The Life Of John Maldonatus (Juan De Moldonato)
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 17, 2010
I’ve posted some notes on this site from Maldonatus’ Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The following brief life of this great Jesuit scholar was actually written by an Anglican
THE life of a member of a religious order, a student at once, and a teacher, is seldom one of much action or adventure, and that of John Maldonatus was no exception to this rule. We learn from his contemporary biographers that he was born of good parentage in the village of Zaphara or Safra, in Estramudura, in the south of Spain, about the year 1534; and he early distinguished himself as a scholar and divine. He studied in the University of Salamanca under the most celebrated teachers of the day: especially Fr. Dominic of the Order of S. Dominic, and Francis of Toledo, afterwards Cardinal.
He became a member of the Society of Jesus in 1562 at Rome, where for some time he was known as a teacher of Theology. He removed thence to Paris, in the newly-opened schools of which city he spent ten years as teacher of Philosophy and Theology, with great fame. His popularity was so great that his hearers frequently assembled two or three hours before the appointed time, in such numbers that there was a struggle for places, and he was obliged to give his lectures in the college quadrangle.
He afterwards taught at Poitiers. The Cardinal of Lorraine, desirous of bringing renown to an institution which he had at heart, induced him to come to the university which he had founded at Pont-a-Mousson. On his return to Paris he continued to teach with undiminished reputation.
But his zeal and learning did not, unfortunately, prevent him at one time from falling under suspicion. He was accused of having unduly influenced President Montbrun to make a bequest of the whole of his property to the Society of Jesus. Of this charge he was acquitted by a decree of the Parliament of Paris. He was also accused of having taught errors on the subject of the Immaculate Conception. The Sorbonne raised this indictment against him because he had said that this was not a certain and incontestable doctrine, an opinion which was then tenable. Pope Gregory XIII. referred the case to Dr. P. Gondi, Bishop of Paris, and subsequently Cardinal. The Bishop presided in person at an inquiry into his life and conduct, which resulted in his entire acquittal. This, however, only increased the desire to persecute him; but he escaped his adversaries by withdrawing to Bourges, where he retired from public teaching and devoted himself to literary labors; the chief of which was the compilation of those Commentaries on the Scriptures of which the present volume forms a part, and for which his name has since been so well known. In about eighteen months, Maldonatus was summoned to Rome, by Pope Gregory XIII., to superintend an edition of the Septuagint. After a short period he died in that city in the 51st year of his age, A.D. 1584.
Maldonatus was one of the most learned theologians of his Society, and one of the finest geniuses of his age. He is described as being gifted by nature with admirable quickness of wit and great subtlety and penetration, excellent judgment, a most tenacious memory, and indefatigable diligence in study, by which he made himself master of the Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and other Eastern languages, as is shown throughout his works. To this may be added a profound knowledge of the Greek and Latin fathers and historians of the Church.
In his moral life, his goodness, or rather holiness, was great. He showed much contempt for worldly distinction and honour. He was humble of heart, and of almost incredible modesty of mind. He was well received by the great, but his humility constantly induced him to decline their overtures, even to the extent of being thought by some to be haughty and morose. He was ardent and continual
in devotion, prayer, and divine meditation, exceedingly simple and temperate in his diet, and so true a follower of primitive poverty as to refuse to possess anything of his own; even when he travelled he took nothing with him but the clothes he was wearing, and these mean rather than even simple and unostentatious. In a word, he was a man crucified to the world and to himself.
Maldonatus when near his end delivered his Commentaries to the care of Claude Aquaviva, General of his Society, who gave orders to the Jesuits of Pont-a-Mousson, in Lorraine, to print them from a copy which was sent to them. These acknowledge, in the preface of the work, that they had inserted some things of their own, and that they had been obliged to correct the MS. copy, which was defective in some places, it not being in their power to consult the original, which was at Rome. The author, moreover, not having noted in the margin of the copy the books and places whence he had taken a good part of his citations, they had supplied this defect.
Naturally, Maldonatus is not always as exact as if he had himself put the last touch to his Commentary; but, notwithstanding this defect, and some others easy to correct, it can be well seen that the author laboured with great diligence at this excellent work. He allows no difficulty to pass which he does not examine to the bottom. When he finds many literal meanings to the same passage, he is accustomed to select the best, without having too much regard to the authority of ancient commentators, nor even to the majority: considering only the truth in itself. He often rejects the interpretation of S. Augustin, not only on points of grammar or criticism, but even in the important facts of Theology; being persuaded, that whatever weight his authority has, it should not serve as a rule to theologians. He is not servilely attached to the opinions of scholastic theologians; he thought for himself, and had opinions sufficiently free, and sometimes singular, but always orthodox. If he is a little too diffuse on some matters of controversy, he could not be otherwise according to the design which he proposed to himself of replying to heretics, principally Calvinists, who had published Commentaries on the New Testament, filled with disputes of this kind. His controversies are not wearisome, because he does not make long digressions.
His style is clear and didactic. Great facility of expression, great vivacity, the presence of spirit and flexibility rendered him very formidable in disputation. He is, indeed, sometimes cutting and severe; but if we compare him with Calvin and Beza, who continually declaim against the Roman Church, he appears moderate. Those even among the Calvinists who considered him an evil speaker,
“maledicentissimus Maldonatus,”have not been able to refrain from praises of his strength of mind and great erudition.
Of his works, we have :
I. An excellent Commentary on the Gospels: the best editions of which are those of Pont-a-Mousson, in folio, 1595, and the following ones until 1617; for those which have been made since are much altered.
II. A Treatise on the Sacraments, with other Opuscula, printed at Lyons, 1614, in quarto.
III. A Treatise on Grace, one on Original Sin, one on the Rites of the Church; Scholia on the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah, and many other pieces: published in Paris in 1677, in folio. This volume is enriched with a preface in his praise.
IV. A Treatise upon Angels and Demons, Paris, 1617. This curious and rare work has only been printed in French; being translated from the Latin, which has never seen the light, by Fr. Arnauld, Seigneur of Laborie.
V. Summula Casuum Conscientiae, the teaching of which appears somewhat lax.
VI. Tractatus de Ceremoniis, which was printed for the first time at Rome in 1781, in quarto, by the care of Francois Antoine Zaccaria, in the Bibliotheca Ritualis.
He alludes sometimes to writings which he had dictated, and which he had intended to publish, frequently citing one entitled, “Liber Hebraicarum lectionum,” in which he treats, in several lectures, the Hebrew text where it differs from the Septuagint.