Taken from Giles of Viterbo: A Reformer’s Thought on Renaissance Rome by John W. O’Malley, S.J. Source: Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), pp. 1-11 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Renaissance Society of America.
For Giles the most significant artistic endeavor was the decision to glorify anew the basilica dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles, and he eloquently extols the idea of raising the new church ‘up to the very heavens,’ ad coelum usque. Giles wants to see the new basilica so constructed as to be ‘a most magnificent edifice, that God might more magnificently be adored,’ magnificentissimus esset locus,… tit Deus magnificentius adoretur.
The full impact of Giles’s enthusiasm for the new Saint Peter’s is not realized until it is seen in relationship to the Roman character of the Christian Church. Spiritual though Giles would have the Church be, he did not want to disembody it. As a matter of fact, there is in his thinking a rather paradoxical contrast between the Church conceived as with-drawn, eremitical and ‘spiritual,’ and the Church conceived as ‘Roman,’ i.e., as divinely committed to a particular city and as the providential continuation of the empire.
Giles exults in the Roman character of the Church. He feels that this aspect of the Church’s reality demonstrates it to be the continuation of Israel and thus the converging point of all religious history. He delights in contrasting Rome with Jerusalem and the hill of the Vatican with the hill of Sion, and he regards the Roman Church as the superb fulfillment of all that was promised in the ‘Synagogue.’ Rome is, in a word, the ‘the holy Latin Jerusalem,’ sancta latina Ierusalem, the holy city par excellence.
“… Legi Evangelia, gens Hebraeis, Europa Asiae, Roma Ierosolymae, et Sion monti praeponitur Vaticanus.”
Giles is clear, nevertheless, on what the single historical fact was which demonstrated Rome’s claim to be the center of the religious world. Rome was the site to which Peter and Paul came, and it was hallowed by their preaching and martyrdoms. Rome thus participated in Peter’s primacy and was the heir to his bequest of sanctity and sound doctrine.
Giles seems to have pictured a series of concentric circles of divine predilection radiating out from Saint Peter’s tomb: from the tomb to the Vatican, from the Vatican to the city of Rome, from Rome to Etruria, from Etruria to the rest of Italy, and from Italy to the whole world. Giles thus arrives at a practical identification of the Church with the empire, especially with the empire in its idealized form as embracing all mankind.
But perhaps more telling than the comparison of Church with empire is that of Saint Peter’s basilica with the Temple of Solomon: the former is even now rising to new magnificence on the hill of the Vatican and will endure forever, just as the empire and Church will endure forever, whereas Solomon’s Temple did not even last until the end of the Old Dispensation.
Rome was, in every sense of the word, the focal center for Giles’s thought on Church and reform. Around Rome, or more precisely, around the Vatican, or more precisely still, around Saint Peter’s basilica the whole rest of the world turned. Rome, corrupt and meretricious though it might be, was the spiritual center of the universe around which all mankind – Christian, Jew, pagan, and Turk – soon would be gathered in the great gathering of all peoples, the plenitudo gentium, which would be the hallmark for the apocalyptic consummation of history in the tenth age of the world, the fullness of time, the plenitudo temporis.