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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 780-782

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Alfonso M. de Liguori e la civiltà letteraria del Settecento. Atti del Convegno internazionale per il tricentenario della nascita del Santo (1696-1996), Napoli, 20-23 ottobre 1997. Edited by Pompeo Giannantonio. [Biblioteca dell' "Archivum Romanicum," Vol. 286.] (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore. 1999. Pp. xix, 474. Paperback.) [End Page 780]

Scholarship and hagiography go hand in hand in this new volume, edited by Pompeo Giannantonio, of papers presented at the conference celebrating the tricentenary of the birth of St. Alphonsus of Liguori. Perhaps an inevitable consequence of the contrasting interests served here, several contributions appeal more or less exclusively to modern spiritual needs. Otherwise, the predominant theme is to situate the multifaceted personality and career of St. Alphonsus within the cultural context of eighteenth-century Italy, best known to us through the past twenty years of scholarship by Franco Venturi, Mario Rosa, Giuseppe Galasso, and others. Now we can appreciate better than ever Alphonsus' affiliation with the major cultural movements that also involved Catholic leaders such as Ludovico Antonio Muratori and Francesco Antonio Zaccaria. With them, he shared a commitment to wide-ranging publishing activity for the propagation of faith and the encouragement of piety at all social and cultural levels. His works of general instruction were perhaps even more voluminous than the works of profound erudition that earned him the title of the Great Doctor of Prayer. Presented here by Anco Marzio Mutterle, his correspondence with the Remondini firm in Bassano and Venice illuminates his strategies, in the various parts of Italy, for getting his message across—often at the expense of his publishers' interests in monopoly editions.

With members of the Arcadian Academy's literary movement Alphonsus shared a concern for simplifying language and removing the pompous ornamentation sometimes associated with the so-called Baroque. At the same time, he was engaged in the recovery of popular literary traditions ignored by the quintessential Arcadian, Pietro Metastasio, to whom his higher flights of poetic fancy have most frequently been compared. In his appeal to a wider audience, Edoardo Villa notes, he went beyond Muratori and Zaccaria, directing his poetic expression to the least sophisticated believers. To this end his advocacy of linguistic correctness, analyzed by Paolo Mario Sipala and Milena Montanile, did not preclude a judicious use of Neapolitan dialect—as Patrizia Bertini Malgarini and Ugo Vignuzzi show.

Alphonsus' relation to the Enlightenment movement remains highly problematical—in spite of all attempts by Giuseppe Lissa to find parallels between his propaganda activities and those of the Enlightenment philosophers. To be sure, his occasional references to out-of-date scientific theories offer no more of an index of his detachment from contemporary trends than does his preference, recounted by Bortolo Martinelli, for referencing ancient Greek and Roman authors. In fact, while his training in the classics closely resembled that of Voltaire and Diderot, the versions he propounded of natural reality were intended to harmonize with the preconceptions of his simplest listeners rather than to change them. More than their intellects, he sought to engage their emotions, as Giorgio Barberi Squarotti suggests. No doubt, his project for individual human development along the path toward salvation stood in contrast with the project of the Enlightenment philosophers for achieving political and social welfare. [End Page 781]

Not that Alphonsus was unacquainted with the basic ideas that were challenging traditional ways of thought. Although he may not, as Andrea Battistini suggests, have understood the novelty of Giambattista Vico, and he probably knew the ideas of Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza mainly through the works of Pierre Bayle, nonetheless, he apparently read John Locke, Helvétius, and Voltaire firsthand as examples of the turning tide toward a purely materialist and relativistic world view. Rather than going with the current, he went against it, perhaps adding force to the traditionalist undertow that would prevail in the postrevolutionary period. From the standpoint of the history...


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