The Archbishop of Verona

By Carl Liggio, Sr.

In Italy, during the early days of the Renaissance, the city of Verona had grown from the burgeoning trade that was engulfing Europe as it emerged from the Middle Ages. As a result of this, Verona no longer had room for all of its citizens within the confines of the city walls which offered protection for its inhabitants.

Because there was no longer room for growth in Verona, the city fathers met and determined that part of the population would have to leave the protected walls of the city. After some debate, it was decided that the Jewish enclave in the city would be asked to leave.

As was to be expected, the Jewish enclave did not appreciate this and protested loudly. To resolve the issue of whether the Jewish enclave would have to go, it was agreed that there would be a debate between the Senior Rabbi for Verona and the Archbishop of Verona.

The debate was to take place in the coliseum in Verona, which was situated at the outer edge of the city but within the confines of the protected walls of Verona. The coliseum was one of the largest in Italy – as large as the famous Coliseum in Rome. Of course, this being the Renaissance, they did not have microphones and amplifiers, so the debate had to take place in a rudimentary form of sign language.

The appointed day came and the coliseum was packed with people. The Archbishop stood up and began the debate by waving his arm in a wide semicircular gesture (arm fully extended and waved from left to right). The Rabbi got up and pointed a single finger toward the ground, making repeated emphatic motions.

The Archbishop stood up again and extended his arm with three fingers sticking up. The Rabbi got up and held a single finger (his index finger) in the air.

The Archbishop then took out a loaf of bread and broke it. The Rabbi looked at him, shrugged his shoulders, took out an apple and took a bite out of it.

At this point the Archbishop fainted dead away and the Rabbi was declared the winner.

Each of their supporters rushed to them.

The Archbishop’s supporters upon reaching him asked what happened. The Archbishop responded:

I started by saying “God is everywhere.” (Making arm-sweeping gesture again)

He responded by saying “God is here.” (Making a pointing-to-the-ground gesture)

I said, “God is Three.” (Again holding three fingers up)

But he said, “God is One.” (Again holding one finger up)

I then took out the loaf of bread to demonstrate God’s goodness and generosity, as set out in the parable of the fishes and loaves. And he took out an apple for original sin.

It was at that point I knew I had lost the debate.

The Rabbi’s supporters asked him what happened. He responded:

I don’t know. He started by saying, “Get out of Verona.” (Making arm-sweeping gesture again)

I responded by saying, “We will stay right here.” (Making pointing-to-the-ground gesture)

He said, “You have three days to get out.” (Again holding three fingers up)

I said, “We will take one year.” (Again holding one finger up)

And then we broke for lunch.


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