Giles of Viterbo
GILES OF VITERBO
Augustinian friar, Renaissance scholar, reformer, cardinal; b. Viterbo, 1469; d. Rome, Nov. 11–12, 1532. His family name was Antonini, not Canisius as many historians (including L. von Pastor) state. Giles (Aegidius) joined the Augustinians at Viterbo and in 1493, while still a student at Padua, published an edition of three works of Aegidius Romanus. From this time dates his hostility to averroism; it was confirmed when he studied under Marsilio ficino at Florence. Plato, St. Augustine, and the Bible were three sources from which he drew liberally. He became an outstanding member of the Pontanian Academy at Naples, and gave his name to Giovanni Pontano's dialogue, Aegidius. He was perhaps the most sought after preacher of his day—Popes Alexander VI and Julius II, Kings Frederick and Ferdinand of Naples, the cities of Florence and Venice, demanded his services. His most memorable oration was the appeal for reform at the opening of the Fifth lateran council on May 3,1512. His preaching had both the polish and defects of Renaissance style.
In 1503 he joined the observant movement within the Augustinian Order, became affiliated with the famous monastery of Lecceto near Siena, and on June 27, 1506, to his own dismay, was appointed vicar-general of the augustinians by Julius II. Thereafter, his main concern until he resigned from office (Jan. 25, 1518) was reform of the order. He secured the much-coveted Bulla Aurea in favor of the Augustinians from Julius II in June 1507 and in 1508 authorized the first printed edition of the constitutions of the order. He halted the growing division between Augustinian observants and conventuals; early in 1511 he won over a young German friar, Martin Luther, to the cause of unity. He insisted on a return to the full common life and greatly encouraged higher studies. To ensure the success of reform he personally visited houses and provinces or sent his own delegates with wide powers. He did not hesitate to suspend or dismiss priors and provincials, and he demanded monthly reports from each province. But all his efforts were hampered by the general laxity of Church affairs at that time.
His intellectual versatility was amazing: he wrote both Latin and Italian poetry, edited philosophical works, compiled a major theological commentary, attempted a survey of Christian history, and was indefatigable in his scriptural studies, particularly Hebrew, the cabala, and rabbinical literature. He defended Johann reuchlin and will always be remembered as the generous patron of Elijah Levita (c. 1468–1549), who later became the leading Hebrew scholar of Renaissance Europe. Aegidius was a linguist of rare ability and was credited with being the only person in Europe with a competent knowledge of Arabic. The first complete printed edition of the Bible in Greek was published at Venice in 1518, and was dedicated to Aegidius. Most of his own works remained unpublished during his lifetime; he suffered from an intellectual meticulosity.
He went as papal agent to the Emperor Maximilian in 1515, was nominated a cardinal in July 1517, and was sent as papal legate to Spain in 1518. He was a serious candidate for the papal tiara at the conclave in 1521. In 1523 he was appointed bishop of Viterbo by Clement VII. The remainder of his life he devoted mainly to scholarship, but he made one notable political effort in May, 1527 when he led an army of 2,000 soldiers to free clement vii, then besieged by the imperial troops in the castel Sant' Angelo in Rome. To the end he continued to be an advocate for reform of the Church.
Bibliography: Letters as Augustinian General, ed. c. o'reilly (Rome 1992). Lettere familiari, ed. a. m. voci roth, 2 vols. (Rome 1990). Scechina e libellus de litteris Hebraicis, ed. f. secret, 2 vols. (Rome 1959). j. w. o'malley, "Fulfillment of the Christian Golden Age under Pope Julius: Text of a Discourse of Giles of Viterbo, 1507," Traditio 25 (1969) 265–338. f. giacone and g. bedouelle, "Une lettre de Gilles de Viterbe á Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (c. 1460–1536) au sujet de l'affaire Reuchlin," Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance: Travaux et Documents 36 (1974) 335–45. f. x. martin, "Egidio da Viterbo, 1469–1532: Bibliography, 1510–1982," Biblioteca e societé (Viterbo) 4 nos. 1–2 (June 1982) 5 91. a. de meijer, " Bibliographie historique de l'ordre de Saint Augustin," Augustiniana 35 (1985), 39 (1989), 43 (1993), 47 (1997). f. x. martin, Friar, Reformer and Renaissance Scholar: Life and Work of Giles of Viterbo 1469–1532, ed. j. rotelle (Villanova 1992). j. w. o'malley, Giles of Viterbo on Church and Reform: A Study in Renaissance Thought (Leiden 1968). A series of papers in English on Giles as Renaissance scholar, scripture scholar, classical scholar, and prior general, is published in Egidio da Viterbo, O.S.A., e il suo tempo, ed. Analecta Augustiniana (Rome 1983).
[f. x. martin]