Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Ludere ad Triumphos

Cum Deo et in Ecclesia


Translation assistance from Michael S. Howard

Ludere cum Deo

Gabriel Barletta (or Gabriele of Barletta, a city in Apulia) was the most famous preacher friar of the end of the XVth century. His popularity derives from a very popular proverb: "Nescit predicare, nescit barlettare” (He doesn't know how to preach, one who doesn't know how to barlettare, that is, to express himself as the good monk did). His dates of birth and death are unknown, as is most of his life.

From one of  his sermons we know that he was alive in 1481, because he speaks of Otranto’s conquest by the Turks, which took place in the preceding year. Leandro Alberti (born in 1479), in his Descrizzione di tutta Italia (Description of all Italy) (1), considered him "a learned and eloquent preacher", yet asserting that the sermons published in his name were not really by Barletta, but by a person of such ignorance as he had never encountered, even in his youth. However it’s necessary to say that Alberti, being a Dominican, certainly felt compelled to take up the defence of his colleague.

Other writers suggested that the friar’s sermons were the subject of manipulation in printing and that two Barlettas were operating, one serious and the other burlesque; but the presence of "extravagant" sermons already in the first edition, entitled Sermones quadragesimales et de sanctis, dated to 1497 (2), contradicts them. In addition, contemporary criticism attributes the sermons to the one writer who is our friar. The fact is that people liked his sermons so immensely that they became very famous and were the subject of a dozen editions (3).

Together with the sermons of Maillard and Menot, those of Barletta appear to be the most authoritative comments for knowledge of his time. In them, with a popular style, the virtues are exalted and the vices censured by the use of  examples based on personal observations or drawn from historical-literary tradition, both classical-secular and Christian. Thus the preacher quotes Valerius Maximus, Titus Livius, Eusebius, the
Vitae Patrum, the dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, Bede, the chronicle of the Order Petrarch’s De remediis utriusque Fortunae, and others.

To understand the condemnation of his modus praedicandi (way of  conducting a sermon) advanced by various authors, we report two examples which we believe entirely apt: "After her victory over Satan, the Blessed Virgin sent him the dinner she had prepared for herself: cabbage, soup, spinach, and perhaps also sardines " (Sermon concerning the Temptations). In short, a poor dinner for which the loser would have to settle, a paltry prize appropriate to his defeat.

In the sermon of Tuesday of Pentecost, the preacher reproves the distractions during prayer, and  illustrates them by depicting a priest engaged in his morning devotions:


Pater noster qui es in coelis - I say, boy, saddle the horse, I'm going to go to town today!
sanctificetur nomen tuum - Catherine, put the pot on the fire!
Fiat voluntas tuas - Warning! The cat is next to the cheese!
 panem nostrum quotidianum - Remember to give oats to the white horse ...
And this would be praying? [the good friar concludes!].


A case in point as a scourge of the shortcomings of the Church and its ministers, as Barletta was.

We have taken the passage in  the sermon that cites the Ludus Triumphorum from the work Récréations Historiques, Critiques, Morales et d’Èrudition avec l’Histoire des Fous en Titre d’Office (Historical, Critical, Moral and Erudite Recreations with the History of Fools with Official Title), written by M. D. D. A (Jean-Francois Dreux Du Radier)  and published in Paris in 1767.

Talking about the crazy actions performed by all types of people, including even Kings, the author of the above-mentioned work gives us several passages taken from the Sermons of Barlette. Among these, the one for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (4) describes an impious person who instead  of hosting God in his heart during Sunday Mass, thought fit to offer to host him at his house in order to have fun together playing cards:

“C'est ainsi qu'il [Barlette] fait le portrait d'un impie qui au lieu de nétoyer sa conscience pour recevoir son Sauveur, & loger son Dieu, dit: Si vult venire in domum meam in istis festis paravi plura. Si voluerit ludere ad triumphos sunt in domo; ad tesseras, habeo plura tabularia. Ad Occam, habeo taxillos grossos, & minutos: grossos ut si fortè male videret, Quia Deus senuit: quelle impertinence! Ou plutôt quelle impiété” (So he [Barlette]  paints the portrait of a godless person who instead of cleaning his consciousness to receive his Saviour and host his God, says: "If he wants to come to my house during this holiday season, I have prepared quite a lot of things. If he want to play triumphs, they are at the house; [If he want to play] at board games I have many (1). For the game of Occam (2) I have big and small dice: big if he sees very poorly". So God fainted: what impertinence! Or rather what wickedness) (5).

The author here speaks about board games to play with “tessere” (In Italian). Tessere were little rectangular things, but we do not know what kind.
(2) Occam = it is probably a game, now unknown, invented or inspired by William of Occam, or Ockham (1288-1349), theologian, philosopher and an English Franciscan (See note 5).


But beyond these "extravagant" sermons, we believe that the real Barlette is to be recognized in many other of his words, for example, when denigrating those who criticized the length of religious services, he reports with emotion the attitude taken one day by Saint Ambrose, a true devotee of Christ "qui ad altare in missa per tres horas raptus fuit" (who was rapt [in the sense of ecstasy] on the altar of the Mass for three hours), simultaneously attacking the idlers who spent too much time in playing triumphs. “Modo autem super apothecas, per plateas, sub ulmo, ubi aliqui ludunt tesseris, aliqui ad triumphos, in verbis innutilibus, & inhonestis” (Although unlike around the shops, in the squares, under the elms, some people play at dominoes, some at triumphs, with unnecessary and dishonorable words.) (6).


Ludere in Ecclesia

Stefano Infessura (c.1435-c.1500), humanist, historian and jurist, is remembered for his In Diario Romanae Urbis scriptum a Stephano Infessura, scriba senatus popolique romani  (Diary of the City of Rome written by Stefano Infessura, scribe of the Senate and the Roman people), in which he told the story of the capital through the lives of the Popes, from Boniface VIII  until Alexander VI, thereby covering a period from 1294 to 1494. His chronicle was however considered "partisan", as influenced by the perspective of the Colonna family, with which he was connected.

The diary, written partly in Italian and partly in Latin, was included in the work Rerum Italicarum Scriptores (7) by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, in his treatment on the lives of the Popes (Vitae Pontificum Romanorum) as we find described by him in the Praefatio: “Ad complementum Romanae Historiae, summorumque Pontificum, accedat tandem Diarium à Stephano Infessura, partim Italico, partim Latino sermone conscriptum”.

Performing the duties of secretary of the Roman Senate for a long time, Infessura was able to learn all kinds of information circulating in Roman circles, both those concerning politics and those of the hottest gossip, as we would say today. He keeps track of news and reports anecdotes, some of them probably coloured by his partisan position, but all in all truthfully, news that was making the rounds of the city, true or false (8).

In his work treating of events that happened during the pontificate of Sixtus IV, Infessura describes in Latin the war that arose between the Papacy and its ally Roberto of Arimnio against Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria: “De bello commisso inter Xistum Quartum & Robertum de Arimino ex una, & Regem Ferdinandum, Ducenque Calabriae ex altera parte, & de morte dicti Domini Roberti anno 1482”. In this narrative, we find a story involving two important characters of the time: Gentile Virgineo Orsini (c. 1434-1497), Duke of Bracciano and a famous condottiero (soldier of fortune), and Girolamo Riario (1443-1488), a nobleman involved in numerous actions of war and politics (such as the Pazzi Conspiracy), who ended up murdered in Forli, of which he was Lord, at the hands of the Orsini family.

History informs us that Orsini, devoted to the rescue of the papal army, in June 1482 entered Rome and established his lodgings  in San Giovanni in Laterano. Having obtained favourable success over his enemies and after a number of changes, accompanied on this occasion by Girolamo Riario,  he established his lodgings again in that church in July of the same year. Infessura knew this story very well, because he had the opportunity of experiencing it directly. It is precisely for this reason that we can accept as true the description of the period of time that Riario, Orsini and his soldiers spent in the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano during breaks in the battle. Thus we learn that every day they were gaming at dice, cards and triumphs in the Sacristy, using as a table a box where objects for the ritual of worship and even some relics were kept. Infessura concludes by reporting that no one ever dared to enter that church when they were engaged in those games. This is quite understandable.

Interea verò Comes Hieronymus, Virginius Ursinus et reliqui Domini, Ecclesiam Lateranensem incolentes, non cessabant quotidie ludere ad triumphos, ad cartas, & ad aleas, et hoc quidem in Sacrestia dictae venerabilis Ecclesiae, etiam super capsa plena Reliquiis, & rebus aptis ad divinum cultum ibi existentibus; adeo quod dicto tempore à nemine vel paucissimis dicta Ecclesia extitit visitata” (9). (Meanwhile, indeed, Count Girolamo [Riario], Virginio Orsini and  others of his men, dwelling in the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano, did not stop playing at triumphs, cards and dice every day, and this precisely in the sacristy of said venerable Church, even on a box full of relics and things there found to be for  the divine worship, to the point that in this aformentioned time, the above church was visited by no one or very few).


 - Bologna, 1550.
2 - The first edition was printed in Brescia in November 1497 and January 1498.The set of sermons consisted of 52 Sermones domenicales, 28 De sanctis, 3 Extravagantes, 4 De adventu”.
3 - The editions of his sermons appeared with different titles: F. Gabrielis Bareletae, Sermones de tempore Adventus, Quadragesimae, Paschae, Ascensionis & Pentecostes, Hagenau, 1514; Sermonis fratris Gabrielis Barelete sacrae paginae professoris divi ordinis fratrum Praedicatorum, Argentinae, 1515;  Gabrielis Barelete, Sermones tam Quadragesimales quam de sanctis, Paris, 1527; Gabriel Barlette, Sermones, Venice, 1577; etc.
4 - P. 203.
5 - Lothar Teikemeier informs us that Claude Gaignebet of the University of Nice in 2006 reported, in a symposium on Gambling and Providence,  the text presumed to be the original, containing some variations in comparison to that reported in the Paris document : "Sed dicunt quidam. Si vult venire in domum meam in istis festis, paravi plura. Si voluerit ludere at triomphos sunt in domo, ad thesseras habeo plura tabulatia, ad aucam habeo taxillos grossos et minutos. Grossos ut si forte male videret, qui a deus senuit". Assuming the originality of this text (Brescia, 1497), the term “Occam” should be replaced with “aucam,” which Gaignebet reports to be a game of goose, and the final sentence should be replaced with "For the  game of goose I have large and small dice. Large if he sees very poorly, given the senescence of God”. This obviously does not affect the information on the game of Triumphs, which in the original is probably called "Triomphos" and in the French edition "Triumphos".

6Sermones Reveren. Patris ac Divini Verbi, Fratris Gabrielis Barletae, Tomus Secundus, Venetiis, Ex Officina Joan Bapt. Somalchi, 1571, p. 136.

7 - Our edition of reference: Milan, 1734. Tomi Tertii, Pars Altera.
8 - Infessura definitely belonged to the antipapal faction. That position would  have come from the restrictive measures taken by Sixtus IV with respect to the salaries of professors at the Università Romana,  where he taught law. To this day, the Catholic Encyclopaedia considers that this was one of the reasons that led him to distort various passages in his chronicle in an antipapal direction.
9 - P. 1151