History Ad maiorem Dei gloriam
Ancient Theology in the Seventeenth-Century Jesuit Environment
by Giuliano Mori
One of the most influential doctrines that developed within the Christian Neoplatonic tradition is ancient theology (prisca theologia). According to this doctrine, a sufficiently adequate knowledge of God was preserved prior to the Christian revelation thanks to the (often cryptic) preaching of semi-mythical figures such as Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, and Linus. These prisci theologi had received the pristine message of God from Adam or the early Patriarchs and spread it amongst the ancient peoples. The early modern use of argumentative strategies based on the notion of ancient theology reached is apex in the Italian fifteenth century and spread on the Continent in the first half of the following century. It is often believed, however, that towards the end of the sixteenth century European culture abandoned the notion of ancient theology together with the whole apparatus of Renaissance Hermetic Platonism. Yet, rather than being rejected, in the seventeenth century the tradition of ancient theology entered the most innovative phase of its history. In the seventeenth century, ancient theology was gradually freed from the philosophical and theoretical connotations that belonged to the Platonic milieu of the Italian Renaissance. European culture started to use ancient theology in a way that was not eminently philosophical, aiming instead to support political propaganda, Christian apologetics, and conversion practices. My work scrutinised the different uses to which ancient theology was put by seventeenth-century European culture. More specifically, my analysis concerns the cultural stances and political views adopted in Europe by the Society of Jesus (as evidenced by Athanasius Kircher); the strategies for conversion devised by members of the Jesuit China Mission; and the apologetic debate that developed in France in response to the diffusion of Cartesianism and Spinozism.
Title: History Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Ancient Theology in the Seventeenth-Century Jesuit Environment
Author: Giuliano Mori
Series: Alti Studi sull’Età e la Cultura del Barocco
Publisher: Fondazione 1563 per l’Arte e la Cultura della Compagnia di San Paolo
Pages: 102 pp.