Martín de Azpilcueta’s Manual for Confessors and the Phenomenon of Epitomisation
The epitomization of learned culture was not a new phenomenon in the sixteenth century. Ancient and Medieval European cultures had previously experienced the phenomenon of condensing and transforming learned knowledge, in several disciplines. This also applied to legal literature as we can see, for example, in the great development during the Middle Ages of juridical lexicography, including dictionaries, legal promptuaries, and summae.
Even if this process is not new, the sixteenth century marks a turning point. The development of printing and the new philosophical need for a renovated approach to knowledge in all the disciplines, allowed the spread of new literary genres and led to a new organization of knowledge, which started to be methodized and epitomized like never before.
This project aims to analyze how canonistic and moral theological knowledge was condensed in the pragmatic literature. Addressing codes of conduct, this literature, which included confessional writings, catechisms, and moral theological instructions, became particularly important, especially in the case of the Spanish monarchy, for establishing dominion in the remote frontier context of the early modern empire.
I. The first part of the research will be dedicated to a historiographical reconstruction of the theoretical question of epitomization. It will provide an overview of the literature drawn from the different disciplines, which produced epitomae. The project will also look at the different methods used to epitomize learned knowledge. Moreover, it will consider the languages, in which epitomized literature was written, and the possible readers and users of this literary genre.
II. The second part of the research, which constitutes the core of the project, will be dedicated to a case study, which will allow to understand the conceptual and methodological specificities of the epitomization of canonistic and moral theological knowledge in the pragmatic literature. This part of the project will be dedicated to the Manual for Confessors written by Martín de Azpilcueta (1492-1586). Through the study of Azpilcueta’s Manual, the project aims to analyze the epitomization process not only as a simplification but also as a condensation, modification and, perhaps, abstraction of knowledge.
Azpilcueta was one of the most important canon lawyers and moral theologians of the time. His manual was published in 1552 in Portuguese, quickly translated into Spanish and received, in a brief period, multiple editions and translations. It was one of the most influential works of moral theology in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a ‘bestseller’ in the book trade with the New World – and itself subject to various processes of adaptation.
The project will analyze, first of all, the sources of Azpilcueta’s Manual. By placing the book in the framework of Azpilcueta’s learned works expressly dedicated to the topic of confession and penitence, related to his teaching activity in Salamanca and Coimbra, the project will focus on the way in which he transposed learned university knowledge, expressed in Latin, into a practical manual for confessors, conceived - in the beginning - in vernacular language, and addressed to a different audience, with different practical tasks than his other works. The first task will be to make a list of all the editions and translations realized during Azpilcueta’s life in order to identify the primary editions made under Azpilcueta’s supervision.
Focusing on the lexicon and with a philological approach, the project will study the process of epitomization, by analyising different editions and translations of the text, starting from the 1549 edition of the manual for confessors, attributed to a Franciscan Friar, Rodrigo do Porto, which was printed with Azpilcueta’s introduction and his explanations of several obscure points. Special attention will be paid to the way canon law and theological knowledge were arranged within the several alphabetic indexes, tables of content, source tables as well as in the apparatus of marginalia.
The project will also investigate the possible influence of the moral questions raised by the Jesuits’ activity in the border areas of the Portuguese empire on the process of epitomization expressed in the Manual.
Some archival and library research will be necessary for the accomplishment of the project. Following Azpicueta’s biographical path, it will be necessary, first of all, to do some research in the libraries and Archives of the cities most touched by Azpilcueta’s intellectual life and works: Salamanca, Coimbra and Rome.
Picture: Martín de Azpilcueta, Manual de confessores y penitentes, Valladolid 1570
(Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá; Photo: Otto Danwerth)