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ÆGIDIUS OF VITERBO (or ÆGIDIUS ANTONIUS CANISIUS):

Cardinal and Christian cabalist; born in 1470 at the Villa Canapina, in the diocese of Viterbo, of rich and noble parents. After a course of studies with the Augustinians at Viterbo, he was made doctor of theology, and in 1503 became general of his order. He died November 12, 1532. In Jewish history the name of Ægidius (or Egidio) is coupled first with the grammarian Elias Levita, who instructed him in Hebrew. When the turmoil of war drove Levita from Padua to Rome, he was welcomed at the house of Ægidius, where, with his family, he lived for more than ten years, all his wants being supplied. It was there that Levita's career as the foremost tutor of Christian notables in Hebrew lore commenced. The first edition of Levita's "Baḥur" (Rome, 1518) is dedicated to Ægidius. In return for his Hebrew instruction Ægidius quite willingly introduced Levita into the profane branches of learning and the Greek language, thus enabling the latter somewhat to utilize Greek in his Hebrew lexicographic labors—a debt freely acknowledged by Levita, who, in 1521, dedicated his "Concordance" to the cardinal. It must be noted, however, that Ægidius' anxiety to master the sacred tongue sprang neither from philological inclination nor from a desire to attain a better method of Biblical exegesis: his main motive was thus to be enabled to penetrate the mysteries of the Cabala. As a cabalist, Ægidius belonged to the interesting group of sixteenth-century Christians, among whom Reuchlin and Pico della Mirandola also were prominent, who believed that Jewish mysticism, and particularly the Zohar, contained incontrovertible testimony to the truth of the Christian religion (compare Cabalists, Christian). No wonder, then, that in the course of Reuchlin's conflict with the obscurantists (1507-21), in which the preservation of the Jewish books was at issue, the cardinal wrote (1516) to his courageous and enlightened friend: "While we labor on thy behalf, we defend not thee, but the law; not the Talmud, but the Church." Ægidius also engaged another Jewish scholar, Baruch di Benevento, to translate for him the Zohar (the mystic Book of Splendor). The scholar last named may also have been partly responsible for the numerous cabalistic translations and treatises which appeared under the name of Ægidius. The cardinal appears to have been a zealous collector of Hebrew manuscripts, of which many are still to be seen at the Munich Library, bearing both faint traces of his signature and brief Latin annotations. In the Angelica at Rome an exceedingly valuable old Bible manuscript is extant, which was given by Leo X. to Ægidius. The British Museum contains a copy of Makiri and the Midrash on the minor Prophets, written for the cardinal at Tivoli, in the year 1514, by Johanan b. Jacob Sarkuse. The study of Jewish literature led the cardinal to a friendly interest in the Jews themselves, which he manifested both in his energetic encouragement of Reuchlin in the struggle referred to above and in a vain attempt which he made in the year 1531, in conjunction with the cardinal Geronimo de Ghinucci, to prevent the issue of the papal edict authorizing the introduction of the Inquisition against the Maranos.

The writings commonly attributed to Ægidius are numerous. Most of them are to be found in manuscript form in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, but their authenticity is still to be established. Aside from minor works on the Hebrew language, the majority by far are of a cabalistic nature. There is scarcely a classic of Jewish medieval mysticism that he has not translated, annotated, or commented upon. Among these works may be mentioned the Zohar (Splendor); "Ginnat Egoz" (Nut-Garden); "Sefer Raziel" (Book of Raziel); "Ma'areket ha-Elohut" (System of Theology); "'Eser Sefirot" (Ten Sefirot).

Bibliography:
  • Jöcher, Gelehrten-Lexikon, supplement, ed. Adelung, i. cols. 252 et seq.;
  • Geiger, Das Studium d. Hebr. Sprache in Deutschland, p. 56;
  • Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2d ed., ix. 90, 154, 214, 266;
  • Perles, Beiträge zur Gesch. d. Hebr. u. Aramäischen Studien, pp. 170, 200 et seq., Munich, 1884;
  • Krauss, Griechische u. Lateinische Lehnwörter, i. 306;
  • Steinschneider, Christliche Hebraisten, in Zeit. f. Hebr. Bibl. i. 113;
  • idem, Cat. Bodl. col. 2140;
  • idem, Cat. Munich, pp. 173, 176;
  • Buber, Yalḳ. Machiri, introduction.
H. G. E.
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