Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Pietro Pomponazzi

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Pietro Pomponazzi

by Umberto Benigni


(POMPONATIUS, also known as PERETTO on account of his small stature)

A philosopher and founder of the Aristotelean-Averroistic School, born at Mantua, 1462; died at Bologna, 1525. He taught philosophy at Padua, Ferrara, and Bologna. His pupils included eminent laymen and ecclesiastics, many of whom afterwards opposed him. At Padua, since 1300 the chairs of philosophy were dominated by Averroism, introduced there especially by the physician Pietro d'Albanio and represented then by Nicoletto Vernias and Alessandro Achillini. Pomponazzi opposed that system, relying on the commentaries of Alexander Aphrodisias for the defence of the Aristotelean doctrines on the soul and Providence. His chief works are: "Tractatus de immortalitate animæ" (Bologna, 1516), in defence of which he wrote "Apologia" (1517) and "Defensorium" (1519) against Contarini and Agostino Nifo; "De fato, libero arbitrio, de prædestinatione et de providentia libri quinque" (1523), where he upholds the traditional opinion about fate; "De naturalium effectuum admirandorum causis, sive de incantationibus" (1520), to prove that in Aristotle's philosophy miracles are impossible. In opposition to the Averroists, Pomponazzi denied that the intellectus possibilis is one and the same in all men; but, with Alexander, he asserted that the intellectus agens is one and the same, being God Himself, and consequently immortal, while the intellective soul is identical with the sensitive and consequently mortal, so that, when separated from the body and deprived of the imagination which supplies its object it can no longer act and hence must perish with the body; furthermore, the soul without its vegetative and sensitive elements would be imperfect; apparitions of departed souls are fables and hallucinations. If religion and human law presuppose the immortality of the soul, it is because this deception enables men more easily to refrain from evil. Sometimes, however, Pomponazzi proposes this thesis as doubtful or problematic, or only contends that immortality cannot be demonstrated philosophically, faith alone affording us certainty; and even on this point he expresses his willingness to submit to the Holy See. In controversy with Contarini he expressly declares that reason apodictically proves the mortality of the soul, and that faith alone assures us of the contrary, immortality being, therefore, undue and gratuitous, or supernatural. Pomponazzi's book was publicly consigned to the flames at Venice by order of the doge; hence in book III of his "Apologia" he defends himself against the stigma of heresy. The refutation by Nifo, already an Averroist, was written by order of Leo X. In the Fifth Lateran Council (1513; Sess. VIII, Const. "Apost. Regiminis") when the doctrine was condemned, Pomponazzi's name was not mentioned, his book having not yet been published. He was defended by Cardinal Bembo, but was obliged by Leo X in 1518 to retract. Nevertheless, he published his "Defensorium" against Nifo, which, like his second and third apologies, contains the most bitter invective against his opponents, whereas Nifo and Contarini refrained from personalities. The philosophy of Pomponazzi has its roots in ancient and medieval ideas. Notable among his disciples and defenders are the Neapolitan Simone Porta and Jul. Cæsar Scaliger; the latter is best known as an erudite philosopher.

FIORENTINO, Pietro Pomponazzi (Florence, 1868); PODESTA (Bologna, 1868); RENAN, Averroe et l'Averroisme (Paris, 1862); SCHAAF, Conspectus Historiœ philosophiœ recentis (Rome, 1910), 103-50, where Pomponazzi's doctrine is fully expounded.

U. BENIGNI