The Philokalia Acts IV – V



Scene 1: A magnificent apartment in the Vatican. Christoforo is lounging on a couch with a huge and splendid book. Filippo is pacing the floor.


Filippo              Too slow, too slow.


Christoforo                                      You want me to lose my mind?

These are dangerous studies!


Filippo             I wasn’t thinking of you.


What, then?


This Pope.


Who cares about him?


Who cares?

Everyone in the world! That’s the problem.

Distracted by so many petty ambitions,

he’ll never accomplish his best ideas.


Forget him.


Why do you think you’re here?


I despise it.


You seem quite comfortable to me.



Only because I don’t care. The wine

is the very best. The arts are at their height.

And the food – the food! And the view from our rooms! Should I

concern myself how it’s all going to ruin?


You’ve not considered what could be done?


Why should I?

These studies are enough. No earthly Court

compares to the mysterious promises

in the palace of Solomon.


Your concentration and your mental powers

strengthen daily. The spirits begin to obey you.

But you’re a little man compared to this Pope.


His very name makes me vomit.


I’ve never seen

such broad ambition in one man, yet hardly

the master of himself. You nearly are.

I want you to tutor him.
[Christoforo laughs suddenly and heartily]


I’ve already told him

about your book. He wants to print it!


Thank you.

You snake of Eden, you brought me here for this!


He wants to learn your memory techniques.


How much did you tell him of that?


What does it matter?


You know as well as I do! What does he want?

Merely to improve his memory?

I doubt it. He wants power. Over whom?

I’ll tell you: not the Bishops, that’s for certain:

not the princes, either, at least not now:

it’s Barbara he wants!


It’s best that you were gone.


Not while she’s here!


Then do as I say.


Maybe you didn’t hear me:

I don’t intend to.


But if you found the door

to the archives bolted, and a guard established?


Most of these manuscripts are nowhere else…




To think they made you librarian!

And how did they even dare dream of your ordination?


Just like that – I appeared in their dreams.

This was easier than many things

I’ve had to do – as you yourself shall find.

Of those who ascend in vision, out of their bodies,

to the temple garden which Ezekial saw,

only a few have returned with their sanity.


You were not one of them!                                                             [laughing


And you should not attempt it.


Whether I should or not, I will. Then let me

try my hand at teaching.


You don’t even                                    [angrily

fear the danger – and you think that’s good?

You’re zealous for knowledge, yet you burn with desire!

Ezekiel’s creatures will devour your soul!


Not when they see the color of its flame!

But you must give her to me, not to him.


That is your struggle, not mine. Do what you must

to make him your disciple – and save your skin.


If only I could die for her love!


Don’t you see

how she’s falling into your hands already?


She confides in me as she always has –

as a much needed friend. Even that I value.


Your own desire blinds you to what is before you.

Once you master the subtleties of desire,

you will become able to summon her,

just as you summon the spirits. But make friends

with her servants so you can have them prepare her rooms.

You should control her furniture’s arrangement,

and her books. She will thank you for

the gifts you send. Some will be amulets

and will have to be placed just so.


They serve you best who know least of your true designs,

so I won’t ask anything more. But I’m relieved

you don’t seem to crave the Pope’s own place.

If that happened – I know it’s out of the question –

I suppose you would find me your enemy,

just because you were Pope.


Look down there –

his Cardinals are gathering – here he comes!


And there is Barbara!


He’s going to hold court

next to the garden fountain.


What a devil’s caricature he is!

Those grounds and these palatial buildings should be

an image of the glory that man can’t name!


Why don’t you go talk to her? You can see

she’s looking for you. I’ll get us an audience.


[Christoforo exits]


Filippo             And a dangerous enemy he shall be –

more deadly than he realizes, the fool!

What a mistake, to drag him into my plans.

Why should I not be the hierophant himself,

with the greatest spiritual authority?

One kind of ruler in the light of day,

another kind in the dark of night – as in

the ancient temple: when he raised his hand,

kingdoms rose and fell,

both in the light of history, and in the

obscurity which no man dares to name!





Scene 2: The Vatican gardens: the Pope seated, Cardinals around. Filippo, Christoforo, Bembo, Barbara and others are present.


Is this the man appointed to teach my aspiring

theologians Plato in the Greek?


Filippo            It is, your Holiness.


Pope                                                             Draw near, young man.
[to Christoforo

Tell me about mythology. Is its reading

different in Hesiod? I know only Ovid.


It is his interpretation

of the ancient myth which makes him superior.

A student in the Pythagorean rites,

he understood the pure allegories

which Ovid did not. His poetry is truth,

more profound than that of the theologians,

with power over men’s imaginations

even when memorized.



are you familiar with Christoforo’s teaching?


I would eagerly learn it all!


Would this remove your stubborn melancholy?

I can’t enroll you among my renunciate youths.

If Christoforo agreed to additional payment

of handsome proportions, there could be private lessons.


As you wish.


Bring me Jacopo.

We will command him to print your commentary.

Again, Filippo, you have counseled well

in the choice of this tutor. I don’t want to send you

back to Venice…


Filippo                                      But I am free to stay                        [looking slyly at Bembo]

as long as needed.


Pope                                                 When you do return,

it shall be as Patriarch of Aquilea.


Bembo             You can be sure that they will not accept him.


Who will stir them up against my choice?


Bembo             I do not mean to speak so hastily…

you know I have no influence over them.


Pope                         That would depend, you know as well as I,

on what was offered them.


Bembo                                                 I only speak

as minister to your welfare. Venice must have

autonomy in choosing their Patriarch

as they’ve done from the beginning. To take this away

will only distance them from your good will.


Pope                         When he serves with me, angels appear in the altar!

He shall be Patriarch.

He has suggested some changes in the rite

which I have approved. Filippo, come closer. Excuse us!

They have spoken to you! Will they speak to me?
 [aside to Filippo]


I’ve no such authority over them.

They speak to whom they will. Men can be forced,

but they cannot.


What powers have they in the earth

and its kingdoms?


They are the Powers of the Almighty.


Will they aid my armies?


They’ve told me that the Pope is head of the Church,

and they must bend to his will in everything.


We will talk more of this later. Where is my printer?

He shall do well with your treatise, Christoforo.

His work is among the best, as you promised, Pietro…


If he is inspired.


He has been well trained.

I have sent my thanks and appreciation to Aldus,

and have assured the protection of my seal

to all his copyrights.


Though many try to imitate his classics,

Aldus is yet to be rivaled.


If he had a peer,

it should be none other than the Press at Rome!


Jacopo has no inclination, it seems,

for the finer humanistic literature.


He’s a simple-hearted man, your Holiness.

His little books of saints with their bold composition

and pretty woodcuts are nothing if not inspired.

Their popular appeal…


They are out of fashion

except among the illiterate.


He needs time

to ripen in ancient learning…


No, that’s not it!

He was the chief compositor for Aldus:

he knows the classics as well as anyone.

His inability to appreciate them

has a simple cause, if he is a simple man –

disobedience !


We shall sharply rebuke him!


He’s not like that!

You know he’s not. He misunderstands

our fervent intention to instruct Christendom.

The brilliance, as he believes, of the early Fathers

has blinded him to any other text.

He simply can’t conceive that the Papal press

has any other mission…


The status of these Eastern theologians                                     [to Pope

especially, you must decide.


They are heretics. Tell him!


But I have;

he will not hear of it.


The Papal imprint, which has authority

like no other, must now glorify

humane letters. If he will not obey,

he shall have to be replaced. Well? Where is he?


[enter messenger]


He will not come…


What? Tell him at once –


Your Holiness, he has just received a letter…

the plague in Venice has claimed his children




Christoforo             Little Pipino, and Maria both?


My pretty friends!                                     [with violent sobs


All right… give him a minute…

Well? What else?


An ambassador of France.


Arrange a meeting tonight.


He demands to see you now, and…


Why should I bow

to his demands?


He is dressed for war.


Let him in!                                     [after a pause


[Enter Jacopo, reading letter]


…and these were her last words?

“Tell Papa not to worry. I myself

will be sure to tell God how good my Papa is.”


 [Jacopo kneels, weeping heavily. Messenger exits]


Your wife, though… she has survived it?


She will be able

to come, now…


Give me leave to go with him

to his apartment.


Yes, but first…


Barbara                                                 He will not

be able to listen now!


[Exit Jacopo with Barbara. Enter Ambassador]


Pope                         What do you seek?


Ambassador                                     Terms of peace.


What terms?


The crown of Charlemagne.


Has not the House of Bourbon absorbed the ancient

Merovingian rights?


Ambassador             Except for the title: Emperor of Rome!
Protector of the Holy See?




We will consider it. The King

himself would need to come.

Tell the Duke of Bourbon to return

with his army to France…


His Majesty desires

more than an empty title and coronation.


What does this mean?


This city, with all Italy

must be his subject.


Charlemagne was Protector.

His rule was temporal; but ours is eternal!


We will yield in faith, if you will yield your crown.

But it is you who wish to be Emperor!


This is blasphemy!


Your Holiness,

I was an apprentice among the French…


Speak to him convincingly, by all means!


You must know you cannot take the city.                        [to ambassador


Rome has been conquered many times already.


Do you think we are defenseless?


Against us, yes!

Fighting your own small neighbors, you yourself

destroyed the balance of power in Italy.

Italians, your Holiness, do not know war.
[to Pope


And the French have never had an understanding

of the art and value of statecraft.

You have shown already that you cannot rule             [taking him aside

a conquered people. (Give this to the Duke.)                         [gives him a ring

You are not able to inspire their love

nor subdue their will. (Tell him to meet with me

outside the gates, at midnight, when he comes.)

Lombardy and the states you have overrun

will be on your back, when they hear you are at our walls.

But if you are eager to run against our cannons,

we will wait with them on our towers.


We will meet you there!


Your Holiness, I can do nothing to persuade him.


Remind the Duke of Bourbon his soul is in danger

of hell, should he die in battle.


All the more reason to win!






Scene 3: Filippo’s apartment in the Vatican. Christoforo and Filippo.


Filippo             Where are you going? What are you looking at?

Are you in a dream?


Last night I dreamed of her.


That was last night, and a dream.


I often dream

I am searching for her; but last night I found her

at the turning of a stair.




We embraced.


That’s all?


All? All! How she gave herself

so gently into my arms!


Describe the delicate

pressure of her breasts, and of her lips!


How did you know?


Wild guess.


They made my soul

blossom with the endless orchards where

man walked with woman in the world’s springtime.

She gazed all the way down the aisles of my soul to tell me

how she loved me…


At the vanishing point

dissolved, and have not coagulated yet.


Her skin was smooth as water, like when I first saw her.


This thought is making you sweat.


Leave me alone!

I’d rather dwell in the outline of a dream

than be here with you.


But I would prefer

a learned exposition. How does desire

for love, if you will, differ from plain lust?


It’s not the same at all. I know lust!

This is a holy longing. From this is borrowed

even the language for the love for God.


Except that the one is attainable. The other…


Christoforo             It’s the same pure fire in the heart that kindles

noble thoughts, like blossoms in a vine,

and burns one’s sleep and every other desire

to ashes.


You know what Plato said.


I know!

The loved one cannot satisfy the vision.

I know Origen’s commentary on

the Song of Songs, and what is meant when the King

has carried her to his chamber:

it is not possible to consummate

an inexhaustible love – not in this world!

And yet – it is she whom I must have – herself

alone, and nothing else. What then is wisdom?


Wisdom is never what we think it is.


If ever I said that I care for the love of wisdom

I lied, never having known of love!


It’s because your blood is young. It swells up

powerfully, takes you by surprise,

and overflows in ways you can’t predict.

I’m glad it no longer troubles me.



You were in love?


Filippo                                     Am I not corruptible man?

It’s all that I remember of my youth!

The faces changed – those perfect eyes, those exquisite

lips, then those of another – the waist, the hands –

which they were, doesn’t matter now,

though then it was everything. After it all

came wisdom, wearing a rather stupid smile.


You’re bitter.


And you’re insane.

It’s best that you should do whatever you must

to obtain her.


It’s not right.


Right? What’s that?


Christoforo             There’s not a man engendered of a man

who understands it. If one never sins,
he gets sick with desire. But if he sins,

he is its slave. It is not possible

to be free of desire – yet the saints insist on it!


What have you been reading?


Jacopo’s books, though I’m not being just

to text or interpretation. What they teach

is the possibility to free one’s self

from both the sickness and the slavery

of burning desire, though not without hard labor,

and not without God’s hand.


Stick to the books I give you.


I’ll read what I want to!


You need sleep.


God understands my need

for her to give herself to me!


Well, good!

Sign your petitions to him in sweat and dreams.

My plans won’t interest you.


No? Wait…
A Voice
Man the gates!                                                 [from outside


The French have come to fight! [cannon fire in the distance


[They hurriedly exit]






Scene 4: On the castle walls. Jacopo is near a cannon, but he is not attending it: instead, he leans over the wall, staring intently out. Another segment of wall, slightly higher, is behind. Noise of battle. Enter Christoforo.


Don’t you know how to fire the cannon?




Christoforo             I’ll show you. Thundering flatulence of God!

These balls are heavy! Are they pure lead?



Yesterday they stripped the type from my shelves

to melt it down.


So that’s what’s on your mind.

Are you watching?


[Enter Pope and Filippo on upper wall]




Christoforo                                     No?

Forget your print-shop! We’re fighting for our lives.


[Fires cannon. Pope and Filippo hold their ears in pain]


No, that’s not what’s on my mind. My wife –

today, I was expecting her arrival.


I hope she’s far from here! But come, man, fight!                         [reloads


I’m happy to, if they’d let me go out there –


For the slaughter? I’ve seen you fight with odds,

but not like that! The entire army of France…


Jacopo             …is free in the streets, raping in the open!


Maybe they’ll kill each other over the best ones.


You can hear the children we left behind

when the Pope called his army into the fortress.


Pope                         If he refuses his duty at the cannon,
[pointing at Jacopo

throw him over the wall!
[Filippo aims musket at Jacopo. But a cannonball hits the rampart nearby, and Filippo and the Pope duck down. Jacopo spins to them angrily]


You tenth of a coward,

stand up! How is your view of hell from there?


He’s already had one of his captains shot!

The man could see his own wife raped to death,

his screaming boy silenced, a blade to his brain:

and he went mad. That musket was his comfort.


[Exit Pope and Filippo, visibly frightened]


I think – I think that’s her!


No, it’s the same color of hair, that’s all,

come back! There’s nothing you could do…






Scene 5: Midnight, outside the castle gates. Filippo meets a small detachment of the enemy.


1st soldier
Who’s there?


Who wants to know?


1st soldier
Stand ready! If this is a trick of ambush…


Are you men of France?


1st soldier
Tell us whom you desire to meet!


I know you! You are a captain for the Pope.


1st soldier
Filippo! Are there others with you?


I am alone.


1st soldier
Inform his Holiness I fight against him.


You would turn against the very Church?


1st soldier
The closer to Rome, the greater the skepticism.

Once too often, this Pope abused my honor.


Is the Duke with you?


2nd Soldier
We are waiting for the Pope’s ambassador.


It was I who sent for you.


2nd Soldier
You! How cunning. I’m sure you remember me!

You know our terms?


I called you here to do my will, not yours.


2nd soldier
You betray us? It was we who stirred up

the King’s determination and desire

to bring his army here,

both by our influence among his bankers

as well as by those other more hidden means

which you once learned from us!


Filippo             There was an understanding, as you know.


2nd soldier             Listen to our understanding! We

intend to take Italy.


Filippo             What do I care about that?


2nd soldier             Good! But there is more. We control

the making of the images, and the sale

of books and playing cards in every guild

north and west of Rome. The secret doctrine

is ours, and shall remain so.


Filippo             Never shall you enter this castle then.


Duke of Bour             Ah, but we shall. Your captain knows the way.


Filippo             Who is this?


Duke of Bour                                     I am the Duke of Bourbon.


[Filippo lifts his musket and fires, kills the Duke: exits and closes the castle gate before the others can recover from shock.]


Filippo             I killed the Duke! I did it, single-handed!                        [shouting offstage]








Scene 1: A burned monastery in the countryside. Enter Barbara.


Is anyone here? These graves look freshly made.

Oh, the wrong of war,

refusing to spare even those who love peace most!

Even with that, I’m grateful for a breech

in the Vatican walls, where I was a prisoner,

though I don’t know where to go.

I fled through smoke and fell over bodies of men

who all died far from home,

their only preparation for burial

my own quick sprinkling of tears.

Who’s coming? It sounds like an army! Oh my God,

hide me! If I find an abandoned cassock,

I’ll disguise myself.


[Exit Barbara. Enter Duke of Ferrara and soldiers]


Duke of Fer.             Is anyone here? These graves look freshly made.

God, what have we done?

Even if the expanding powers of

this Pope were a fatal disease,

to ask a foreign King to bring the cure

was a quicker poisoning.

We’ll set camp here, establish our watch, and say

our prayers at the graves of these strugglers after God

murdered because of our pride!


Soldier                                                 Your Excellency,

we have found one.


[Enter another soldier with Barbara disguised as a monk]


Duke of F.                         Do not be afraid.
[to her. Kneels and kisses her hand

Give me your blessing. What a small hand for a man!

But some are meant to carry Psalters, and some

to carry swords.


Barbara                                      This duke seems very changed!                                    


Duke of F.            I grieve for this destruction! But you are faithful

to stay, in spite or the danger on every side.

I will protect you. But I shall set camp here

only with your permission.


Be gone at once.


Duke of F.
We will leave by night, then. Let me rest my men:

and hear me a moment. I must unburden my heart:

I commanded the death of an innocent man.


Yes, my husband!


Duke of F.
It is the fashion now

to be ruthless for power: no, it is doctrine,

sanctified in writing by philosophers.


Such counsel is foreign to true philosophy.

Its source is lust, not love.


Duke of F.
And its end is destruction

because the conscience is murdered – how you speak truth!

Evil counselors taught me how to hate

what is wise and natural!


I am only a monk

with no authority for your absolution,

so if you’ll excuse…


Duke of F.
That means nothing to me!

An excommunicant cannot receive

that benefit, not even if he’s a duke.

Nevertheless my imprisoned heart must be heard

by some friend of God.

You are a theologian. Such high learning

was never gotten from books.


You must tell me

why you desired this good man’s death.


Duke of F.
I will tell you,

and I’ll be plain about it! There were many

who clamored for his death, but I never cared

for any of their reasons.

And though their favor was useful – that wasn’t it.

Envy was my counselor.


But why?

What did he have that you lacked?


Duke of F.
You speak as though

you knew my thoughts already – like one of the holy!

I’ll tell you everything. What did he have?

The trust and confidence of my pretty wife!


But did he abuse it?


Duke of F.
Yes, as a matter of fact!


Are you sure? Think how envy distorts perceptions!


Duke of F.
Well… perhaps you’re right. It was simply

the fact that he had her trust which angered me.

There was nothing more precious she could give,

her body or her name.

He had it only because of his own virtues,

and my failings.


He was virtuous?


Duke of F.
But not entirely! Is there a man who is?

No, he was the faithful minister

for her secret adulteries.


But maybe not?


Duke of F.
I am quite sure of that.


If you had proof

you should have gone to ecclesiastical judges!


Duke of F.
You are angry at me: and rightfully so. I should have.

Instead, I thought that I was above the law.

If I were a better man, then she would have loved me.

I wasn’t. And he was only her servant. She

directed his actions. I dared not punish her.

He was a man of little consequence…


To whom?


Duke of F.
Your words are like a sword! His life

was dear to her. His death was a punishment

to her, I thought. But when I saw her grief,

anger became a gash in my own heart.

He had a wife – wise, and beautiful –

rather than have to watch her unbearable mourning

I sent her to that open scab of a Pope

to be his mistress! Of all things I have done,

that shall stand as my most abhorrent act!


What were you thinking? That if he favored her,

he would restore you to the Church’s breast?

Why would you wish to suck a poisoned faith?


Duke of F.
If Rome had been preserved in the purity

of Gregory the Great – if you had been

its bishop, or one of your monks – does heaven hear

the cry of these silent graves? But if I could

rescue her and stand in front of her

as I stand in front of you, and beg forgiveness,

I would die in this Pope’s ban

rather than receive his benediction

and die for hell! Pray God to forgive me.


I will: and it shall be done!


Duke of F.
Bless you, my theologian. I will come again

for further counsel. May we not remain?


It seems… God’s will. Why should I interfere? [Exit Duke and his soldiers

What pure and fundamental divinity

is hid in strange events!

I am the slave of my husband’s murderer

and happy for it! His genuine repentance

tears at the cloth of grief around my heart,

even if it doesn’t quite remove it.

But I would rather serve him in this purpose

than any…


Christoforo, with quiet stealth]


Come here, and keep still: I warn you!

Do not struggle. Tell me whose army this is.

I don’t want to hurt you… what! A woman!


Christoforo! What are you doing here?


[He yanks off her hood and stares at her passionately]


Christoforo              I’m – studying the fields – of the enemy.


You! Spying for the Pope?


You know

that I don’t give a mercenary’s damn

for him, but we were attacked…


He was attacked,

you mean, and justly so! You are drawn

into his conflict, along with the whole world.


What – are you doing?


I am running away.


Come back with me!


Not for any reason will I return!


Then I will come with you.


What of your mission?


Let Rome burn. Love is my only mission!                         [They embrace


Duke of F.             What have we here? Good youth, what were you doing? [re-enters
God! Is nothing what it seems to be?

Take them prisoner.


You’ll have to fight,

you, yourself, when I’m done with your soldiers here!


Duke of F.
Brave words! A corrupt monk is worth this much?


She shall not be your slave!


Duke of F.
She! Is this so?


You’ve no regard for a woman of her kind!


Duke of F.             Nor do you realize what truth you speak…
[recognizing her

it is you yourself – who have forgiven me?
[kneels at her feet

But – I am confused – did you not swear

to keep your husband’s undying memory?

But I’ve no right to say this!
[She turns away


[Noise of battle begins. Enter soldiers]


It’s the Vatican army!


Another soldier
We are surrounded!


Duke of F.
Those who wish to surrender may do so,

but I’m in a mood to fight until I die!


[Exit Duke with soldiers]


Which side will you fight?


I can’t fight anymore!


[He throws down his sword: they embrace. Enter Filippo with papal soldiers]


Here are prisoners.


Ah, these are the prize!

His Holiness will reward me well for this!


[Christoforo lunges for his sword, but Filippo wounds his arm]


It is too late: you’ve thrown it down already.


Coward! Let me have it. I would gladly

take you on with less than half my strength.


Master your own passion. Hot words won’t stir me.





Scene 2: Inside St Peter’s Cathedral. The Pope and his Cardinals seated as though at a trial. Jacopo stands before him: Bembo and Filippo are to the side.


You did not serve me well in battle.


I fought as well as anyone – if not better.


Your Holiness, he drove off

more of the enemy by sword than he would have

behind the cannon, where he is not skilled.


Pope                          But you abandoned your post…


Jacopo              Why did you only allow

the men into the castle?
The women and children

were left to a double slaughter, by the invaders

and by our own cannons!


His outburst of emotion

should be excused… his own wife was killed

by the cannons…


Jacopo                                     … while she was being ravaged!


I did what was in defense of the Holy Church!


Defense of the Church! Have you left me even

one press for that purpose? And the holy books I made –

did you wad them in the cannons?


We needed paper under the gunpowder.


None of the secular publications were touched,

none of your papal circulars!


I have been too patient with you, out of respect

for the extreme beauty of some of your work…

even now I am prepared to withhold

imprisonment if you are willing to obey.

Your treatment of classical authors is uninspired –


Not because I am unfaithful to

the source of inspiration!


What does this mean?


Whose relics are these?                         [leaning on a reliquary


Whose are they?
[to Bembo




Can you remember the dream of St Jerome?


What? I… have not read him much: his Latin

is not as bad as the others – at least he admired

classical elegance, in his earlier years.


And you don’t know why he changed?


What do you mean, “changed”?


He was in fever,

near death… when suddenly he found himself

before the heavenly Supreme Tribunal.

“Are you a Christian?” he was asked. “Yes, yes!”

he answered fervently. But he was rebuked:

“Thou art not a Christian,

but a Ciceronian!”


How dare you!


Jerome accuses you, not me!

He was sentenced, not to eternity,

only to a beating – but it was an angel

that seized him to administer that sentence!

His heart was sore when he woke – but his fever was gone!


Put him in the lower dungeon.


I am

wrapped in this fever he describes – as is

all your realm! Whatever you may do

to me, I fear God’s retribution more.


Barbara and Christoforo already

are in the lower dungeon.


No, no! Move them up into the tower,

into the light. Give them every comfort:

let them enjoy each other with all the guards

to watch them! Yes! And when they consummate

their lust, they can be burned for adultery.


You can’t… remember, she is of noble blood…


Pope                         I can do anything.






Scene 3: A prison cell in the tower. Total darkness.




Oh, it is dark!


The night of love

has not even thought of dawn.


[long pause]


The guards sleep.


Have the torches all burned out?


Come: rest here,

encircled by my arms, in my desire

for your inexhaustible loveliness – why do you struggle?


I don’t know … I can’t see …


Then let love

set fire to this darkness, like the primordial moment

that kindled the sun …


Barbara                                     It burns! If this is love,
[with a shriek of pain

why do I suffer with an unseen torture?

Why do I suffocate – with intense compulsion?


[Jacopo’s voice from the dungeon: as he speaks, a bit of dim light begins

to come through the barred window]


“If a man desires something,

he makes every effort to attain it.

But of all things which are desirable,

the divine is incomparably the best!”


Stop! Is this my conscience? Do you hear it?


It’s Jacopo in the dungeon, reading – I think

from the desert fathers. Only in this stillness

can he be heard at all.


He can’t be reading,

not in this darkness!


He must have it by heart.


“Stop defiling your flesh with shameful deeds

and polluting your soul with wicked thoughts:

then the peace of God will descend upon you

and bring love.”


Barbara                         What is love?                                                 [goes to window, shouts


[Each time Jacopo speaks, more light]


Jacopo                        “Love is a holy condition of the soul

disposing it to value knowledge of God

above created things.”


Jacopo! What else have you found in these writings?


“Fulfilling the commandments

the intellect strips itself from all the passions.

Through spiritual contemplation of things

visible, it casts off impassioned concepts.

Through the knowledge of things invisible

it discards the contemplation of all visible.

Finally it denudes itself even of this

through knowledge of the Holy Trinity.”


The divine ascent!


Now that your goddess has fallen!


Oh, what have I done?


Jacopo, please,

for as long as we can hear you, read that scroll!


When day comes, I will read what I can’t recall.


The sun is nearly up – does it never

penetrate to there?


There used to be some light – I think it has been

maybe a week or more since I could read.


He’s gone blind in the darkness!


It doesn’t matter.

What I have read, I still may think upon.


I wonder how many volumes are stored in his heart?


[Sunrise floods through the window]


Jacopo            “When the sun rises and casts its light on the world,

it reveals itself and the things it illumines.

Similarly, when the Sun of Righteousness

rises in the pure intellect,

He reveals Himself

and the inner principles of all that has been

and will be brought into existence by Him.”


[Enter Bembo, reading letter]


“Ferrara was killed in heavy fighting near Rome.”

And so, she says, if I could come to her now,

I would have my will of her! But how can I?

My duties here are too complex and demanding…

Lady, this is for you – from Francesca.             [gives another letter to her


Barbara             She has betrayed me! Even her husband would not                         [after reading

have allowed me to remain!


But I could write her!                                     [ignoring her

Her fingers running down the page where I spilled

so much wet ink, she could dip her hands

almost into my blood!


Christoforo                                                 You have no option
[reading her letter

except to give yourself into his hands.


You say that!


If I could split these bars

and throw them through his shivering heart, believe me…


I’ll choose to die instead.


I don’t want that.


Then you don’t understand what is best for me!


What? What’s this noise?                                     [Enters, followed by jailor


Your Holiness!

Have you slept well?


I haven’t slept at all!


He’s been drinking all night.


So I have!

We’ve sworn some rare oaths, haven’t we?


They shall be binding to the end of time.


Have they consummated their unblessed love?


How could they, in open view?


But their passion has no bounds, has it? Look,

you can see in their faces how they suffer for it!

Children, end this heavy abstinence.

We want to celebrate your martyrdom.

An oath …


An oath to the martyrdom of lust!                                     [they drink


But the consequence of her noble lineage…


She has no nobler role! Her family

and her own country have surrendered her

to me entirely! She has seen the letter?

If she refuses to fulfill her office,

they do not care what may happen to her.


Jacopo                                                             “But pride

and sensual pleasure are the ruin of knowledge.”
[from below


Pope                         That voice – haunting me all night – do you hear it?


It is only Jacopo, in the dungeon.


Are you sure?


Shall I bring him to you?




“The demons have no means of taking a man,

no power forcibly to enter his soul,

unless they first deprive him of holy thoughts

and make him empty of spiritual contemplation.”


That voice must be silenced! Bring him, yes.

Oh … but help me… to the lavoratory.
[they exit


I’ve heard legends of the crown of wisdom

with its jewels of pure thought, hidden

in a secret cache in inaccessible mountains…

like the old Greek monasteries, maybe, that hide

this ancient wisdom. How else could you describe

these simple thoughts? If I hold them in my heart,

they magnify the silence

to the penetrating cry of an endless prayer

no human tongue could utter!                                     [bells of the hour


[Re-enter Jacopo and jailor]


I don’t remember going down this far.

We’ve climbed many stairs, and still not come

to the boundaries of light at the dungeon’s entrance…


“Once this man was free beneath the open

heavens! He saw the splendor of the red sun,

the heaven of the cold moon!”


Boethius’ lament? And yet this voice

belongs to Christoforo.

Have I climbed the tower? You said the sun is up?


Christoforo             “Alas! How this mind is dulled,

drowned in the overwhelming depth. It wanders

in outer darkness, deprived of its natural light.”


My eyes … have lost their sight? But my mind has not!

Lady Philosophy, whom Boethius saw

not with his eyes, reminded him of the vision …


But… to see you like this!


“The man who searches deeply for the truth

must turn his inner light upon himself.”


“What God has set such conflict between two truths?”


In my mind, I still turn the pages of Scripture

where there are deep and wonderful delights,

as Augustine said. The darkness is no torment.


I never thought that the understanding of Scripture

could be so exalted, and sanctifying.


But I wonder – what more would this Gregory say

if I could read him? If I had set him in type

as I desired, I would know, and still remember…


“What cause of discord breaks

the ties which ought to bind this union of things?”

Listen, Jacopo, you’re in chains and darkness,

but you don’t have to stay here, chained to your body!

I know how the soul can be set free to fly

from its prison, unlimited –

I know the mystic technique. I can teach you…

The body is merely a burden. Imagination

is our real and vital power. Even dreams

are only a glimpse into the infinite mind!


Then why are we in these bodies?


It is a punishment – even Origen said so!

A consequence of the Fall! We can overcome it,

and come into our original condition!


“And God clothed Adam and Eve in coats of skin… ”


That’s right!


If so, it was for our good.


It was a punishment!


God is merciful.

Why escape the body when we are given hands

to accomplish the things of life? Eternity waits –

this life is only for a short duration.


Look at your suffering! You’ve done nothing wrong!

How do you know it’s Providence? What if it’s not?


The angel told me.


The angel? What angel?


The one

I met outside the city. And he assured me

even though I refused to hear his warning,

I would not be abandoned.


Well then, if you’ve been talking to angels, no sense

listening to me!


And when I was crossing the river,

the angel of death stood over the Vatican

with his sword raised to strike! I begged him not to:

he grasped the lever of a press, and pulled

until the type was crushed. Wine and blood

poured from the platen…


He is delirious.


I’ve never seen a man who was able to wear

the crown of faith. It is too difficult…


Jacopo             No one can put it on. It is given

secretly, with instructions whispered in

the heart’s own language, impossible to explain –

yet once understood, they are never forgotten!


What schismatic is he quoting now?


There is a lineage of saints in the East

we were never told of, whose sanctity

we won’t recognize until we have suffered…


You would like to suffer more?


For God’s sake,

Jacopo, don’t say anything more.


Such as this:

“He who loves God prays entirely

without distraction. But he whose intellect

is fixed on any worldly thing does not pray,

and consequently he does not love God.”


Take him out now. The embers are still glowing

from the ashes of Filippo.


You had him burned?


I found him in his room, just at the hour

the messengers from Venice warned me to look,

worshipping the devil!


The devil?


That’s right!


But this man, your Holiness, did no such thing:

he is harmless…


If you wish to stay in my favor,

say no more. You, bring him.


What has he done?

If merely to offend you were a crime…


Then I’ve got reasons to add you to the fire?


Christoforo, no…


That’s right! I’m ready!


Pope                         You seem too eager. Why not wait awhile?


[Exit Pope with Jacopo, jailor and Bembo]


Barbara             You are abhorrent to me!


Christoforo              But don’t you understand – how much – I love you?


Barbara             But you don’t understand what you have done?

If Christ Himself had no importance to you,

why do you believe enough in the evil

to think that what we have done is not wrong?


Christoforo            But can’t you understand – demonic passions

possessed me also. At last, I regret it.


Barbara            If it had been only love that moved you,

I would be yours! Go, seek that pure virtue

and leave me to weep.


Pope                          And bring those two, to watch it!                         [from offstage






Scene 4: A street in Rome, outside the Vatican. A crowd waits by the stake.


1st citizen            I want to hear

his wild last words – that’s the entertainment!


2nd citizen             None will compare to the preacher Salvanorola’s

as he spit on the dying embers of his toes!

Do you remember what he said?


1st citizen                                                             “No wonder,

Oh Rome, that the world is in error, because thou hast

imbrued this age in affliction and in war… ”

and what else?


[Enter Chrysologus]


3rd citizen                                     “Rome, thou deceiver,

Avarice blinds thee. Oh may the Holy Spirit

listen to my prayers, and break thy beak,

because thou art false and villainous to us

and to the Greeks.” That was good! Even

His Holiness turned color.



2nd citizen                                                 And what was the last thing,

while his legs were on fire? He was never short of words!


1st citizen
“The fires of hell await thee, Oh Rome!” Then

I think his tongue curled black.


Replicas of men! Their little minds

have just enough reason to allow them speech,

yet they’re able to say such things?


3rd citizen
Who is that?


1st citizen
Hey, Greek! You interested in the Roman games?

Here comes your sport!


[Enter Jacopo and soldiers, followed by Pope and his retinue]




That voice –


Don’t you recognize me?


That voice has weakened

with age – though wisdom increases quietly.             [holds up scroll

If you see Christoforo…


Chrysologos                                                 He’s right behind you!

So young, already you have lost your eyes

and your life as well?


And everything else, as well,

except for this, for this. Give this to him.

Instruct him how to beg for his life from the Pope

so that he may have this.                        [gives scroll to Chrysologos


Move on, move on.


What has he done?


Angered His Holiness

with disobedience and Greek ideas.

You know what I mean?


This is all my fault!

I’m a schismatic, too! I gave him this.

Take me instead!


A lunatic.


Another soldier
Get back!


Chrysologos             God, why not take my years instead?

Hasn’t my chain of winters dragged on enough

to please you yet? I’m too weak to endure

adversity, and the scourge of my own conscience!


Soldier             Listen to him rave.


Other soldier                                                 A lunatic.


Chrysologos             Mother of God! You, whom this people calls

“Madonna” – which name I’ve despised, and scorned

these terra-cotta images on their streets –

now they remind me of the power you have

to suspend the highest and most unsearchable laws –


[He pulls a prayer-rope out of his pocket and stares at it as something occurs to him]


Chrysologos             That’s it! That’s everything! Nothing else is needed!

Hold this, and think of nothing, except for prayer,
[to Jacopo

one prayer – that’s all there is, in all of heaven –

and this is it – say it with all your heart –


Get back!


“Jesus Christ, Son of God,

have mercy on me!”


Jesus Christ!
[holding prayer-rope


Soldier                                                             Get back!                         [to Chrysologos


Son of God …


Oh, tie him quickly!


Soldier                                                             Get back!                         [to Chrysologos


…have mercy on me!


Pope                                                 Now! Throw the torch!


Christoforo             This is how I imagined that I should die –                         [to Chrysologos

but I had no idea… someone must teach me…


Jacopo             Jesus Christ!


Chrysologos                                      He gave this to you.             [to Christoforo, indicating the scroll


Christoforo             I can’t, my hand is stained…


Jacopo                                                Son of God!


Chrysologos             “I know of another baptism –

and this one is far more august than the others

since it can’t be defiled by after-stains…”


[Christoforo takes the scroll]


Jacopo             Jesus…


[the flames obscure him]


Jacopo                         Christ!






Epilogue: Erasmus in his study, at his writing-table. As he writes, he speaks out loud.


My dearest Pietro,


I have not yet written Aldus, because I do not yet know what to say to him. In his letter to me, the poor man seems inconsolable, and I can only say that it is understandable. Jacopo was practically his foster-son: and yet he was even more, for he was his intellectual offspring – and see what destiny he was groomed for! It is not possible to remind Aldus that he cannot feel responsible for Jacopo’s hot-headed manner – not that the fellow deserved the torch for that.


As for your wondering whether it were a martyr’s face you saw in his death – ascribe it to your own sensitive nature, hating to see a good man die. One truly wonders how it could come to pass, that the world could be so evil, and even in the Church! I wonder that you are able to remain in the service of such a Pope. He makes me wish I could rip from my own body the robe of such a corrupt hierarchy. Yet even for that I would not join Luther’s camp. Reform is necessary, but within the Church, not outside of it. And yet this is just what Jacopo attempted, is it not? It sickens the conscience. I must even request that this letter meet the same fate as poor Jacopo, lest it fall into the Pope’s hands and I, rather than this paper, climb into a bed of ashes.


The best news you have sent me is that of Barbara’s release. Since Aldus printed a collection of her poetry, her new and well-deserved fame has obviously placed her beyond this Pope’s greedy reach. Aldus assures me that her brothers no longer dare to stand in the way of her own inheritance, and she has retired to a villa outside Ferrara. I look forward to seeing what turn her writings take.


I thank you for giving me Christoforo’s address. This is the remote monastery on Mt. Athos, Greece, to which he has gone with Chrysologos? I heard also that they took with them Aldus’ friend Michael Trivolis, the Greek humanist. This astonishes me more than anything, that a man whom I found to be so thoroughly humanistic in his ideals, a disciple of Ficino, Mirandola, and even Savonarola, though Greek by birth, should join himself to a Greek monastery. It is said that he has stopped shaving and become fully a Greek monk, with the name of Maximus; and that he has already gained a reputation for scholarship, which does not surprise me considering his facility for languages, and for sanctity, which surprises me exceedingly. It is said that his eyes were opened by the events surrounding the death of Jacopo. No doubt old Chrysologos poured his sour notes into his ear. The rumor goes so far as to indicate that he has renounced humanist ideas and all the philosophy of our Renaissance, and has become a staunch defender of the Athonite practice of stillness in prayer, which our own Calabrian humanist monk Barlaam so soundly accused of delusion, with its visions of light, apparitions of saints, incessant weeping, and disregard of the world of normal men. What kind of sanctity do they breed in those regions, that caused so much controversy?


I thank you for this address; but I don’t think I will write Christoforo as long as he remains there. I prefer to let the schismatics go their own way and to have nothing to do with them. I fear their extreme zeal and excessive asceticism – it was just that influence which drove Jacopo to his end. Your description of him in prison implies that he actually seemed to count himself blessed in his utter misery. Such delusion is repulsive to me, and is part of the Greek character. As often as I complain to God of the circumstances into which I was born, I thank Him I was not born one of them.


I am truly yours, Erasmus



3 Responses to “The Philokalia Acts IV – V”
  1. AR says:

    How rich!

    I came here looking for a critique… I’ve put up a critique page on my blog and am looking for partners. I don’t think I could helpfully critique your work, but I’d be so happy for your help.

    • I find your poetic voice delightful, and am so glad to have discovered it. I don’t think I could critique it until I grew more used to your voice and style perhaps – I am not really trained in that way. But I certainly am happy to read it.

  2. AR says:

    Thanks for your encouraging words. I didn’t know I had a poetic voice! Don’t worry about the critique thing; if it doesn’t fit it’s better not being forced. If you ever do have something to say feel free.

    My husband read this play and was similarly moved.

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