The Venetian Agostino Valier (Venice, 7 April 1531 – Rome, 23 May 1606), Cardinal and Bishop of Verona, prefect of the Congregation of the Index, and member of the Holy Office, was one of the leading figures of the Italian Church in the years of the Council of Trent. As a professor of philosophy in the so-called Scuola di Rialto, he achieved a form of eclecticism founded on the interaction between philosophy and humanism. He wrote over 200 works, both in Latin and in the vernacular, including letters, treatises, booklets, orations, dreams, eulogies, biographies, reports, and commentaries, which demonstrate his interest in different literary genres and topics, such as philosophical exegesis, conduct literature, historiography, and rhetoric. His first texts, mainly addressed to members of the Venetian aristocracy, offer a series of practical norms to prepare them for the political or civil roles with which they would be invested. Once he became Bishop of Verona, he tried to reconcile his previous philosophical and pedagogical interests with his new public role, following the example of other humanists, such as Cardinal Gian Matteo Giberti. Therefore, he pursued social and religious reforms, combining the humanist system proposed by Giberti with the models for pastoral care discussed and promulgated during the Council of Trent, and particularly under the influence of Carlo Borromeo.
KeywordsLiterary Production Pastoral Care Literary Genre Public Role Christian Doctrine
Agostino Valier was born in Venice, on 7 April 1531: his father Bertuccio was a patrician, as was his mother Lucia, sister of the future Cardinal Bernardo Navagero. Valier was educated in Venice and then went to Padua to study the Greek language. In these years, he wrote a series of orations and letters addressed to illustrious members of both the Paduan university and the Venetian aristocracy (e.g., Lazzaro Bonamico, Marcantonio Genua, Pietro Landi, Marcantonio Trevisan). In 1555 he visited Rome with his uncle Bernardo Navagero on the occasion of the election of Pope Paul IV. In the same year, he also became Minoris Ordinis Praeconsultor (a rank appointed by the Venetian Senate). In 1558 he obtained the chair of philosophy in the so-called Scuola di Rialto: on that occasion he delivered the Praefationes nonnullae habitae in gymnasio Veneto cum moralem philosophiam Venetis adolescentibus explicaret, in quibus sacram theologiam cum philosophiae studio congiungendum esse ostendit. The texts which Valier wrote in these years show an original and personal approach to philosophical matters: departing from the dogmatic interpretation of Aristotelianism (characterizing works such as his De tempore or De loco), Valier aimed to achieve a form of eclecticism founded on the interaction between philosophy and humanism. One work embodying his perspective is the De recta philosophandi ratione: this text is dedicated to defining the need for a balance between conflicting trends (philosophy and religion, but also Aristostelianism and Platonism), rather than establishing a specific method, since “to him, the proper use of philosophical knowledge was more important than philosophical method or the choice of any particular philosophical system” (Pullapilly 1992, p. 331). The De recta philosophandi ratione is first printed in 1577 in a volume collecting also other praefationes, that is, philosophical lectures on different topics (e.g., In libros de moribus Aristotelis, In Cebetis tabulam, In libellum Porphirii de quinque vocibus, In libros del coelo). The 1577 edition also contains four opuscula, addressed to members of the Venetian aristocracy, which offer a series of practical norms to prepare them for the political or civil roles with which they would be invested. These works are Qua ratione versandum sit in Aristotele, Qui mores in cive Veneto requirantur, Quibus in artibus adolescens Venetus debeat excellere, and De commentariis conficiendis memoriae causa. That means that the literary production of the 1550s is not entirely devoted to philosophical topics; rather, it is also characterized by works on conduct, “dominated by a theme that was to recur with little change in the writing of Valier’s episcopal period: condemnation of ambition and exaltation of contempt for honours” (Logan 1996, p. 222). In these works Valier stresses the importance of the studia humanitatis as a link between intellectual and public life and attributes to men of letters the role of leading figures within their own societies. In 1560, therefore, Agostino Valier located his principal interests in teaching and in civil engagement, but also in the fulfillment of his personal view of a type of humanism in which philosophy, letters, and religion converge to create an ethical system.
This perspective underwent a change in 1561, when Bernardo Navagero, Valier’s uncle, was elected cardinal. Valier, who had already addressed to the uncle his lost De fugiendis honoribus (another conduct text in dialogue form), became Navagero’s secretary and left Venice for Rome. At the Roman court, Valier met Carlo Borromeo, who invited him to take part in the academy called Notti Vaticane (this experience would provide the subject matter for the Convivium Noctium Vaticanarum by Valier). A few years later, he again accompanied his uncle, now Bishop of Verona, to the Council of Trent; but on the way back, Navagero fell ill and, before dying (31 May 1565), asked and obtained that his nephew should replace him as leader of the diocese of Verona. Therefore, Valier was elected Bishop of Verona on 28 May 1565. Once in his diocese (17 June 1565), Valier tried to reconcile his previous philosophical and pedagogical interests with his new public role, following the example of other humanists, starting from one of his predecessors in the diocese, Cardinal Gian Matteo Giberti. Valier continued and pursued the social and religious reforms introduced by Giberti in sixteenth-century Verona, which concerned various aspects of life (Christian practice, education, marriage, family). However, Valier tried to combine the humanist system proposed by Giberti with the models for pastoral care discussed and promulgated during the Council of Trent and particularly under the influence of Carlo Borromeo (see Tacchella 1972). Following the example of Borromeo in Milan, and with the support of new religious orders (such as the Theatines and the Jesuits), Valier promoted a series of initiatives, such as the founding of a diocesan seminary, the reform of local monasteries and religious institutions, the organization of Catholic associations and confraternities, and the diffusion of schools of Christian doctrine. All these projects were related to specific editorial plans, because Valier attributed to the printing press an important role in the diffusion of the ideals of the Reformed Church. This is why the works written by Valier (or published with his support) soon after his election – catechisms, texts for clerics, rules for schools of Christian doctrine and for confraternities – are characterized by a strong pragmatism.
Alongside this prescriptive production, Valier also wrote some works which are at once descriptive and prescriptive, concerned with both religious and social education, and intended to define the behavior of a good Christian. These works, deeply influenced by his friendship with Carlo Borromeo, who was overseeing a similar reform in the diocese of Milan, can be divided into two groups, according to the different readerships (religious or secular) they were meant for. One group comprises treatises and collections of practical examples for priests, monks, and clerics: these works aim to regulate fields such as Christian oratory (De rhetorica ecclesiastica ad clericos, 1574), the life of a bishop (Episcopus, seu de optima Episcopi forma, 1575) and of a cardinal (Cardinalis, sive de optima Cardinalis forma, 1575), but also the behavior of nuns (Ricordi […] lasciati alle monache nella sua visitazione fatta l’anno del santissimo Giubileo 1575, 1575). The second group of works may be connected, much more directly, to the so-called social disciplining, that is, the attempt to regulate people’s private lives (see Oestreich 1969; Prodi 1994). Among these works we can mention the Ricordi al popolo della città e diocese di Verona (1579), and especially the three books for women published in 1575 under the single title of Instituzione d’ogni stato lodevole delle donne cristiane: that is, Del modo di vivere delle vergini che si chiamano demesse, for unmarried women; Della vera e perfetta viduità, for widows; Instruzione delle donne maritate, for married women (Valier 2015). These manuals of behavior demonstrate extensive continuity with the prescriptive texts for clerics, but also with the works addressed to the Venetian aristocracy at the beginning of the literary career of Valier. Although now influenced by Tridentine precepts, the texts for secular as well as religious men and women by Bishop Valier continue the project of a philosophical humanism, which he had already pursued at the Scuola di Rialto. This literary production differs from the previous works by Valier in the choice of simplicity in style and of the vernacular in terms of language and influences his later historical writings (e.g., the Ricordi per lo scriver le historie della Repubblica di Venezia, dedicated to Alvise Contarini, historian of the Republic, which present history as a source for moral advice and practical suggestions to follow in everyday life).
In the same years, Valier continued to exercise his episcopal role, visiting his diocese (see Archivio storico della Curia diocesana di Verona 2000 and 2001), and writing pastoral letters, collections of homilies, and rules for the clergy. In recognition of his activity, on 12 December 1583, Pope Gregory XIII elected him cardinal. On this occasion, he wrote an oration (now lost) entitled Concio de onere Episcopatus et Cardinalatus, a description of the perfect Tridentine bishop and cardinal, represented by Carlo Borromeo (who died a few months after the election of Valier, as described in his Vita Caroli Borromaei: Valier 1988). In 1587 Sixtus V elected Valier a member of the Congregation of the Index, but despite this Valier did not interrupt his production of works on ethics and conduct, such as the De occupationibus Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Diacono Cardinale dignis and the Quatenus fugiendi sint honores (both addressed to Federico Borromeo, the cousin of Carlo). However, the most important texts written after his election are the Philippus, sive de christiana laetitia (two dialogues, set in 1591 Rome, dedicated to Filippo Neri and his Oratorio: Valier 1975), and the De cautione adhibenda in edendis libris (an autobiographical description of the life and works of Valier, dedicated to Silvio Antoniano and first published only in 1719). Even if this second text is presented as the last work written by the Venetian cardinal, between the composition of the De cautione and his death, Valier continued writing. His extraordinarily prolific production collects over 200 titles, both in Latin and in the vernacular, including letters, treatises, booklets, orations, dreams, eulogies, biographies, reports, and commentaries, which demonstrate his interest in different literary genres and different topics, such as the exegesis of the Scriptures, philosophy, conduct literature, historiography, and rhetoric. All his works preserve his personal view of humanism: a practical knowledge in which a perfect balance of letters, philosophy, and religion can offer useful advice for prescribing and describing human behavior in contemporary society.
Agostino Valier died in Rome, on 23 May 1606.
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