Critical edition and translation of Melchior Cano's Relectiones theologiae (1550)

Completed Research Project

The project of critical edition and translation of Melchior Cano's Relectiones theologiae makes available to the research community a work of obligatory reference for the study of the sacraments and penance as a space for the transmission of religious normative knowledge in the Early Modern Age.

Melchior Cano (1509-1560) is commonly considered the theorizer of the theological method in the early modern age with his work De locis theologicis libri duodecim, published posthumously in Salamanca 1563. This theologian was a favorite disciple of Francisco de Vitoria, whom he succeeded in the chair of Prima de Teologia at the University of Salamanca (1546). Appointed imperial theologian by Emperor Charles V, he participated with notable influence in the Council of Trent (1551). Although he is considered one of the central figures of the School, he is less well known than his teacher Vitoria, Domingo de Soto or Francisco Suárez, in his contributions to the juridical-political thought of the time. Hence the interest in preparing a critical edition of his second fundamental work, the Relectio De sacramentis in genere and the Relectio De poenitentia, which he delivered at the University of Salamanca in 1547 and 1548.

These Relectiones deal with the doctrine of the sacraments in general and penance (as a virtue and as a sacrament) in particular. Both first were published together in Salamanca in 1550 (editio princeps). Three more editions of the two Relectiones followed at the same time: Alcalá 1558, Alcalá 1563, Milan 1580. Three other editions of only one of the two also appeared: Salamanca 1555 (De poenitentia); Ingolstadt 1577 (De sacramentis in genere); Ingolstadt 1580 (De poenitentia).

From the 17th century, both were published together with the treatise De locis theologicis, under the title Opera, in more than 25 editions until the 20th century, although their critical value is very limited. A critical revision of the Relectiones based on the editio princeps, which would take into account the textual variants of the 16th century editions, published in barely 30 years (1550-1580), and therefore very close to the first edition, was lacking. This gap is filled by the present research by Juan Belda Plans, who had already edited and translated into Spanish the De locis theologicis (2006).

Of particular interest for historical-legal studies is the second Relectio De poenitentia. Divided into six parts, the most relevant for juridical studies is the sixth and last part, which occupies a third of the work. Here, practical questions widely debated at the time are raised, such as, for example, the issue of reserved sins and the subject of jurisdiction; the question of the proper priest within the juridical sphere and subsequent dispensations; the ecclesiastical precept of confessing within a certain period of time; or whether ecclesiastical authority can dispense from the precept of annual confession. These debates around the practice of confession were relevant to social, cultural and political life not only in Europe, but also in early modern Hispanic America, as studies by Paolo Prodi, Adriano Prosperi, and others have highlighted. On the other hand, the rich biblical, patristic and speculative argumentation represents an exercise of the novel theological method contained in his main work, the treatise De locis theologicis.

As part of the project, Belda Plans has presented the result of his work at the Salamanca Colloquia and has participated in several meetings of the scientific board of the Dictionary of the School of Salamanca’s juridical-political language (2018-2021). These exchanges have been an opportunity to reflect on the status questionis and future perspectives of research on the School of Salamanca. In addition, the process of translation and critical edition, especially of the Relectio De poenitentia has allowed us to explore dynamics of intertextuality in sixteenth-century texts.

The book Melchior Cano: Relectiones theologicae. Relecciones teológicas, edited, commented and translated into Spanish by Juan Belda Plans, with a historical-legal study by Thomas Duve is scheduled for publication in September 2023. This careful edition by frommann-holzboog includes a synoptic and systematic index of the Relectiones, which facilitates access to the "skeleton" of an extraordinarily complex work, compared to others of the same literary genre.

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