Pastoral Power: An Act of Salvation

Shifting perspective from the scene of Valcamonica’s death prepared by Venice’s government to that same scene prepared by the Church requires a subtle flicker of the eyes. Botero’s reputation as a political thinker, after all, follows from his reputation as a Jesuit, a member of the militant order of the Church known alternately as The Society of Jesus and the Soldiers of Christ. Similarly, the political autonomy of the Republic of Saint Mark, seemingly fashioned through a critical distance artfully maintained between the floating island and the Holy See in Rome, must not distract from the active role spiritual governance played in shaping the daily actions of the Venetian state, or at least the actions of the state legislators. To re-envision Valcamonica’s execution, thereby gaining access to another interpretation of the event and grappling more fully with the enigma of Venetian history evoked by Martin and Romano, one must look through Botero’s Della ragion di stato and the Venetian coup d’etat behind Valcamonica’s beheading into the less visible gestures of Venice’s spiritual advisors. The route to this new perspective follows a chain of archival evidence that positions the Jesuits as dramaturgs of the execution, those who were not only aware of both the sacred and profane dimensions of such a public display of mortality but also capable of directing the gazes of all present in Piazza San Marco, that epicenter of Venetian theatrical activity. Once occupying this new perspective, the interpretation of Valcamonica’s death as an act of justice begins to allow for an interpretation of the same event as an act of salvation orchestrated through an elaborate form of pastoral theatre.

The evidence linking the Jesuits explicitly to the Council of Ten, S. Maria Maddelena, and the demise of Valcamonica, begins with Jesuit historian Mario Scaduto S.J. and his study on Giacomo Lainez, the General of the Jesuit Order in 1561:

In the December of ‘60 some of the converted left the convent [i.e., the Convertite] and one of them revealed that sometimes she had been touched and kissed by [a priest named] Giampietro. [Benedetto] Palmio involved various persons in an inquest: Agostino Barbarigo, Tommaso and Giustiniano Contarini. (421)4

Scaduto’s information leads to the criminal sentencing records of the Council of Ten, 1561-1564, where there exists additional support for this connection between Palmio, the head of the Jesuit enclave in Venice, Barbarigo, and the Contarini brothers, each of whom were members of the Council. Valcamonica’s name appears three times in the pages of those records. The first was an introduction of Valcamonica to the court, during which the ministers of state identified him as “chaplain and confessor of the converted on Giudecca.”5 The second time the court decreed that, “this Fr. Zuan Piero is confined for the rest of his life in prison [... ] until he is [brought] between the two columns in S. Marco [and] beheaded.”6 Finally, the day before the execution, the Council declared one last time that, “tomorrow morning this priest Zuanpiero will be beheaded by an executioner between the two columns of S. Marco and after his death his body will be burned [... ] and converted into ash” (ASV, Consiglio dei X, filza 14).7 The names of Agostino Barbarigo and Giustiniano Contarini appear in the margins of those pages as witnesses of the sentencing and members of the judicial committee.

An understanding of how precisely Palmio could instigate these criminal proceedings and why he would choose to do so begins to form by reading the benediction he gave at a new house dedicated to the conversion of prostitutes in 1558. This house, known colloquially as the Zitelle (Spinsters, but also Maidens), was the Santa Maria della Presentazione (The Presentation of Mary) on the island of Giudecca, directly southwest of Piazza San Marco in the Basin of St Mark. The Zitelle and the Convertite were situated in close proximity, and their primary function was identical. Palmio, renowned for his oratorical ability, announced this function and its inspiration with the following words:

God, our Master, stamped in my soul an ardent desire to procure and to found in this Illustrious City ofVenice the House of the Maidens (Citelle) in order to liberate from the danger of eternal damnation Virgins who, though very beautiful and full of grace [... ] were too swiftly following the way into the profound abyss of that abominable life that is so contrary to good health. (Constitutioni et regole 1)

After the benediction, Palmio thanked a long list of noble men and women without whose help the Zitelle would not have been built. The list, a veritable who’s who of sixteenth-century Venice, included numerous doges, members of the Council of Ten, and those men’s wives. Among the names were those of “Signori Protettori M[.] Thomaso Contarino [sic]” and “il Magnifico M. Agostin Barbarigo.” The presence of so many important figures from the Venetian government attests to the social mobility of the Venetian Jesuits and provides a link between Palmio and the governmental system.

The connection between the Jesuits and the upper echelons of the Venetian government started to form 20 years earlier when Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, and his earliest followers began their service of caring for the souls of the dying in Venetian hospitals. Brian Pullan’s study of the Venetian poor has revealed that the Jesuit desire to care for the sick coincided with a crucial 20-year period in which Venetian philanthropy boomed and provided a great influx of money for charitable works. Loyola and the others not only gained visibility from their presence in the hospitals but also made connections with the benefactors whose money helped build Venice’s largest charitable institutions (Pullan 372).

By the time of Palmio’s arrival, then, there was a strong connection between the Jesuit Order and the wealthy upper-class men and women dedicated to using their wealth for charitable means. Over the course of that 20-year period, though, the Jesuit involvement in such charities had evolved from hands-on care of the sick to a properly administrative function. The Jesuits began to use their connections to acquire property and to open houses in which they could guide lost souls. Several of these houses focused their services on young female prostitutes.

The Society’s predilection for building homes for troubled youth was not arbitrary. The Jesuit mission worked primarily to shepherd lost souls back into the Catholic flock. By Pope Paul III’s decree in the Regimini militantis Ecclesiae (On the government of the Church militant), dated September 27, 1540, the Society of Jesus became an official Order of the Church. These “soldiers of God” were “to strive especially for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine and for the propagation of the faith by the ministry of the word, by spiritual exercises and works of charity, and specifically by the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity” (Society of Jesus 3-4). Houses like the Zitelle were centers of operation in the Jesuit mission of pastoral care. The Convertite, while not expressly under Jesuit command, acted as a node within the network of charitable institutions and housed numerous souls belonging to uneducated and illiterate children. The Society’s interest in salvaging the poorest members of Venetian society, its specific interest in the moral challenge presented by prostitution, and Palmio’s connections with numerous financiers and high-ranking government officials all help explain how Palmio could have gained access to Valcamonica’s case.

As for why Palmio would concern himself with Valcamonica’s crimes, I turn to a passage from The First Jesuits, by John O’Malley S.J., in which the author cites Father Jeronimo Nadal’s journals:

“The Society has the care of those souls for whom either there is nobody to care or, if somebody ought to care, the care is negligent. This is the reason for the founding of the Society. This is its dignity in the Church.” For [Father Nadal] the Jesuit task par excellence was to search for the “lost sheep”—whether pagan, Muslim, heretic, or Catholic. (73)

Prostitutes and the poor, illiterate youth were targets of Jesuit care, but so was Valcamonica. Valcamonica was a lost sheep. More than that, he was a lost shepherd and the Jesuit mission could not be successful if the very people who were helping to herd the masses were themselves running amok. For Palmio, the wanton priest who defiled the young prostitutes under his care was an embodiment of the paradox of the shepherd, which lay at the core of pastoral power.

In the same set of lectures in which he analyzed the mechanisms of reason of state, Foucault outlined this paradox and presented the scope of the problem it posed for Christian pastoral power:

On the one hand, the shepherd must keep his eye on all and each, omnes et singulatim, which will be the great problem [... ] of the techniques of power in Christian pastoralship. [... ] And then, in an even more intense manner, the second form taken by the paradox of the shepherd is the problem of the sacrifice of the shepherd for his flock, the sacrifice of himself for the whole of his flock, and the sacrifice of the whole of his flock for each of the sheep. (Foucault, Security 128)

Crucial to the case of the priest from the Convertite, Foucault’s delineation of the paradox marks the first transition from pastoral power to pastoral theatre. From Palmio’s point of view, Valcamonica had failed to keep his eye on all and each of his sheep, and this required the wayward shepherd to atone for his faults by sacrificing himself for the whole of his flock.

While it is true that the objects of the Society’s governance were souls, it is important to note that these souls were terrestrial substances. Palmio and the Jesuits struggled with the discipleship of souls on earth. This raised the stakes of their mission since any extraterrestrial life in Heaven would become possible only if they could establish themselves as the very road that conveyed souls from this world into the next. This is why the original Formula of the Society described the nature of the Jesuit “Institute” as the “pathway to God” (Society of Jesus 4). As a result of this terrestrial dimension to pastoral care, the Jesuits had to develop methods for dealing with stray sheep beyond private confession and rhetorical orations during Mass. The execution of Valcamonica would act as an embodied display of the transition of the soul from earth to heaven, and the spectacle of it was sure to draw a large audience.

The complex and paradoxical full-distribution of the shepherd-sheep relationship has four principles. The elaboration of each one sheds additional light on the execution of Valcamonica viewed from the perspective of pastoral power. Foucault named these four principles as follows. First, the “principle of analytic responsibility.” With this, the pastor has to account not only for each sheep as a numerical quantity, but also for each of the acts that each sheep commits, “everything good and evil they may have done at any time.” The analytic responsibility, then, “is not just a responsibility defined by a numerical and individual distribution, but also a responsibility defined by a qualitative and factual distribution.” Second, “the principle of exhaustive and instantaneous transfer.” That is, on the Day of Judgment, not only does the pastor have to account for every good and evil act committed by any sheep at any time but also the pastor will acquire each of those acts as if it was his own. Third, the principle of “sacrificial reversal.” If a pastor is lost along with his sheep, then “he must also lose himself for his sheep, and in their place. That is to say, the pastor must be prepared to die [body and soul] to save his sheep. ” Fourth, the principle Foucault called “alternate correspondence:” “just as on one side the pastor’s merit and salvation are due to the weaknesses of his sheep, so too the pastor’s faults and weaknesses contribute to the edification of his sheep and are part of the movement, the process, of guiding them towards salvation” (Foucault, Security 169-173).

As the head of the Jesuits in Venice, Palmio was a shepherd of shepherds as well as a shepherd involved in the herding of stray sheep. The execution of Valcamonica presented Palmio with an opportunity to display to all present, in a highly theatrical way, the extent of the discipline instilled in the Society of Jesus. He would display this discipline by sacrificing one of the Church’s own shepherds on the principles of pastoral power that underpinned the entire Jesuit mission. Since the Jesuits sought to guide souls specifically through the establishment of houses like the Zitelle, it is reasonable to suggest that the smooth functioning of all such houses, including the Convertite, was desirable to the Society. As the instigator of the project to construct a home for girls lost in the “profound abyss of that abominable life that is so contrary to good health,” as illustrated by his benediction of the Zitelle, Palmio was qualitatively responsible for the horrendous acts of Valcamonica (analytic responsibility). As such, Palmio had to take those sins as his own before the eyes ofhis God (exhaustive and instantaneous transfer).

A certain arrangement of textual artifacts, then, presents the possibility that Palmio found an instrumental use for Valcamonica’s crimes. After he confessed to his crimes in front of the Council of Ten, the scene was set for Valcamonica to become the embodiment of the sacrificial reversal. The climax of that scene would unfold in Piazza San Marco in order to contribute to the edification of the souls in attendance (alternate correspondence). To guide Venetians to salvation, Palmio could display Valcamonica in the act of sacrificing himself for his sheep. Everyone present in the Piazza that day, from Palmio’s point of view, would bear witness to the commitment of the pastoral shepherd who accepted death and self-sacrifice when the occasion called for it.

Like a congregation assembled for Mass, the audience at the execution would become a focus of Jesuit guidance. This guidance was primarily a mode of governance capable of conducting wandering souls back into the flock. To be more specific, Jesuit guidance and its function on the day of the execution was “psychagogical.” Pace Foucault, the term psychagogy refers to “the transmission of a truth whose function is not to endow any subject whomsoever with abilities, etcetera, but whose function is to modify the mode of being of the subject.” That is, if pedagogy seeks “to endow any subject whatever with aptitudes, capabilities, knowledges, and so on, that he did not possess before and that he should possess at the end of the pedagogical relationship,” the psychagogical dimension of Valcamonica’s execution aimed at modifying the spatial location of the stray souls from outside the fold back inside the fold (Foucault, Hermeneutics 407). The execution of Valcamonica from the perspective of pastoral power became an opportunity to exploit the paradox of the shepherd, the goal of which was to present the priest as a psychagogical object capable of enfolding the spectators within the embrace of the Church.

This perspective helps to explain an aspect of the execution that did not make sense within the logic of reason of state. While it is true that the state had, at times, to display authority with the soffito di stato, it is not clear why, in the case of Valcamonica, that blow had to result in death. In the folio of records where Valcamonica appeared three times before the Council of Ten, there were numerous other names of criminals who received sentences. One priest was banned for life from the lands of the Republic for committing unspecified crimes within a monastery. Another man was conducted between the two columns in Piazza San Marco, but only his right hand was cut off.

In addition to these records, the scholar Gaetano Cozzi has discovered that criminals indicted with crimes of blasphemy sometimes suffered the amputation of their tongue or they were conducted onto a scaffold between the two columns wearing an “ignominious miter on their head” and bearing signs around their necks informing the public of the crime that had led to such a punishment. In severe cases where criminals lost their tongue, an eye, a hand, or received beatings from the public gathered as spectators, those criminals would have to bear the expense of any medicine used to treat their injuries (Cozzi, “Religione” 27). All of these punishments were gruesome and extreme, all of them deployed theatrical means of punishing the criminals, but none of them was as gruesome or extreme as the punishment of Valcamonica that consisted of a brutal, botched beheading and the burning of his dismembered corpse. To stage the paradox ofthe pastoral shepherd in its most profound dimension, however, Valcamonica had necessarily to sacrifice his life spectacularly. No other punishment was possible. Beneath the gazes of the nobles seated in their boxes and up above the Venetians crowded into the Piazza, Valcamonica ended his life as a shepherd willing to endure ignominy and sacrifice himself on behalf of his flock, or at least to be sacrificed by the shepherd of shepherds.

Finally, the lens of pastoral power reveals a crucial difference between the goal of Jesuit care and that of the reason of state. With the latter, the soffito di stato functions as a tool for preserving the inner tranquility of the state understood as a geographical entity. It was a governmental instrument, but the type of government it revealed was one concerned with preserving political cohesion. Pastoral power revealed a more expansive “semantic domain” of governance. It understood “to govern” to refer to “movement in space, material subsistence [... ] the control one may exercise over oneself and others, over someone’s body, soul, and behavior.” As Foucault has suggested, this wide array of meanings revealed that, for pastoral power, “one never governs a state, a territory, or a political structure. Those whom one governs are people, individuals, or groups” (Foucault, Security 122).

Valcamonica’s exchange with the audience gathered to watch him die presented the specific type of intercourse that was crucial to the Jesuits and to the mission of pastoral care more generally; namely, an interpersonal process of exchange that constructed an economy of merit and fault between the shepherd and the sheep. God may decide in the end the value of those merits and faults, but as the militant arm of the Church in the sixteenth century, the Jesuits inserted themselves as God's chosen interlocutors in charge of facilitating the subjectivation of all souls. Viewed through the lens of pastoral power, the execution makes visible that economy of merit and fault as well as the Jesuit mode of governance in all its semantic permutations.

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