This year not only marks the four hundreth anniversary of the Flight of the Earls and the foundation of St Anthony’s College, the Irish Franciscan college in Louvain. It also marks the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of a remarkable Irishman and Franciscan in 1657, Luke Wadding. The commemoration of Wadding’s death forms part of the national celebrations ‘Louvain 400’ being coordinated by the UCD Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute for the Study of Irish History and Civilisation. A special exhibition will be mounted in Waterford City Museum in the Granary from mid-November 2007 to May 2008.
Luke Wadding, the Waterford-born Franciscan, was a theologian, church statesman and the early historian of the Franciscan Order. He was founder of the St Isidore’s, the Irish Franciscan College in Rome.
Wadding was born on 16 October 1588 into a prominent Old English merchant family in Waterford. He was particularly well-connected on both sides of his family. His mother Anastasia Lombard belonged to another important Old English family. Members of the Wadding family were mayors of Waterford city and Luke Wadding was related to a number of famous Irish bishops of the time, among them Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh, David Rothe, bishop of Ossary and Patrick Comerford, bishop of Waterford. Little is known of his early education in Waterford although it would seem that he was at least trained in Latin, probably not a difficult task for someone with a linguistic flair such as Wadding had: in his lifetime he became proficient in Hebrew, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. After his mother’s death from the plague in 1602, he was brought by his brother Matthew, a merchant, to Lisbon and soon afterwards joined the Franciscans. He was ordained in 1613. He began his studies in philosophy and theology in Portugal and was then invited to join the Spanish Franciscan province where he became a lecturer in theology in the renowned University of Salamanca. His formation in Portugal and in Spain brought him into contact with some of the most influential Catholic teachers and intellectuals of the time, including the Jesuit Francisca Suárez. Once in Salamanca he gained a reputation as a theologian with a particular interest in the historic and spiritual tradition of the Franciscan Order.
His move to Rome was caused by the pleas being made by Philip III, king of Spain, to Pope Paul V – both of whom were patrons of St Anthony’s College, Louvain founded in 1607 – concerning the definition of the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary. In July 1618, Wadding was chosen by Bishop Antonio de Trejo, who headed a royal Spanish delegation to Rome, as his theologian and secretary to the delegation. Established in Rome, at first based in the Spanish Franciscan church of San Pietro in Montorio, the burial place of Hugh O’Neill and his son and of Ruairí and Cathbharr O’Donnell, he began a prolific career in historical, philosophical and theological writings. He worked with the commission on the immaculate conception, producing four volumes on the question. He edited concordences of the Hebrew and Latin Bibles. However, his fame as a scholar mainly rest on his commentaries on the works of the ?fourteenth-century Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus and his masterly treatises on the history of the Franciscan Order, the Annales Minorum (the Order’s history from 1208 to 1540) and the Scriptores Ordinis Minorum (a collection of the primary sources of the Order). That he is regarded as the father of the history of the Franciscans to this day was recognised in January 2007 when the archive of the General Order in Rome was named after him.
As with his fellow Irish Franciscan, Florence Conry, founder of St Anthony’s in Louvain, Wadding recognised the need for the establishement of a house of studies for Irish students in Rome. With the assistance of the cardinal protector of Ireland and one of Wadding’s many influential friends in Rome, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, he founded St Isidore’s College, originally a Spanish friary, in 1625. Like St Anthony’s, the early years of St Isidore’s were precarious with Wadding seeking financial support to keep it open and also fending off the Jesuits’ desire to educate Irish students in Rome. St Isidore’s remained an Irish Franciscan college and developed into a centre of Scotist studies, dedicated to the study of Duns Scotus. It also became a house in which novices were trained to return to Ireland to labour and preach and to that end, again like St Anthony’s, an Irish printing press was set up there.
Although Wadding’s adult life was spent on the Continent his influence in Ireland and his interest in Irish affairs were considerable and often led him into controversy. From the 1630s he was often consulted by the Vatican in regard to episcopal appointments and other offices in Ireland. His own familial background, that of a wealthy Old English family from Waterford, along with the constant rivalry in the seventeenth-century between the Irish and Old English for ecclesiastical and political authority, often led to accusations that Wadding was biased towards the Old English. He also occasionally became embroiled in the machinations of European and Franciscan factions in Rome, mainly centred on French and Spanish jealousies. In an Irish context, his influence – and also the precarious position he held caught between so many factions – can be seen at its height during the Confederacy in the early 1640s. His pleas to an otherwise disinterested Papacy and Spanish monarchy led to Archbishop Rinuccini being sent as papal envoy to Ireland in 1645 and he also managed to obtain support for Owen Roe O’Neill and the Irish brigades on the Continent to return to Ireland. Despite that, in the maelstrom of conflicting Irish Catholic factions of the Confederacy, Wadding was at various stages criticised by all sides. It would appear that in promoting his main concerns, that of ensuring that Ireland remained Catholic and of maintaining a united Franciscan province in Ireland, he fell foul of many. He died in St Isidore’s in Rome on 18 November 1657 and was buried in the college he had founded.
A full critical account of the complex life of Luke Wadding – as is the case of so many of that phenomenal generation of Irish Franciscans – has yet to be written. Perhaps this may be due to the varied aspects of his career – philosopher, theologian, ecclesiastical and international statesman, Franciscan, Irish politician. Or perhaps the task is daunting for any scholar who faces the vast amount of material, both manuscript and printed, relating to him that has survived. For example, a scholar need only consult the corpus of Wadding papers classified as the OFM-UCD ‘D manuscripts’, recently transferred from the Franciscan Library Killiney to University College Dublin, to appreciate the richness of the material. Consisting of thousands of documents relating to the ecclesiastical, political and scolarly history of seventeenth-century Ireland, they are a testament to Wadding’s importance and moreso to the significance of the Irish Franciscan archive as a national repository for the study of Irish and European history. While one volume of the Wadding papers was edited by Brendan Jennings and published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 1953, there is much more to be done in the fields of conservation, cataloguing and analysis. The first steps in conservation are in train under the auspices of the UCD Mícheál Ó Céirigh Institute and the UCD School of History and Archives with funding from the Heritage Council, whereby Susan Corr, an expert paper conservator, has begun to treat documents to ensure that they will survive to be used as a vital source for Irish history well into the future.
For the best account of Luke Wadding’s life and a full bibliography, see Ignatius Fennessy OFM, ‘Luke Wadding (1588-1657)’, Oxford Dictionary of Biography.
B. Jennings, Wadding papers 1614-38 (Dublin, 1953). Irish Manuscripts Commission.
For further information on ‘Louvain 400’ see www.louvain400.eu and on the work of the UCD Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute for the Study of Irish History and Civilisation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.