“Old Luke Wadding…said Welcome”

Oil painting of Luke Wadding by Carlo Maratta held in the National Gallery of Ireland (public domain)
Oil painting of Luke Wadding by Carlo Maratta held in the National Gallery of Ireland (public domain)

He was born in Waterford and became a great scholar. He died in the 17th century after spending most of his adult life abroad. Religion was central to his life. Some of his work is still used today. However, unlike Robert Boyle, to whom this description could also apply, Luke Wadding has been almost forgotten.

In the 16th and 17th century, scholasticism saw a second flowering. The works of Thomas Aquinas were studied by scholars of the Dominican and Carmelite orders. The Franciscans tended to study the work of Franciscan Duns Scotus, with the school proper emerging as Scotus’ works were collected and edited in the 16th century. The Jesuits drew from both, the philosopher Suárez being the most influential example (Suarezianism was effectively another school). There was variation within this broad outline: an individual philosopher in any of these schools might draw on many philosophers. Corkman John Punch for example was primarily a Scotist scholar but also drew on Ockham and Aquinas.

This was the world Luke Wadding moved in. Born eleventh in a family of fourteen, he was named for “Luke” after the feastday on the 18th October two days after his birth. His mother was related to the archbishop of Armagh, his brother Ambrose became a Jesuit as did cousins Peter and Michael Wadding, and another cousin Richard became an Augustinian. Little surprise then that Luke Wadding entered a seminary in Portugal in 1604 after studying in Kilkenny College. He joined the Franciscan order and was ordained in 1613. That was the start of a long and illustrious career: professor in Salamanca, theologian in Rome, founder of the Irish College of St Isidore in Rome (1625), rector of the college, founder of the Ludovisian College for Irish secular priests, Procurator of the Franciscans at Rome, 1630-34, and Vice-Commissary of the order from 1645-48.

He also was involved in Irish politics, sending money and supplies to Owen Roe O’Neill and supporting the Irish revolt from 1641. He influenced the pope to send a nuncio to the Confederation of Kilkenny (1642-49). His political view was credited as late as the 19th century as the cause of the anti-English stance of the Vatican.

Yet despite all this, he still found time to write. He published 36 volumes over his life, and after his death left a huge archive of unpublished work. He wrote on Mary, particularly the Immaculate Conception (a doctrine promoted by Scotus) and on the Franciscan order, notably the order’s history, Annales Ordinis Minorum,  published in 8 vols from 1625 to 1654. Fifty pages of this was devoted to a biography of Scotus, and a defence of his works. It also acknowledged the competing Irish, English and Scottish claims to Scotus, but pointed out that the Irish were true defenders of Scotus and thus had a real claim for connection to him (a connection still acknowledged by scholars of Scotus today).

Perhaps this was why he was given the task in 1633 to produce his largest and most philosophically important work: a complete edition of Duns Scotus, Duns Scoti Opera Omnia, published in twelve folio volumes in 1639. Together with John Punch and Anthony Hickey (both important Scotist scholars), Wadding drew on existing scholastic work on Scotus, including those by Maurice O’Fihely (who produced commentaries from 1496 to 1513 in Pauda) and Hugh MacCaghwell (who died in St. Isidores). Not only the works of Scotus but commentaries were included. The priority was speed so Wadding and his team depended on well-regarded editions created by other Irishmen.

While not perfect, since it includes spurious works and omits some sections now accepted as authentic, the work was influential. Even today, the Wadding edition is the only complete edition of Scotus’ works (a “Vatican” edition has been ongoing since 1950 and is still not complete). Between 1670 and 1700 more than 120 folio volumes and an even larger number of quarto volumes appeared relating to this edition of Wadding. This was the high point of popularity of the Scotist school.

Wadding also played a substantial part in the debates of the 1640s and early 1650s about Jansenism, a theological position based on Augustine which emphasises original sin and the impossibility of acting morally without God’s grace. Wadding argued that Jansen’s work could be interpreted to be in line with orthodox Church teaching, but accepted their condemnation in 1653. Wadding remained committed to scholasticism.

Towards the end of the 18th century the influence of Scotism started to decline, reaching a low point in the 19th century. Scotism was still taught by the Franciscans but few works were written. The papal advocacy of Thomism, culminating in a papal encyclical in 1879 probably speeded its decline. To many today, Catholic philosophy and Thomism are one and the same. With the decline in Scotism, came a decline in the reputation of Wadding. Even his role in the international celebration of St. Patricks day hasn’t lent him fame: it was his influence that saw it added to the calendar of the Universal Church.

Luke Wadding’s portrait (above) is now in the National Gallery of Ireland, where Yeats saw it in 1918 and wrote (in the poem Demon and Beast):

The glittering eyes in a death’s head
Of old Luke Wadding’s portrait said
Welcome, and the Ormondes all
Nodded upon the wall

A nod from one time of turmoil in Ireland to another, perhaps, and from one philosopher to another.

References and Further Reading

Scroll to Top