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Donato Giannotti’s Della Republica Ecclesiastica (1541) is the first history of the Church written by a layman and, in effect, the first modern history of the Church. Surviving, so far as we know, in only one recently discovered manuscript, it is the third of Giannotti’s books on republics, after his well-known books on Venice and Florence. The work concludes with a radical project for Church reform, proposing the Pope become a symbolic figure, the temporal powers of the Church be transferred to a virtuous College of Cardinals, and bishops be elected locally by the clergy and people of each diocese.  

William Connell is Professor of History and holder of the La Motta Chair in Italian Studies at Seton Hall University. Most recently he was an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. He found the manuscript of Giannotti’s book in 2018, and his critical edition of this work was published by Einaudi in May 2023.

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