On the December 6th at the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome there was the defence of the doctoral dessertation of fr. Llewellyn Muscat O.P., secretary of the General Postulation of the Order. The title of his work is: Il governo dell’Ordine dei Predicatori dall’Inter graviores (1804) al magistero di Angelo Domenico Ancarani (1838-1844) [(The government of the Order of the Preachers from the Inter graviores (1804) till the mastership of Angelo Domenico Ancarani (1838-1844)]. The writing was under the direction of Prof. Jan Mikrut, polish secular priest incardinated in the archdiocese of Vienna, as censor there was Prof. Marek Inglot, SJ, Dean of the faculty of History and Cultural heritage of the Church at the Gregorian Pontifical University, while Prof. Paul Oberholzer, SJ was the president of the commission.
The period under examination by the doctoral student, the first half of the nineteenth century, was very turbulent for ecclesiastical life: the upheavals of the French Revolution that had marked the end of the ancien régime had just been left behind, a new society was born which wanted to abandon the ancient customs, liberal states emerged, ecclesiastical property was expropriated, religious orders were dissolved, and so on. All these events, as fr. Llewellyn tells us, left an indelible mark on the Order of Preachers, and with the passing of the years it was possible to see how many difficulties the Masters and the Vicars General encountered in their exercise of governance, and how many remarkable efforts they made to prevent its dismantling.
The doctoral candidate pointed out that the risk of a schism, precisely within the Order, seemed to be unavoidable when the friars of the Spanish provinces refused to accept the authority of Pius Giuseppe Gaddi as Vicar General, claiming the reason that he had never been elected, but was appointed directly by Pope Pius VII in 1798 because of the death of Baltasar de Quiñones. Since during that same period the Spanish civil authority tended to exert a great deal of pressure on the Holy See to allow the religious provinces present within the jurisdiction of their Kingdom to be made autonomous, the Pope decided to comply with their requests and, in 1804, through the Bull Inter graviores, divided the religious Orders into separate jurisdictions, also making various changes to their own legislation. In this paper the author concentrates on the explanation of the effects that this pontifical sanctions had on the Dominicans, without going into particulars of the effects suffered on each of the Orders. Among the changes that immediately appeared there was the division of the religious orders into two parallel jurisdictions: one Roman and the other Spanish, a limitation imposed on a six-year period for both the Vicar General and the Master General as well as their alternation.
The forty-year period of history of the Order’s government analysed by the author has been described as one of the most turbulent of its existence. Following the promulgation of the bull we can see how Pius VII decided to institute as Master General Pius Giuseppe Gaddi only in 1806. The latter had under his jurisdiction all the provinces belonging to the Order outside of Spain and its territories. However, during the period covered, Gaddi could only govern the provinces that were considered to be the most vulnerable and weakest at that time and that were concentrated in the Italian territory. When Napoleon dragged the pontiff to France, the General Master of the Dominicans together with all the other religious superiors present in Rome suffered the same destiny. Friar Llewellyn points out that Gaddi returned to Rome at the end of the six-year term of his magisterium, however, it happens that Pius VII did not judge it appropriate to appoint another master general; therefore he decided to retain Gaddi as the superior of the Roman side with the title of vicar general the same way he did with the Spanish superior Juan Ramón Guerrero who succeeded Delgado y Gabaldó after his death in 1809.
The thesis reveals that in the following years the effort to fully implement the Inter graviores caused considerable difficulties. Often the superiors general on both sides were directly instituted by the pontiff. The Spaniards had to wait twenty years before they succeeded in having “their” master general in the person of Joaquím Briz. This doctoral student highlights the difficulty that there was in convening the general chapters in view of the election of the superior. An attempt was made to gather one for the Spanish side in 1832, however, more than a general chapter, it was in fact a national chapter since only the Vocals of the Iberian Peninsula participated. In Rome, on the other hand, three general chapters were celebrated: the one of 1838 resulted in the election of Ancarani; the one of 1841 was also called “definitory”, and the one of 1844 which gave as successor to Ancarani the calabrian Vincenzo Ajello. It is noted, however, that the participation of the provinces in these chapters was very limited.
At the end of his thesis the author illustrates how this important historical period was marked by a constant dynamism on the part of those who had the governing bodies of the Order in their hands. The ecclesiastical and political circumstances of the time made it impossible to achieve a consistent style of government. However, the most important event that the doctoral candidate points out is the fact that despite everything the Order of St. Dominic managed to survive and, at the time of Ancarani, managed also to approach the future with a certain degree of hope and optimism. To further enrich the thesis, the author includes the transcription of 54 unpublished documents and a photographic appendix of the portraits of the master generals examined during these forty years of history and some archival documents. The author’s continuous reference to the archival sources consulted during his research undoubtedly offers an excellent degree of professionalism to the work. We are certain that this dissertation offers a valid contribution for the historiography of the Order of Preachers.