|Along with Jerome Seripando O.S.A., the other Augustinian to become a cardinal in this era, Giles Antonini of Viterbo (1469-1532) is a person who cannot be overlooked in reporting the history of the Augustinian Order during the Protestant Reformation.
He is also called Aegidius of Viterbo, which is a Latin version of the name, Giles.
He was one of the most educated men within the highly-educated circles of scholars during the Renaissance.
He combined the skills of a scholar with those of a diplomat, and the humanism of the Renaissance with the zeal of a reformer. (For the special page on Augnet about the connections between Seripando and Giles of Viterbo, click here.)
Giles was born in the Italian city of Viterbo in 1469. His family were not wealthy. His father was Lorenzo Antonini, of Canepina, near Viterbo, his mother, Maria del Testa.
At a time when young men routinely joined a religious order at the age of fifteen years, Giles did not enter until his eighteenth year, in June 1488.
Beforehand he completed his studies of the humanities and also a course in philosophy.
In 1490 he was sent to the studium generale (international house of study) of the Order at Padua.
In 1493 he published his first book about some of the writings of an earlier outstanding Augustinian scholar and Prior General, Giles of Rome O.S.A.
When his book was published, Giles was only twenty-four years of age.
After a few years, he left Padua utterly discontented with the teachings of the Aristotelians and retired to Istria, where he became deeply engaged in the study of Plato for two years. Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, and today is shared by Italy (i.e., the portion that includes the city of Trieste), Croatia and Slovenia.
In Florence Giles met Marsiglio Fincino (1432 – 1499), the head of the Platonic Academy Platonic Academy that had been founded at Florence under Lorenzo de Medici.
Fincino, greatly impressed by the brilliance of mind of Giles, gave him a few special lectures, and dispelled the doubts that Giles still had about the possibility of an actual and profoundly spiritual rebirth of Christianity through a union with Platonic philosophy.
Writing to the Prior General of the Order, Mariano da Genazzano O.S.A., Giles said, "For no other reason Plato seems right because he turned from God less than any other philosopher - which not even Augustine could deny." And in his Historia Viginti Saeculorum, he called Platonic philosophy "most becoming for piety as is the opinion of my Augustine."
Above all, however, it was a personal experience which prompted him to take this final step. He had been a student at the University of Padua, headquarters of the Aristotelians or Peripatetics, who were divided into Averroists and Alexandrians. He had taken part in the debates on the nature and immortality of the soul which formed the main topics of discussion.
Giles then departed for Rome, eager to defend the new theological system to the best of his ability. In making this decision, Giles doubtlessly was influenced by the fact that some of the basic ideas of St Augustine had been absorbed in some of the central doctrines of the Florentine Academy.
Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. became an outstanding scholar of Hebrew, and had an unrivalled knowledge of Middle-Eastern languages in the Europe of his day.
His greatest works were on the Hebrew cabala and rabbinic literature, which he used as a historical tool for the interpretation of the Bible.
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