Paolo Sarpi: Between Renaissance and Enlightenment by David Wootton

By David Wootton

Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623) is remembered because the defender of Venice opposed to the Papal Interdict of 1606 and because the first, and maximum, historian of the Counter-Reformation. The assets of his undoubted hostility to clerical authority have continuously been an issue of controversy; many contemporaries claimed that Sarpi used to be an 'atheist', whereas to others his anticlericalism steered that he used to be in mystery a Protestant. within the current publication David Wootton argues that Sarpi's public reviews needs to be assessed within the gentle of the perspectives expressed in his deepest papers. ranging from the Pensiere, during which Sarpi formulated a sequence of philosophical and ancient arguments opposed to Christianity, Mr Wootton seeks to reinterpret Sarpi's existence paintings as being the expression, now not of a love of highbrow liberty, nor of a dedication to Protestantism, yet of a gently inspiration out hostility to doctrinal faith. This interpretation of Sarpi serves to forged new mild at the guy and his paintings. however it additionally throws new mild at the highbrow background of his age. Historians akin to Lucien Febvre and R. H. Popkin have sought to disclaim the lifestyles of systematic unbelief in Sarpi's day. Others, reminiscent of Christopher Hill and Carlo Ginzburg, have came across facts of an intensive, renowned culture of unbelief. This ebook seeks, via its account of Sarpi's ideals, to penetrate the hypocrisy which contemporaries agreed characterized the age, and to put the principles for a brand new realizing of the highbrow origins of unbelief.

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It is not true, he writes, that the 22 'Pensieri filosofici' and 'de Immortalitate Animae' tora sustains the state, and that otherwise it would collapse. And Sarpi sets out to argue against Pomponazzi, to mount an argument which would have delighted Bayle. Timid men, he says, can be restrained from doing evil by less awful threats than that of hellfire. Bold men cannot be restrained even by that. In this respect the tora makes little difference. Of course we think that fear of hell restrains us, just as we think that we do some things simply to advance our reputations, although we would in fact do them anyway.

Both works are concerned to argue the need for religious toleration, and they employ the same arguments to make their point. In the first place they argue that the ideal of unity is itself a misleading one, so that religious differences need not be subversive of all order. 65 In the later text it is argued that if unity within one nation were possible, then it would be right to demand political and religious unity throughout the world, and, indeed, the abolition of all magistracies, for why should not all men think and act as one, pursuing the same ends in the same way?

The recurring theme of much of the literature of the age - of Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent or of Boccalini's Ragguagli di Parnaso to mention two examples - is that hypocrisy has become a way of life, and that to understand men's behaviour one must penetrate behind appearances and ' unmask' their secret motives and intentions. 99 The interpretation of Sarpi proposed in this book is not one he himself would have found psychologically implausible, nor is Sarpi's behaviour, on my account of it, of a sort he would have found morally objectionable.

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