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In memoriam of Fr. Nello Cipriani, remembered by Fathers Angelo Di Berardino and Vittorino Grossi, professors emeritus of the Augustiniaum

Updated: Apr 6

After the death of Fr. Nello Ciprirani, one of the great masters of the Pontifical Patristic Institute Augustinianum, last February 17, many people attended his funeral Mass to say their last farewell. Many of them were his students, who for years "learned from him the structure of ancient Christian literature and were nourished by the spirituality of the Bishop of Hippo, centered on love, which is freedom"

His echo and resonance have led us to contact two emeritus Augustinian professors who knew Fr. Nello very well and whose testimonies shed light on this great teacher who dedicated his life to the study of the work of St. Augustine and to the publication of numerous theological and spiritual books and "important and unknown philological articles", as Fr. Angelo di Berardino, friend of Fr. Nello since the novitiate.

Angelo on Fr. Nello: "He was the striker par excellence"

I met Fr. Nello in 1953 in San Gimignano. It was during our novitiate. We were a precious and varied group, with different talents and coming from many Italian regions. It was a great enrichment for all of us, who came from traditional backgrounds and limited horizons. In Viterbo, between 1954 and 1957, we did our baccalaureate together, devoting ourselves above all to classical studies. I remember from those years the good football team we had: Nello was the striker par excellence and I was the goalkeeper. 

We continued our philosophical studies in Tolentino. Unfortunately, we did further studies in different places although we were always in contact.

In 1969, Fr. Trapè called me to Rome. It was there that our relationship became even closer when Fr. Nello began to give courses at the Augustinianum. In 1987 he moved to our community in Santa Monica. In the meantime, we had continued our studies at state universities, earning our doctorates. Nello devoted himself to classical studies at the University of Perugia and I to history and philosophy. Our differences in subsequent research stemmed from this preparation. In fact, he was a professor of Latin and Greek for some years.

Fr. Nello's philological articles: a treasure to be discovered

This classical and philological education profoundly influenced his formation and the focus of his Augustinian studies. Normally, scholars of St. Augustine start from philosophy or theology, but Nello took an original and fruitful path from philology, where he was truly innovative. His theological and spiritual books are well known, much less his numerous philological articles. The first of a long series is A Neoplatonic Theory Underlying Augustine's Sexual Ethics. Augustine, a reader of the Neoplatonists, was influenced by these philosophers in the elaboration of his conception of human sexuality (marriage, libido, procreation).

These few quotations refer to so many other researches he has carried out in the philological field. And they have all been well appreciated. Thank you, dear Nello, for the many football matches we played together.

Cipriani has published several studies on Julian of Eclania. He has also indicated some sources on this theologian: Literary Aspects of Julian of Eclania: Tertullian, Cicero and Quintilian. In the same line of research is Ecos antiapolineos y aristotelismo en la polémica de Juliano de Eclana. Four Augustinian sources are the focus of Cipriani's interest: Varron, Victorinus, Ambrose and the Ambrosiaster.

Vittorino Grossi on Fr. Nello: "An original path" of a man who taught to love "in freedom" in the manner of St. Augustine

Nello Cipriani, born in Maenza (Latina-Italy) on 29/07/1937, returned to the Father on 17 February 2024 in the hospital of St. Charles in Nancy (Rome). The Mass of suffrage, celebrated in the diaconal chapel of St. Monica in Piazza Sant'Uffizio (Rome) on Monday 19 February, brought together confreres, friends, scholars of St. Augustine and many of his students, who learned from him the structure of the ancient Christian literature articulated on rhetorical rules and were nourished by the spirituality of the bishop of Hippo centered on love, which is freedom. Indeed, when one loves in a Christian way, one lives in freedom: "Love and do what you will", wrote Augustine in his commentary on the Letter of the Apostle John. Father Nello, who entered the Augustinian Order as a young man, was ordained priest on February 25, 1962.

After graduating in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in 1963, he graduated in Philosophy and Ancient Letters at the University of Perugia in 1974. In the academic year 1973-74 he joined the Patristic Institute Augustinianum as assistant professor. In 1992 he obtained his doctorate in Theology and Patristic Sciences with the study The controversy between Julian of Eclania and Saint Augustine in Opus imperfectum. Two comparative theologies. In 1993 he was appointed full professor at the Pontifical Patristic Institute Augustinianum, where he teaches and promotes research on the writings of Augustine, in particular on the Dialogues and De Trinitate, as well as on the rhetorical formation of the Fathers of the Church.

As a result of his research, some 50 contributions were his stable collaboration in the journal of patristic studies Augustinianum and the SEA series of the Institute.

A summary of his method of research and his contribution to Augustinian studies can be found in his study The Pedagogy of Prayer in Saint Augustine (Palermo 1984). Cipriani, after summarising the Augustinian themes on prayer, tackles in chapter II of the second part the theme "From Neoplatonic contemplation to Christian contemplation", distancing Christian prayer from Platonic prayer linked to the philosophical sphere. Cipriani's research sinks the reading of Augustine in the sources of Sacred Scripture rather than in the Platonic categories. The Dialogues of Augustine, mostly read by scholars from the perspective of the philosophers, for Cipriani must be reread taking into account the biblical texts to which Augustine makes reference. From this new perspective of reading, it is possible to glimpse the path of Christian reflection undertaken by Augustine guided by the word of God.


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