De profundis

Just in case you wanted to know how to argue like the Inquisition, I provide a description of the disputational techniques of Robert Cardinal Bellarmine from the 1606 pamphlet Defense in Favor of the Reply to Eight Propositions Against Which the Most Illustrious and Reverend Lord Cardinal Bellarmine Has Written of Giovanni Marsilio (quoted in Ingrid Rowland, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic, 2008, pp 256-7, the translation appears to be Rowland’s).

Cardinal Bellarmine was on the panel of the Roman Inquisition that condemned Giordano Bruno. Though the document proclaiming Bruno a heretic and passing his case to the civil authorities for punishment exhorts that he not be executed (apparently a common practice in Inquisition judgments of the time), the secular authorities, obviously, ignored this (another common practice), as Bruno was burned at the stake.

The first technique is that, no sooner had said treatise appeared in print, than it was banned by the congregation appointed to such business in Rome, among whose number the Lord Cardinal appears, without identifying the reason for said prohibition, but only certain general headings and concerns…

The second is that for an author’s words he fabricates an interpretation contrary to [the author’s] meaning and intention, in order to extract conclusions to reprove them now as heretical, now as schimastic, now as erroneous, now as impudent, now as scandalous, now as harmful, with this formula: “If the author means this,” he says (but the author means it otherwise), “then the proposition is heretical, wrong, etc.” …

The third is that he mixes up his material so that from that chaos of confusion he can draw similar conclusions…

The fourth is to say: The author doesn’t know logic…

The fifth is to ascribe common printer’s errors not to the printer but to the author, and to make digressions over these, truly unworthy of the doctrine and authority of this Lord…

The sixth is to take the road of supposition, as, for example, he supposes that the pope has supreme authority over Christians in temporal matters, and that temporal power is subordinate to spiritual power, and other matters of this sort, which he not only assumes as certain, and does not prove them, but also asserts that to deny them is heresy, without citing any text, Scripture, or definition of the Church.

It is my unfounded speculation that the title of Marsilio’s pamphlet was the result of the confluence of several casks of wine and the prestige of the award for “Most Convoluted Title” among early seventeenth century Roman printers.

According to Wikipedia, Bellarmine was also known for making fun of King James I of England’s Latin.

Note that Bellarmine was part of the Roman Inquisition — the Spanish Inquisition being, presumably, much more unpredictable. Or maybe that’s just what they want me to think. I am currently leaning on a soft pillow. Draw your own conclusions.

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