The Life and Works of Silvestro Mazzolini Da Prierio (1456–1527)


Duke Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies

More about this series

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: Published: September 1997

Author: Michael Tavuzzi

History > European History, Pre-Modern Studies > Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Religious Studies

The Italian Dominican friar Silvestro Mazzolini da Prierio (1456–1527), known as Prierias, is chiefly remembered as the church official designated to respond to Luther’s 95 theses of December 1517—a response blamed for fanning the flames of the Reformation throughout Europe. In Prierias, Michael Tavuzzi presents the first full biography of this little-known, yet eminent, sixteenth-century ecclesiastic, as well as an account of his wide-ranging literary works.
Tavuzzi shows that, aside from being Luther’s first opponent, Prierias played a key role in significant early-sixteenth-century controversies such as the cases of Reuchlin, Erasmus, and Pomponazzi. Drawing on previously untapped primary sources, Tavuzzi traces Prierias’s early career as preacher, professor, inquisitor, and administrator, and places him in the context of the struggles fought between unreformed and observant friars during the Renaissance. Prierias’s activities as Master of the Sacred Palace, his long-standing and bitter conflict with Cardinal Cajetan, and especially his forceful writings warning against the threat of witches and witchcraft are also described. Focusing closely on Prierias’s clash with Luther, Tavuzzi accounts for its development and illuminates the ecclesiological issues at stake. Prierias reveals the little-known world of the friars on the eve of the Reformation.


“[A] first-rate account of Silvestro Mazzolini da Prierio. . . . Scholars of the Reformation will be pleased to have this excellent study.” — Frederick J. McGinness , Speculum

“[Tavuzzi’s] work will be extremely useful to scholars interested in the intellectual and religious life of the early sixteenth century. It will be indispensable for the study of Prierias’ own life and contributions for many years to come. An additional feature of this work, which will make it all the more useful to its readers, is the ‘Appendix: works by Silvestro da Prierio.’” — , Sixteenth Century Journal

“Tavuzzi does a remarkable job in this well-written and beautifully produced biography, which suggests that philosophers should be encouraged to turn their hands to history more often.” — , Ecclesiastical History

“Tavuzzi gives us a study of a very interesting individual who was right in the middle of schisms within his order and within the Church as a whole as Europe headed inexorably toward The Reformation and all the ecclesiastical chaos and national bloodshed that entailed. Prierias was a tough customer, a hard-liner, a presumably strict censor in his office as Master of the Sacred Palace in Rome, but he certainly was inadequate to stop Martin Luther. After that great confrontation, having started a conflagration or at the least been unable to put out the fire while it was still a single flame, Prierias seems to have declined in health and withdrawn. Who wouldn’t?” — , BHR

“Tavuzzi succeeds in his intention to provide, through Mazzolini, a ‘point of entry into the peculiar world of the friars’ intelligentsia of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. He explains clearly not only the institutions and procedures of the Dominican order, but also each of Mazzolini’s long and varied list of publications, each of which will be of some interest to the relevant constituency of historians: his sermons and preaching manuals, his logic textbook, his hagiographical works, his ‘vast encyclopedia of moral theology and canon law’ (forty editions before 1600), his polemic against both other Thomists and critics of the Thomist school, and finally his books on witchcraft and exorcism.” — , English Historical Review

“Tavuzzi’s book sets out . . . to give us for the first time the full picture of who Prierias really was. And this enterprise is a solid success. Two virtues of the book stand out. First, it is thorough: Tavuzzi bases himself on manuscripts from Vatican, Dominican, and state archives; on a complete reading of Prierias’s published works; and on all the relevant secondary literature. Second, the work exhibits admirable balance throughout; Prierias’s faults are neither minimized nor exaggerated. He was not, Tavuzzi seems to suggest, a saint or a genius. But neither was he a scoundrel or a dolt. This portrait is convincing, and it will, in my judgement, carry the day among scholars.” — , Religious Studies Review

“This admirably researched work . . . will be of interest to early-modern historians across a wide span of ecclesiastical and cultural topics.” — , Catholic Historical Review

“This book will be a masterpiece for generations to come. . . . The subject of this fine biography is a figure who has been shadowy and elusive until now. . . . What we have here is an amazingly convincing piece of historical detective work . . . . Tavuzzi has offered to us a truly splendid piece of history. His prose is succinct and lucid, his scholarship impeccable, his arguments unassailable.” — , American Historical Review

“This new work on Prierias fills a gap and will render a great service to researchers. . . . In treating the personality of Prierias with clarity and precision, the book is useful for all those who are interested in this decisive period in the history of Christianity.” — Guy Bedouelle , The Thomist

"Tavuzzi’s biography surpasses previous accounts, using the order’s archives and reassessing earlier analyses of both the man and his writings. His scholarly efforts yield much. . . . Tavuzzi’s clear and fair-minded biography is a wonderful contribution to understanding the life and times of Sylvester Prierias." — Robert Rosin , Renaissance Quarterly

"Tavuzzi illuminates with technical exactitude the inner workings of a major religious order and the quality and quantity of the education of its members in Italy on the eve of the Reformation. No other book does this in this way—and it is difficult for me to imagine any other scholar doing it as well." — John O’Malley, Professor of Church History, Weston Jesuit School of Theology


Availability: In stock
Price: $64.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael Tavuzzi is Professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, Rome.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1976-4
Publicity material