Final Public Oral Exam: Mateusz Falkowski

Precision and Pragmatism: Antonio Agustín's (1517-1586) Philology, Antiquarianism, and Counter-Reformation
Thursday, January 26, 2023, 1:00 pm3:00 pm
211 Dickinson Hall


Event Description


Anthony Grafton, adviser
Michael D. Gordin
Yaacob Dweck
Ann Blair, Harvard University


In the sixteenth century, religious conflict inspired Catholic as well as Protestant scholars to study Church traditions, but it also gave them grave concerns. Renaissance humanists had designed new tools for exact identification and emendation of ancient texts. When applied to the ecclesiastical realm, the same methods posed dilemmas, as they often set critical scholarship in conflict with what textual sources were traditionally thought to say. This dissertation is the story of the encounter between precise humanistic scholarship and the confessional requirements of the reforming Catholic Church.

It explores the intellectual life and episcopal career of the Spanish prelate, jurist, and antiquarian Antonio Agustín (1517–1586). Agustín exemplified the contemporary anxiety about philological accuracy and religious pragmatism. Like many in the period, Agustín supported the Tridentine Catholic program which claimed unbroken continuity for the Church’s authority, privileges, and practices: the Church had been semper eadem, ever the same. But Catholic humanists like Agustín faced a crucial difficulty: they knew that rigorous knowledge about the history of the Church in some cases undermined its practices. Usually Agustín settled on a pragmatic approach that did not challenge traditions or their continuity. Sometimes, though, he faced them and made his readers aware that they existed.

By considering Agustín’s ecclesiastical scholarship on doctrine, liturgy, and history, this dissertation demonstrates the entanglement – characteristic of the post-Reformation period – of scholarly integrity, religious obligation, and pastoral prudence. Studying Agustín’s emendation of the text of canon law, it examines the intellectual concessions made by high-profile humanist scholars to religious causes in early modern Europe in order to maintain the authority of central legal traditions and it broadens academic discussion concerning the uses of the Christian past in Renaissance Europe. Agustín led the first generation of scholars who studied canon law critically in its historical context.

In their ecclesiastical scholarship, Agustín and his contemporaries often employed methods first developed through the study of secular topics. In the process, they transformed these textual and bookish devices to suit new goals. This dissertation contextualizes their synthesis of humanistic working practices and religious scholarship aimed at supporting respective confessional agendas within broader histories of Renaissance knowledge-making and information management. It argues that these scholars’ “Christian philology,” which provided tools for the confirmation – or rejection – of Church traditions, often had as deep an impact on the religious life of early modern Europe as philosophical and theological debates did.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

Non-Princeton community members must comply with the University Visitor Policy.

Lee Horinko
Area of Interest
Book History
Environmental History
Intellectual History
15th & 16th Centuries
17th & 18th Centuries
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense