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Salvatore Camporeale's Contribution to Theology and the History of the Church

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 66, Number 4, October 2005
pp. 527-539 | 10.1353/jhi.2005.0058

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Journal of the History of Ideas 66.4 (2005) 527-539

Mariangela Regoliosi

University of Florence

Salvatore Camporeale's research, as rich and varied as it was, revolved around several primary axes and was inspired by several fundamental concerns. One of the objectives that certainly oriented his cultural effort was a serious, critical, and passionate desire to reform the church, to recuperate its radical and founding truths, to go beyond all superstructure and pseudo-truth. I believe that, for this very reason, Camporeale engaged with Valla (to whom he devoted most of his scholarly work): because the latter had, with extraordinary lucidity, raised issues and proposed solutions in perfect keeping with his own essential needs.

Naturally, arriving at such a perception of the innovativevalue and ideological depth of Valla's thoughtinvolved far more than this. We are indebted to Camporeale for having developed the lesson of his mentor, Eugenio Garin: that is, the view that—against the interpretive limitations widely heldby other scholars and other schools—Lorenzo Valla was not onlythe excellentphilological emender of Livy's text, nor simply the "grammarian" restorer of the Latin language, but that such tangible gifts and capacities were sustained by more general philosophical motives and by an organic project of cultural refounding, that would challenge established categoriesin all fields, from language to history to theology.

Camporeale was thus able to identify—beginning with his distinguished book published in 1972, Lorenzo Valla. Umanesimo e teologia—the foundations and ultimate scope of Valla's philosophy of language and, consequently, the unifying elements in his apparently heterogeneous works, which range from historiography to historical criticism, from ethics to linguistics, from logic to rhetoric, from the philological study of classical works to that of the NewTestament. And he was able to see that, also for Valla, the critical revision of the ecclesiastical tradition, and of the "models" of theological discourse, had been a Leitmotiv or, better yet, an arrival point.

It is within this specific, though not limited sphere of inquiry that I intend to situate my study, a personal, brief recollection of the friend we lost. Therefore, I will focus on two particular contributions, one from 1977, Lorenzo Valla tra Medioevo e Rinascimento. "Encomion s. Thomae". 1457, the other from 1988, Lorenzo Valla e il "De falso credita donatione". Retorica, libertà ed ecclesiologia nel '400. As their titles openly declare, they investigate two of Valla's works diverging not only in time but in content as well ("De falso credita donatione" dates from 1440, the "Encomion sancti Thomae" from 1457); the one is intended to denounce the so-called "Donation of Constantine" as a forgery, the other to commemorate Saint Thomas on the day of his liturgical anniversary. And yet, Camporeale correctly identifies a peculiar and intrinsic unity in these works, namely the effort to rediscover an authentic Christianity: an authentic "form" of the church on the one hand, and an authentic "form" of Christian theology on the other.

I will start with, and devote special attention to, the Encomion sancti Thomae. Camporeale correctly recognized this short text as Valla's "spiritual testament," not only, or not so much because it is his last piece of writing (he died a few months after the Encomion), but because, in a few dense but clear pages, it sums up Valla's entire logico-linguistic program and, consequently, his stance on the expressive potentialities of human language, up to the highest levels of the expressible, those of metaphysics and of theology. The way Camporeale develops his considerations on the "panegyric" is admirable, as he supports it with the experienced philosophical and theological competence (in the history of theology, and especially Thomistic theology) that he, as a Dominican, mastered so well. (In passing, it is worth noting that such competence alone could allow for a thorough assessment of the historical significance of Valla's discourse, too frequently trivialized or misunderstood by readers lacking the necessary tools). The following is a brief summary of Camporeale's analysis. The eulogy addressed to Saint Thomas is in fact a questioning of theological Thomism: Valla opposes the theology of the Church Fathers to the prevailing fourteenth-century Thomism, as well as to the church...



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