Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Pietro Tamburini’s Jansenist Legacy at the Irish College in Rome and His Influence on the Irish Church

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Pietro Tamburini’s Jansenist Legacy at the Irish College in Rome and His Influence on the Irish Church

Article excerpt

The life of Italian theologian Pietro Tamburini (Figure 1) has attracted the interest of historians and theologians alike.1 Much of his personal correspondence has been collected and published, and his life, especially after 1778 with his return to Lombardy, has been closely scrutinized.2 But despite the rather extensive historiography on this figure, his six-year appointment in Rome (1772-78) at the Irish College as prefect of studies remains unexamined. Among Irish historians the main question about this period has concerned the degree of theological influence Tamburini exerted while at the College. The consensus seems to be that his influence was minimal. Former Irish College rector and historian Michael O'Riordan conjectures that Tamburini probably "kept . . . [his Jansenist doctrines] to himself, and taught the students only the doctrines which he knew he was commissioned to teach."3 As for Tamburini's legacy at the College, O'Riordan writes: "when Tamburini had gone, hardly a trace of his mind remained."4 Likewise, James O'Boyle believed that Tamburini's theological "virus" had been successfully contained, while allowing for the possibility that perhaps the Irish priest Charles O'Connor had harbored so-called Jansenist leanings.5

Another author who defended Irishmen against a suspected theological affinity with Tamburini was W. J. Fitzpatrick, who in 1873 penned a very colorful and stylistically engaging portrait of Irish historian John Lanigan (1758-1825). Fitzpatrick tries to free Tamburini's former pupils of any Jansenist associations in an attempt to restore Lanigan's reputation, tainted during his failed attempt to gain employment at Maynooth College in the late 1790s, on which more below.6 For Timothy Corcoran, Lanigan's achievements as a writer of Irish history and university professor overshadowed any possible theological controversy.7 For the centennial of Lanigan's death, which was commemorated with the erection of a statue at the University of Pavia in acknowledgment of his scholarly contributions there, Corcoran composed an encomium in Lanigan's honor. He defends the professor against any hint of controversy, going so far as to assert an adversarial relationship between Lanigan and the Italian "Jansenist" leaders, including Tamburini: Lanigan, he says, "went to Pavia, having declined a perilous invitation to attend the notorious synod presided over at Pistoia by [Bishop] Scipio Ricci, an invitation pressed on him by the notable Jansenist theologian, Pietro Tamburini."8

Finding suitable terminology to describe the movement associated with Tamburini is problematic.9 "Jansenism" has too much historical baggage; in its purest sense, this term refers to a seventeenth-century theological movement confined mainly to France and the Netherlands. Reincarnations of the original Jansenist movement arose in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) in the eighteenth century but varied greatly from region to region. What is more, the agenda of these so-called Jansenist movements had expanded to include theological, political, social, and even cultural elements. The movement's new diversity is partly explained by eighteenthcentury Italy's fractured politics; differing conditions among the dozen or so independent states resulted in widely varying social, political, and theological preoccupations.10 Thus, to employ the term "Jansenist" is historically anachronistic, despite its widespread use at the time and later to describe men like Tamburini.11 "Jansenism" is here used only when referring to the seventeenth-century movement or when quoting someone else, otherwise opting to use terms such as "so-called Jansenist," "philoJansenist," or "Jansenist-like" in discussions of Italian Jansenism.

Tamburini's influence while in Rome is understood mainly in the context of his association with the Archetto,12 a group founded in the mid-eighteenth century and which operated under the direction and patronage of Cardinal Neri Corsini (1685-1770). …

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