Ciasca, AGOSTINO (in the world, PASQUALE), an Italian Augustinian and cardinal, b. at Polignano a Mare, in the province of Bari, May 7, 1835; d. at Rome, February 6, 1902. He received the habit of the Order of St. Augustine in 1856, made his religious profession in 1857, and in 1858 was ordained priest. Having perfected himself at Rome in the study of philosophy, theology, and canon law, he dedicated himself in particular to the study of the Oriental languages, especially Arabic and Coptic. Possessed of a keen intellect and a tenacious memory, he soon acquired a vast and profound knowledge in this branch of study. He was a religious of exemplary life, of strong character, assiduous in his work, well versed in ecclesiastical matters, and most loyal to the Catholic Church—qualities which made him especially dear to Leo XIII, who honored him with his confidence and entrusted to him several delicate missions. In his order, besides being professor of dogmatic theology, Sacred Scripture, and the Oriental languages, Ciasca also held the positions of prefect of studies, assistant general, and afterwards of procurator general.
In 1866 he obtained the chair of Hebrew in the College of Propaganda, and later took part in the Vatican Council in the quality of theologian and as interpreter for the Oriental bishops. He also occupied the following positions: consultor of the Congregation of Propaganda for the affairs of Oriental Rites (1872); writer in the Vatican Library for Arabic (1876); pontifical interpreter at the Congregation of Propaganda; ordinary censor of Oriental books and professor of Oriental languages in the Roman Seminary (1878); dean of the faculties of Oriental languages and theology in the same seminary, and president of the college of interpreters at the Propaganda (1882); consultor of the Holy Office (1889). In 1891 he was created Titular Archbishop of Larissa with the appointment to the office of prefect of the Vatican Archives; in the same year he was sent by the Holy See to preside over the Ruthenian synod at Lemberg. In 1892 he was named pro-secretary and afterwards secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda (1893). His brilliant career was crowned by his elevation to the cardinalate at the secret consistory of June 19, 1899.
Among Cardinal Ciasca’s many services to ecclesiastical learning may be mentioned his publication (1885-89) of the extant fragments of a very ancient Coptic version of the Old Testament, from manuscripts in the Borgia (Propaganda) Museum and his discovery and edition (1888) of a valuable Arabic version of the “Diatessaron” or gospel-harmony of the second-century Christian writer Tatian, a text of much importance for the history of the Canon of the New Testament (cf. M. Maher, “Recent Evidence for the Authenticity of the Gospel: Tatian‘s Diatessaron”, London, 1903). His own principal works are: “Examen Critico-Apologeticurn super Constitutionem Dogmaticam de Fide Catholics editam in Sessione tertia SS. Oecumenici Concilii Vatican“, 270 pp. Svo (Rome, 1872); “I Papiri Copti del Museo Borgiano delta S. C. de Propaganda Fide tradotti e commentati”, pamphlet of 55 pp. (Rome, 1881); “Sacrorum Bibliorum Fragmenta Copto-Sahidica Musei Borgiani”, vol. I, 4to, 225 pp., with 18 photolithographic plates; vol. II, 362 pp., with 8 phototypic plates (Rome, 1885 and 1889).—These two volumes deal with the Old Testament; vol. III, dealing with the New Testament (509 pp., with 40 phototypic plates) was published by the author of the present article in 1904.—”Tatiani Evangeliorum Harmonize Arabice nunc primum ex duplici codice edidit et latins translatione donavit…”, in 4to, 108 pp., with 210 of the text and a phototypic plate (Rome, 1888).
P. J. BALESTRI