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Domenico Palmieri

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A theologian, born at Piacenza, Italy, 4 July, 1829; died in Rome, 29 May, 1909. He studied in his native city, where he was ordained priest in 1852. On 6 June, 1852, he entered the Society of Jesus, where he completed his studies. He taught in several places, first rhetoric, then philosophy, theology, and the Sacred Scriptures . In these courses, especially during the sixteen years that he was professor in the Roman College, he acquired fame as a philosopher. In this field he published: "Animadversiones in recens opus de Monte Concilii Viennensis" (Rome, 1878); a more interesting work is his "Institutiones Pbilosophicæ" (3 vols., Rome, 1874-76). In this he followed the scholastic method; but the doctrines in many points differ from those common to the Peripatetic philosophers. As regards the composition of bodies he admits the dynamic theory, and considers the first elements of bodies to be formally simple, endowed with an attractive and repulsive force, but which he says are virtually extended. On the other hand he does not admit the real accidents, and to explain the permanence of the Eucharistic Species, he has recourse to the phenomena of ether, which persist by Divine operation, the substance of bread and wine ceasing to exist. He held a conception altogether his own of the life of plants, and assigned simple souls to animals, which expire with their death. As regards the origin of the idea, he was true to the scholastic principles in admitting that the intellectual apprehension has its origin in the apprehension of the senses; but to his last day would not admit the necessity of the intelligible species. His works have a very forcible quality of argument, which obliges one to recognize the thinker, even when at variance with his mode of thought.

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In Scriptural study also he made his mark. Having taught the Holy Scripture from 1880-87, and Oriental languages to the scholastics of his society in Maestricht, he published "Commentarius in epistolam ad Galatas" (Gulpen, 1886); and "De veritate historica libri Judith aliisque ss. Scripturarum locis specimen criticum exegeticum" (Gulpen, 1886). Many others of his minor works can be placed under this head. When Loisy's book, "L'Evangile et l'Eglise", appeared, he was one of the first to give alarm to the Catholic party, and to show, in a treatise in the form of letters, the errors contained in this author's works. He examined more minutely another work of Loisy's, "Autour d'un Petit Livre", in his "Esame di un opuscolo che gira intorno ad un piccolo libro". To this demonstration he joins a more complete one of certain of the favourite errors of the new school, that is to say, not demonstrating the Divinity of Our Lord from the Synoptics. He does the same with another book entitled "Se e come i sinottici ci danno Gesù Cristo per Dio" (Prato, 1903). Only the first part of this book, concerning the Gospel of St. Matthew, was published; but these books contain nevertheless a valid defence of Catholic truth.

Palmieri's reputation, however, rests principally on his theology in the Roman College:

  • "Tractatus de Romano Pontifice cum prolegomeno de Ecclesia" (3rd ed., Prato, 1902);
  • "Tractatus de Pœnitentia" (2nd ed., Prato, 1896);
  • "Tractatus de Matrimonio Christiano" (2nd ed., Prato, 1897);
  • "Tractatus de Gratia Divina Actuali" (Gulpen, 1885);
  • "Tractatus Theologicus de Novissimis" (Prato, 1908);
  • "Tractatus de Creatione et de Præcipuis Creaturis" (Prato, 1910);
  • "Tractatus de Ordine Supernaturali et de Lapsu Angelorum" (Prato, 1910);
  • "Tractatus de Peccato Originali et de Immaculato Beatæ Virginis Deiparæ Conceptu" (Prato, 1904).

The last three treatises here noted, taken together, form a new edition in many parts perfected and rearranged from his former treatise on God the Creator, printed first in Rome, 1878. The third part was published before the other two, because the author wished with it to render homage to the Immaculate Conception on the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma. In his treatise on creation and the special creatures, a posthumous work, but of which he left the manuscript completed and prepared, we have to note the change made by him regarding the union of the soul with the body, because while he first asserted that the union was only natural and not substantial, now that it is defined doctrine that the human nature consists entirely in the synthesis of two elements, that is to say, of the body and of the reasoning soul, he admits that this union is substantial, although he asserts that it is not yet sufficiently determined how one nature can result from these two elements.

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The originality of his theological works consists principally in the method which he followed, which amounts to an exhaustive demonstration of the existence of the dogma, and in its scholastic exposition and defence, so that his treatises are almost complete from the positive, scholastic, and polemic viewpoints. Father Antonio Ballerini left at his death a valuable collection of studies in moral theology. It was in the form of a commentary on the "Medulla" of Busenbaum, but not complete. Palmieri undertook the task of putting in order this work and made many additions of his own. To the acumen shown in his theological works he here adds evidence of a sound practical judgment, hereby proving himself a great moralist. For this reason, on the election of Cardinal Steinhuber, he was appointed to succeed him as theologian of the S. Pœnitentiaria in which capacity his work was greatly appreciated by Leo XIII and Pius X. These labours were followed by a commentary on the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, a work undertaken by him at the suggestion of his mother, Giuseppina Rocci Palmieri, a lady of high ideals and culture. To this he brought all the profundity of his philosophy and theology, and produced a work wonderful to all those who, knowing these sciences, are able to appreciate the profound thought which is revealed, especially in a most learned introduction and in the scientific observations appended to the individual cantos.

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