Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

20

Italy, the Two Enlightenments, and
Vico's 'New Science'

1. ITALY EMBRACES THE MAINSTREAM ENLIGHTENMENT

With the election, in Rome in 1740, after a long conclave, of Prospero Lambertini as Pope Benedict XIV (pope 1740–58), moderate mainstream Enlightenment can be said to have secured a preponderant position in Italy. Previous popes had supported scholarship and the arts; but few could compete with Benedict as a reformer, man of the world (being a seasoned diplomat), or man of learning in his own right (being an acknowledged expert in ecclesiastical history). By 1740, it had become obvious also north of the Alps that Italy was changing fundamentally. Confidently expecting further significant changes in the general cultural atmosphere in Italy, both Voltaire, who wrote to him several times, and the well-connected Montesquieu succeeded during the 1740s in establishing links with the papacy and acquiring enclaves of support within the Vatican.1

Besides strengthening the papal libraries and adding to the architectural splendours of his capital, the new pontiff made a point of reviving studies at the Sapienza University in Rome, and encouraging a sense of intellectual renewal. This was part of a wider movement of renovation already evident at the universities of Naples, Pisa, Padua, Turin, and elsewhere, adopting more up-to-date perspectives in established disciplines while adding chairs in natural philosophy, botany, Natural Law, and Historia juris, crucial new fields previously neglected.2 With the appointment at the Collegio Romano, in 1740 of the young Ragusan Jesuit Ruggiero Boscovich (1711–87), an expert in Newtonian astronomy and physics and especially planetary orbits, a vigorous, internationally respected Newtonianism became powerfully entrenched in Italy, at the heart of the papal state itself. This official adoption of Newtonianism by the liberalizing wing of the church was accompanied— Newtonian works, even in Italian, were never placed on the Index despite their heliocentrism3—by an intricately worded and carefully planned partial rehabilitation

1 Macé, 'Lumières françaises', 21; Godman, Geheime Inquisition, 262–3.

2 Zambelli, Formazione filosofica, 309–10; Ferrone, Intellectual Roots, 263, 297 n. 10; Israel, Radical
Enlightenment,
524–7.

3 Godman, Geheime Inquisition, 219, 223–4, 252.

-513-

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