The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo

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The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo

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The Roman Inquisition

Purchase Subscription prices and ordering Short-term Access To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. One of these practices is the ubiquitous usage of Latin words, such as: censura censure , decretum decree , denunciatio denunciation , expeditio concluding phase , monitio admonition , praeceptum precept , processus proceedings or trial , repetitio re-examination of witnesses , socius associate , and summarium summary. Then there is the excessive use of Italian terms, such as: avviso news or announcement , compagno associate , fede affidavit or certificate , giunta particolare special commission , imbreviatura abbreviation , nipote cugino relative or second cousin , processo proceedings or trial , sede vacante vacancy , and staffetta courier.

In addition, Mayer too often uses English words which are very rare, so much so that I am not embarrassed to report that I had to look them up in my unabridged English dictionary, for example: accrete, benefice, brevet, chirograph, doceur, fettle, feudatory, and sequela. Here, I am referring to terms whose usage could have been easily avoided, and not to technical jargon, which is unavoidable in almost all scholarship, for example in this book : breve official papal letter , fiscal prosecutor , precept judicial injunction , process for proceedings or trial , and rehabilitation commutation of some sentence or punishment.

As if all these things were not enough, Mayer almost always gives hyper-literal translations whenever he quotes some original Latin or Italian passage; that is, even when they are essentially accurate, his translations are so literal that they are basically unintelligible to laypersons, and useless to specialists who know the original languages.

Finally, to compound all these obstacles to normal reading, Mayer often includes in parenthesis the original Italian or Latin text, and he does so in the course of his exposition, although other times he relegates the original to the notes.

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo | Reviews in History

There are others which, while still general, are less important. Thus, here for lack of space I will just mention a few others, mostly without illustrating them, just as for the same reason in my critiques above I limited myself to just giving a few examples for each criticism. The book displays a pervasive anti-Galilean animus, expressed in language that is emotionally charged and full of negative connotations. Mayer practices without acknowledgment a questionable rhetorical approach: he often seeks to find in the texts or actions being examined instances of such things as the art of making the worse argument appear stronger, and the art of unscrupulously winning friends and influencing people; but he applies this technique one-sidedly only to people he wants to portray negatively and texts he does not want to take seriously.

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Finally, this book contains more than a proper share of factual errors; for example, Galileo left Florence for Rome to stand trial not on 21 January p. In conclusion, this book displays considerable diligence in archival research; its legal orientation is potentially fruitful; its prosopographical approach provides useful information; and its central precept thesis is challengingly provocative. However, these are tiny merits that pale into insignificance compared to its numerous and deep flaws.

Nevertheless, a few specialists could benefit from it by exploiting it to sharpen their skills: how to interpret opaque texts, how to evaluate challenging theses, how to avoid historical and philosophical errors. He cannot now respond. Tom contacted me immediately, suggesting we meet as he was about to lecture in Britain.

We met in Oxford and spent many fruitful hours together. Some weeks later I received an email announcing that he had been told he was terminally ill. Later he told me he hoped he could complete the trilogy as he had already done most of the research he had wanted to do. My recommendations when reading drafts of the second and third volumes had to take account of what might be done under his treatment and the threat of imminent death.

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He might otherwise have been able to access the elusive ASV dossier about which Finocchiaro exercises himself. When Finocchiaro was able to see it in and , Mayer was focused on his deep studies of Cardinal Pole and his circle, and had not yet decided to turn to the later Roman Inquisition, and the Galileo trial.

In the Finocchiaro v Mayer confrontation in this review, we have an acknowledged expert on Galileo taking on a master of the central Holy Office. Were I still teaching undergraduates I would use both collections, as my review indicated.


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In terms of Galilean scholarship I would stress that Trying Galileo is among other things a convincing riposte to a great deal of nonsense and misunderstanding produced by Galileo specialists over decades concerning inquisitorial procedures and documentation. He complains that Mayer does not explicitly say what the phrase successive ac incontinenti means; but the point of his previous discussion doubtless boring to ordinary lay readers , was to show that wide reading indicates that past and contemporaneous interpretations of the words varied, and we need to be cautious in giving a clear answer.

While Trying Galileo can be treated as a stand-alone volume, it is best seen as part of a trilogy. Prosopographical aspects of A Papal Bureaucracy can elucidate the roles played by those involved with Galileo; for example its discussion of Michelangelo Seghizzi especially pp. This might help with points raised at the top of page three of the review. Mayer saw Seghizzi as a stickler for procedures. Finocchiaro summaries the 11 steps in a typical trial as given by Mayer.

MHFM Conjecture: Galileo, Geocentrism, and the 1616 Roman Inquisition

Sampling records of local processi and correspondence suggests other short-circuiting procedures, agreements to forego defences and repetitions, plea-bargaining, as I suggested to Tom Mayer. Much of his first volume substantiated this verdict.


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It also argued relevantly for declining standards of procedure and ability of personnel as the Barberini papacy went on, and as favouritism and concepts of loyalty eroded expertise. And would the papacy give him a terminal date for leaving at the end of the month? Reading his review, I think of pots and kettles!

Tom Mayer set out to study the Roman Inquisition in the age of Galileo, using dense central Holy Office archival materials to show how the Congregation worked, the theoretical procedures, the guidelines from manuals, the bureaucratic operations, conscientious procedures under dedicated personnel, and mis-management or corruption by others. He shows the mis-management and sloppiness under Urban VIII and his Cardinal relatives, and in the Stage of Italy volume distortions of local inquisitorial roles and justice by nuncios and other agents.

In conclusion, this book is an essential point of reference for anyone who is serious about embarking on a study of the Roman Inquisition during its first century of existence, as it demonstrates its complexities, ongoing evolution, and close link to the power structures and clientelistic networks of the time. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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