- Shadows of Doubt: Language and Truth in Post-Reformation Catholic Culture by Stefania Tutino
Stefania Tutino’s probe of the post-Tridentine Catholic intellectual world offers case studies of how some thinkers grappled with the function and limitations of language in moral theology, casuistry, rhetoric, dialectic, philosophy, history, ecclesiastical history, and poetry. Leaving aside scholarship focused on dogmatic Catholic truth on the one hand and skepticism on the other, she considers writers [End Page 935] rarely read—Agostino Mascardi, Pedro Juan Perpiñán, Famiano Strada, Francisco Suárez, Leonardus Lessius, Domingo de Soto, Paolo Beni, and Martín de Azpilcueta (Navarrus)—in whom she discerns hermeneutical and epistemological doubts that would have profound repercussions today on our efforts to understand the unstable, fragile relationship between human language and objective reality. In this “demimonde” she sees “a world of fractures and fractured truths that we, equipped with a heightened sensitivity to discrepancies and discontinuities, are now well suited to understand” (p. 4). Her approach is guided largely by philosophers of language and epistemology (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Giorgio Agamben, and others) and draws upon late- and postmodern critical theory to articulate the unstable yet crucial role of human language in post-Reformation Europe.
Tutino’s five chapters delve into “the radical hermeneutical and epistemological implications of the doctrines of equivocation and mental reservation” (p. 149); “the hermeneutical question of the communication of meaning between a speaker and a hearer” (p. 19); language and truth; narrative and fact; “the truth-value of history, and the tension between documents, explanation, and interpretation” (p. 7). They consider further “the advantages and limitations of using historical documents to uncover the Truth of the Catholic Church” (p. 7), what it meant for a historian then to represent the past in narrative truly and truthfully, doubts about writing a human history of the Church (a divine institution), and the Roman College where “Jesuit intellectuals tried to grapple with the epistemological function of rhetoric as a means to attain knowledge in the unstable and uncertain world of men” (p. 113). The work ends by analyzing ideas of Paolo Prodi and Giorgio Agamben, who argue that the early-modern era marked “the erosion of the oath as a sacrament of language and the development of the oath as the sacrament of power” (p. 190). Each chapter makes much the same point: that “the fragility of the relationship between truth and language that characterizes our current intellectual and cultural horizon originated in the early modern world” (p. 190).
Tutino explores interesting topics but leaves much to question, qualify, and (sometimes) doubt. She makes strong claims for these agents’ intellectual impact, but one would hope for more placement of their thinking in fuller historical context and in wider reference to past and contemporary thinkers. (Moral reservation, equivocation, and dissimulation had deep roots.) Perpiñán’s desultory thoughts on the relationship of rhetoric and dialectic make one wonder if his notes were not responses to Peter Ramus’s teaching on rhetoric and dialectic. The author suggests this (p. 132) but makes little of it. Why is there no mention of the teaching of Aristotle’s philosophy at the Roman College, especially books of the Organon like De sophisticis elenchis? Comments on Famiano Strada’s understanding of “the process of producing metaphor as … the human cognitive and heuristic activity par excellence” (p. 143) are tantalizing, but why not illustrate these claims with texts, perhaps with illustrations from Strada’s De bello Belgico (Rome, 1632)? Tutino’s study also begs for some understanding of this post-Tridentine “anxiety” within wider Western intellectual traditions, which would suggest that such uncertainties and [End Page 936] doubts go back further in time (see, for example, Sabina Flanagan, Doubt in an Age of Faith: Uncertainty in the Long Twelfth Century [Turnhout, 2008]) than one is left to imagine here. This work is thought-provoking but still in progress.