The Theologian's Freedom: Ludovico Muratori and the Limits of Theological Speech

The Catholic Enlightenment[1] praised moderation as one of its core values. As such it contrasted with the fanaticism of the “obscurantists,” the enemies of the Enlightenment.[2] Its most outstanding representative, Ludovico Muratori (1672-1750), even praised moderation (temperantia; moderatio) as the cornerstone of theological thought. Only the scholar who presented his findings without pride, polemic, and ostentatiousness, practiced such moderation. Thus, the moderate scholar was one who did not make excessive use of freedom but restrained it virtuously.

As early as 1714, Muratori summarized his thoughts about the limits of reason and freedom in De Ingeniorum Moderatione in Religionis Negotiis (On the Moderation of Reason in Religious Matters). It was not until 1731 that the book came under the scrutiny of the censorship authorities in connection with the investigation of his work De Superstitione Vitanda. Ultimately, however, it was not suppressed because of the advocacy of his friend, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini who would become Benedict XIV (1740-1758).

By the time Muratori published De Ingeniorum Moderatione, he was already a respected man of letters. He had published a four-volume work on poetry in 1706, and in 1708/15 two-volume Riflessioni sopra il buon gusto intorno le scienze e le arti, which earned him the title “Master of Good Taste in the Church of God,”[3] and in which he also advocated the freedom of academic enterprises.[4] Yet, he achieved lasting fame—until today!—with his many-volume Italian history.[5]

Since its publication in 1714, De Ingeniorum Moderatione appeared in numerous editions and translations, and substantially influenced the Catholic reform movement of the eighteenth century. Only in the early nineteenth century did enthusiasm for Muratori wane. In the 1830s, he was once again praised as a hero for free theological scholarship by the followers of Georg Hermes (1775-1831), who had been censored by the papacy, and his works republished.[6] Such association, however, damaged Muratori’s reputation. His name became synonymous with Kantianism, liberalism, and “modernism.” Consequently, there was no space for him in the ultramontane Church that began to form under Pius IX. Neo-Thomism treated him even worse, mainly because he was not a scholastic and had critized both Aquinas and Scotus. Even the brilliant Matthias Scheeben (1835–1888) could not help but denounce him as a proponent of “tame and . . . benevolent” ecclesiastical liberalism.[7] Unsurprisingly, he was only read in secrecy and tacit appreciation until the eve of the Second Vatican Council, which brought many of Muratori’s reform ideas to fruition.[8]

Today, theological freedom is mostly identified with free speech or academic freedom in general. In the eighteenth century, however, it was carefully distinguished from them. Restrictions on the freedom of speech were imposed by governments and churches, and the words of a theologian were not exempt from them. After all, the freedom of theological expression was a clearly defined, narrow space and trespassers were called out and stopped. Muratori, far from being a revolutionary, felt that the ecclesial climate of the eighteenth century had increasingly eliminated even the speck of freedom theologians could enjoy. Yet, if there was no freedom, the Church lost its ability to engage with the world and surrendered its most powerful apologetic weapon: reason. What the librarian of Modena argues for is therefore nothing new, but a relecture of the past or an invitation to regain lost freedom in a time of authoritarianism.

The Art of Criticism in the Search for Truth

Among the most important propositions apologetics of the time established were the existence of God, the credibility of supernatural revelation, and the truthfulness of the Church.[9] One of the tools used for discovering such truths is the ars critica.[10] It is the technique with which one separates truth from falsity. A person who exercises such criticism, however, must not only adhere to formal rules, but must also be guided by basic moral attitudes, such as modesty, moderation, prudence, and diligence. A good critic, therefore, abstains from blasphemy and does not damage the personal dignity of his opponents (dignitati quidquam detrahatur), because otherwise he damages the truth itself.[11] This rule, which was lacking in the polemical discourses of contemporary theologians, stems from the work of Muratori’s friend Marchese Orsi (1652–1733), De Moralibus Criticae Regulis Compendiosa Monita.[12] According to him, the critic stands between the calumniator, the malicious denunciator, and the blasphemous satyricus. Therefore, he must be concerned only with establishing what is true, not with moral attacks but merely logical errors (vitia et peccata non morum, sed ingenii, opinionum).[13] An ideal critic therefore espoused an irenic style of arguing “placidly” and avoiding polemics. If theologians had stuck to this rule, Muratori muses, many divisions and schisms could have been prevented.[14]

The search for truth, however, also demands that the seeker doubts experience, prejudice, and authorities. Such doubt belongs for Muratori to the natural rights (insitae leges) of reason, although it always must be prudent. Doubt is never to be extended to everything, because such an attitude would crush the ability to find truth and instead embrace radical skepticism.[15] The theologian uses this technique for shedding new light on a truth of faith, in the search for a better articulation of an established proposition. It is therefore not universal doubt or a doubt about principles, but a pseudo-doubt (dubitantis specie).[16] Such methodological doubt is for Muratori always justified. Doubt that extends beyond this point is, however, only licit if intention and cause of the doubt are directed toward the search for truth and thus guided by virtue instead of mere curiosity.[17]

A Christian who therefore assures herself in cautious doubt (cauta dubitandi forma) about the intelligibility of revelation and the philosophical certainty of God's existence,[18] acts virtuously. Especially in missionary work, the Church should never discourage or forbid Christians to doubt in such a way. After all, the doubt of a Catholic is the expression of a search for deeper understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). Moreover, if the Church discourages such doubt among its members, it embraces a contradiction, because it expects non-Catholics to apply doubt to their religion so that they recognize the credibility of the Catholic Church.[19] This leads consequently to a double-faced image of Catholicism, open to rationality on the one side, closed on the other.

The Limits of Reason

Although he highly appreciates the power of reason, Muratori also astutely identifies its limits and weaknesses. Consequently, reason should always moderate “itself.”[20] On the quest for freedom, one can only be successful if a person recognizes the weakness (imbecillitas)[21] of reason and discards any pride (superbia) about intellectual abilities. This—anachronistically speaking—Kantian attitude[22] must be accompanied by an active humbling of the seeker (humilitas & animi depressio). This is achieved by asking for the support of others and expressing hope (desiderium & spes), which both manifest the seeker’s rejection of self-sufficiency. Both, helpers, and hope are outside the sphere of a person’s determination, and thus establish an independent review system for one’s quest.[23]

But how far may reason go in its search for truth, specifically in the theological sphere? Praiseworthy freedom (expetita), as Muratori calls it, holds the healthy middle between the negative extremes of excessive freedom, which always leads to heresy, and minimalist freedom, which ends in superstition (nimia ingeniorum servitus in superstitionem deducit).[24] His contemporary, the Spanish Benedictine Feijoo, himself profoundly influenced by Muratori, applies this insight to the theologian’s investigation of miracles: One should neither deny all miraculous accounts nor accept all, and accordingly find a middle between “impiety and superstition.”[25] While too much freedom leads for both to heresy and impiety, too little to an irrational, almost magical view of Christianity, which they detect in many popular belief practices.[26] In order to stay within the boundaries of praiseworthy freedom, a theologian, therefore, has to carefully distinguish three hierarchies of truths: The first includes the doctrines (documenta) that God has revealed, either as dogma, liturgical or disciplinary practice. The second hierarchy includes what has not been revealed by God but has a relationship to Church history. The third includes all sciences.[27]

The theologian has all freedom to speculate on subjects and areas in which the Church either has no doctrinal claim or has not made an ultimate decision (in utriusqua magna est ingeniis libertas).[28] These areas are, however, found in the third and partially in the second hierarchy. But what about truths of faith, i.e. the first hierarchy? Here another three areas have to be distinguished: first, their existence (existentia dogmatis), the way of explaining them (modus explicandi) and third, the proofs by which they are confirmed (rationes). While there is little freedom for doubting or denying the existence of a dogma, there is considerably more freedom for the modus explicanda, since the Church has almost never a specific explanation. As an example, Muratori cites the dogma that the condemned suffer in hell. While their suffering is held as a truth, the modus explicandi of how such suffering is to be understood is not fixed. Consequently, the explanation falls within the free speech of the theologian, who can compose an explanation by consulting Scripture, fathers, councils, and theologians.

However, the theologian enjoys greater freedom when he conceives proofs or arguments (rationes) for a dogma. Often, they are taken from Scripture or tradition, but sometimes also from philosophy. Some of these may be irrefutable, but some may be weak and useless. “From this side a wide field opens for the freedom of the human mind,” Muratori explains. [29] The obiter dicta of councils (but also of Church Fathers) also fall into the this category.[30] This was for Muratori of the utmost importance since he experienced how theologians without such hermeneutic discernment declared every word and idea of a council or Church Father as irreformable dogma. Whatever they proposed or discussed incidentally (obiter), whatever they did not reject as outright heretical, could be freely discussed, criticized, and consequently also rejected. After all, these sentences were not part of sacred tradition but merely time-bound concepts and ideas. Nobody, Muratori argued, should be forced to follow them only because of their origin unless good reasons were provided.[31]

The Pernicious Piety of Fanatics

The expansion of the teaching authority (immoderata . . . extollatur) of the Church to areas where it does not have such authority, Muratori regards as a threat to the health of theology. While the Church cannot decide infallibly and definitively in the second and third hierarchies listed above, it could, he thinks, condemn certain positions from Church history or other sciences.[32]

Theologians who advocated for moderation and reminded Church leaders how far their teaching authority really extended were immediately suspected of heresy—Muratori among them. He identifies exaggerated zeal (zelum exuberantem) as the cause for the excessive authoritarianism. Unable to discern the sources and levels of authority, zealous voices are fed by “superstition” or the abandonment of reason.[33] Their passion (inconsultus ardor) is rash and so biased that contradicting arguments are outright dismissed. By tearing down the limitations of Church authority, these self-appointed guardians of “Zion” want to prove their dedication to the Church, but in reality, expose it to ridicule.

After all, why would the Church rule in questions that are not about faith or morals, or eliminate all freedom to think in theology? Why would it be pious to contradict the words of Christ to St. Peter? This “human species” (hominum genus), as Muratori mockingly writes, demands that everything found in an ecclesiastical document, whether in the breviary or a council text, must be accepted in identical obedience. In their fanaticism, there are no levels of obligation and obedience. Corpse-like obedience is the only offer they accept.[34] While the intention and will of such fanatics might be good, since they aim at giving God glory, they lack scientia and prudentia. Accordingly, they tend to spread suspicion (nimium supiciosi) and obstinacy (morosi). Finally, their inflationary expansion of Church authority turns the Church into a tyrannical authoritarian institution:

Whoever commands things to be believed that are not to be believed at all will be thought a tyrant, and whoever scatters lies among the truth will be thought a teacher of error and falsehood.[35]

Ultimately, then, the preachers of such zeal are nothing but pious flatterers (pios assentatores), whose piety is dangerous to the mission and life of the Church. Accordingly, Church authorities must not accept such flattery but reject it and put their hope in honest and courageous (cordati) Catholics.[36]

Censoring the Liberal Arts and Sciences

The overzealous also advocated censorship in the liberal arts. Muratori objects and argues that academic freedom can only be restricted by the Church if the expressed opinions violate the doctrine of the faith or if the Bible is publicly suspected of being in error. Regarding the latter, Muratori does not think of historical-critical interpretation, which was still in its infancy, but rather of Deist rejections of the Bible’s supernatural origin or overall historical credibility. Thus, the right to interfere in the liberal arts curriculum is narrowly defined and the freedom of the teaching academic cherished. Outside these fields of danger for the integrity of the faith, the Church has no right to infringe upon the right of free thought: “Sublato hujusmodi periculo, liberum est in his sentire, quae velis.”[37]

Since the liberal arts and sciences do not deal with truths necessary for salvation, they cannot be subject to the doctrinal judgment of the Church. As a historian, Muratori, however, knows that many Church Fathers and even some councils gave their opinions on the liberal arts, education and philosophy. Yet, when they did, they went beyond the limits (ultra fines religionis) of religion, and their expressions therefore must be regarded as those of private writers (privati auctores).[38] The fanatic, who is incapable of such hermeneutic, however, will impose their thoughts as policy and dogma on others.

Since arts and sciences have no intrinsic theological content, they can only indirectly contradict (indirecte) a religious truth, for example, when they demonstrate that the Bible reports scientific or historical facts incorrectly. This does, however, not damage the credibility and authority of Holy Scripture, nor prove that it is not free from error. Muratori could have embraced the Arminian solution, according to which Scripture was free of error only in its statements about salvation, but this he regards as shortsighted.[39]

After all, such an attitude would compel the theologian to always encounter Scripture with the prejudice of suspicion, expecting fraud or falsification in the texts. Yet, if Scripture was the word of God, the theologian had to approach it with reverence and love. Nevertheless, if the theologian should encounter contradictions, he should follow the scientific evidence even if that went against the literal meaning of the biblical text.[40] In these cases, the academic must interpret Scripture in a way that does not contradict itself or the new scientific evidence, [41] for example as a metaphor or trope, or figure of speech. It is in nuce, St. Augustine’s approach he follows.[42] If such new evidence is established the rule of the Council of Trent to interpret the Scriptures according to the consent of the Fathers of the Church, may be safely abandoned. After all, Trent did not prescribe that Catholics had to slavishly follow the Fathers in history and science, but in faith and morals.[43]

The Freedom to Interpret Scripture

This freedom of interpretation becomes especially clear in the discussion of the Copernican worldview.[44] After Muratori has explained that already Nicolaus of Cusa had presented the Copernican thesis, he shows that the view of the Copernican astronomers was compatible with the Bible.

The passages of the Scripture, which speak for example of a standstill of the earth, and thus seemingly contradict the notion that the planet incessantly orbits the sun, cannot be counted as statements with religious authority. Instead, they use "vulgar" expressions (ad opinionem vulgi and ad rudis populi sensum) to explain a theological truth, in this case God’s sovereign power over the universe, to the uneducated readers of the time.[45] The description of the celestial bodies must therefore be regarded as accommodation, as concession of the author of Scripture, to the limited worldview and mindset of the first recipients. The easy to comprehend imagery does therefore not belong to faith or moral doctrine.[46] Consequently, the theologian is completely justified to adopt the new scientific worldview and interpret other passages in a similar way.[47]

The greatest difficulty in interpreting Holy Scripture is of course to identify the meaning of a text. Muratori defends the view that scriptural passages that contain doctrines of faith and morals have only one meaning, which was handed down by the fathers and councils. Texts, however, which are not about faith and morals, can contain several different literal meanings. According to Muratori, the theologian is entitled to prefer in such cases the figurative to the purely literal (proprium) meaning if there is an acceptable reason. The latter is the case if other scriptural passages support such an explanation if it does not contradict clearer passages, or when the Church Fathers did not outright reject such an explanation. Moreover, the preferred figurative reading could also not contradict other established articles of faith or morals:

This does not mean to convert the literal, historical sense into allegories, but to recognize this historical, literal sense of Scripture, which agrees well with the matter, the presentation, and the habit of the prophets.[48]

Luke 19:44 (“They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”) for example, cannot be understood as a literalist prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem. After all, some stones in Jerusalem remained on top of each other, even if temple and city were largely destroyed. Therefore, this passage is to be understood in its literal meaning as a figure of speech and therefore figuratively. According to Muratori, one may assume such a figurative meaning, if one does not do contort the text (contorta; violenta) and does not approach Scripture with the suspicion of error or falsity (omnis supicio falsitatis ac erroris avertatur).[49]

Muratori’s careful examination of what freedoms a theologian has in interpreting Scripture showed that the Copernican explanation of the solar system did not contradict biblical truth not only because the biblical text could be understood figuratively and accommodatively, but also because it did not contradict faith and morals.[50] Misinterpreting the debate about Copernicus, as it was frequently done in his days, was for him a danger to the reputation of the Church: namely, if one were to put forward as a doctrine of faith something that would be scientifically disproved tomorrow, one would make the Church dependent on “human experiments” (humanis experimentis).[51] In order to exclude these negative consequences, the ecclesiastical magisterium must be restrained in such questions. [52]

The Virtues of Expression

However, free theological expression must also adhere to moral rules of conduct. The most important of them is to follow justice. This demands from the theologian to never make his private opinions or the school opinions he follows publicize as dogmatic truths.[53] Whatever one utters as a private citizen must be recognizable as such and cannot be illicitly decorated with the false claim to authority. Moreover, it is a demand of justice that the truth of the Gospel is only proclaimed by those who have been commissioned by the legitimate authorities in the Church to do so. After all, the theologian does not speak for himself but for the Church.[54]

Yet also the “order of charity” restricts free expression.[55] It urges the theologian to always prefer the love for God, faith, and the Church to all other kinds of love. Whatever fails the test of love, should not be said, especially if it is motivated by “exaggerated” self-love or pride. The order of charity also demands moderation when disputing erroneous propositions or truths of faiths. By avoiding ad hominem attacks and polemics, the theologian exercised his vocation to heal (sanare alios) souls and not wound them.[56] Consequently, even the refutation of an erroneous opponent must never damage his reputation or reveal personal weaknesses, unless this is the only way to silence “furiosos, calumniosos, & maledicos scriptores.”[57]

Prudence requires moderation, to always do good and avoid evil.[58] If a diseased theological writer has spread errors in writing or speech, the Church cannot remain silent because of the reputation of the person, and it must be “permitted to every Christian to discover the truth and . . . and make it known.”[59] Revealing these errors in a measured tone is, however, not evil, but serving the good of society and Church and therefore commendable.

The fact that Muratori distinguishes between living and dead theologians is noteworthy. For the living, their admonition is the duty of the Church, including a secret reproach, while after one’s death everyone has the right to raise to the defense of the faith. It shows Muratori’s magnanimity when he extends this stance also to some Church Fathers.[60]After all, he is convinced, they would have emended their writings, were they alive today.[61]

Yet, what should the church do with all the writings that have no theological or moral claims but spread falsities. Should Church officials bother censoring them?[62] He answers in the affirmative, pointing to the principles of universal justice. The good of truth is so universal, “That every single person has a right to it, and no one is allowed to deceive me, nor to draw me into error, nor to force me to accept falsities for truths and truths for falsities.”[63] Since my right to truth and freedom from error is attacked by these falsities (which in today’s society are labeled conspiracy theories and fake news), I am entitled to defend this right:

When war has been publicly declared to truth . . . it is my right (fas mihi est) to defend publicly (publice) a good which is now no longer just my own, but a public one, against the wrong inflicted against it, and to remove from the State the error, which is dangerous to the commonwealth itself.[64]        

Closing Reflection

Ludovico Muratori has offered his predominantly Catholic readers from 1714 remarkable reflections on the freedom of ecclesiastical speech. Although only a fraction of his ideas could be presented here, they testify to his commitment to thinking with the Church, in humility and moderation. He always maintained a balance between academic freedom and ecclesiastical obedience, even though he often had to admonish his contemporaries that defending Aristotle was not the same as defending Christ,[65] or that quoting Protestant authors did not make one a Protestant.[66] Muratori fought against superstition, which unnecessarily restricted freedom and treated both science and reason condescendingly. For him, a theologian did not only need piety (pietas) and zeal (zelus), but especially the spirit of discernment, of ars critica. “That is true piety.”[67]

EDITORIAL NOTE: More about Muratori and the Catholic Enlightenment can be found in the brand new book: Catholic Enlightenment: A Global Anthology, which Ulrich Lehner edited together with Shaun Blanchard.

[1] Cf. Ulrich L. Lehner, The Catholic Enlightenment. The Forgotten History of a Global Movement (Oxford: OUP, 2016); Ulrich L. Lehner and Shaun Blanchard (eds.), The Catholic Enlightenment. A Global Anthology (Washington, DC: CUA, 2021). A German version of this paper appeared under the title “De Moderatione in Sacra Theologia. Über die Grenzen theologischer Rede bei Ludovico Muratori,” in Christian Schaller et al.: Der dreifaltige Gott (Freiburg: Herder, 2017), 349–365.

[2] Moderation was an important characteristic of Catholic Enlightenment, especially in its dialogue with other confessions. See, for example, Franz Xaver Seidel, Dissertatio de Moderatione Theologica (Eichstätt: 1782).

[3] Paola Vismara, “Muratori 'immoderato.' Le censure romane al De ingeniorum moderatione in religionis negotio,” Nuova rivista storica 83 (1999): 315-344, here: 331. On Muratori’s importance for Italian, Catholic self-understanding see for example Pope Pius XII’s letter in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis Commentarium Officiale XXXXII, Series II, vol. XVII (1950), 296-299 (to the Archbishop of Modena on the 200th anniversary of Muratori's death).

[4] Ludovico Muratori, Rifflessioni sopra il buon gusto intorno le scienze e le arti, part II (In Coeonia: 1715), ch. 1, 12: "Mezzi necessarj ed utili per divenire nom Letterato ... chiamo io la libertà e quiete degli animi, e de' corpi, la comodità delle Scuole, l'abbondanza de'Maestri, e de'Libri ..."

[5] An excellent overview of Muratori's work is provided by Paola Vismara, "Ludovico Muratori-Enlightenment in a Tridentine Mode," in Catholicism and Enlightenment in Europe, edited by Ulrich L. Lehner and Jeffrey Burson (Notre Dame: UNDP, 2014), 251-270.

[6] Johann W. Braun, Ehrenrettung L. A. Muratori (Trier: 1838). On Pope Benedict XIV's appreciation of De Ingeniorum, see Gian-Francesco Soli, Vita del proposito Lodovico Muratori, vol. 1 (Arezzo: 1767), num. xxix, 312-313; Maria Antoinetta De Angelis, Prospero Lambertini (Benedetto XIV). Un profilo attraverso le lettere (Vatican City: Archivio Segreto Vaticano, 2008), 366; Benedict XIV and the Enlightenment, ed. by Rebecca Messbarger et al, (Toronto: UoT, 2016).

[7] "Only when Germany began to look back with disdain on everything that belonged to the past and considered as non-existent everything that had been accomplished by theologians of older times, when theology was built up in a new way, only then did the book fall into oblivion" (Braun, Ehrenrettung, 14-15). Cf. Pietro Schedoni, Elogio di L. A. Muratori (Modena: 1818). Matthias Scheeben, Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik, vol. 1 (Freiburg: 1873), 185.

[8] See Ulrich L. Lehner, On the Way to Vatican II: German Catholic Enlightenment and the Reform of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016), 171–192; Shaun Blanchard, The Synod of Pistoia: Jansenism and the Struggle for Catholic Reform (Oxford: OUP, 2020), 1–22; 52–101.

[9] Ludovico Muratori, De Ingeniorum Moderatione in Religionis Negotiis (Augsburg: 1779), lib. 1, c. 2, 13. Cited by book (lib.), chapter (c.), page number.

[10] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 3, c. 14, 576-577: "Hoc est, criticam artem illam, studiumque intelligo, quo alienos in literis, sive in doctrina, errores acute investigamus, & deprehensos censoria virga percutimus. Id licitum, id honestum, id Reipublicae perquam utile, simulque necessarium est."

[11] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 3, c. 14, 577.

[12] Muratori cites Orsi's De Moralibus Criticae Regulis Compendiosa Monita (Cologne: 1706) in Idem, Riflessioni, part II, ch. 15, 190; on Orsi, see Herbert Jaumann, Critica: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Literaturkritik zwischen Quintilian und Thomasius (Leiden: Brill, 1995, 223-225).

[13] Jaumann, Critica, 225.

[14] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 3, 276.

[15] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 2, 14; ibid., 15: 15: "Interim ex his legibus sequitur, commendari a recta Ratione prudentem dubitationem, improbari vero temerariam. Neque enim propterea quod nobis natura dubitandi jus dederit, ut falsum declinemus, verumque assequamur; ideo sine discrimine cuicumque, & de quibuscumque rebus, dubitare fas est." On Enlightenment skepticism, most recently Anton Matytsin, The Specter of Skepticism in the Age of Enlightenment (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

[16] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 2, 16.

[17] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 2, 16: "Utriusque differentia in fine, & causa dubitandi se prodit."

[18] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 4, 28: "Atque hoc profecto est peculiare istius Legis decus ac praerogativa, ut ipsa sit, non dicam credibilis supra ceteres, sed una fit evidenter credibilis, & consentanea aequitate Naturae atque Rationis."

[19] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 4, 26-27.

[20] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 7, 63: "Non extinctum, sed infirmum esse in homine Rationis vigorem, & Verum difficile posse ac solere inveniri diximus; nun autem ejus inveniendi spem omnem sustulimus." Ibid: "In quo autem sita sit haec moderatio, deinceps explicabitur."

[21] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 7, 63.

[22] Cf. Ulrich L. Lehner, Kants Vorsehungskonzept auf dem Hintergrund der deutschen Schulphilosophie und -theologie (Leiden and Boston: 2007), 230; 331; 351; 377.

[23] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 7, 64-65. Ibid, 65: "Igitur inter nimiam abjectionem sui, nimiamque ambitionem ingenii continenda sunt; untrinque etiam periculum subest, et aut nulli, aut falsae Revelationi adhibeatur fides."

[24] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 15, 153.

[25] Benito Feijoo, “The Problem of Miracles,” in Lehner/Blanchard, The Catholic Enlightenment, 77­–90, at 86.

[26] See Ulrich L. Lehner, The Inner Life of Catholic Reform: From the Council of Trent to the Enligthenment (Oxford: OUP, 2022).

[27] The church should also proceed with moderation in church discipline and not impose unnecessary burdens on Catholics. In this he agrees with Jean le Clerc. Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 15, 153; cf. Phereponius [i.e. Jean le Clerc], Appendix Augustiniana (Amsterdam: 1703); cf. Arnoud Visser, "How Catholic was Augustine? Confessional Patristics and the Survival of Erasmus in the Counter-Reformation," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 61 (2010): 86-106.

[28] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 12, 109.

[29] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 12, 113: "Quapropter late patet ex hac parte Ingeniorum libertas."

[30] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 122.

[31] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 124: "Error enim ... cui non resistitur, approbatur."

[32] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 115: "Nulla autem auctoritas, hominibus a deo data, ecclesiasticae aequanda est. reliquae humanarum rerum perfecto regimini conducunt, finemque sibi statutum habent, nobilem quidem, sed brevem, qualis est terrena mortalium felicitas. At Ecclesiae Auctoritas nobilissimum ac aeternam rem curat. Non enim aolum ad beatam in terris vitam homines perducit; sed ad aeternam quoque in caelis beatitatem." Ibid: "Quocirca jure tolerari non solet, quicumque vel tantillum videatur imminuere de tam necessaria utilique Auctoritate, quam tollere, aut non satis venerari, idem certe est, ac haeresibus & erroribus innumeris claustra reserare."

[33] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 115.

[34] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 115: "Nempe id hominum genus sine ullo discrimine illa omnia non secus ac fidei capita habenda esset censet; Ecclesiam quippe errare nunsquam, & numquam posse." For a nineteenth century example of such an extreme position see Ulrich L. Lehner, “Päpstlicher als der Papst. Georg Kaiser’s (1801–1872) Papalismus,“ in Sigmund Bonk et al. (eds.), Glaube und Kirche in Zeiten des Umbruchs. Festschrift für Josef Kreiml (Regensburg: Pustet Verlag, 2019), 577–595.

[35] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 116: "Deinde ad tyrannidem accedet, qui minime credenda credi jubeat, aut se prodet erroris magistrum, qui in censum veritatis fabulas quasque referat."

[36] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 13, 116: "Pietatem sapit horum facinus, sed perniciosam pietatem."

[37] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 206.

[38] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 207.

[39] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 209. On some Catholic theories of early modern understanding of inspiration, such as Lessius' restricted real inspiration, which seems to have similarities to Muratori, see: James T. Burtchaell, Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration Since 1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1969), 44-88.

[40] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 218: "Rursus eas rationes, eamque evidentiam secum ducere interdum physicae, historia profana, atque aliae Artes possunt, ut prae illis non aeque evidentia, immo dubia sint Scripturae sacrae verba."

[41] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 218-219

[42] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 219.

[43] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 21, 220: "In reliquis ipsos Patres quidem venerari, aut religiose, & kata poda sequi non cogimur: alioqui tot haberemus Haereticos aut saltem temerarios, quot habemus Scripturarum Interpretes."

[44] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 221.

[45] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 222; ibid., 223ff. Muratori brings numerous examples; ibid., 225: 225: "Nusquam certe manifestius occulorum judicia, & vulgi opiniones consectatur divina Scriptura, quam quum de Caelis, corporisque caelestibus loquitur."

[46] Other examples of accommodative speech are, for example, antropomorphic descriptions of God and his body. Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 222-223: "Quod si Deo corpus, & membra, & animi perturbationes, & humanas tribuere non dubitarunt divinitus inspirati Viri, quo significarent veros divinae operationis effectus: quanto aequius hujusmodi minus accurato loquendi genere uti potuerunt, dum de physicis, & humanis rebus quidpiam enarrabant?"

[47] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 223: "Eruditorum autem hominum est in his non necessariis rebus, Ecclesiasticorum vero Judicium in rebus ad Fidem, & Eruditionem christianam spectantibus, decernere, quid proprie & quid figurate sit accipiendum."

[48] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 232: "Hoc enim est, non in Allegorias Historicum litteralem sensum scripturis tribuere, qui rei, & narrationi, & consuetudini Prophetarum aptius conveniat."

[49] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 234.

[50] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 234: "Deinde prudenter quidem, & religiose Ptolomei, su Tychonis sententia retineatur, sed ita ut ad FIdem pertinere nondum dicatur, neque Haeresis postuletur contraria sententia. Copernicani enim Systematis rationes, etsi nequaquam demonstrativae sint, eae tamen sunt, quae dubium faciunt Scripturae sensum in locis supra laudatis, ipsum verisimili ac probabili interpretatione a se non dissentire ostendunt."

[51] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 1, c. 22, 234.

[52] Galileo had already urged this in a letter to Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. See Schüssler, Moral im Zweifel, vol. 1, 237-239.

[53] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 1, 261-262.

[54] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 1, 263; ibid., 264: "Contra ille Justitiam laedit, qui non vocatus, non missus, non saltem tacite probatus, sumit sibi honorem, & docendi ministerium usurpat."

[55] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 266: "Ita dicendum, aut silendum est verum, ita errores aut refellendi, aut dissimulandi sunt, ut Caritatis ordo servetur."

[56] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 267.

[57] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 267; ibid., 270: "Tum solum sinit caritas, nos privatorum commodis, & honori nocere, quando aliter publica res restitui, sanarique non potest."; ibid., 275.

[58] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 267.

[59] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 268: "Veritatem itaque revelare, ac super tecta praedicare, falsaque dogmata, quantis poterit, viribus impugnare, non solum unicuique Christiano licebit, sed necesse erit sacris Ecclesiae Custodibus."

[60] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 268: "Homines & ipsi fuerunt."

[61] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 2, 268: "Illi, si viverent, Libros suos lubentissime emendarent."

[62] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 3, 277: "Petitur etiam, quo jure in Auctorem tibi non injurium, immo tui nescium, censoriam auctoritatem exercere velis." Cf. ibid, 281.[63] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 3, 277: "Ita totum est omnium, ut totum sit etiam singulorum, nullique licet me decipere, atque in errorem trahere, & cogere, ut falsa pro veris, vera pro falsis amplectar." See already his earlier critique of censorship and hs is plea for more freedom among Christian academics in

[64] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 3, 277: "Quod si palam veritati bellum indicitur ... jam fas mihi est, bonum non jam amplius tantummodo meum, sed publicum, ab injuria publice vindicare, & a Republica errorem removere, Reipubilcae ipsi perniciosum.

[65] Muratori thinks that some theologians defend religion, but in truth only their own Aristotelianism. Cf. ibid., lib. 1, c. 21, 210: "Et eorum zelus utique laudandus, modo tamen sit secundum scientiam, & cautis gressibus procedat. Deplorandum enim est, si errores, ubi non erant, somniet; si illic pericula confingat, unde nihil mali effluere potest, & injustos, neque necessarios compedes injicere velit naturali humanarum mentium libertati. ...Et revera non animadvertunt interdum docti pariter piique viri, se unius Aristotelis causam agere, quam Religionis casuam tueri videntur."

[66] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 6, 302: "Haereticum non est, quidquid Haeretici dicunt; cujuscumque enim Veritas proferatur, suam retinet pulchritudinem, & nemo nescit, eruditionem optimam cum pessima fide saepe constituere posse."

[67] Muratori, De Ingeniorum, lib. 2, c. 14, 397.

Featured Image: Taken by Alien life form, Statue of Muratori; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0


Ulrich L. Lehner

Ulrich L. Lehner is William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author and editor of thirty books, most notably: The Catholic Enlightenment, the bestseller God Is Not Nice (translated into five languages), and Think Better: Rediscovering the Power of Reason.

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