Fagnani, Prospero

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Italian canonist and theologian, b. S. Angelo, in Vado, Pesaro, Italy, July 2, 1588; d. Rome, Aug. 17, 1678. Of an old and distinguished noble family, he studied at Pavia, where he became doctor of civil and canon law at the age of 20. His brilliance won him the position of professor of law at the Sapienza in Rome, where his teaching enhanced his reputation. When he was 22, he was appointed secretary of the Congregation of the Council by Paul V, thus beginning a long career in which he held the esteem of eight popes and served on 11 congregations. Gregory XV commissioned him to prepare the important bull Aeterni Patris (Nov. 15, 1621), which reaffirmed and enlarged the regulations governing the conclave and papal elections. At the age of 44 he became blind but continued his active work with unabated energy. At the order of Alexander VII he undertook his greatest work, Commentaria absolutissima in quinque libros Decretalium (8 v. Rome 1661). Written after he had been blind for 28 years, the work reveals tremendous erudition and prodigious memory. The clarity of expression, the moderation and certainty of doctrine, and the exact citations were all the more enhanced by his many practical examples drawn from long experience with the Roman congregations. The index of the Commentaria was particularly excellent and has been considered a classic of its type. The work was highly important in the development of Canon Law in the post-Tridentine Church.

Inserted in the Commentaria was a treatise, De opinione probabili, attacking probabilism, which led St. Alphonsus to call Fagnani the greatest of rigorists.

Bibliography: a. bertola, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz (Paris 193565) 5:807809. t. ortolan, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 5.2:206769. j. f. von schulte, Die Geschichte der Quellen und der Literatur des Kanonischen Rechts (Stuttgart 187580) 3.1:485. h. hurter, Nomenclator literarius theologiae catholicae 4:253254.

[j. c. willke]