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A Catalan Diplomat, Theologian and Preacher at the Council of Constance : Master Felip de Malla

Marco Pedretti
p. 143-161


Cet article entend présenter un des théologiens qui participa au concile de Constance : le chanoine catalan Felip de Malla (v. 1375 – 1431). Après des études de théologie à Paris, il rentre dans le royaume d’Aragon. Maître en théologie, il eut cependant théâtre de son autorité la cour et la ville (en particulier Barcelone) plutôt que l’Université. De Malla faisait partie de l’ambassade que le roi Alphonse le Magnanime avait envoyée au concile de Constance. Il prêcha deux sermons devant la session plénière du Concile et prit part au conclave qui élit Martin V. Il exerça également des fonctions de diplomate pour les rois d’Aragon ; prêcheur, il fut aussi curé de paroisse à Barcelone. Son ouvrage imposant sur la rédemption est écrit en Catalan et non en Latin, visiblement destiné à un public de laïcs pieux et cultivés. On peut reconnaître dans son œuvre certains traits de la théologie du xve siècle, entre autres une cohabitation de la mythologie classique et de passages bibliques, typique de la culture gothique tardive.

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1The King of the Romans Sigismund of Luxembourg, and the “Pisan pope” John XXIII convened a general Council in Constance in 1413 : from the beginning, Sigismund wanted not only bishops and abbots, but also representatives of all the Christian kingdoms, to go to Constance in order to find a solution to the Papal Schism. The other two claimants to the papacy, Gregory XII and Benedict XIII, had also been summoned to Constance, but neither accepted the invitation. At the opening of the Council, in November 1414, the Italian bishops, followers of John XXIII, were the majority, even though they would not maintain total control over the assembly, as the English, the French, and the German introduced a system of voting whereby all decisions would be taken in polls « by nations » and not « by heads ».

  • 1 About the Crown of Aragon and the Council, see : Fromme 1894 ; Aldasy 1935 ; Sanllehy 1945 and 1947 (...)

2The policy of the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (particularly Aragon, and Castile) was totally different from the other European countries, which actually sent their embassies to Constance. The King of Aragon, Ferdinand I, was indeed the last protector of Benedict XIII, therefore he firmly refused to participate in the Council 1. Nevertheless in October 1414, Ferdinand had sent three ambassadors of the Crown of Aragon (Bishop Diego de Fuensalida, the nobleman Juan Ferrandis d’Hixar and the jurist Pere de Falchs) to the King of the Romans. The ambassadors arrived in Constance together with two other ambassadors of Pope Benedict XIII in January 1415 : Sigismund received them and scheduled with them a trilateral conference in the month of June, in which he would meet both Ferdinand and Benedict XIII.

3After some adjournments of that conference, it was only at the Capitulation of Narbonne (13th December 1415) that the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, and Navarre committed to shifting their allegiance (subtractio oboedientiae) from Benedict XIII, and to sending their representatives to the Council of Constance. On 31st January 1416 the infant Alphonse signed the credentials for the first ambassador he sent to the Council : the Mercedarian brother Antoni Caixal.

  • 2 Since their arrival in Constance, the Aragonese ambassadors demanded that their votes should count (...)
  • 3 An exception was Diego de Moxena, a Franciscan friar, bachelor of Theology, and courtesan and serva (...)

4Some months later, a larger embassy was sent to Constance, but no bishop left his diocese in lands of the Crown in order to participate in the Council : as for the Crown of Aragon, the « fifth nation » of the Council (Natio Hispanica) consisted almost only of ambassadors 2. Perhaps as a consequence of that, the delegates of the King of Aragon did not involve themselves in any real theological debate : although some theologians, like Antoni Caixal, or Felip de Malla, were members of the embassy, they did not take part in any real theological debate either during the sessions of the Council 3. The most serious problems for the King of Aragon and his ambassadors were juridical and procedural rather than theological : the ambassadors had to cooperate for the unity of the Church, but also to preserve the King’s rights and privileges.

5This article is about one member of that embassy, Felip de Malla (Philippus de Medalia), focussing not only on his contribution during the council, but also on his work as a diplomat, a preacher, and a writer.

  • 4 A list of his works published as well as unedited and lost, can be found in Vilallonga 1993 : 118-1 (...)

6Felip de Malla was probably one of the most fluent Catalan preachers in his time, second only to the Dominican friar Vicent Ferrer (Goñi 1966 : 81, reporting an opinion from Jerónimo Zurita’s Anales). He was a secular priest, studied theology in Paris, but did not go on teaching at that university : he went back to Catalonia and served first Pope Benedict XIII, then the Kings of Aragon, and finally, after the Council of Constance, the Generalitat (the institution that ruled the Catalan counties in the name of the King of Aragon). In those years from 1410 to 1430, Felip de Malla was also a pastor in Barcelona, preached numerous sermons throughout Catalonia and the Kingdom of Valencia, and also wrote some books on theological matters 4.

I. His life

a. Education in Barcelona, Lleida, and Paris

  • 5 As yet, the most complete biographies are Madurell 1964 : 499-626, and Perarnau 1978 : 7-81.

7Felip de Malla was born between 1375 and 1380 to a wealthy family in Barcelona 5. His father, Andreu, was the owner of some mills, and became a member of the Consell de Cent, the city council formed by representatives of the richest and most powerful families. Felip had at least six brothers and sisters (or even more, if some of them died in infancy) ; his oldest brother, Andreu, entered the order of Knights Hospitallers and later became the commander of the convent of Tortosa : he was also a trusty collaborator of King Martin I.

8On 6th April 1387, young Felip received the clerical tonsure in the Cathedral of Barcelona, and applied for an ecclesiastical benefice : he had been born at the time of the beginning of the Western Schism, and entered the clergy in the year when the new King of Aragon, John I, gave his support to Clement VII, the Avignonese claimant to the papacy, during a solemn ceremony in Barcelona (John’s father, King Peter III, had not taken a stand on the Schism since 1378, when the Cardinals elected Clement VII against Urban VI). For at least one year before his tonsure, Felip had been a scholaris, a pupil at a school in Barcelona (probably the Cathedral school), and he probably went on studying in his hometown for some years longer. It is also possible that he studied in the Lullist School of Barcelona : in fact, some scholars have wondered whether any influence of Ramon Lull’s thinking can be perceived in his works (cfr Perarnau 1978 : 33-35). Josep Perarnau (ibidem : 29-59) proposed some hypotheses about Felip de Malla’s student career : he probably continued in Barcelona until 1390-1391, then moved to the University of Lleida ; after five years in the Faculty of Arts of Lleida, in 1395 he went to Paris, where he attended the Faculty of Theology.

9In 1404 he was already a Bachelor of Theology, and taught Aristotle’s Ethics in a college of the University of Paris, while he was still a student there ; in 1405 he gave a lecture on the Sentences (so he was lector sententiarius). In the same year he mediated between King Martin I and the Provincial Superior of the Celestine Monks, in order to establish a monastery of theirs within the Royal Palace of Barcelona, where the relics that King Martin had collected should be enshrined and venerated. Among these relics, there was the cup they believed that Jesus used at the Last Supper, kept until then in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, near Jaca in Aragon.

  • 6 Josep Perarnau (1978 : 55-57) wrote some notes about the difference between Jean Gerson’s theology (...)

10In those years, the most important personality in the University of Paris was the Chancellor Jean Gerson. A strong dispute between Gerson and the Dominican friar Joan de Montsó about the Immaculate Conception had already begun in the late 1380’s : it seems that Malla had no problem in following the Chancellor’s theses, and in fact Malla defended the opinion of the Immaculate Conception throughout his life 6.

  • 7 We know this date because of a sermon for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, where Malla said (...)

11On 8th December 1407, Felip de Malla graduated as Master of Theology 7. In 1408 magister Felip returned from Paris to Barcelona, was ordained priest and settled in one of the houses of the Cathedral (since 1403 he had been a canon of the Barcelonese Cathedral, and since April 1407 he had been designated pastor of the Church Santa Maria del Pi – Our Lady of the Pine Tree – in Barcelona). He also participated in the Council of Perpignan, the general Council of the Avignonese obedience, as he was a member of Pope Benedict’s « family ».

b. An ambassador of the King of Aragon

12From the moment Felip de Malla went back to Barcelona, he also started a career in diplomacy. Although he continued writing sermons and other literary works, he worked for many years as an ambassador, facing political problems of that time.

  • 8 About some speeches he gave in that period before the “Consistory of the Gay Science” of Barcelona, (...)

13In 1408, when Malla had just returned from Paris, King Martin appointed him as his « counsellor and promoter of the business of the court » (the King called him « conseller e promotor dels negocis de la cort » in a letter of November 1408 : Perarnau 1978 : 61) ; in the same period, Malla preached several times in the Royal Chapel on solemn occasions 8. In 1410, the Bishop of Barcelona Francesc de Blanes died, and the City Council wanted Malla to become the new bishop, even though he was only about thirty years old ; Pope Benedict XIII however chose his personal secretary, Francesc Climent Sapera, for the rule of the Diocese.

14After King Martin’s death, the intricate problem of his succession arose in the lands of the Crown of Aragon. In 1412, Malla was elected a member of the Parliament of Tortosa, the national parliament of Catalonia, divided into various opposing parties, the most important of which were that of the supporters of Ferdinand of Antequera and that of the supporters of Count James of Urgell. Felip de Malla sided with Ferdinand, who was in fact elected the new King of Aragon at the Compromise of Casp (24th June 1412). In 1413, Felip de Malla witnessed the siege of Balaguer, where the Count of Urgell, James « the Unfortunate », surrendered and was made prisoner by the royal troops. Malla also attended the coronation of King Ferdinand in the Cathedral of Saragossa, on 5th September 1414.

15In April 1415, Felip de Malla had to leave for England and Scotland, to visit those countries as an ambassador of both King Ferdinand and Pope Benedict XIII. That embassy intended to re-establish the union of the Church, to encourage a peace treaty between France and England in the context of the Hundred Years’ War, and to form a new alliance between England and the Crown of Aragon through the marriage of King Henry V and Ferdinand’s eldest daughter, Mary. Nonetheless, England and France resumed hostilities while Felip de Malla was in England : he could not continue his journey towards Scotland and so he went back to Barcelona.

16In September, October and November, the trilateral conference between King Ferdinand, King Sigismund, and Pope Benedict XIII took place in Perpignan : when the King of the Romans, Sigismund, and twelve delegates of the Council, asked Benedict to renounce the papacy, the pope left Perpignan, and sailed towards the castle of Peníscola, in the Kingdom of Valencia, where he found refuge. Felip de Malla was present at the conference and, seeing the pope’s flight, decided to leave Benedict XIIIonce and for all. The withdrawal of obedience of the Crown of Aragon to Benedict XIII was proclaimed on 6th January of the following year ; the most famous preacher of the Aragonese court, Vicent Ferrer, had the task of announcing it in a sermon, which he gave in Perpignan. From that moment, he decided to leave the court and diplomacy forever, and committed himself to itinerant preaching outside of the Crown of Aragon, until he died in Brittany a few years later (cfr Martínez 1953 : 20-22). The King of Aragon, Ferdinand, and his son Alphonse, tried many times to persuade Ferrer to go to Constance and to cooperate again in the work for the unity of the Church, but every effort of theirs was futile.

17From that moment on, King Ferdinand chose Felip de Malla as his representative in several matters relating to the withdrawal of obedience : in January 1416 Ferdinand appointed him ambassador to the King of the Romans, who still was in Avignon (Sigismund was so happy to hear the news about the withdrawal of obedience, that Malla had to read him the edict six times : cfr Bofarull 1882 : 19-23) ; in February he gave sermons in Barcelona, Valencia, and the towns of Xàtiva and Alcira, to announce to the people that Pere de Luna was not to be considered the pope any more, and to explain the King’s reasons for that decision. It should be taken into account that the King also claimed for himself all the rents of Benedict’s Curia, and the rents of the non-resident prelates in his kingdoms. Almost all the clergy and a large part of the people however still remained faithful to Pope Benedict ; as a consequence of that, some people accused Malla of being a schismatic, and somebody even posted placards around the town, saying that he wanted his revenge against Benedict XIII for not being appointed Bishop of Barcelona in 1410. Nonetheless, a distinguished Dominican friar, Antoni Canals, a professor of Theology at the University of Valencia, deputy inquisitor and a humanist, supported Malla (about this campaign of preaching, cfr Bofarull 1882 : 24-33).

18In July and August 1416 Felip de Malla went to Castile as ambassador of the new King Alphonse (Ferdinand had died on 2nd April 1416), in order to persuade King John II to imitate his uncle Ferdinand of Aragon and to withdraw his obedience from Benedict.

c. The Council of Constance

19When Felip de Malla returned from Castile, he was appointed ambassador of the King of Aragon for the Council of Constance. Other ambassadors had reached Constance earlier. Antoni Caixal, General Master of the Order of Mercy, arrived at Constance on 28th February 1416. Joan Ramon Folc, Count of Cardona, chosen by King Ferdinand, and later by King Alphonse, as the president of their embassy, together with the knight Ramon Xatmar, the jurist and diplomat Esperandeu Cardona, the jurist Gonzalo de Santa María (a son of the chief rabbi of Burgos, who had converted to Christianity, was baptized taking the name of Pablo de Santa María, and later became the bishop of Cartagena and Burgos), and the jurist Miquel de Navés, entered Constance on 5th September 1416, welcomed with joy by many members of the Council.

  • 9 Three manuscripts of this sermon have survived : Milan, Ambrosiana, 116 sup., fs. 57r-64v ; Kremsmü (...)
  • 10 Manuscripts : Venice, Marciana, 23, fs. 292-296 ; Kremsmünster, Stiftbibliothek, 4, fs. 317r-ss. ; (...)
  • 11 Felip de Malla sent King Alphonse a letter in which he described in details the Conclave and the el (...)

20Felip de Malla joined the Council only on 4th January 1417. On the same day, he read a sermon during a general congregation, on the biblical passage : “Stabunt iusti in magna constantia” (Wisdom 5,1) 9. A few days later, he preached again before the Council on the feast of Saint Thomas, on 7th March 10. In November 1417, Malla was unanimously elected a representative of the Spanish nation in the Conclave, together with the theologian Gonzalo de Santa María and other four delegates from Castile and Navarre. After the election of Pope Martin V, on 21st November, he delivered a speech on behalf of the Spanish nation 11.

21Nonetheless, after the election of the new Pope the relationship between Felip de Malla and King Alphonse grew worse. The kings of Aragon, Ferdinand and his son Alphonse, had taken upon themselves the income of vacant benefices when they withdrew their obedience from the Avignonese Pope, and created a fund of revenues in order to collect all the money that up till then had to be paid to Benedict XIII’s Apostolic Camera. King Alphonse particularly needed that money since he found the royal treasury nearly empty when he became the new King. But most of all, the King wanted to control the assignation of ecclesiastical offices and benefices : even though the secular authority could not grant ecclesiastical offices directly, the control of « vacancies » was an instrument to select appreciated people for major roles.

  • 12 Perarnau 1978 : 67-73 defends Malla from the accusation of asking for graces for himself, but most (...)

22Some serious problems arose when the Aragonese ambassadors, after the election of Martin V, began to ask the new Pope for graces and benefices. In this instance, it seems that Felip de Malla did not ask for any special favours for himself 12, but Martin V granted him some benefices, in particular a pabordia (provostship) in Valencia, and the office of archdeacon in Barcelona, as a reward for the important role that Malla had had during the conclave, when Martin had been elected. King Alphonse gained information about those benefits from Macià de Puig and Paulo Nicolàs, two trustworthy representatives he sent to Constance in 1417 in order to keep an eye on the ambassadors. On 8th December 1417, King Alphonse wrote a letter to Bernat de Gualbes, mestre racional of the Kingdom of Valencia (the chief administrator of the royal assets) : King Alphonse accused Felip de Malla of showing disrespect towards his King and threatened to banish him from his kingdom (« No darem paciència que aquests aytals nos víngan denant ne entren dins nostra senyoria » Perarnau 1978 : 71 ; the King repeated the same words in another letter, to Felip de Malla himself, with the date of 4th April 1418 : « En cas que indurit en vostra perfidia e inobediencia perseveràrets … no tol.leraríem en alguna manera que … nos venguéssets davant » Bofarull 1882 : 109).

23Thenceforth, the King did not trust Felip de Malla as before, and, though Alphonse did not impose the punishments he threatened, Felip de Malla did not work any more as a diplomat for his King.

d. The Generalitat of Catalonia

24Felip de Malla went back to Catalonia in 1417, but on 14th of April 1419 he was called again to preach in the Royal Chapel, on Good Friday. So we suppose that by that date the King had become reconciled to him. That sermon about the Passion probably became the first chapter of Memorial del pecador remut (« Memorial of the Redeemed Sinner »), his main spiritual and theological work, finished by 1430. In 1421, Malla was appointed the administrator of the Holy Cross Hospital, the main hospital in Barcelona.

25In 1422-1423 the Generalitat, the institution which ruled the administration of Catalonia, chose Malla to lead an embassy to King Alphonse himself, who was still in Italy, and also to the Pontifical Court in Rome, perhaps in order to request the creation of a university in Barcelona. During the decade 1420-1430, Felip de Malla also worked to reform the grammar schools of Barcelona, in order to establish a School of Arts, a first step towards the creation of the University of Barcelona (which would eventually happen in 1450). The City Council and the Cathedral Chapter had wanted this reform since 1422, and finally this project was carried out under the direction of Felip de Malla.

26Josep Perarnau (1978 : 78.116) suggested that Malla read and studied Dante’s work during this stay in Italy, in light of the quotations and echoes of Dante’s Commedia that can be found in Malla’s Memorial. Although it is possible that Malla first read Dante during his stay in Italy, he might have already read Dante’s masterpiece in Constance or even in Barcelona (the poet Andreu Febrer finished his translation of the Commedia in Barcelona in the year 1429, but Dante was known and read in Catalonia even earlier).

27After returning from Italy, Malla was elected one of the three « deputats », the supreme rulers of the Generalitat ; since the representative of the clergy had the right to preside over the other deputats, Malla became the president of the Generalitat from 1425 to 1428. In 1430 he was appointed the Vicar Capitular of Barcelona, after the death of Bishop Francesc Climent Sapera.

28Felip de Malla died on 11th July 1431. We cannot read his last will, which got lost, but when we see the reports of its executors (cfr Madurell 1964), we see that Malla’s library was rich in Patristic and Scholastic works, and also contained some works of classical authors.

II. Malla’s Theological Works

29We can divide Malla’s written production into three groups (see Vilallonga 1993 : 118-126) :

  • theological works : Memorial del pecador remut, Molt devota contemplació del preciós cors de Jhesucrist (edited by Vives 1951 : 19-23), and a Planctus de materia schismatis, lost,

  • sermons,

  • letters.

30His letters give us much information about their author’s life and opinions, most of all in the context of the historical events in which Felip de Malla was involved. Josep Perarnau undertook the edition of his political letters, but unfortunately he published only the first volume (1978), with a general introduction, and then gave up the project. On the other hand, the Memorial del pecador remut, and the sermons, are much more interesting in order to understand his opinions and his method in theology.

a. Memorial del pecador remut

31The Memorial is the largest and the most important work by Felip de Malla. Two manuscripts (Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya 465, and Valencia, Cathedral 154) transmit the text of two different parts of the same work. We can also read some copies of two incunabula editions : Girona 1483 and Barcelona 1495 (a description in Malla 1981-1982 : 1 : 51-55). A modern edition has been published too, edited by Manuel Balasch (Malla 1981-1982) ; yet it is an incomplete edition, because only a part of the work (copied in the manuscript of Barcelona) has been published here, while the manuscript of Valencia, which surely is the second part of the Memorial, is still unpublished.

32Memorial del pecador remut is about the redemption of mankind ; it is not a typical medieval theological treatise, structured in articuli and quaestiones, but rather a literary work where the author pursues both a clear exposition of theological concepts, and an elegant and precious style.

33Why did Malla, who was able to write in fluent and precious Latin (for example in his sermons before the Council), write this book in Catalan ? I think that there is more than one reason : he probably wrote it for cultured lay people, either members of the nobility or the bourgeoisie, who were interested in theology but did not read Latin. But above all Felip de Malla must certainly have known another Catalan writer, the Franciscan Francesc Eiximenis, who wrote his huge encyclopaedia of Christianity, the books of Lo Crestià (« The Christian »), in Catalan.

34In the first part of the Memorial, the author describes the situation of mankind overwhelmed by sin, and their hope of salvation ; human salvation fulfilled by Jesus Christ is explained in the second part. Malla often uses dialogues, or fictitious interventions spoken by Jesus Christ, God himself, the Virgin Mary, and also biblical prophets, apostles, other characters in biblical history, Greek philosophers and the Sibyls. In this section of the work, the Sibyl is a key figure, as her voice is the voice of pre-Christian wisdom, waiting for redemption. That is why we can say that Malla is a sort of Christian pre-humanist, open to any contribution of non-Christian authors in his Christian perspective : for example he quotes Aristotle, as well as Seneca, Sallust, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Homer (though he probably did not read all these authors’ works, but extracted those quotations from centones).

35The Memorial is a kind of long, written sermon, a sample of « high-level » preaching. Several topics of dogmatic and moral theology are touched on ; in particular the virtues are personified and can speak and reply about the history of human salvation.

36Beginning from the seventh chapter of the Barcelonese manuscript (first part) we can find a disputation (it could be an academic disputation, but even a sort of trial), under the presidency of God the Father, about the convenience of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Virgin Mary performs as her son’s advocate (or maybe she is a figure of the theologian himself, who tries to understand why Christ had to suffer and die on the cross), and many other characters of the Bible and classical history speak to her about the redemption through Christ’s death.

37In his theological system, Malla is faithful to Christian dogmata, and to the Scholastic tradition : Thomas Aquinas is certainly a major reference, though Malla is sometimes closer to Scotus’s theology, for example when he states that the Incarnation was foreseen even before the Fall, and even if man had not sinned, nevertheless the second person of the Trinity would have become flesh. Another typical tract of Malla’s Christology is an insistence on the absolute superabundance of the « excess » of the cross is a free and gracious gift of God.

38The description of Theology (pronounced by Theology herself) in the sixth chapter is quite interesting :

Yo són Theologia sancta, inmaculada, raig de lum supernal, transcendent e infalsificable, tramesa d’alt a baix, e dels cels a la terra, per instruir los hòmens qui viuen en lo món, certs de lur mort e així mateix de resurrecció, de les veritats necessàries a llur salvació e per dirigir-los a fi eternal, qui ès fruïció de bé divinal. Car yo, incomparablement altificada sobre tota sciència e scriptura humana, preych e declar via de veritat, apel·lant les gents a la pàtria subirana, regió de vivents, d’on mort, ignorància e vana cupiditat són del tot exel·lades, e revocant-les de terrenals desigs, los fas venir en sa vera, sens capció e altra ficció, e certa felicitat, font e principi de tota bondat inseparable de eternitat. (Malla 1981-1982 : 1 : 222-223)

I am the holy, immaculate Theology : I am a ray of the celestial light, a ray of the transcendent and unfalsifiable light that has been sent from on high to the low, from the Heaven to the earth, in order to teach men, living in this world, conscious of their mortality and also of their resurrection, the truth necessary to their salvation, and in order to lead them to an eternal end, that is the fruition of the divine goodness. Indeed I am incomparably higher than any other science and human scripture, I preach and declare the way of truth, I call people to the celestial home, the land of the living, from which death, ignorance, and vain cupidity are totally banished. I keep people away from worldly lusts, so I bring them to their true, sincere, genuine, and sure happiness, which is the source and principle of all good eternally united to eternity.

39In Malla’s system, Theology is first of all interpretation of Scripture ; so, it has a practical aim, which is to lead people to heaven, to eternal beatitude, rather than a theoretical purpose.

E girant devés mi los seus ulls scintil·lants,… produhí’m denant XLVII ròtols, los quals, segons me dix, eren los XLVII libres del Vell Testament, qui per la obscuritat, e ab ombra de ley, són figurats per ròtols amaguats e conplits e conclosos. E més avant me liurà lo libre que tenia sota la exella, tancat devers la part del cor, en lo qual era scrit ab letres d’aur, resplendents e belles, lo Novell Testament. (Malla 1981-1982 : 1 : 241)

She turned her glittering eyes towards me, and she put before me forty-seven scrolls, which were the forty-seven books of the Old Testament, according to what she said to me : because of their obscurity and the darkness of the law, they are represented with hidden, shut, and accomplished scrolls. After which, she delivered me a book she held under her armpit, closed in direction of her heart, where the New Testament had been written with golden, shining and beautiful letters.

b. Sermons

40According to the list given by Vilallonga (1993 : 119-121), we have thirteen sermons by Felip de Malla with the date when they were given, three more speeches delivered in secular contexts (two at the contest of Gaia Ciència and one on behalf of the Catalan Parliament, or Corts), and eleven sermons without a date. Some of them are quite interesting for they are bi-lingual sermons : like some other preachers, Malla may have used Latin and Catalan in continuum when he preached before a cultivated public. It is also possible, however, that some amanuenses or copyists created that alternation only in the manuscripts.

41The oldest sermon we know was given on the day of the Annunciation in 1408, in the church of San Lorenzo in Portovenere, Italy : Malla was surely there with the court of Pope Benedict XIII. On 9th July 1431 Felip de Malla should have given a sermon during the funeral of Violant de Bar, the widow of King John I, but he felt faint, could not finish preaching and died a few days later.

  • 13 “Malla believed that poetry and artful prose should be devoted to theological, moral and political (...)

42All those sermons were read before different groups of people : the King, the congregation in the « Pine Tree » church, the fathers of the Council of Constance, several poets gathered during the contest of the Gaia Ciència. In February 1413 the King wanted Malla to speak at the beginning and at the end of that poetry contest, which took place every year in Barcelona (the texts were copied in the manuscript of Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, ms. 466, f. 86v-92v ; cfr Olivar 1991, Pujol 1996). In the opening ceremony the orator had to announce the themes on which the poets (who thought of themselves as the true heirs of the troubadours) had to compose their works ; at the end of the festival, the same master had to proclaim the winner. So, in the first speech, Malla explains his relationship with Theology 13. He introduces himself as a theologian (« Fill e alumpne de la sancta e seraphica Theolegia »), explaining how he found his joy and consolation in Theology, and suggesting that the poets listening to him should imitate him and write their works about religious matters, exactly like the best Greek and Latin poets :

  • 14 Addressing the poets, Malla reminds them to write poems about Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, King F (...)

Com sia fill e alumpne jatsia inutil de la sancta e seraphica Theolegia, voltar m’e ves ella com a mare e maestressa perque la fredor de mon enteniment reba auxili per la calor de les sues vestidures, les quals dona dobles als seus domèstichs (Prouerbiorum ultimo : “Non timebit domui suae a frigoribus niuis : omnes domestici eius uestiti sunt dupplicibus”), car ella es com a luminari major del mon, dant calor, splendor e stils de honor a cells qui la servexen (Pujol 1996 : 223) 14.

Since I am a child and a pupil (although an inept pupil) of the holy and seraphic Theology, I shall turn to her like to a mother and a teacher, so that the coldness of my understanding gets a help, thanks to the warmness of the garments that she donates double to her household (« She shall not dread for her house of the colds of snow ; for all her menials be clothed with double clothes », Proverbs 31,21). She is like the greater light of the world, and gives heat, splendour, and treatment of honours to those who serve her.

  • 15 The sermon is still inedited, but I hope I can achieve a critical edition soon. For a list of the m (...)

43Another interesting sermon is the first one that Felip de Malla gave before the Council of Constance, on the very day of his official reception as an ambassador of the Crown of Aragon 15. Fillastre describes the arrival of Malla at the Council and his sermon (« prolixum valde et rhetoricum atque poëticum cum admixtione sacre scripture et historiarum ») :

Die lune quarta Januarii anno Domini millesimo quandringentesimo decimo septimo et huius concilii tercio sedit concilium sine solennitate et parata sedes alta ad ambonem ante non retro pro recipiendo legatum unum regis Aragonum magistrum Philippum de Medalia, sacre pagine professorem, qui primo litteras dicti regis presentavit credenciales. Quibus lectis statim incepit sermonem sumpto themate : Stabunt iusti in magna constancia, sermonem prolixum valde et rhetoricum atque poëticum cum admixtione sacre scripture et historiarum compendiose. Finito sermone dixit credenciam, quod ex parte regis Aragonum fuit missus ad regem Castelle et illum sollicitavit de substracione fienda per eum Petro de Luna, de mittendo ad hoc concilium, de uniendo se et regnum suum concilio, de pubblicando litteras convocacionis. Et obtinuit, quod idem rex Castelle litteras convocatorias ad concilium fecit per regnum suum publicare et quod ordinavit legacionem solennem ad concilium, que iam egressa regnum Castelle erat in Aragonia cum bona et ampla potestate ; laudavit plurimum regem suum de laboribus et perseverancia in proposito unionis. […] D. cardinalis Florentinus respondit propositum legati regis Aragonum sumpto themate pro rege : Vir Dei es, et deducit ad laudes regis, et ita recessum est (Finke 1896-1928 : 2 : 83-84).

On Monday 4th January 1417, the third year from the beginning of this Council, a session of the Council was opened, without any solemnity : a high chair was set up close to the tribune, at the very front, in order to receive an ambassador of the king of Aragon, master Felip de Malla, a professor of Theology. First of all he delivered the letters of credence signed by the aforesaid king ; right after those letters had been read, he began giving a sermon, for which he chose the theme : “Then shall the righteous men stand in great boldness” (Stabunt iusti in magna constantia, Wisdom 5,1). It was a very long sermon, rhetorically polished, but also poetical, with an alternation of Holy Writ and narrations, all in one. When the sermon was finished, he confided that the king of Aragon had sent him to the king of Castile, and he had urged him to subtract his obedience to Peter de Luna, to send a legation to this Council, to aggregate himself and his Kingdom to the Council, and to publish some letters of convocation. Felip de Malla achieved that the said king of Castile published a convocation for the Council throughout his Kingdom, and resolved on sending a solemn embassy to the Council. That embassy had already left the Kingdom of Castile, and at the moment was in Aragon, and had a good and broad authority. He also praised his king’s efforts and perseverance to get the unity of the Church. […] The cardinal of Florence (Francesco Zabarella) replied to the ambassador of the king of Aragon, choosing the theme « Thou art a man of God » (Vir Dei es, 1King 17, 24) about the same king, praising him, then the session was adjourned.

44This sermon is about the union and reform of the Church. In particular, we find the theme of the two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon : the city of Constance is the new Jerusalem, where the righteous cooperate to put an end to the Schism, while the evil forces that caused the division of the Church belong to Belial and Lucifer’s city (which is also the kingdom of « tartareus Pluto », ms. Ambrosiana 116sup., f. 57r). After the Iberian kingdoms have rejoined the Council, all Christendom is present (« Adest Aragonia, adest Portugalia, adest Navarra », 64v), and the fathers (« quos per vinculo amoris pietas suprema ligavit », 64v) can accomplish their mission and reunify the Church.

45The prose is flowery and verbose, rich in mythological images : the Church is the small boat that has to sail « inter spumosas procelosi Sirtes equoris » (57r), the members of the Council can steer the Church, and take it to a calm harbour. Once again, we can find a sequence of references to the Bible, and classical literature and mythology, as we saw in the speeches before the poetry contest of 1413.

III. A typical theologian and spiritual author of the fifteenth Century

46A monograph about Felip de Malla as a theologian has still not been written. Martí de Riquer (1980 : 387-425), in his history of Catalan literature, focussed on literary aspects, such as style, sources, models ; Josep Perarnau, in his introduction of the political letters (Perarnau 1978) and in his articles (1984, 2002, and 2008), shows us many details about his political interventions and opinions, particularly about Malla as a supporter of the Catalan « pactism ». Only the classical philologist Manuel Balasch wrote some essays about Malla’s theology, in the 1980’s (most of all about his use of biblical and pre-Christian authorities : Balasch 1978, 1982, and 1983), but he died in 2008, and probably somebody should pick up the baton.

47Felip de Malla can certainly be considered a theologian, due to his education in Paris and his writings, above all his Memorial and his sermons. He also took part in the debate about the Immaculate Conception, defending the thesis of the Conception of the Virgin Mary without original sin. But Malla was a theologian and master outside the University : the court and the city (especially Barcelona) were the milieus where he used his authority. The most prominent figure of a preacher in this period is Vicent Ferrer, and we can find some similarities between him and Felip de Malla ; nonetheless, there are also some evident differences. For example, we can not find in Ferrer’s sermons that attention to the classical world that, as we saw, is typical of Malla : Vincent Ferrer recommended preachers should not cite classical authors or poets, and he even censures Dante (Riquer, 1980 : 258-259).

48Malla is not a proper « humanist », since he appreciates pre-Christian authors only in a Christian perspective, for their moral teaching (Seneca) or their prophecies about the future coming of the Messiah (Virgil, the Sibylline oracles) : although he owned many books by Latin authors, he was not interested in the philological effort that was typical of the first generation of humanists. It is quite clear however that he does not quote those authors only as « decorative » examples : he has a wide perspective on history, which allows him to see these authors as real authorities.

49Our theologian stands at the passage from the late Middle Ages towards humanism. Both the fathers of the Church and pagan authors are « authorities » for him, although the Christian dogma is still the centre of his attention, and it is the only hermeneutic criterion for reading and criticizing any literary work of the past.

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Aldasy, Antal (1935) : “Les rapports de Sigismond avec le Royaume d’Aragon”, Estudis Universitaris Catalans, 20, pp. 1-49.

Bada Elias, Joan (1988) : “L’Església catalana entre Constança i Benet XIII (1416)”, in : Jornades sobre el Cisma d’Occident a Catalunya. les Illes i el País Valencìà : Barcelona-Peníscola, 19-21 d’abril de 1979 : Ponències i comunicacions, Barcelona, Institut d’Estudis Catalans : pp. 309-336.

Badia, Lola (2010) : “Volent escriure a vostra consolació e plaer : Metge, Corella and other 14th and 15th century masters of Catalan prose”, Catalan Historical Review, 3, pp. 55-68.

Balasch Recort, Manuel (1983) : “Un precursor del humanismo peninsular : Felipe de Malla”, Helmántica, 34 : Corollas philologicas in honorem Iosephi Guillen Cabañero edendas curavit Iosephus Oroz Reta, pp. 73-79.

Balasch Recort, Manuel (1978) : “El pensament bíblic de Felip de Malla”, Revista Catalana de Teologia, 3, pp. 99-126.

Bofarull Sans, Francesc (1882) : Felipe de Malla y el Concilio de Constanza : Estudio histórico-biográfico : Documentos justificativos y correspondencia diplomática de los embajadores aragoneses, Gerona, Impr. y Librería de Paciano Torres.

Cisma d’Occident a Catalunya (1979) : El Cisma d’Occident a Catalunya, les Illes i el País Valencià : Repertori bibliogràfic, Barcelona, Institut d’Estudis Catalans.

Finke, Heinrich, Johannes Hollnsteiner & Hermann Heimpel (edd.) (1896-1928) : Acta Concilii Constanciensis, Münster i. W., Verlag der Regensbergschen Buchhandlung.

Fromme, Bernhard (1894) : Die Spanische Nation und das Konstanzer Konzil : Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Grossen Abendländischen Schismas, Münster, Regensberg.

Goñi Gaztambide, José (1966) : Los españoles en el Concilio de Constanza : Notas biográficas, Madrid – Barcelona, C.S.I.C.

Jornades sobre el Cisma (1986-1988) : Jornades sobre el Cisma d’Occident a Catalunya, les Illes i el País Valencià : Barcelona-Peníscola, 19-21 d’abril de 1979 : Ponències i comunicacions, Barcelona, Institut d’Estudis Catalans.

Madurell Marimon, Josep M. (1964) : “Mestre Felip de Malla”, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 30, pp. 499-626.

Malla, Felip de (1981-1982) : Memorial del pecador remut : Manuscrit de Barcelona, Manuel Balasch i Recort (ed.), Barcelona, Barcino.

Martínez Ferrando, Jesús E. & Francisca Solsona Clement (1953) : “San Vicente Ferrer y la Casa Real de Aragón : Documentación conservada en el Archivo Real de Barcelona”, Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia, 26, pp. 1-143.

Olivar, Marçal (1991) : “Dos discursos de Felip de Malla”, in : Francesc Fontbona & Amadeu-J. Soberanas (edd.), Obra dispersa : Llibre en homenatge en el seu 90è aniversari, Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, pp. 25-38.

Palacky, Franz (1869) : Documenta Mag. Joannis Hus : Vitam, doctrinam, causam in Constantiensi concilio actam et controversias de religione in Bohemia, annis 1403-1418 motas, Praha, Tempsky.

Perarnau Espelt, Josep (1978) : Correspondència política [de Felip de Malla], Barcelona, Barcino.

Perarnau Espelt, Josep (1984) : “Política, lul·lisme i cisma d’occident : La campanya barcelonina a favor de la festa universal de la Puríssima els anys 1415-1432”, Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics, 3, pp. 59-191.

Perarnau Espelt, Josep (2002) : “La lletra de Felip de Malla informant el rei Alfons del terratrèmol de la Candelera 1428”, Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics, 21, pp. 665-670.

Perarnau Espelt, Josep (2008) : “Felip de Malla, president de la Generalitat de Catalunya, defensa la vila de Cervera de les vel·leitats dels Trastàmara”, Arxiu de Textos Catalans Antics, 27, pp. 87-113.

Pujol, Josep (1996) : “Psallite sapienter : La gaia ciència en els sermons de Felip de Malla de 1413 (Estudi i edició)”, Cultura Neolatina, 56, pp. 177-250.

Riquer, Martí de (ed.) (1980) : Història de la literatura catalana, 3 ed., Barcelona, Ariel.

Sanllehy i Girona, Carles (marquès de Caldes de Montbui) (1945) : “Una extraordinaria embajada : La Corona de Aragón y el Concilio de Constanza”, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 18, pp. 1-28.

Sanllehy i Girona, Carles (marquès de Caldes de Montbui) (1947) : “Los embajadores de los estados españoles en el Concilio de Constanza”, Boletín de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona, 20, pp. 5-41.

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Vilallonga, Mariàngela (1993) : La Literatura llatina a Catalunya al segle XV : Repertori bio-bibliogràfic, Barcelona, Curial.

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Vooght, Paul de (1960) : L’hérésie de Jean Huss, Louvain, Publications universitaires de Louvain.

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1 About the Crown of Aragon and the Council, see : Fromme 1894 ; Aldasy 1935 ; Sanllehy 1945 and 1947 ; Goñi 1966 ; Bada 1988 ; Jornades sobre el Cisma 1986-1988. A bibliographical repertory in Cisma d’Occident a Catalunya 1979.

2 Since their arrival in Constance, the Aragonese ambassadors demanded that their votes should count as if all the bishops of the Crown of Aragon were present (namely Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia, Majorca, Sicily and Sardinia). First, the other members of the Natio Hispanica refused resolutely, but finally all the ambassadors (also from Castile, Navarre and Portugal) obtained the decision that their votes would be calculated to also take into account those absent. In the General Archive of the Crown of Castile (Simancas, Patr. Real 21,6) a document is filed ; it is a list of dioceses, cathedral chapters, and abbeys, and the title says in Catalan : “Nòmina dels prelats qui foren en lo consili general de Constanza”. Almost surely it is a document of that debate about the “weight” of the votes in the assemblies of the Natio Hispanica : those bishops were not present in person, and so the ambassadors of the King (in solido) wanted their vote to have the value of all the forty absent prelates. Cfr Goñi 1966 : 38-40.

3 An exception was Diego de Moxena, a Franciscan friar, bachelor of Theology, and courtesan and servant of king Ferdinand I. He was in Constance from the beginning of the Council, and performed some role as a theologian, but he was neither a proper ambassador of King Ferdinand (he was just an orator, a personal, non-official representative), nor a member of the “Spanish nation” when the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula officially joined the council. He participated in the trial against Jan Hus, and probably he was the first to examine the Bohemian priest detained in the Pontifical palace on 28th November 1414, and one of his accusers. In July 1416 he wrote a letter to the King, in which he urged him to join the Council as soon as possible, because his presence would be the only way to obtain the unity of the Church. Soon after that, Moxena left the town of Constance for an unknown reason, and returned to Castile. About him, cfr Palacky 1869 : 249-250 ; Vooght 1960 : 325-328 ; Vázquez 1989, 1991, and 1994.

4 A list of his works published as well as unedited and lost, can be found in Vilallonga 1993 : 118-126.

5 As yet, the most complete biographies are Madurell 1964 : 499-626, and Perarnau 1978 : 7-81.

6 Josep Perarnau (1978 : 55-57) wrote some notes about the difference between Jean Gerson’s theology and Felip de Malla’s : “La teologia parisenca de Felip de Malla coincideix en el tronc amb la de Gerson, en el sentit que és bàsicament teologia especulativa o escolàstica ; però tant com la d’aquest s’inclina cap a la mística i l’espiritualitat, la del català es decanta cap a la racionalitat i la valoració de les aportacions extracristianes. […] Com la normal de París, la teologia de Felip de Malla evita de basar-se en el corrent apocalíptic – Arnau de Vilanova, sant Vicenç Ferrer –, de tant d’èxit entre els seus contemporanis ; enfront dels apocalíptics, que per boca de mestre Vicenç pronosticaven la fi del món ‘tost, tost e ben tost’, Felip de Malla és un home del Renaixement que més aviat presagia el començament d’una nova època”. Perhaps not everybody will agree with Perarnau about Felip de Malla being “a man of the Renaissance” : in my opinion, his use of “extra-Christian contributions”, particularly the Classical authors, remains in a typical Medieval (“Gothic”) perspective, but there is no doubt about so many similarities between Malla and Jean Gerson. So I agree with Manuel Balasch (1983), who speaks of Malla as a “forerunner” of humanism in the Iberian Peninsula (“precursor del humanismo peninsular” in the title of his article).

7 We know this date because of a sermon for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, where Malla said he graduated Master (“em magistrí”) on the day of that feast (Riquer 1964 : 401) ; he was called “sacrae Theologiae doctor” in official documents from 1408 onwards (Madurell 1964 : 551).

8 About some speeches he gave in that period before the “Consistory of the Gay Science” of Barcelona, during the annual poetry contest, see Olivar 1991, and Pujol 1996.

9 Three manuscripts of this sermon have survived : Milan, Ambrosiana, 116 sup., fs. 57r-64v ; Kremsmünster, Stiftbibliothek, 4, fs. 308v-316v ; Sankt-Paul in Lavanttal, Stiftbibliothek, 30, fs. 135r-140r. Another manuscript was in the Gymnasium Library of Stargard (Poland), but P.O. Kristeller, in his Iter Italicum, vol. 2 page 413, wrote that “The manuscript is reported to be lost”.

10 Manuscripts : Venice, Marciana, 23, fs. 292-296 ; Kremsmünster, Stiftbibliothek, 4, fs. 317r-ss. ; Sankt Paul in Lavanttal, Stiftbibliothek, 30, fs. 140v-145v. Another copy got lost in Stargard (see footnote above).

11 Felip de Malla sent King Alphonse a letter in which he described in details the Conclave and the election of Martin V : it has been transcribed in Finke 1896-1928 : 4 : 147-155. In this letter, Malla spoke about “la prophecia (Ap. 3,11-12) […que] he pus diffusament explicada en la proposició, que feta he al papa per la nació de Spanya aquella present, ensemps ab altres misteris de la scriptura sancta” (Ibidem : 154).

12 Perarnau 1978 : 67-73 defends Malla from the accusation of asking for graces for himself, but most of all Perarnau emphasizes the Pope’s freedom to grant ecclesiastical rents to anybody he wanted.

13 “Malla believed that poetry and artful prose should be devoted to theological, moral and political subjects, so his affection for Latin letters departs from the didactic line of Antoni Canals as well as from the Boccaccian poetry of Metge and Corella” (Badia 2010 : 63).

14 Addressing the poets, Malla reminds them to write poems about Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, King Ferdinand, Prince Alphonse, and the Great Schism, which is something more awful than a monster. Once again we can see that the Bible and the Classics are shown as models : Malla suggests that the poets should imitate king David, who composed perfect poems about the Messiah ; but Greek and Latin poets are also examples of “wise” poetry (the theme of the sermon was the exhortation Psallite sapienter, from Psalm 46) : “Aquell excellent trobador, perabólic maravellós e poeta, orator virtuós, hystòric, ensemps savi theòlec e propheta David, rey de Jerusalem e de Judea, qui, vestint se de la vestidura de Simonides, poeta e philòsoph, e cantant ab mida de vers perfecta, incorporant ab si los studis d’aquells famosos achademians e stoichs Pindarus, Alcheus, Flaccus, Catulus et Serenus,… volch en sperit de prophecia despertar lo bon Jesus, per mort corporal dormint en lo sepulcre…. E açò par vulla notar aquell excellent rhetòric sant Hierònim, abeurat en les fonts de eloquèntia de Demòstenes, Virgili, Salusti e Titus Livius, e Tulli e Plato, dient in Epistula ad Paulinum : Dauid Simonides noster, Pindarus et Alcheus, Flaccus quoque, Catulus atque Serenus, Christum lyra praedicat et in decacordo psalterio ab inferis excitat resurgentem” (Pujol 1996 : 205-207). Once again we should note that this is not a Renaissance perspective : as Josep Pujol notices (ibidem), this way of reading the Bible (and the Classics) is quite close to Nicholas of Lyra and Jean Gerson.

15 The sermon is still inedited, but I hope I can achieve a critical edition soon. For a list of the manuscripts, see above, note 9.

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Marco Pedretti, « A Catalan Diplomat, Theologian and Preacher at the Council of Constance : Master Felip de Malla »Revue des sciences religieuses, 86/2 | 2012, 143-161.

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Marco Pedretti, « A Catalan Diplomat, Theologian and Preacher at the Council of Constance : Master Felip de Malla »Revue des sciences religieuses [En ligne], 86/2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2014, consulté le 30 mai 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Marco Pedretti

Facultat de Lletres
Universitat de Girona (Espagne)

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