Between Arabic Letters, History and Enlightenment: The Emergence of Spanish Literary Nation in Juan Andrés

Niccolò Guasti, Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia

I will begin by saying a few words about Andrés. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of the work and thought of the Valencian Jesuit, which has emerged particularly in the wake of the bicentenary of his death (1817–2017). From my point of view, Andrés is the archetypal eighteenth-century enlightened, rather than Enlightenment, Jesuit, open to the moderate currents of the Enlightenment and engaged in an effort to reconcile two traditions: that of the Catholic culture (whether official or not), and the culture of the Enlightenment, or more precisely the «moderate mainstream» elements of the Enlightenment, to use Jonathan Israel’s definition. Along with hundreds of other Jesuits throughout Europe, Andrés pursued a strategy of consciously creating an accommodation between ideas, methods and theories (such as Locke’s sensism and natural law) that were at the foundation of the Enlightenment with Catholic dogma and culture.

This attempted appropriation, or, if one prefers, this hybridisation of Catholicism and Enlightenment, could already be seen in certain parts of the Society of Jesus in the first half of the century, but it accelerated considerably after the order’s canonical sup-pression in 1773, when a substantial sector of the dis-solved Order of St. Ignatius worked to block the work of the Jansenists and of reformist groups within the Catholic Church (so-called Reform Catholicism accord-ing to the label adopted by Dale K. Van Kley), whom it blamed for the demise of the Society. At the heart of this moderate acceptance of the cultural tendencies of the century was an express desire to ascertain with which of the Enlightenment’s interlocutors it might have been possible to enter into dialogue.

Within the culture of the European Enlightenment the enemy, meanwhile, was unmistakably «the spirit of irreligion» that the works of Voltaire, Diderot, Raynal, Mercier and other philosophes had already disseminated in every sector of ancien régime society. Andrés’s adhesion to the moderate Enlightenment can be clearly seen in his obvious criticism, clearly present in all his main works, of Aristotelian philosophy and in his adoption of the new French genre of the encyclopaedia: he was among the various former Jesuits (the Venetian confrere Alessandro Zorzi comes to mind) who, in the second half of the eighteenth century, reworked the taxonomy of knowledge introduced by the Encyclopédie in the light of Catholic orthodoxy (and, therefore, defended the scientific status of metaphysics and theology).

As the author of dozens of scholarly and popular pamphlets, Juan Andrés’s literary fame was based in particular on his encyclopaedic Dell’origine, progressi e stato attuale d’ogni letteratura (On the Origin, Progress and Present State of All Literature), whose first edition was made available in seven volumes in Parma by the Bodoni press between 1782 and 1799. In the same years the book was translated into Spanish by his brother Carlos, although the two volumes relating to the religious sciences were excluded, and in 1805 a French version of the first volume was published.Andrés’s treatise was a historical account of universal culture that aimed to fuse philosophical-conjectural history with erudite history. He took the cosmopolitan and global approach of the first (including, therefore, its analysis of non-European cultures), along with its faith in the progress of human knowledge, its interest in comparing the salient traits of different civilisations and its tendency to provide general interpretations, in part through analogy.


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