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Classical Connections in the High Renaissance

Oct. 3, 2012

Amid the treasured manuscripts and early printed books of the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome, a group of international scholars convened in late September to discuss the thought and influence of Egidio da Viterbo, or Giles of Viterbo, (1469-1532), a luminary of the Italian High Renaissance whose works are again coming to light. Giles was superior general of the Augustinian monastic order at the dawn of the Reformation during rise to prominence of Martin Luther, a monk of the same religious order. Giles was raised to the Cardinalate and considered by many to be papabalis, a serious prospect for pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As a cardinal, Giles participated in the Fifth Lateran Council held in 1512 and gave the opening address in which he claimed "Men should be changed by religion, not religion by men!" As the author of voluminous mystical treatises in theology and philosophy, as well as letters and homilies and even collections of lyric poetry, his work is thought to have influenced the allegorical programs of the artists Michelangelo and Rafael. The epitome of the Renaissance man, he appears to have had a near compulsion to reconcile ever more details of his erudition in Scripture, patristic and scholastic theology, Greek myth, Platonism, Jewish mysticism and even Etruscan lore.

Giles's works would be better known today had he published even a portion of them using the new technology of the printing press as did Luther. In recent decades, however, scholars have published critical editions of Giles's letters, homilies, and poems. Among the largest and most complex of his writings, The Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard which Giles composed "according to the mind of Plato," was published in 2010 by Dr. Dan Nodes, Baylor's chair of classics. In this work Giles expanded the first part of Lombard's theological treatise into a comprehensive reflection on the divine Trinity as that mystery was thought to be foreshadowed in Homer, Hesiod, and Vergil, Plato's dialogues, and Greek myth.

The edition's use by scholars at the Angelica conference gave witness to the purpose of textual scholarship to spawn new research. Giles is an important witness to the central role, next to the Bible and Christian doctrine, that the Greek and Latin classics played in the lives of our ancestors.