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The De Luca Collection

The library of Msgr Giuseppe De Luca is kept in the Vatican Library, where it was formally transferred on January 31, 1963. It arrived at the Vatican Library, together with the papers and a few manuscripts which had belonged to him, in the spring of 1975. The work of cataloguing the collection was begun in the second half of 2008, with the help of a Roman cooperative. After an initial period of training and finalizing the procedures to be used, the project is now going ahead at full speed (in March 2009, about 7,000 shelf-marks were assigned, corresponding to a much larger number of volumes).
According to an article written by Hubert Jedin in 1963, the collection comprises at least 80,000 volumes; the undated inventory which is kept in the Archive of the Prefecture mentions 100,385 volumes, organized by size (many of these are editions from before 1830; there are between 2,500 and 3,000 fifteenth-century books, as well as 3,000 journals and 848 folders containing about 15,000 small works). In a letter dated July 31, 1969, the Rev. Fr. Alfons Raes, then Prefect of the Vatican Library, estimated that the collection included between 120,000 and 150,000 volumes.
“The library is not a collection of mere curiosities: several of the items are extremely precious; many are precious; all are good. Taken together, they constitute not a miscellany, but rather an architecture. [...] This is material for connoisseurs and scholars: various literatures, various themes” (from the Memoriale di Mons. De Luca, II, p. 3, February 28, 1962).

When the work of description is finished, we will know the exact size of an extraordinary collection of works and documents. They are valuable not least because of the light they shed on Msgr De Luca himself and on an historic period which was rich in cultural ferment, including also his own passionate participation as one of the important personalities of the twentieth century.

Msgr Giuseppe De Luca was born in the small village of Sasso di Castalda, in the Lucania region of Italy, on September 15, 1898. At the age of eleven he entered the seminary of Potenza, whence he moved to the Jesuit Fathers of Fermentino, and then to Rome, first to the Seminario Minore and then to the Seminario Maggiore. His spirit was curious, lively and independent; and from a young age he loved to read: “The life which I imagined for myself, while still a boy, was a noble one, no less in scholarship than in the priesthood.” He was ordained a priest in October 1921. His modesty and his love for research became an inspiration for many people. Gifted with great humanity and energy, he became friends with some of the great personalities of his time, including Benedetto Croce and Emilio Cecchi; Giovanni Papini and Antonio Baldini; Giovanni Mercati and Giuseppe Prezzolini; Werner Jaeger and Paul Oskar Kristeller; André Wilmart and Eduard Fränkel; Luigi Einaudi and Alcide De Gasperi; Palmiro Togliatti, Luigi Sturzo and Giacomo Manzù; writers, philosophers, politicians and artists, all of them involved in his project to create a sort of “ecumenicalism of knowledge.”
He originated the “Storia e Letteratura” series which later gave its name to the well-known publishing house. In this series he published mostly younger authors, to whom he said, “give me things which no one dares to publish for you because it is too dry, too arduous or too difficult to typeset. Pursue your studies without worrying about success, about sales or about your careers: I am here to take care of publishing your research by making the rounds to beg for you and your publications”. The series, which included heterogeneous disciplines such as classical philology, the history of the modern natural sciences, hagiography and Church history, realized his ideal of a new encounter between “sacred and profane sciences.” He also founded the journal Archivio italiano per la storia della pietà. He was close to Pope John XXIII, who would have liked to see him at the head of the Vatican Library, which was like a home to him; however, he preferred to continue his life of wandering between libraries, archives and his publishing house. During the preparations for the Second Vatican Council, he was a consultant for the preparatory commission for scholarship and seminaries.
Throughout his life, he contributed to the promotion of an encounter between philology and history, literature and theology. “What we seek from culture is not the gratification of a vain curiosity, not the ornament, not the material advantages, but rather the truth about our own selves and the conscience of this truth.” He died in Rome, March 19, 1962.


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