- Shadows of Doubt: Language and Truth in Post-Reformation Catholic Culture by Stefania Tutino
This is a book of contradictory tonalities: its prose, only just off idiomatic flawlessness, is both lofty and methodical, painterly and jargonistic, personal and professorial, and its arguments are both sober and whimsical, conceptual and archival, presentist and historicist. Such duality suits Tutino’s central thesis, that the intellectual culture of early modern Catholicism had two sides: alongside titans like Cesare Baronio and Robert Bellarmine, with their architectonic certainties, were other thinkers seething with doubt and anxiety at the loss of divine truth, an anxiety that anticipated, or perhaps even distantly sired, the characteristic pathology of postmodernity. Each chapter offers a case study of that anxiety in one of its disciplinary aspects, giving much time to lesser known figures, frequently in manuscript: the canonists Domingo de Soto and Doctor Navarrus on equivocation and mental reservation, Antonio Mascardi on the nature of history, Baronio and Paolo Beni on ecclesiastical history, Pedro Juan Perpiñán and Famiano Strada on rhetoric, and Soto and Francisco Suárez on the sacrality of the oath (the final chapter and the most rewarding). In each instance, we see what Tutino repeatedly calls a “fracture” between thought, language, and the world; thus theologians worried about, and tried to defend or excuse, lies and ambiguous speech, historians fretted over the capacity of their work to capture the reality of past events, and humanists tried to negotiate a concept of poetry as connected to but not constrained by the actual world.
Pleasingly, Shadows of Doubt is led not by the biography and social context of its protagonists, as in so much intellectual history, but by their ideas. This is not to say that context is absent, and there are moments of sudden insight, as when, toward the end, Tutino sketches the changing political climate behind developments in the theory of oaths. Less convincing is the attempt to align her Catholics with thinkers of the twentieth century: Wittgenstein, Ricoeur, Agamben. But she cheerfully admits that this approach reveals as much about her as about them, and in doing so she asserts the historian’s right not just to narrate but to interpret—a right, indeed, at the heart of the narrative itself. [End Page 110]
Anthony Ossa-Richardson, author of The Devil’s Tabernacle: The Pagan Oracles in Early Modern Thought, is a lecturer in English literature at the University of Southampton. He is currently writing A History of Ambiguity.