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  • Giambattista Riccioli e il merito scientifico dei Gesuiti nell’età Barocca
  • Paul F. Grendler
Giambattista Riccioli e il merito scientifico dei Gesuiti nell’età Barocca. Edited by Maria Teresa Borgato. [Istituto e museo di storia della scienza, Biblioteca di “Nuncius”: Studi e Testi XLIV.] (Florence: Leo S. Olschki. 2002. Pp. xviii, 484, and 29 illustrations. €51.00 paperback.)

Giambattista Riccioli was born in Ferrara in 1598, entered the Society of Jesus in 1614, was ordained in the winter of 1627-28, and wanted to go to China as a missionary. Denied permission, he spent his life teaching in north Italian Jesuits schools, especially at Bologna. Combining excellent mathematical technique, great skill in designing experiments, and accurate observations, he made important contributions to the study of falling bodies (supporting Galilei), the pendulum, astronomy, geography, and cartography. This book is the result of a conference, probably the first devoted to Riccioli, held at Ferrara and Bondeno on October 15 and 16, 1998. It consists of twelve articles in Italian, and one each in English, French, and Spanish, plus valuable appendices.

Although Riccioli is the focus, the volume offers a considerable amount of additional information about Jesuit scientific activity in Italy and the tension between Aristotelian natural philosophy and the new theories of Copernicus and Galilei. In the 1640's, the Jesuits tried to reconcile scientifically the two, but they later became more conservative, partly in order to safeguard religious doctrine. Four articles deal with Riccioli's astronomical works. Ugo Baldini, in a careful and comprehensive article, gives details about the help that Riccioli's younger Jesuit contemporary, Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618-1663), known for his studies on optics, gave to the preparation of Riccioli's Almagestum novum (1651). Juan Casanovas argues that Riccioli accepted much of the work of Johannes Kepler. Fabrizio Bonoli speculates about the astronomical instruments that Riccioli used and provides some illustrations. Alfredo Dinis argues that Riccioli's views about Copernicus evolved. While he never accepted Copernican heliocentrism as more than a useful mathematical hypothesis, he was more open early in his career, but later feared that denying the literal interpretation of the Bible on astronomical matters might weaken belief in religious doctrine. Jacques Gapaillard analyzes Riccioli's geodesic studies, i.e., plotting the shortest line between two points on a curved surface, again with the collaboration of Grimaldi.

Riccioli also taught and wrote about theology. Antonino Poppi analyzes his book on the logical distinctions between God and His creatures, an erudite but traditional work of Second Scholasticism. Cesare Preti uses documents found in the Archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to discuss the complicated history of Riccioli's other two theological works, one defending the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary against a Dominican who rejected it, and another defending the infallibility of popes in supporting the doctrine and proclaiming feasts honoring Mary. Opinions in the Congregation of the Index were divided, some arguing that the second book should not be printed because it defended papal infallibility with dubious arguments, and that there was no point to attacking the Dominicans. However, Riccioli went ahead and published the papal infallibility book with an altered permission to print, thus angering the Dominican inquisitor at Bologna. Then the Congregation of the Holy Office ordered the book placed on the Index of Prohibited Books and confiscated most of the copies. This episode confirmed an internal Jesuit evaluation of Riccioli in 1658 as a man of "ingenium optimum" but "iudicium mediocre, prudentia mediocris." [End Page 325]

Denise Aricò discusses well the institutions (Jesuit college, university, and academies) which brought together scholars in Bologna. Renato Raffaelli analyzes the manual of Latin prose and poetry that Riccioli published in 1639. Veronica Gavagna analyzes a dialogue on meteorology of Paolo Casati. And Victor Navarro Brotóns discusses the influence of Riccioli's astronomical work in Spain.

Three articles deal with Ferrara. Alessandra Fiocca looks at Riccioli's research on controlling the waters of the Po River, a perennial issue in Ferrara, and Giacomo Savioli uncovers the will of Riccioli's father in Ferrara, documenting family affluence. Luigi Pepe, who edited I gesuiti e i loro libri a Ferrara: Frontespizi...


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