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  • Thomas Burnet e la censura pontificia (con documenti inediti)
  • Christopher F. Black
Gustavo Costa . Thomas Burnet e la censura pontificia (con documenti inediti). Le corrispondenze letterarie, scientifiche ed erudite dal Rinascimento all'et à moderna subsidia 6. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2006. viii + 114 pp. index. append. €13. ISBN: 88-222-55127.

Thomas Burnet (ca. 1635-1715) was an Anglican theologian with philosophical, geological, and other natural science interests, and was later reputed a libertin. Some of his books, contributing to debates about the fate of the soul after death, were condemned by the Roman Congregation of the Index: his De statu mortuorum et resurgentium (1720) and De fide et officiis christianorum (1722) in 1734, and his earlier Telluris theoria sacra (1681-89) in 1739. Burnet and friends had been cautious about the early editions of De statu, circulating copies within a close circle of English theologians and friends. The 1729 Rotterdam edition fed wider interest, though the precise trigger for the Congregation appointing an investigative censor, Gianfrancesco Baldini in 1731, is not entirely clear.

Gustavo Costa has benefited from the access allowed scholars, in general, since 1998 to the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the erstwhile Inquisition), and thus its documents of the Congregation of the Index. [End Page 1295] This short, but very dense, book should be linked with two key earlier articles on the condemnation of English writers: his "La Congregazione dell'Indice e Jonathan Swift; . . . A Tale of a Tub" (Paratesto 1 [2004]) and "La Sante Sede di fronte a Locke" (Nouvelles de la République des Lettres [2003]). In the latter article Costa makes clear that he sees the 1730s as "il nadir della cultura italiana" (39) and as the beginning of the serious repression of English intellectual influences — though the Congregation seemingly had started worrying about Locke from 1709. Swift's Tale, and Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding and The Reasonableness of Christianity, were known and condemned via annotated French translations. The newly available archival material allows scholars to know in detail why such titles were indexed.

For these studies, Costa analyzes the reports by the works' censors (given in appendices) which were presented to a group of the Congregation of the Index members. He decodes and elaborates on the terse Latin reports to show what in the offending book the censor found objectionable, dubious, and heretical. In Thomas Burnet, the author's views are hardly considered directly until page forty-seven. To that point, Costa exemplifies the conflicting Catholic and Protestant views about the fate of souls after death: whether there is an immediate judgement, whether they sleep until the Universal Judgement, and whether some are privileged with a beatific vision before then. We have arguments from patristic fathers, Pope John XXII, Roberto Bellarmino and his Lutheran opponent Johann Gerhard, Anglican Jeremy Taylor, Pierre Gassendi, and Lodovico Antonio Muratori's contemporary attack. Burnet discussed and built on some of these debates. For Burnet, the soul had the capacity to think: it was an incorporeal entity separate from incorporeal God, and had a natural conscience of good and evil. There could be no immediate, full beatific vision, which would render the Resurrection unnecessary. Those dying in the Lord are blessed, and will have repose until Christ comes to restore them to glorious bodies. Censor Baldini seized on Burnet's attacks on the concept of purgatory, the cult of saints, his complete separation of body and soul, his challenges to biblical passages about the process of the Final Judgment, his arguments that hell was an interior not an external phenomenon, his millenarian views and belief that the Jews would be restored, and his denial of transubstantiation. A different censor, Diego de Revillas (Hieronimite, professor of Mathematics, and preceptor to James VII's children), attacked the Telluris for its monstrous and deformed doctrines about the development of the world from Chaos in five phases, ending with a millenarian world for the elect. These views were judged misguided, not heretical, but the implied attack on the beatific vision was heretical and ensured the book should be banned.

Costa, in noting which prelates attended the Congregation's session to hear and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1295-1297
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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