Giuseppe Ricciotti - English
Data: Domenica, 01 gennaio 2006 @ 19:00:08 CET
Argomento: Andrea Nicolotti: Pubblicazioni in linea

Article by Andrea Nicolotti, translation by Hiara María Olivera. German original in F. W. BAUTZ, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, Hamm, Bautz, vol. XXIII (2004), pp. 590-592. Read it. You can also see the Italian or Spanish version.


Giuseppe Ricciotti (27.2.1890- Rome, 22.1.1964), Catholic priest, biblicist, semitist and historian of Christianity. At fifteen years of age, on March 3rd 1905, he joined the Augustinean Congregation of Canons Regular of the Lateran as a novice, to take first vows on March 4th,1906. After serving in the army, he was ordained priest on November 30, 1913.

Once he finished his humanistic studies, he signed up for the philosophy and theology courses at the Pontifical Gregorian University and attained degrees in both careers. Meanwhile, he attended the University of Rome and for three years was an auditor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he graduated in Biblical Sciences in 1919. Among his teachers were the eminent Orientalists Ignazio Guidi and Giorgio Levi della Vida, and the Biblicist Alberto Vaccari. His studies were hindered by the outbreak of World War I, during which he served as a military chaplain. He was appointed to a field Hospital, but he made a petition and managed to be reassigned to the spiritual assistance of the soldiers in the trenches, in the selective battalion of the “Arditi”. During his service, he was seriously wounded and awarded with a silver medal of bravery. After the war, and when his studies were already completed, Giuseppe Ricciotti obtained a teaching position for Hebrew literature at the University of Rome where he taught from 1924 in periodic lapses, and between 1926 and 1927, at the University of Genoa. Meanwhile, between 1925 and 1927, he set up and directed a small seminary in Liguria, Andora (Savona). Back in the University of Rome, he was appointed Professor of Religious History of the Christian East (a position that he occupied several times between 1933 and 1946). He also taught Hebrew and Comparative Semitic Languages (1935-1960), History of Christianity (1950-1960), History of Ancient Philosophy (1950-1953) and History of Medieval Philosophy (1951-1953) at the University of Bari.

Back in 1935, his congregation had appointed him General Procurator to the Holy See, a position which he held until 1946. In August 1946 he was given the dignity of Ordinary Abbot of Gubbio, and he was appointed Consultant for the Clergymen Congregation. Ricciotti had many opportunities to deepen his knowledge of the Eastern world, during his travels to Lybia, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Transjordan, India and the Philippines. During World War II, he granted protection to many racial and political refugees in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.

Ricciotti translated and commented Hebrew scriptures (Jeremiah, Lamentations, Job and the Song of Solomon), Greek (Josephus’ Bellum iudaicum, Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters) and Syrian texts (Efrem, Afraate, Bar-Hebrew). His most original scientific work -the result of a research period in the catalogue of the Syrian manuscripts of the Vatican Library- is the first critical edition and commentary of Paul’s Syrian Apocalypse, with an Italian and a Latin translation to which Ricciotti added also a volume dedicated to the cosmogony of the Bible and to its transmission until Dante (1932). He also wrote extended essays on Efrem (1925), Flavius Josephus (1937) and Paul (1946). As an outcome of his lessons on History of Christianity at Bari he produced a biography of Julianus the Apostate (1956) and a treaty on the Age of the Christian persecution (1953). In his brief work “Bibbia e non Bibbia” (Bible and not Bible, 1932), the author underlined the necessity to apply the Historical-Critical method to the study of the Scriptures, definitely abandoning the dependence on the Vulgata’s latin text, and expressed his longing for a higher biblical education of the clergy and the faithful. But Ricciotti’s name is intimately connected with his History of Israel (1932-1934), and even more with his Life of Jesus Christ (1941), both reedited and reprinted several times. In two works the author goes beyond the usual issues. The first is an Italian translation of the homilies made in 1933 by the Bavarian Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber in favour of the Hebrews, which preface denotes the concern that Ricciotti showed for the rising of the racist ideology. The second is the edition of the Roman Diary of the memorial writer Giacinto Gigli (1594-1671). Tirelessly devoted to divulgence, he dedicated himself to the diffusion of Historical and Religious issues to the public, taking part in cultural broadcastings and writing a long list of articles in daily newspapers, weekly publications and widely known magazines, some of which had been reedited as books (Catholic Rome and Christian East, Hiram’s yard, Jewish issues, The Bible and the modern discoveries). From 1926 to 1936 Giuseppe Ricciotti was the redactor of the "Enciclopedia italiana", in charge of numerous entries about the History of Christianity, ecclesiastical matters and biblical literature. Moreover, he, along with Monsignor Pietro Barbieri, decided to publish the "Enciclopedia cattolica" (1948-1954), in which Ricciotti also wrote some entries.

Ricciotti began his activity in the aftermath of the modernist crisis. He, whom until the time of the excommunication had been in good terms with Ernesto Buonaiuti, found himself working in a period of stagnation for the biblical studies of Catholic origin.

From the prefaces of some of his works, and from some openly polemical or indirectly autobiographical newspaper articles, it is possible to reconstruct the initial difficulties that Ricciotti had to tackle in order to overcome the editors’ mistrusts and the objections of some of his critics. As well as the other biblicists of his time, Ricciotti adopted an extremely polemical attitude towards the modernist exegesis (especially Alfred Loisy’s one). His works on biblical texts, of a rather conservative character, show a solid historical and philological training, not at all alien to the contemporary acquisitions of the critic. In this way, Ricciotti attempted to trespass the shadow of suspicion cast over the biblical studies in Italy, thus earning some opposition from the most conservative Catholic wing. Specifically, the anonymous pamphlet “Un terribile pericolo per la Chiesa" (A terrible danger for the Church), by Dolindo Ruotolo (1941), in which the scientific study of the Scriptures was attacked, was directly aimed at Alberto Vaccari, Leone Tondelli and especially Ricciotti himself. The Pontifical Biblical Commission took over their defence in a letter sent to the Italian bishops (AAS 33,1941,465-472). In 1933 the same Commission had instead condemned an interpretation of two scriptural texts presented by Ricciotti in the book “Bible or not Bible”, which was corrected in further editions.

The highest scientific value of Ricciotti’s works is to be found in his work as editor, commentator and mostly as a faithful translator. Of a lesser specialization and a purposefully simple and understandable style are his widely known works, that had been largely distributed. These books and articles of divulgence, written in a pleasant and brilliant style, have contributed to the diffusion of interest in knowing and studying the Scriptures and Ancient Christianity in Italy and abroad.


Bibliography: Angelo Penna, Giuseppe Ricciotti. Profilo e bibliografia, in: Ordo Canonicus, 1974, 117-135 (508 titoli).


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