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Girolamo Casanata

Cardinal, b. at Naples, July 13, 1620; d. at Rome, March 3, 1700

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Casanata (or CASANATTA), GIROLAMO, Cardinal, b. at Naples, July 13, 1620; d. at Rome, March 3, 1700. His father, Tommaso Casanatta, was a member of the supreme council of the kingdom. Girolamo studied law at the university of his native town and practiced in the courts for some time. Eventually he gave up the brilliant promises of a secular career and entered the service of the Church, in deference to the advice of Cardinal Pamphily whom he had met on a visit to Rome. When that cardinal became pope as Innocent X, Casanata was made private chamberlain and soon advanced rapidly in the ecclesiastical career, becoming in turn Governor of Sabina, Fabriano, Ancona, and Camerino. In the last-named city he became a close friend of its bishop, Emilio Altieri, afterwards Clement X. In 1658 Alexander VII sent him as inquisitor to Malta, whence he was shortly recalled to Rome and made prelate of the “Consulta” and active member of the courts known as the “Segnatura di Grazia” and the “Segnatura di Giustizia”. He was Consultor of the Congregation of Rites and of Propaganda, and governor of the conclave that chose the successor of Alexander VII; under Clement IX he was made assessor of the Holy Office (Congregation of the Inquisition). He was appointed secretary of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars by Clement X, and June 13, 1673, was named Cardinal-Deacon of the Title of Santa Maria in Porticu, and later (1686) CardinalPriest of the Title of San Silvestro in Capite. In 1693 Innocent XII bestowed on him the office of Librarian of the Vatican (Bibliotecario di Santa Romana Chiesa). On his deathbed he was assisted by two Dominicans, Father Cloche, the general of the order, and Father Massoulie. He was buried in St. John Lateran, though his heart was deposited in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the church of the Dominicans, to whom he was always warmly attached, and who looked on him as their benefactor. The many responsible offices held by Casanata are evidence of his uncommon wisdom and his extensive curial experience. In the conduct of these offices it was necessary that he study profoundly the numerous and grave doctrinal, disciplinary, and political questions brought before the Holy See in the latter half of the seventeenth century. It will suffice to recall the controversies concerning Quietism (Michael Molinos, Fenelon, Madame Guyon), the Gallican Liberties, the right of Regale, the Four Articles of 1682, the Chinese Rites controversy between the Jesuits and the Dominicans and other orders, not to speak of various doctrinal errors of the time, not unlike our own in its extravagant theological fancies, and the diffusion of lax moral theories so frequently condemned by contemporary popes.

The Casanatense Library (see below) still preserves 1125 manuscript volumes of opinions, reports, and statements (voti, relazioni, posizioni) concerning matters treated in the various Congregations to which Casanata belonged. So far these precious materials have been too little utilized to justify a satisfactory account of the part he played in contemporary ecclesiastical administration. His curial duties did not prevent him from taking an interest in letters and the sciences. He was on friendly terms and corresponded with the learned men of his day. Among those whom he encouraged most was Zaccagni (q.v.), whom he induced to publish the well-known collection of materials for the ancient history of the Greek and Latin Churches, “Collectanea monumentorum veterum Ecclesiae graecae et latinm” (Rome, 1694, 4to). His chief service to learning, especially the theological sciences, was the Casanatense Library (Biblioteca Casanatense) founded and endowed by him. While living he had collected a library of about 25,000 volumes; this he left to the above-mentioned Dominican convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, together with an endowment fund of 80,000 scudi (almost as many dollars), to provide for the administration of the trust and for the acquisition of new books. In 1655 the same convent had inherited the library of Giambattista Castellani, chief physician of Gregory XV, with 12,000 scudi for the erection of a suitable edifice. Cardinal Casanata, moreover, ordered that the new library should be accessible to the public six hours daily, excepting feast-days. In addition to the library staff he provided for a college (theologi casanatenses) of six Dominicans of different nationalities (Italian, French, Spanish, German, English, Polish). Each of them must previously have received the degree of Doctor from one of the most famous universities of Europe. Aided by the resources of the library, they were to devote themselves to the defense and propagation of Catholic doctrine. Moreover, two professors were to expound regularly the text of St. Thomas Aquinas (“Summa Theologica” and other writings). In other words, by means of the new library, he had created at Rome another center of intellectual activity (see “Minerva”, 1892-93, II, 622). After the loss of the temporal power (1870) the library was declared national property, but the Dominicans were left in charge until 1884. At present the Casanatense Library is entirely under lay management. It has 5238 manuscripts, among them 64 Greek codices (15 of them the gift of Casanata), and 230 Hebrew texts (rolls and books), among which are 5 Samaritan codices. The incunabula (books printed before 1500) number 2036; there is also a large collection of Roman governmental proclamations (bandi, editti) from 1500 to 1870, comedies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, etc. Father Cloche, the General of the Dominicans, placed in the library a statue of Cardinal Casanata, the work of the sculptor Le Gros. An inscription records the formal permission of Clement XI to preserve there the books of heretical authors.


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