questioning regarding prophecy, predestination, and apocalyptic doctrine and rhetoric. Chapter Two presents de Bertis as an influential and understudied preacher with insight into contemporary Florentine society and its accompanying challenges. It focuses primarily on contextualising the act of preaching and comments on what preachers thought about performance. This chapter highlights the importance of oral over written culture for understanding the relationship between preacher and society.
    Chapter Three investigates the first sermon from the predestination cycle, and examines the importance and purpose of the collection through codicological analysis. The main purpose of this chapter is to introduce a new source to historians, while exploring the sources de Bertis most relied on to develop his argument in favour of the doctrine of predestination. Chapter Four builds on the previous chapter’s observations about de Bertis’s choice of sources, examining his use of exempla relating to predestination and apocalypticism, and demonstrating how exempla themselves could carry the message of the sermon. The use of both biblical and vernacular exempla speaks to de Bertis’s thorough education in clerical, humanist, and lay literature, and his ability to synthesise these varied sources into a unique way for understanding predestination.
    Chapter Five investigates the usefulness of the term “vernacular theology” and asks whether the term can be applied to de Bertis’s sermons. Through examining de Bertis’s use of Dante’s Commedia, I argue that his sermons fit into vernacular theology because they use and engage with contemporary lay vernacular sources to provide a tailored experience to the audience. Chapter Six discusses this experience through reportationes, as well as the sermons’ lasting impact. The thesis concludes by highlighting the necessity for reformed discussion regarding End Times dialogue, and does so by demonstrating its advent well ahead of the fiery brand of Girolamo Savonarola and, later, the Protestant Reformation.


Principal supervisor

Peter Francis Howard

Additional supervisor 1

Megan Cassidy-Welch

Additional supervisor 2

Constant Mews

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Philosophical, Historical and International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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