Girolamo (Jerome) Seripando O.S.A., a cardinal of the Church, lived between 1493 and 1563. This was a critical period in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and he played a significant role in what happened. These were years which saw the need for urgent reform, the disintegration of religious life, and preparations for the Council of Trent.
The Council of Trent took place in a number of sessions during the eighteen years between 13th December 1545 and 1563. Seripando was born in Troja (Apulia), Italy on 6th May 1493 and died at Trent, Italy on 17th March 1563. After the death of his parents, he entered the Augustinian Order in 1507. He was aged fourteen years at the time, which was the standard age - although the minimum legally allowed - for joining a religious order in that era.
It was at his reception (ceremony of entry) to the Order that he first met Giles of Viterbo O.S.A., who soon afterwards in May 1507 was elected Prior General of the Order of Saint Augustine. (For the various connections between Seripando and Giles of Viterbo, see the final paragraphs of this page.) There he added the study of Greek and Hebrew to his pursuit of philosophy and theology. Soon after being called to Rome by the Prior General of the Augustinian Order, Seripando was appointed lecturer at Siena in 1515, and professor of theology at Bologna in 1517.
In 1523 the Augustinian Prior General, Gabriel della Volta, placed him in charge of the Augustinian observant congregation of San Giovanni a Carbonara at Naples, "which was threatened by ruin." This was a house of the same observant congregation that Seripando had joined at its convento at Viterbo in 1507. In the following fifteen years Seripando reformed the congregation, showing signs of the talent he would use again on a larger scale after the Protestant Reformation. In 1532 he became the Vicar General of the Order in 1532, performed the task with great credit for two years. He won such reputation for his discourses in the principal cities of Italy that the Emperor Charles V often made it a point to be present at his sermons. Seripando became so noted for his excellent preaching that in 1536 Nicholas of Bodadilla S.J., a companion of St Ignatius of Loyola, listed Seripando as one of the best five prieachers then in Italy. Bodadilla said that Seripando was "one of the principal reformers of Christian preaching, with appropriate use of the Bible and the spirit of the Fathers of the Church."
Seripando's anonymous dialogues Cicero relegatus and Cicero revocatus give a clear picture of Seripando in relationship to Italian humanism. These were published in Venice in 1534 and were first used by the long-respected historian of Italian literature, Jerome Tiraboschi (1731 – 1794). Among the speakers who alternate in the dialogues is Seripando, who represents a moderate Ciceronian. Seripando took Cicero as the model for his style, and often relied upon Cicero in questions of ethics or religious philosophy.
In his notable biography of Seripando, Fr Hubert Jedin (1900 – 1980) has showed not only an intelligent understanding of this remarkable figure of Italian humanism, but also a thorough knowledge of the sources, - including both printed books and manuscripts. The two-volume work presents not only a complete description of the life of Seripando but also an exhaustive study of the spiritual elements present in his personality. Jedin gives a comprehensive vision of Augustinian theology at tire time, and a complete examination of Seripando's writings, both those already printed and those awaiting editing. With the same care the author unfolds the many activities of Seripando: his efforts at order reform; his pastoral activity as Archbishop of Sarerno; and his historic and memorable participation at the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) as a theologian and finally as Cardinal-legate.
Prior General, 1539-1551
Elected as Augustinian Prior General at the relatively young age of forty-six years in 1539, Seripando governed the Order for twelve years with great accomplishment. Historians are eternally grateful for the first-ever accurate list of Augustinian houses that was made by Seripando 1539-41, which proves that the Order had less than a thousand houses at the end of the fifteenth century. The oft-repeated false claim that the Order had numbered about 2,000 houses with 30,000 members plus 300 monasteries of nuns was made by Coccius Sallicus, Enneades sive Rhapsodiae, Opera Omnia 2 (Basel 1560). Sallicus had received these estimates from Master James Baptist de Aloysi, alias Alovisiani (died 1505). They were taken over by Pamfilo's, Chronica 97, and were still being repeated sixty years ago by L. Hertling, A History of the Catholic Church (Westminster 1957).
During his twelve years as Prior General, Seripando began a reform of doctrine in the Order, and made it the principal duty of his administration. He not only combated Lutheranism but also positively promoted a wholesome spirituality based on a Catholic interpretation of the doctrine of Saint Paul and the writings of Augustine. As a significant strategy in his effort to reform the Order of Saint Augustine, he reintroduced one of the practices of Priors General that had lapsed seventy years earlier.
He formally visited Augustinian houses, and did so with more diligence and possibly more vigour than had ever happened previously. Part of this activity was record-breaking for, although the Order had already existed on the Iberian Peninsula for almost three centuries, Seripando was the first person to visit there while holding the office of Prior General. Being forearmed by the Pope at his own request with documents that would claim exemption from all or part of his authority because of earlier privileges that had been granted, he set out on a major overland visitation of numerous Augustinian houses in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and that took two and a half years.
Seripando justified the expenditure of such a considerable amount of time and energy by saying, “I realise that it is not up to the sheep to seek the shepherd; it is the shepherd’s duty to visit, search out, lead back and feed his flock.” Even the consideration of a thirty-month trans-Alpine journey by horseback was assisted by Seripando's being aged only forty-six years at the outset; two of his initial Augustinian companions had to be replaced even before the travellers had departed Italy.
The journey by horseback from Rome to Portugal and back began in November 1539 and continued until April 1542. He was accompanied his official socius (“personal assistant"), the secretary of the Order, two Augustinian lay brothers, and a servant who could also serve as a cook. They stayed in Augustinian houses whenever possible, but otherwise in monasteries of other religious orders, or in wayside hospices for travellers. In the official visitation of each Augustinian house (convento), Seripando would address the entire community and then meet each Augustinian separately. In informal moments; thereby he came to know the members more, and determined who would be good contacts for continuing the reform once he returned to Rome.
At the same time, the two officials travelling with Seripando would examine the registers required to be kept by the procurator (treasurer) and sacristan of the convento. En route he also attempted to advance the status and the works of the Order by meeting national monarchs, bishops and civic authorities. This included King Francis I of France, and King John III of Portugal. When in Spain he celebrated a chapter of great significance, at which the two Augustinian Provinces in Spain were reunited into the former Province of Spain. In Spain he also met the future saint, Thomas of Villanova, who was the Augustinian Provincial in Spain when the Augustinian Latin American missions had begun in 1533. Seripando encouraged that the missions there be further expanded, and retained vivid memories of the saintly Thomas of Villanova for the rest of his life.
On his return to Rome, Seripando was certain that he knew at first hand the condition of the Order in the Latin nations of Europe. Like a general of an army who had inspected many of his soldiers, what plan did Seripando now have for them? A year later he told the members of the Augustinian General Chapter in Rome that he wished them to enforce the observance of the present rules, rather than to add new ones. He did call, however, for the Augustinian Consitutions of 1290 to be adapted to contemporary conditions.
Seripando's itinerary, 1539 - 1542.
Seripando’s thirty-month horseback journey departed Rome on 18th November 1539. He visited some houses of six of the Italian Augustinian Provinces: Rome, Siena, and Pisa, the Marshes of Ancona, Romanga and Venice. Crossing the Alps by Susa - Monte Cenisio - Lanslebourg, the party reached Lyon on 25th September 1540 and Paris on 27th October 1540. Thence to Orleans, Amboise, Tours, Poitiers, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Narbonne. He reached on 12th February 1541, and visited the Augustinian houses at Barcelona, Lerida, Zaragoza and Valencia.
In the kingdom of Valencia, he went to Murcia, Granada, Cordova, Seville and Badajoz. Crossing into Portugal, he inspected houses at Evora, Montemor-o-Novo and Lisbon. Back in Spain, he went to Toledo, Madrid, Salamanca, Medina del Campo, Valladolid and Duenas. Finally in Spain he visited Burgos, Haro, Estella and Pamplona. Crossing the Pyrenees to return to France, he visited some of the houses in the Augustinian Province of Aquitane, and then in January 1542 Montpellier, Nimes, Avignon and other Augustinian houses in Provence. On 10th-12th February 1542 he crossed the Alps between France and Italy via Briancon - Mont Generve – Susa (see image above), and then visited Italian houses in Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia and Tuscany. He reached Rome on 3rd April 1542. He then regarded his herculian journeying as only the beginning of the challenge that confronted him. Now that he knew much of the problem at first hand, he proceeded to take cogent steps to remedy it. Steps that he initiated are known to historians because of his efficiency at administration and record-keeping. His exemplary insistence and supervision of his excellent secretaries probably stands unequalled in the long history of the Order.
As Prior General he was particularly vigilant in attempting to halt any further effect of Lutheranism upon members of the Order. At the General Chapter in 1539 when he began his term as Prior General, he had three new regulations enacted. By one of these regulations, he withdrew the right to preach from all Augustinians in Italy, until they established their orthodoxy to his satisfaction. At the next General Chapter in 1543, he enacted that any Augustinian about whom grave theological doubt arose was "no longer to be received in any (Augustinian) monastery."
Because of the regard of the Pope and of Italian ecclesiastical authorities for Seripando, in 1542 he was granted permission to examine on behalf of the Church any Augustinians accused of incorrect teaching. It was felt that his adjudication would not be any more lenient that would be that of Church authorities. He used both his strictness and his fatherly concern as necessary, defending some Augustinians falsely accused and persuading others to amend their preaching before it definitely crossed over into non-Catholic doctrine.
As Prior General, he attended in 1546 the sessions of the Council of Trent, where he distinguished himself by his scholarly involvement, and particularly by his views on the theology of justification. Pope Paul III sent him as his legate to the emperor and to the King of France, after which mission he was offered the Bishopric of Aquila. Seripando not only declined this offer, but also resigned as Prior General in 1551. He resigned because he was physically drained and in failing health, even though only fifty years old. He withdrew into a small convent (convento). From this retirement he was called in 1553 on a mission from the city of Naples to Emperor Charles V. Upon completion of that task, he was appointed Archbishop of Salerno by Emperor Charles V in 1553, and was a zealous and efficient pastor.
His nine years as an archbishop (1554 - 1563), has received little attention among scholars compared to the work that has been done on his efforts as Prior General and later as a legate of the pope at the Council of Trent. Yet, his years as bishop deserve special attention. Girolamo Seripando believed that the office of bishop needed to be restored if a general reform of the Church, clergy, and the faithful were to be accomplished. Taking the example from the Scriptures, Seripando revived the image of the bishop as most of all being a pastor and teacher. This set him apart from most of his colleagues of the 16th century, and pointed ahead to the ideal of a bishop that he would promote at the Council of Trent. Seripando lived in his diocese, which was not a common practice at the time. He embarked on a reform program to renew the spiritual life of Salerno and to correct the abuses that plagued the faithful and the clergy; he promoted corrections strongly, and expected progress reports subsequently.
A few years later in 1561, Pope Pius IV made him a cardinal and the second legate of the Pope in attendance at the Council of Trent. Upon the death of Cardinal Gonzaga, he became the president of the same Council. Seripando had participated in the Council of Trent from the beginning by virtue of his position as Prior General of the Order of Saint Augustine. He was involved in the discussions of the Council as a noted theologian and one knowledgeable about the teachings of Saint Augustine. During the first period of the Council he was entrusted with the task of preparing an outline of current errors and deviations being diffused about the Bible. Seripando was also the principal voice in defence of the rights of members of religious orders to preach in their own churches without the consent of the local bishop. Later, during the fifth session, he was instrumental in the decree on the reading of the Bible and preaching. Like Seripando, many others at the Council of Trent sought to restore the pastoral dimension of the episcopate, and they emphasised the spiritual duties of bishops to their flocks. Bishops could not properly attend to their charges if they did not reside in their diocese. Why was this issue of such importance?
In the latter half of the 1540s more than 80 bishops resided in Rome. That number jumped to 113 in 1556 and, on the eve of the third period of Trent, more than 70 bishops were living in Rome away from their dioceses. Similar conditions of episcopal absenteeism existed throughout Europe. Most bishops had little difficulty obtaining Roman permission to live away from their dioceses. During the plenary session of the Council on 21st June 1546, however, Seripando declared, "Absolutely no impediment exists that can excuse the non-residence of a bishop in his diocese." On this issue, history was to show that Seripando and his colleagues did not win this contest.
At the Council of Trent, Seripando helped draft the decree on original sin and justification. Because of the great amount of Reformation dissent about the theology of justification, the Council members took great pains in attempting to determine what Augustine thought on the matter. This had been a controversial question ever since Martin Luther (and John Calvin) had adopted the harshest position of Augustine, which the Catholic Church had never accepted. Seripando using his own insights and scholarship in theology proposed his doctrine of double justice about justification, which attempted to incorporate both the Catholic Church and of Martin Luther. His attempt was, however, rejected by both Martin Luther and the Council of Trent. The eventual decree of the Council of Trent about justification adhered to the purest style of both the Apostle Paul and Augustine of Hippo.
Another area of significant contribution by Seripando at the Council of Trent was the matter of the Catholic Catechism. During the fourth session at Trent in 1546, mention was made of the need for a catechism. It was to be published both in Latin and in the vernacular tongues, so as to equip children and adults in the rudiments of Catholic truth. At the eighteenth session of Trent in 1562, a commission was appointed for this task. The composition of the catechism, delayed for many years because of other pressing issues, was now under way. The president of this massive undertaking was Girolomo Seripando O.S.A., who by then was a cardinal. At the twenty fourth session of the Council of Trent in 1563, the aim of the catechism was re-examined. It was then decided that this work would mainly target parish priests, and thus was to be written in an advanced and detailed manner. At the close of the Council, the catechism was not yet completed.
The great Saint Charles Borromeo was by then heading this task in place of the deceased Seripando. What Seripando had, under instruction from the Pope, begun in 1562 and directed until his death in 1563, was finally promulgated as the Roman Catechism in 1566. Seripando died at Trent on 17th March 1563, of pneumonia, in the year that the last session of the Council of Trent took place. He was buried in the Augustinian church of San Marco, Trent, as he himself had requested because he had lived in its Augustinian convento during his time in Trent. Later his remains were transferred to Naples for burial in the Augustinian church of S. Giovanni in Carbonara, with which previously he had enjoyed many years of association. (See link below.)
Seripando was an elegant and prolific writer, and a vigorous controversialist, rather than an orator. The following are his principal published works: "Novae constitutiones ordinis S. Augustini" (Venice, 1549); "Oratio in funere Caroli V imperatoris" (Naples; 1559); "Prediche sopra il simbolo degli Apostoli, etc." (Venice, 1567); "Commentarius in D. Pauli epistolas ad Galatas" (Venice, 1569); "Commentaria in D. Pauli epistolas ad Romanos et ad Galatas" (Naples, 1601); "De arte orandi" (Lyons, 1670); and several of his letters, included by Lagomarsini in "Poggiani epist. et orationes" (Rome, 1762). In light of his achievements, Girolamo Seripando is highly regarded as one of the most eminent figures of reform of the Catholic Church, both before the time of the Council of Trent and during it. Within the history of the Order of Saint Augustine, he is hailed as an incomparable Prior General and a person of outstanding talent. He never stopped preaching and imposing the fundamental tenets of all religious reform: community life, the solid spiritual and intellectual preparation of candidates to the Order, strictness in the demand for orthodoxy, and an abhorrence of so-called "privileges" that relaxed discipline and the universal adherence of the regulations of community life.
Seripando and the Council of Trent 1546 - 1563
Arriving at the Council of Trent in 1546 as the Prior General of the Augustinian Order in which Martin Luther had been formed, Seripando was aware that many of his fellow Council members had hostility towards the Order. Some of them even accused him of Lutheran overtones because of his promotion of Augustinian theology. They feared that the long-established Augustinian theology had led to Lutheran theology, and, wishing to take no chances, eschewed it. But by the time he departed the final session of the Council of Trent seven years later in 1563, Seripando was no longer the Augustinian Prior General but the president of the Council and the Cardinal Legate of the Pope at its deliberations. By then he had won the personal respect of his fellow members, yet suspicion of the Augustinian theology he espoused continued to colour the Council’s deliberations. The majority of the Council chose to avoid the particular insights of Augustinian theology out of either prejudice or fear.
It is now acknowledged that, had the situation been otherwise, the final doctrinal statements of the Council of Trent would have been couched in terms that would have been less starkly polemical. This would have more facilitated the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that only really has borne real fruit late in the twentieth century. In summary, Seripando was of prime importance in the Council’s dogmatic decrees about the sources of divine revelation, original sin, the sacraments in general, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and Holy Orders. Seripando’s unique importance, however, is found in two doctrinal areas. He made a major and lasting contribution at Trent in the Council’s two doctrinal decrees on justification and on the sacrifice of the Mass. In the former decree, four-fifths of the final wording came verbatim from Seripando’s proposal on the subject. In spite of the anti-Lutheran prejudice with which some other members of the Council of Trent accused him, the positive effect of Seripando on the deliberations and conclusions of the Council of Trent go down in Augustinian history as one of the most glorious contributions of the Order of Saint Augustine to the universal Church.
Girolamo Seripando osa and Giles of Viterbo osa
There are direct connections between the two members of the Order of Saint Augustine who possibly did the most in reforming the Order before and after Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) came to prominence. These men were Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. (1469 -1532) and Giralomo (Jerome) Seripando O.S.A. (1493 - 1563). Both men were Italian, noted preachers and scholars. Both were members of the observant movement within the Order of Saint Augustine, Giles at Lecceto in Tuscany, and Seripando in Naples. Each of them gave distinctive service to the Popes of the time, and each was elected to the office of Prior General of the Order of Saint Augustine. As well, both of them became a cardinal of the church (a distinction received by no more than twenty members of the Order of Saint Augustine in 750 years).
Giles was born twenty-four years before Seripando, such that Giles was in charge of the Order of Saint Augustine when Seripando was in the process of seeking entrance to it. Seripando is often described as a disciple or protege of Giles. Historical studies in recent years have established convincingly that Seripando as a follower of Platonist philosophy, as a scholar of the Bible and as a reformer of the Church had been profoundly affected by Giles. Along with his refined humanistic formation, Seripando had a deep spirituality that was based in the study and meditation of Sacred Scripture and the works of St Augustine. Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. played an important role in his spiritual development, for Seripando received from Giles both encouragement and frequent help, which contributed to his extraordinary preparation during his years of study as well as his expansive knowledge of the life of the Order.
Platonism was an essential element in Seripando's thinking, and he received this from Giles. Yet, under the influence of the earlier Augustinian school, Seripando's interpretation of the Platonic doctrine is more moderate and critical. He is always guided by divine revelation and his authorities are the great masters of traditional theology. Yet he sought to find within the Platonic philosophy a type of confirmation of or consonance with the truths of Christianity. His early studies of the Hebrew cabbala are also likely due to the influence of Giles.
These two men had first met when Seripando was fourteen years of age. When Giles was Vicar General of the Order of Saint Augustine immediately before the General Chapter at Naples in May 1507, he conducted the religious ceremony of reception that accepted Girolamo Seripando into the Order. They lived together at Convento Sant'Agostino in Rome during some of the time that Giles was there as Prior General, and it appears that Seripando acted as a secrretary to Giles. In the case of one manuscript written by Giles, it is known that Seripando edited the manuscript for publication. Seripando added the names of the chapters, and the sub-titles within the chapters.
The career of Girolamo Seripando in the Church and in the Order was a symbol of the vision of reform that Giles had harboured and earnestly promoted all his life. Seripando was one of the Augustinians of the era who acknowledged the efforts of Giles. In his will, Seripando made specific mention of the example of ecclesiastical service and of Augustinian reform that Giles had given him. The reform program within the Order of Saint Augustine that Giles of Viterbo introduced and enforced between 1507 and 1517 (the year generally taken as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation) effectively lapsed in the confusion of the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent ineffective leadership of the Order of Saint Augustine.
It was not until Girolamo Seripando became Prior General twenty-two years later (1539 - 1551) that the reform begun by Giles of Viterbo was once again promoted vigourously. This was the link between Giles and Seripando that was most important. It has to be regretted, however, that between their periods of leadership there was a space of twenty-two years, and that these were the first twenty-two years of the Protestant Reformation. Not only is it certain that Giles and Seripando personally met one another, but also is is highly likely that both of them met Martin Luther. All three of them were members of the observant (spiritual reform) movement of the Order of Saint Augustine, Luther at Erfurt in Germany, Giles previously in Lecceto (Tuscany, Italy), and Seripando in Naples.
Luther certainly met Giles, for he came to Rome in the winter of 1510-1511 specifically to meet him as the Prior General of the time. When Luther was in Rome and visiting Giles at the Convento Sant'Agostino, Seripando was there in his capacity as secretary to Giles. Regardless of whether Luther and Seripando did or did not meet, it is nevertheless a fact that the three Augustinians most involved in the "Pre-Reformation", the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation were all briefly dwelling under the same roof in Rome seven years before the Protestant Reformation began.