Franciscan political thought in Baroque Rome

WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY, 18.00–19.30 

Ian Campbell (QUB)

The writings on politics of the great Dominican and Jesuit theologians like Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suárez or Cardinal Robert Bellarmine are well known to historians, and have long been incorporated into histories of the origins of modern, liberal political thought. But throughout seventeenth-century Europe there was another major Catholic theological tradition organised around the fourteenth-century theologian John Duns Scotus, and advanced mainly by the Franciscans. Especially in seventeenth-century Rome, Franciscan theologians revived Scotus’s way of thinking about human society and applied it to contemporary problems. These theologians constituted a prestigious community of international scholars: Italian Conventual Franciscan intellectuals like Filippo Fabri, Bartolomeo Mastri, Angelo Volpi, and Cardinal Lorenzo Brancati di Laurea were educated in the Collegio di San Bonaventura, founded in the convent of SS. XII Apostoli by Sixtus V in 1587; a community of Irish Observant Franciscans were founded at Sant’Isidoro under the leadership of Luke Wadding in 1625. The archives of Roman institutions like the Congregation of the Index of Forbidden Books allow us to watch these theologians acting as censors of books, but also being censored themselves, exposing the trajectory of this intellectual tradition at Rome over the century. These Scotists had their own history of the first emergence of private property and political authority, their own notion of what constituted human excellence, and their own system for resolving conflicts between the rights of Christian princes and their Christian and non-Christian subjects. We will find some of these doctrines unacceptable: the Scotists nearly all advocated the baptism of Jewish children without their parents’ consent, and some Scotists built a whole theory of forced evangelisation and holy war on this doctrine. Rebarbative as these teachings might be, it is not always easy to argue that they were fundamentally anti-modern. Attending to these Franciscans not only completes our picture of early modern Catholic intellectual life, but also provides us with grounds to reconsider the nature of modern liberalism itself.