CENÁCULO, Frei Manuel do (Lisbon, 1724-Évora, 1814)
Dom Friar Manuel do Cenáculo Vilas Boas is someone who is easily linked to libraries, books and the development of an idea about the Portuguese heritage and identity; however, knowing and analysing his profile as an erudite man may place him amongst the individuals who mostly contributed to the dissemination of the spirit of Enlightenment in Portugal. The study of his activity as a clergyman, intellectual and pedagogue helps to understand his personality in the context of change of the seventeen hundreds that was taking place.
Starting by his education, one should highlight two periods. He started his instruction with the Oratorians at a very early age (1737-1740), then he moved to the Third Order of St. Francis (1740-1746) and finally to the University of Coimbra, where at the age of 22, he combined his situation as a student with teaching duties. At 25, he got a doctorate in Theology by the same University. In addition to his preparation in religious and doctrinal manners, he studied ancient languages (Latin and Greek) and also eastern ones (Hebrew). His philosophical and pedagogical concerns identified him with the Scholasticism of the time, which gave privilege to a theoretical teaching far from reality, based on the undisputable truth of Holy Scripture. Cenáculo accumulated readings, knowledge and a great capacity for argumentation, but the anxiety and dissatisfaction that he displayed reinforced the academic and religious order of the time with which he identified himself. A trip to Rome in 1750, at the time of Pope Benedict XIV, was a decisive moment for Cenáculo?s intellectual education. There he took part in the General Chapter of the Third Order, the top meeting of the Franciscans, as a member of a delegation that also included Friar Joaquim de S. José, the Provincial of the Third Order, and Friar Domingos da Encarnação. The land trip provide him with the opportunity of contacting libraries, universities, monuments and erudite men, contacts which may have deeply influenced him (SALGADO, 1790: 43 et seqq.). As conservative as the Church may have been, the work, the interrogations and the new perspectives put forward by philosophers, mathematicians and naturalists were sweeping 18th-century Europe and were difficult to ignore, leading to new ways of thinking and to a new worldview. After visiting Rome, Friar Manuel do Cenáculo continued to accumulated readings and information that turned him into a reference in the Portuguese political and intellectual circles.
The successive nominations that he received from King Dom José I and from his Minister José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, are an undisputable proof of the confidence that the Portuguese officials had in him. He was appointed President of the Royal Censorial Court, Member of the Junta de Providência Literária (Committee on the Reform of University Education), Bishop of Beja and Preceptor of the Crown Prince Dom José, Prince of Beira (1770), took part in the organisation of education through the Royal Censorial Court (1771), was President of the Junta do Subsídio Literário (entity that managed the tax that supported university reform) and a mentor of the reform at the University of Coimbra (1772) and promoted the reconstruction of the Royal Public Library (1775). The winds of change that swept through Europe forced the adaptation of physics, mathematics and natural sciences, along with the acceptance of rational thought over dogmas and of real and experimental practices over Holy Scripture. Not all accepted this intellectual earthquake, but Cenáculo, who posed more questions and was more enlightened, joined the new school of thought and together with the Marquis of Pombal, a politician deeply committed in fortifying royal power, breaking away from the traditionally powerful influence of the Church, in which the Jesuits played a prevailing role, was able to implement a new attitude that demanded deep theoretical knowledge, a broad erudition and a solid argumentation.
Other indispensable biographical references have to do with the continuous rising of Cenáculo in the Church hierarchy. In 1768, he was appointed Provincial of the Third Order of St. Francis, in 1770 Bishop of Beja (starting functions in 1777) and in 1802 Archbishop of Évora. Despite the political disappearance of the Marquis of Pombal, after the death of King Dom José (1777), the contact between the two men continued, without Cernáculo?s leading position being affected and providing him with the opportunity of applying in practice the ideals of the Enlightenment. Notwithstanding the synergy between his and Pombal?s ideals, Cernáculo neither pretended to be a passionate supporter of the intervention of government in Church, nor engaged in the fight against the Jesuits in the name of a new vision of government, and being a regalist (that is, an upholder of a centralised royal power independent from the interests of the Church), he engaged himself in areas that were as much as possible outside the political realm (education or the foundation of libraries).
His opportunities in the field of education started with the education reform at the Order of St. Francis (1769), which signalled Pombal?s forthcoming Reform of the University of Coimbra (1772). The practical application of some principles of the Enlightenment was also helped by his position as President of the Royal Censorial Court, whose activity was not limited to the control of the books to be printed, replacing the Holy Office, since it also developed a profound work in the field of education, acting as a true ?ministry of public instruction? (MARCADÉ 1974: 607), promoting the opening of schools in rural areas, mainly in the south of the country, as MARCADÉ (1978) thoroughly identified. The work of Cenáculo as a pedagogue clearly reveals the philosophy of the Enlightenment that he adopted and that he was able to transmit to both King Dom José and the Marquis of Pombal. Through the Royal Censorial Court, the Church continued to define the model of education, exploring the autonomy it had from the political power (O Marquês de Pombal, 2000: 16). For Cenáculo, the pedagogical activity covered not only the academic curriculum but also the management of education, with both of these aspects needing to be guided by high standards. Such was the case of the Colégio Real dos Nobres (Royal College for Noblemen), which aimed to provide noblemen with a solid base of knowledge so they could better managed their assets, or the University of Coimbra, whose reform went from the conditions for admission up to the curricular organisation, the assessment of students and the status of professors (O Marquês de Pombal, 2000: 43). These measures were not designed to facilitate learning but to attain excellence. Instruction should be carried out by dialogue ? present, listen and then discuss ? and everything should be demonstrated. Cenáculo used the Royal Censorial Court to pursue the task of education with a commitment that reveals the principles of Enlightenment, believing that through knowledge and reason people would reach a standard of truth and happiness.
Cenáculo became a Maecenas and a promoter of great erudite libraries, both through his donations (Royal Public Library, Public Libraries of Évora and Beja, Library of the Convent of Jesus) and through his contribution to their organisation (Library of the Academy of Sciences). To select, buy and collect books, as the letters abundantly witness, or to set them apart for certain libraries, as he did with the works that passed through the Royal Censorship Court, reveals an enlightened spirit that followed the principles of the Enlightenment. It was a methodical and organised attitude towards knowledge (and in favour of knowledge), following the goals of the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D?Alembert published between 1751 and 1755. He also distinguished himself as a collector, with a vast collection of paintings, coins, archaeological items, maps and letters. It was not just a matter of collecting; he aimed to gather the necessary elements to serve as evidence, instilling the ?love for things that were real,? as prescribed by the Enlightenment, in opposition to metaphysical speculations.
His continuous concern with education, the anxiety of new knowledge and the permanent acquisition of books personified Cenáculo?s commitment towards the Enlightenment. Yet it is still not known what the real motive that moved him as a collector was. Was it an interpretation of the 18th-century model or, on the other hand, did the ?love for things that were real? constitute a manifestation of his concerns in the identification of the Portuguese genius and singularity, entering the domain of memory construction, in an incipient announcement of Romanticism? A profoundly innovative experience of life, ready to refuse inadequate models, such as those of Scholasticism, and a pioneer in the adoption of new solutions, or as CAEIRO (196?: 189) briefly put it, ?Cenáculo? the man of his time par excellence.?
CAEIRO, Francisco da Gama ? ?Cenáculo?. in Os Grandes Portugueses. Dir. Hernâni Cidade. Lisboa : Arcádia, [196?], v. 2, p. 189-199. Frei Manuel do Cenáculo construtor de bibliotecas. Coord. Francisco A. Lourenço Vaz & José António Calixto. Casal de Cambra: Caleidoscópio, 2006, p. 47-55. MARCADÉ, Jacques ? ?D. Fr. Manuel do Cenáculo Vilas Boas (quelques notes sur sa pédagogie)?. Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português, Paris, v. 8, 1974, p. 605-620. MARCADÉ, Jacques ? Frei Manuel do Cenáculo Vilas Boas: Évèque de Beja, Archevêque d?Évora (1770-1814). Paris: Centro Cultural Português, 1978. 592 p. O Marquês de Pombal e a Universidade. Coord. Ana Cristina Araújo. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade, 2000. 315,  p., 9 il. SALGADO, Frei Vicente ? Origem, e Progresso das Línguas Orientaes na Congregação da Terceira Ordem de Portugal. Lisboa: Na Offic. De Simão Thaddeo Ferreira. 93 p.
Author: Maria Luísa Cabral
Translated by: John Silva