Filip Lastric three centuries later
by Ivan Lovrenovic
Writer, professor of theology and philosophy, preacher, respected head of the Franciscan order of Bosnia Argentina [Silver Bosnia], celebrated in lay and scientific circles as a historian, Filip Lastric (born Ocevija near Vares in 1700, died Sutjeska 1783) was all of that and more.
This June a picture gallery was opened in the Franciscan monastery of St John the Baptist in Kraljeva Sutjeska where, in a modest ceremony, Brother Filip Lastric was honoured on the occasion of the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth. According to a brief newspaper report, a modest lecture on Lastric was given at the Pedagogical Faculty in the west side of Mostar And that is all.
Lastric lived in the Bosnian eighteenth century, which was neither happy nor beautiful. It was a period of decadence of Ottoman rule, of lawlessness and instability, of corruption and heightened ideological persecution of Catholics following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat at Vienna, whereupon the Empire’s border retreated to the river Sava and a huge number of Muslims from Slavonia and Hungary flooded into Bosnia. In the aftermath of the war and the brutal incursion, in 1697, of Eugene of Savoy into the valley of the river Bosna, the formerly flourishing Franciscan province that used to extend all the way to Buda and Transylvania, and that included over thirty monasteries, experienced a real cataclysm. Successive waves of Ottoman revenge and repression resulted in the torching and destruction of all the monasteries except for the three in central Bosnia: Kresevo, Fojnica and Sutjeska. All that was left in the end was a handful of Catholic clergymen and about thirty thousand Catholics.
There were grave problems too within the Church itself. Lastric’s working life witnessed unceasing turmoil associated with the demarcation between bishoprics, and with the constitution of new Franciscan provinces in the area between Buda and Split, Makarska and Dubrovnik, liberated from Ottoman rule. The ‘mother’ Province of Bosnia Argentina underwent a reduction of its territory consequent upon the establishment of separate ‘daughter’ Provinces in these areas and a reduction in its self-governing status. To the Bosnian Franciscans, boundlessly committed to Bosnia and their province - which in reality they experienced as one and the same - this was a period of greatest tragedy. Added to their burden were the repeated attempts by Orthodox clergy appointed by Constantinople to ‘dis-empower’ the Franciscans, by presenting the Bosnian Catholics as members of the Orthodox rite in order to increase their own spiritual and political power - as well as their material wealth.
This is a rough sketch of the time in which Lastric was born and grew up. Yet he managed to do everything, and successfully at that. He appeared before the Pasha in Travnik in order to refute the claims of the Patriarch of Pec and the new Orthodox bishop of Bosnia. He was in Rome when it was necessary to defend Bosnia Argentina’s rights. He travelled to Vienna in order to argue before Maria Theresa for the return of three seized Slavonian parishes. He taught philosophy at the Franciscan university of Pozega. He was Guardian of the Bosnian Franciscan order. He wrote philosophical works in Latin. He published a large collection of sermons, careful and lively instructions to his monastic brothers who lacked sufficient time to prepare themselves for meeting ordinary folk. He wrote the first history of the Bosnian Franciscan Province. One can indeed say that he was the right man at the right place and time. Everything that he did, his own life imbued with love, friendliness and energy, as well as his many talents and skills, were dedicated to his country such as it was, to his people and their spiritual and cultural emancipation.
I was recently able to hold in my hands Lastric’s main works deposited in the Franciscan Sutjeska monastery, published in Venice, Rome and Buda and brought by God knows what means and ways to Bosnia: Testimonium bilabium - dvojezicno svidovanje, Nediljnik dvostruk, Svetnjak, Epitome vetustatum Provinciae Bosniensis, Kratak nacin ciniti Put Kriza, etc. I was repeatedly struck by the flexibility and amazing power of Lastric’s Slavo-Bosnian language (as he called it), and by the old yet wholly fresh Bosnian-Croatian ikavian [idiom]. In the same measure also by the author’s great scholarship: he moved in a wholly sovereign manner through the great world of ancient and modern theological-philosophical and historical literature. His literary skills and maturity are visible in all their splendour particularly in the way in which he transforms, for the sake of his brother Franciscans, all this immense material into sermons and drafts, creating his own articulate and convincing images, associations and parabolas, which are often irresistibly humorous but always bear the imprint of his own characteristic style.
Forced to fight for the endangered rights and status of Bosnia Argentina, Lastric undertook difficult and unpredictable journeys to Rome and Vienna, composing for that purpose a history of his Province based on his own scholarly efforts and insights. The several editions of his Survey of the Bosnian Province’s Heritage are pioneering works that have established the foundations for a more modern critical historiography of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lastric’s contemporary Daniele Farlati, editor and author of the monumental eight-volume history of the Bosnian church [Illyricum Sacrum], included his presentation of Bosnia without any changes, and by printing it in italics expressed his great admiration for the author. Filip Lastric appears in our historiography as one of those rare Bosnian scholars who, by transcending local understanding and criteria, became part of the contemporary universal world of ideas and knowledge.
Perusing Lastric’s works I was also able to read, for the first time and in a single breath, his The Way of the Cross. It occurred to me in my excitement that Brother Filip was probably the first person who translated into our language, faithfully and in full, the majestic elegy Stabat mater dolorosa of the mediaeval mystical poet Jacopone di Todi, a poet whom Miroslav Krleza in his ingenious An Agram Childhood described as superior even to Dante Alighieri himself. Lastric’s translation, its language slightly modified to conform to the more modern standard, has remained in use to this day. I vividly recall from my youth the Varcar [Vakuf] church choir singing it in its authentic melody, following the rhythm of Lastric’s ikavica eight-word stanzas.
The real value and significance of Brother Filip Lastric, in the totality of his life and work, especially given the otherwise none too rich Bosnian-Herzegovinian literary and scientific history, stand in inverse proportion to the feeble public interest in the great anniversary of his birth. It is visible at all three levels: the general one of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the particular Croat one, and that of his own Franciscan world. This tells a great deal about us. Lastric is waiting for us to catch up with him.
This article has been translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 23 June 2000