In memory of the unfairly forgotten genius Marco Antonio de Dominis

Objavljeno 10.9.2013.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (Unity in necessary things, liberty in doubtful things, charity in all things) is a quotation often misattributed to St. Augustine, although it was first used by Marco Antonio de Dominis, a theologian and scientist, the Bishop of Senj and Archbishop of Split born in Rab, Island of Rab in 1560.

Due to his conflict with the Split Chapter and local nobility, even the Pope, over his support for the Venetian Republic against Rome, De Dominis gave up his archbishop’s office and travelled to London at the invitation of King James I, who, among other honours, bestowed upon him the title of the Dean of Windsor. In England he published his major theological work De republica ecclesiastica libri X, where he argued for a return to the true origins of Christianity and for unity among Christians and Christian churches. De Dominis gave special importance to unity among bishops in their management of the Church and the Pope’s limited authority whose dominance, according to De Dominis, was not in keeping with God’s law. De Dominis also insisted that the general council and the Pope could not settle controversies related to matters of faith.

His hope that the Church of England and Catholic Church would grow closer did not materialise, so De Dominis became undesirable in England. When Gregory XV, who favoured De Dominis, was elected Pope, De Dominis returned to Rome, renounced his ideas in writing and embraced Catholic beliefs. Regardless of that, Pope Urban VIII required an investigation and thus De Dominis was imprisoned in the famous Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel), where he died on 8 September 1624. His body and writings were subsequently publicly burned in the Campo dei Fiori square and later thrown into the river Tiber. More recent studies of De Dominis’s theological views highlight the importance of his insistence on ecumenism, which after the Second Vatican Council became one of the fundamental principles of the work of the Catholic Church.

De Dominis was a professor of physics and mathematics at the University of Padua, therefore, apart from his theological works, his works in the field of physics are also considered significant. In his De radiis visus et lucis in vitris perspectivis et iride, published in 1611, he wrote on double refraction and diffraction of light in the formation of rainbows, and Newton therefore, several decades later, considered him the forerunner of modern optics. In Euripus seu de fluxu et refluxu maris sentential, published in 1624, he wrote on the changing cycles of high and low tides and the role of the Moon’s gravitational forces. Both works are valuable materials of Croatian scientific heritage.

Three years ago, in 2010, on the occasion of the marking of the 450th anniversary of the birth of Marco Antonio de Dominis, the National and University Library in Zagreb and the publishing company Lumaro organized a special programme dedicated to the presentation of the first edition of De Dominis’s work Retractationum. A complete digitised version of De radiis visus et lucis in vitris perspectivis et iride is available as part of the website of the National and University Library in Zagreb Digitised Heritage.