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This has been a surreal month with limited movement outside our homes, or, in some cases sheltering in place altogether. Italy is under complete shutdown. People are finding ways to amuse themselves as we saw glimpses of Italians organizing communal balcony concerts. What are you doing at home? A long time ago, in Tuscany a Jesuit was sheltered in place and you’ll never guess what he did to pass the time….
Alfonoso Niccolai (1706-1784) was a Jesuit theologian trained at the Roman College between 1726 and 1738. He taught rhetoric along with courses in Scripture. In 1781 Leopold II made him his court theologian, a fortunate appointment since this was when many Jesuits were sent to prison or expelled from their countries because Pope Clement XIV extinguished and suppressed the Order. One of Niccolai’s most significant works was the biblical commentary entitled Dissertazioni e Lezioni di Sacra Scrittura, whichwas first published in 1756. This work was 12 volumes covering the Old Testament and was lauded by the Jesuit poet Giambattista Roberti.
So to answer the question of what Niccolai did in midst of the suppression of his order: In 1781, sheltered in place, as it were, in Tuscany, while Leopold II’s theologian, he began working on a second edition of this monumental multi volume work! One wonders if the work grew tiresome or too difficult. There is not an answer to this question, but we do know he never completed the second edition.