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Right Thinking and the Sacred Oratory in Counter-Reformation Rome.

If eloquence, as Luis de Granada declared, is "nothing other than wisdom speaking copiously," Counter-Reformation Rome was truly awash in eloquence. Aspiring clerics studied to be wise at the Jesuit Collegio Romano and at the University of Rome, the Sapienza; and their wisdom issued in a veritable flood of words. The academic orations of celebrated professors of rhetoric presented the preacher as an orator christianus called to apply classical eloquence to the definition and defense of Catholic doctrine. Armies of preachers answered this call with brief liturgical sermons during the mass, longer sermons offered on ceremonial occasions ranging from the reception of ambassadors to the execution of criminals, and - most solemn of all - sermons delivered coram papa inter missarum solemnia. The pervasiveness of sacred oratory in Roman cultural life was remarked by visitors from England (such as Gregory Martin) and France (Michel de Montaigne), who admired the Italian manner of preaching.

Frederick McGinness begins this worthy sequel to John O'Malley's Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome (1979) by examining the homiletic instructions and manuals of sacred oratory that formed the Italian manner of preaching. The Augustinian general Cristoforo da Padua, like the Jesuit Francisco de Borja, issued directives that preachers curb criticism of clerical foibles and refrain from pursuing scholarly questions. Rather than debating Protestant doctrine (which might confuse their listeners) or displaying their erudition (which might bore them), they should simply proclaim the Catholic position clearly and forcefully. This right thinking was also to be reflected in the rectitude of the preacher's conduct, since the Christian orator could only speak credibly if he had purged vice from his own life. And to ensure that the zealous preacher also spoke well, new "ecclesiastical rhetorics" such as Agostino Valier's De rhetorica ecclesiastica (1574) and Luis de Granada's Rhetoricae ecclesiasticae (1576) drew on the classical rhetorical tradition (and, though without acknowledgment, on Erasmus's Ecclesiastes, sive de ratione concionandi) to frame a Christian oratory capable of informing, delighting, and above all moving its audience.

In the second half of the book, McGinness turns to a thorough consideration of this oratory itself, and in particular the sermons preached coram papa from 1545 to 1640. This preaching tended to celebrate the office of the papacy as the guardian of Christian truth and emblem of Catholic unity, rather than indulging in praise of individual popes. It urged a return to intellectual and moral discipline and championed the militant orthodoxy of the Council of Trent. In the period leading up to 1600, preachers typically summoned Catholics to struggle against the world and the flesh and urged them to repulse the Church's human and demonic foes. After 1600, the tone changed: sermons tended to celebrate the triumphs of the Tridentine Church, extol the eternal glories of divine order, and welcome the imminent return of a corresponding peace on earth. The very image of heavenly order was this glorious city of Rome, cleansed of its vices, embellished with magnificent churches, and resounding with sacred oratory.

McGinness has a fine and appreciative ear for ecclesiastical rhetoric and a sharp eye for the settings in which preaching took place. His 120 pages of endnotes furnish ample extracts from the sources and precise citations to the secondary literature, which is also helpfully surveyed in a short bibliographical essay. He is perhaps too ready to believe that his preachers' artful constructions effectively called into being (or at the very least shaped) the reality of Counter-Reformation Rome. But in this he does no more than faithfully reflect the rhetoricians he studies so learnedly and sympathetically.

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Author:Best, Myra
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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