POMPONAZZI’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL WORK,AND THE RESULTING DEBATE

Tractatus de immortalitate animae [bound with five other contemporary works on the same subject].

[Bologna, Iustinianus Leonardi Ruberiensis, 1516 (colophon)].

Folio, ff. [17] (of 18, lacking title), gothic letter; guide-letters, errata and printer’s woodcut device on recto of last leaf; unobtrusive and regressing stain in upper inner corner of the sheets in the first half of the book; a very good, fresh, unsophisticated copy, bound with five other contemporary works (see below) in contemporary limp vellum, flat spine lettered in ink; foot of spine worn and spine partly detached (but holding firm); paper shelfmark label and nineteenth-century inscription (giving content, a serial number and a shelfmark) in the margins of Aii, indicating that the title-page had been discarded prior to the nineteenth-century acquisition; preserved in a custom-made morocco case.

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Extremely rare first edition of one of the most momentous publications in the history of philosophy, here part of a remarkable contemporary Sammelband including some of the works that constituted the ‘Pomponazzi affair’. ‘The result of the whole affair [meant that] in the future, philosophy would no longer be identical with Aristotle . . . a philosopher could be a Thomist, an Aristotelian, a Platonist or anything else, provided that his philosophy was conclusive and coherent (Cambridge history of Renaissance philosophy p. 507).

Pomponazzi had begun questioning whether the soul is immaterial and immortal in the early 1500s during his (unpublished) lessons, but it was only in 1516, after the 1513 promulgation of the Fifth Lateran Council decree formally outlining the church’s dogma of the individual immortality of the soul, that his treatise De immortalitate animae was published, arguing that the soul’s immortality cannot be rationally demonstrated. The result was immediate and public scandal. The pamphlet in fact simply concluded that the question of immortality is a neutral problem, incapable of resolution through natural reason. But at the time the subtlety and balance of the argument was overshadowed by his ‘provocation of both ecclesiastical and philosophical authority’ (ibid., p. 504), and the work was immediately condemned by Leo X and publicly burned. ‘It was only the support of Cardinal Pietro Bembo that enabled Pomponazzi to avoid the charge of heresy and the extreme penalties which it entailed’ (S. Perfetti, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Pomponazzi).

The outburst of criticism was clearly immediate, as Pomponazzi produced a self-defence in February 1518. That same year one of the leading Aristotelian authorities of the time, Pomponazzi’s former colleague and philosophical opponent Agostino Nifo, wrote a rebuttal with the same title De immortalitate animae, to which Pomponazzi replied in his Defensorium, published in 1519. Both these works are also present here as first editions, as well as the 1519 criticism by the Dominican Bartolomeo Spina, who reproached his own former minister general, Cajetan, for having ‘paved the way’ by abandoning Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle.

‘These controversies induced [Pomponazzi] not to publish two other works which he completed in 1520: De naturalium effectuum causis sive de incantationibus (“On the Causes of Natural Effects or On Incantations”) and the Libri quinque de fato, de libero arbitrio et de praedestinatione (“Five Books on Fate, Free Will and Predestination”); the two treatises were published posthumously in 1556 and 1557 at Basle by Guglielmo Grataroli, who slightly modified them’ (ibid.).

While the absence of Ai (title only on the recto, and dedication on the verso) is regrettable in its affecting the bibliographical integrity of this copy, the well-thumbed appearance of Aii, the first text leaf, which bears all the historical marks of an initial leaf (nineteenth-century shelfmarks and content notes) is evidence that the title must have been discarded at an early stage, like the final blanks in two of the other works bound here.

Pomponazzi’s work is here bound with:

NIPHUS, Augustinus. De immortalitate anime. Libellus. [Venice, heirs of Octavianus Scotus, 1518 (colophon)].
Folio, ff. [ii], 24; text in two columns, one large and numerous small woodcut initials, running titles, shoulder notes, printer’s device at end; a clean, crisp copy; nineteenth-century serial numbering inscription on title.

POMPONAZZI, Pietro. Defensorium Petri Pomponatii mantuani. [Bologna, Iustinianus de Ruberia, 1519 (colophon)].
Folio, ff. [40]; a clean, crisp copy; a nineteenth-century serial numbering inscription on title.

NIPHUS, Augustinus. De nostrarum calamitatum causis liber ad Oliverium Carafam. [Venice, heirs of Octavianus Scotus, 1505 (colophon)].
Folio, ff. 33 (bound without the final blank); text in two columns, three large astrological woodcut diagrams within text, one large and numerous small woodcut initials, running titles, shoulder notes, printer’s device at end; a clean, crisp copy; nineteenth-century serial numbering inscription on title.

SPINA, Bartolomeo [Bartholomeus de SPINA]. Opulscula [sic] edita per fratrem Bartholomeu[m] de spina pisanum ordinis predicatorum de observ[an]tia lectorem sacre theologie: que in hoc volumine continentur hec sunt. Propugnaculu[m] Aristo. de imortalitate anime contra Tho. Caietanum cu[m] littera eiusdem Caietani ex c[om]mentatione sua super libros Aristo. de A[n]i[m]a quantum proposito deseruit assumpta. Tutela veritatis de imortalitate anime contra Petru[m] p[r]oponacium Mantuanu[m] cognominatum Perettum cu[m] eiusdem libro de mortalitate anime fideliter toto inserto. Flagellu[m] in tres libros apologie eiusd[em] Peretti de eadem materia. Utilis Questio de ordine sacro. [Venice, Gregorius de Gregoriis, 1519 (colophon)].
Folio, ff. [61], without final blank; a little unobtrusive worming in gutter of early quires, pinhole in text in second part, but a very good copy; nineteenth-century serial numbering inscription on title.

OPTATUS, Caesar. Opus tripartitum de crisi de diebus criticis et de causis criticorum. [Venice, heirs of Octavianus Scotus, 1517 (colophon)].
Folio, ff. 12; with woodcut initials and two woodcut astrological diagrams to text, woodcut printer’s device at end; some light dampstaining mainly to the gutter, the text block coming a little loose in the binding, but a very good copy; nineteenth-century serial numbering inscription on title.

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