Sunday, August 16, 2015

Meet Bl. Antonio Rosmini-Serbati

MrsD asked me about Rosmini's life, and I realized that I've never actually said more than a few things about it. So it seems appropriate to remedy that.

Antonio Rosmini-Serbati was born March 25, 1797 at Rovereto, which at the time was in an Italian-speaking area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ordained in 1821, he founded the Institute of Charity in 1828 while in Milan. The Institute started very small, but had the cautious approval of Pius VIII and the enthusiastic approval of Gregory XVI, who was a close friend of Rosmini; despite Gregory XVI's urging, it was not until 1837 that Rosmini was satisfied enough with the shape of the society to submit its constitutions for papal approval. There were some complications (the Rosminian interpretation of the vow of poverty was quite limited), but after some discussion it was granted recognition in 1838 as a regular congregation by the Congregation of Bishops and Gregory XVI. The basic idea of the Institute was to reform the clergy and the laity by working toward complete charity. Unlike many religious societies, it has never actively sought to gain members. Full members take the standard vows, but the vow of poverty is still interpreted in the way that was controversial at the time: those who have taken the vow of property are allowed to own property, of any kind, but this is regarded as a purely civil and legal stewardship for the purposes of the state, and is to be treated as common for other purposes.

Beginning in the 1830s, Rosmini, always boldly speaking his mind, became mired in an extended series of controversies due to some of his published arguments. The most controversial of these was Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church (written in 1832 but published in 1848), in which Rosmini vociferously attacked five basic problems with the Church in Italy:

(1) Lack of sympathy between clergy and laity;
(2) Poor education of priests;
(3) Division among bishops;
(4) Control of nomination of bishops by secular authorities;
(5) Subordination of Church property and jurisdiction to secular jurisdiction.

The book seems to have been originally intended to be published for a small circle of friends, and the publication seems to have arisen because of an enthusiasm for the recently elected Bl. Pius IX, whom Rosmini thought might reform some of the ills. The book, however, spread like wildfire, pirated by multiple publishing houses, and got him into serious trouble with the Jesuits and with secular authorities. In particular, he was attacked for (a) advocating liturgy in the vernacular; (b) insisting upon the separation of Church and state; (c) criticizing scholastic philosophy; and (d) arguing that clergy and laity had a right in the election of bishops. Rosmini, asked by Pius IX to clarify, did so, but the Congregation for the Index nonetheless decided to place the work on the Index, with Pius IX's approval; Rosmini was never given any indication of what in his clarification was inadequate -- in fact, he was repeatedly told that it was not for any particular theological reason, and Rosmini's own suspicion was that it was done to smooth things over with the Austrian government -- but he submitted to the decree without any hesitation.

Rosmini continued to be investigated, but in 1854 the conclusion was reached: he was a faithful son of the Church, and his works were othodox (although that did not imply that they were correct). Pius IX regarded this as settling the matter entirely, and slapped down any of Rosmini's opponents who tried to restart any inquiries into the matter. It was a happy ending, of a sort; Rosmini lived just long enough to see it, dying the next year. But his opponents did not die, and every so often new controversy would flare up.

In 1878, Bl. Pius IX died, and the great Leo XIII was elected Pope. In the period between Rosmini's death and the death of Pius IX, quite a few manuscripts that he himself had never published, had been published. As a result, a new investigation by the Holy Office produced in 1887 a list of forty propositions drawn from Rosmini's works that were censured; and the censure was affirmed by Leo XIII.

There are a number of peculiarities with the censure. For one thing it is very vague. There is not a single explanation for why any of the propositions were censured, although guesses can be made in some cases. It is unclear how the propositions were collected; in one notorious case, the proposition is built out of phrases that are not only not found together in any passage in Rosmini's works, but aren't even from the same volume of the work from which they are drawn. Most of the propositions are from the posthumous works; the few that aren't are clearly to be read in light of those that are. And the censure itself is unique, and one of the weakest ever given in the nineteenth century -- an era in which the Holy Office had a very wide variety of precisely understood censures to draw from. The censure was, in particular, that at least these forty propositions, all philosophical, in Rosmini's works did not seem to be consonant with Catholic truth.

The Holy Office in the era of Leo XIII was not frivolous with words. It is important to grasp this: nothing in Rosmini's works has ever been condemned as heretical. Here is a test of your orthodoxy, for you: you leave seventeen volumes of writings, and the worst thing the most serious possible investigation can come up with in all of that is that there are at least forty of your claims, mostly drawn from works you never had a chance to finish revising, that appear not to harmonize the Catholic faith -- not that they are inconsistent with it, not that they definitely fail to harmonize with it, but that they do not seem to be in harmony with it.

The Institute of Charity, following Rosmini's example, submitted to the Decree immediately. Because of the Decree, Rosmini's thought did not have much of an influence for quite some time, although nobody every denied that he was a devout Catholic or that the Institute of Charity, who became known as the Rosminians, did an immense amount of good for the Church. It's sometimes speculated that he had some influence on the Second Vatican Council, because some of the Council's reforms were similar to those advocated by Rosmini a century before, but it's hard to know how much of this was real influence and how much of this was convergence on similar solutions. Things began to change, however, with St. John Paul II's 1998 encyclical, Fides et ratio, on Catholic philosophy. It reaffirms the special importance of St. Thomas Aquinas to the philosophical tradition of the Church, but also mentions a number of other philosophers favorably: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, Edith Stein, and others. One of these was Rosmini.

In 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger issued a clarification about the nature of the censure of the forty propositions, and in 2007 Rosmini was beatified by Ratzinger, who had become Benedict XVI.

Despite the fact that he was very active in the intellectual life of his day, relatively little has been done on his work, although, due to the activity of the Institute of Charity in English-speaking countries, it is fairly easy to find many of his works in English. But there has been some slowly expanding study of Rosmini's thought, and he notably has an article devoted to his philosophical work in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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