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  • Inquisizione spagnola e riformismo borbonico fra Sette e Otttocento. Il dibattito europeo sulla soppressione del «terrible monstre.»
  • Gretchen Starr-Lebeau
Inquisizione spagnola e riformismo borbonico fra Sette e Otttocento. Il dibattito europeo sulla soppressione del «terrible monstre.» By Vittorio Sciuti Russi. [Studi e testi per la storia della tolleranza in Europa nei secoli XVI-XVIII, Vol. 13.] (Florence: Casa Editrice Leo S. Olschki. 2009. Pp. xxii, 374. €39.00. ISBN 978-8-822-25808-3.)

Vittorio Sciuti Russi's intellectual history, Inquisizione spagnola e riformismo borbonico fra Sette e Ottocento, is an important and useful addition to our knowledge of the Spanish Holy Office, particularly in its last decades. Sciuti Russi's work is significant for two reasons: first, it provides an understanding of the Holy Office and its fortunes in the period in which it has been least studied—namely, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and second, it provides an understanding of the intellectual and political context in which these courts operated, and distinguishes between the place of the Spanish and Sicilian courts in local politics in the Age of Enlightenment. In the process, Sciuti Russi provides a persuasive explanation for why the Sicilian court system was suppressed so much earlier than its Spanish counterpart, even though both were technically under the authority of the Suprema.

In the first part of the book, "La tigre annichilata: I Borbone di Napoli e l'inquisizione," Sciuti Russi demonstrates that the Holy Office in Naples was not simply an element of Spanish imperial power over the Two Sicilies. As in places such as the Crown of Aragon, the establishment of the Spanish Holy Office was fiercely resisted on the Italian peninsula. But as the Two Sicilies passed from Spanish to Hapsburg to Bourbon rule, the inquisition became a distinctly provincial institution, under the control of the cadet branch of the Bourbon family ruling there. Enlightenment thinkers, together with government reformers, succeeded in ending long-standing prerogatives and powers associated with the Spanish inquisition in the Two Sicilies, before abolishing it entirely in 1782.

In Spain, by contrast, those arguing in favor of the continued existence of the Holy Office had much greater influence, as Sciuti Russi explains in the second part of his book,"La tigre ostinata: I Borbone di Spagna e l'inquisizione." There, Enlightenment reformers waged a slow, pitched battle with higher clergy who argued for the continued importance of the inquisition as a bulwark of public morals. Yet here, too, an international group of bishops, diplomats, liberals, and thinkers that included Spaniards and other Europeans weighed in on the merits and significance of reforming this institution. The cast of characters here ranges from the abbé Grégoire; Lutheran theologian Friedrich Münter; and Spanish Enlightenment figures such as Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos to the cleric and writer Juan Antonio Llorente; José Nicolás de Azara, Spanish ambassador to the Holy See; and the artist Goya. Carlos III and Carlos IV attempted to reform the Holy Office in a move toward liberalization and strengthened royal authority, weakening the institution as the eighteenth century drew to a close. The year 1797 was, Sciuti Russi says, a year of crisis [End Page 829] for the tribunal (p. 205). Napoleon's abolition of the Holy Office marked the beginning of decades of debate, abolition, and brief periods of restoration for the Inquisition before its final demise in 1834—a process made elegantly clear by Sciuti Russi.

The political and intellectual context described by Sciuti Russi makes for fascinating reading. Even those inquisition historians familiar with Llorente will find much here to contextualize and help explain that first great history of the Holy Office. Equally helpful is Sciuti Russi's discussion of Friedrich Münter, whose earlier history of the inquisition should be better known. The useful appendices include Münter's work, a letter by the abbé Grégoire, and a late defense of the Spanish Holy Office, as well as a letter regarding the Sicilian Holy Office. In short, this is a monograph well worth reading.

Gretchen Starr-Lebeau
University of Kentucky


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