BLESSED ANTONIO ROSMINI
A great Christian
An interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the
Congregation of the Causes of the Saints: «A limpid priestly
figure is being beatified, who offered all of himself to Jesus and to
His Church, who suffered for that, a figure that has been guide and
comfort for so many Christians who came after him»
Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale
The Church of San Marco in Rovereto where Rosmini was baptized on 25
March 1797. Rosmini was parish priest from 1834 to 1835 of this church,
in which, in September 1823, he spoke the Panegyric to the holy and
glorious memory of Pius VIII
«I am really content that Antonio
Rosmini is finally being raised to the glory of the altars. I am
content for the Church and, if I may permit myself, personally also.
From the time I was professor at the Pontifical Urbanian University, I
have always quoted with pleasure the enlightened writings of this
great, acute, prophetic thinker». Cardinal José Saraiva
Martins is already preparing with great care the homily he will give in
November in Novara, when he will preside over the ceremony in which the
great priest from Rovereto will be enrolled in the album of the
Blessed. And he does not hide his particular satisfaction that this
ecclesial appointment has finally come round. Not least because it
doesn’t happen every day that a cleric who has had some of his
affirmations formally condemned by the Holy Office receives such ample
Your Eminence, why do you seem so glad
at being able to preside at the beatification of Rosmini?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: Because he
was a limpid priestly figure who offered all of himself to Jesus and to
His Church, who suffered for that, a figure that has been guide and
comfort for so many Christians who came after him. Christians belonging
to the intellectual class, because Rosmini was a great thinker, but
also ordinary believers who have been touched by the witness of the
male and female religious of the Congregations founded by the Abbot
from Rovereto. Rosmini was truly a Christian who lived the human and
Christian virtues in the loftiest way.
Yet for Rosmini it was not easy to get
those virtues recognized…
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, the cause of
beatification – I imagine you are referring to that – was particularly
complex. For a variety of reasons.
Doctrinal reasons above all.
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, Rosmini’s
writings were subject to criticisms from other churchmen, criticisms
that culminated in the Post obitum decree, of the then Holy Office, in
which forty clauses taken from his works were condemned. But it was a
posthumous sentence, following his death – post obitum as said – and
hence Rosmini could not defend himself, and then they were clauses
taken out of context and interpreted in arbitrary fashion.
The Jesuits are among the historic
“enemies” of Rosmini…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Some figures in the
Society of Jesus of the period. But for a long time now the Jesuits
have changed opinion. Their Provost General, Kolvenbach, wrote an
article in the magazine Filosofia oggi [Philosophy today] (f. IV/ 1997)
in which Rosmini is spoken of as a prophet of the third millennium. In
the article Kolvenbach says: «During his lifetime some Jesuits,
they themselves, to tell the truth, not “outstanding”, published
attacks on him… It is worth remembering that those Jesuits, outside the
rule of obedience, were reproved by the Provost General, the Reverend
Father Jan Roothaan». Then, years ago, La Civiltà
Cattolica found room for an article “in reparation” by the late
lamented Rosminian Bishop Clemente Riva. A very unusual fact given that
the fortnightly only publishes articles signed by Jesuit fathers.
Father Cornelio Fabro, an unrepentant
critic of Rosmini, wrote that the Jesuits’ change of mind is due to an
«exaggerated guilt complex».
SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s true that the late
lamented Father Fabro held to his negative judgment on Rosmini. A
respectable judgment but by now shared by extremely few.
It’s a fact, in any case, that the Post
obitum decree has been withdrawn in the end.
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, led by Cardinal Ratzinger,
studied the Rosmini question again and in the end established that,
despite the Post obitum decree, nothing stood in the way of his
Another aspect that hampered Rosmini’s
cause was political, his activism in favor of the political unity of
Italy and his aversion, for Austrian dominion, an aversion they
SARAIVA MARTINS: Political ideas and
opinions are not per se determinant for beatification. It’s a fact that
the Church has already raised to the glory of the altars the Pope, Pius
IX, who also, precisely in the political sphere, after an initial
understanding, had opinions divergent from Rosmini’s. What one can say
is that the history afterward took the line that Rosmini had in some
In the Positio prepared by Father Papa there is mention of some
evidence that would lead one to think there were several attempts to
poison Rosmini. Irrefutable evidence of the matter is lacking, however.
But it doesn't surprise one that the Abbot might have been the target
of attempts at physical elimination
The relation with Pius IX is a
remarkable aspect of Rosmini’s life. It seems that at first Pope Mastai
wanted to create him cardinal, then instead the arrangement must have
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, there is
evidence to show that Pius IX had great esteem for Rosmini, that he
wanted to create him cardinal and even appoint him his Secretary of
State. But then came the political disturbances and the creation of the
Roman Republic in 1849 that buried the possibility. As some scholars
have shown, the enmity and antipathy of cardinals closer to Austria,
beginning with the influential Giacomo Antonelli, worked against
What, more in general, has been the
attitude of the various pontiffs towards the figure of Rosmini?
SARAIVA MARTINS: In general of great
esteem. The Positio quoted many documents and testimonies in that
respect. Among them let me recall the words pronounced in his time by
Paul VI in various speeches and the fact that John Paul II quoted him
positively in the Fides et ratio encyclical. Singular, then, the
relation with John Paul I.
In what sense?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The servant of God
Albino Luciani wrote, as young priest, a very critical thesis on
Rosmini and the person who answered him was a young Rosminian, Father
Clemente Riva, later auxiliary of Rome. In 1978, when Luciani became
Pope, he wanted to meet the cardinal vicar and his auxiliaries. When
Riva’s turn came, John Paul I said to Poletti: «Him, I
know…». But he did it with a wide smile. So Monsignor Riva – he
recounted it himself – who had had some apprehension about the meeting,
felt very relieved. To that needs to be added that there is reliable
evidence that Pope Luciani expressed the hope of rehabilitating
Rosmini’s reputation personally.
Rosmini’s best known work is certainly
The Five Wounds of the Holy Church. Put on the Index, it was fully
rehabilitated before the Index of forbidden books was itself abolished…
SARAIVA MARTINS: It’s a book in some
ways prophetic, anticipatory, perhaps too much so for its times. And
the destiny of prophets, in the Bible but also, alas, in the history of
the Church, is often that of being misunderstood and persecuted.
One of the five wounds pointed out by
Rosmini it is that of episcopal nominations…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Episcopal nominations
are always a very delicate point in the life of the Church. I’m aware
of it also as member, for years, of the Congregation for the Bishops.
Rosmini wanted to eradicate the influence by then deleterious that the
earthly powers exercised in the choice of pastors and, for that reason,
wished for the return to the ancient practice that saw bishops chosen
by the clergy and the people.
A practice really recoverable?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The norms whereby
bishops are chosen are not divine law and hence are always perfectible.
But direct involvement, as if elective, of the laity in the choice of a
bishop today would be unimaginable. Enough to think, among other
things, of the role the media of social communication might play in the
matter. In Rosmini’s time television still hadn’t been invented…
Another of the wounds pointed out by
Rosmini had to do with the liturgy…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Rosmini understood the
drama of a liturgy that was no longer comprehensible to the people and,
often, not even by the celebrants themselves. Also in this his
intuition anticipated the movement for liturgical renewal and of the
needs expressed in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican
Panoramic view of the complex of the Mount Calvary of Domodossola
Permit me a question maybe a little
off-the-cuff. What attitude might Rosmini take today towards the motu
proprio Summorum pontificum?
SARAIVA MARTINS: History isn’t made with
ifs. But I don’t believe that if Rosmini were living today he would be
against the motu proprio in question. Not least because he had a high
conception of freedom and would have much appreciated the gesture of a
Pope who grants believers the freedom they ask to be able to take part
in a liturgy that was in any case the official one of the Church for
centuries. Furthermore, keep in mind that Rosmini wished for both the
clergy and the people to be able to understand and love the liturgy,
and therewith wanted to affirm the need to pay attention also to the
study of the liturgy and not simply – as some believe – to translate it
into the common tongue.
What other aspects of Vatican II did
SARAIVA MARTINS: One of the aspects that
certainly make Rosmini a precursor of the last Council was that of
religious freedom. On that theme Rosmini really was a misunderstood
forerunner. The Dignitatis humanae owes him a great deal.
When Rosmini died he was under sixty. Is
there really a possibility that he was poisoned?
SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, in the
Positio prepared by Father Papa there is mention of some evidence that
would lead one to think there were several attempts to poison Rosmini.
Irrefutable evidence of the matter is lacking, however. But it doesn’t
surprise one that the abbot might have been the target of attempts at
physical elimination: he was certainly a troublesome figure, above all
for certain centers of political power.
The postulator of Rosmini’s cause has
disclosed that the overall cost of the cause itself and of the ceremony
of beatification is rather high. Forgive me the somewhat irreverent
formulation: does it cost so much to become a saint?
SARAIVA MARTINS: There’s no list of
charges for becoming blessed or saint. Certainly, every process has
inevitable costs: for the paper, the printing, for the proper fees for
the lay and ecclesiastical experts and for the postulators and their
colleagues. To that I should add that for “needy” causes, so to speak,
there is a specific fund that can be drawn on.
Rosminian website: http://www.rosmini.org/
Note: on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees Concerning the Thought and
Work of Fr Antonio Rosmini Serbati
by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
1. The Magisterium of the Church, which has the responsibility to
promote and safeguard the doctrine of the faith and preserve it from
the repeated dangers arising from certain currents of thought and
certain kinds of practice, was concerned during the 19th century with
the results of the thought of Fr Antonio Rosmini Serbati (1797-1855).
It put two of his works on the Index [of prohibited books] in 1849,
then in 1854 it removed all his works from examination, with the
doctrinal Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Index Dimittantur.
Later with the doctrinal Decree Post obitum the Congregation of the
Holy Office condemned in 1887 "40 Propositions" taken primarily from
posthumous works and from other works edited during his lifetime (Denz
2. A hasty and superficial reading of these different interventions
might make one think that they give rise to an intrinsic and objective
contradiction on the part of the Magisterium in its way of interpreting
the content of Rosmini's thought and in the way it evaluates it for the
People of God.
However, an attentive reading not just of the Congregation's texts, but
of their context and of the situation in which they were promulgated,
which also allows for historical development, helps one to appreciate
the watchful and coherent work of reflection that always kept in mind
the safeguarding of the Catholic faith and the determination not to
allow deviant or reductive interpretations of the faith. The present
Notice on the doctrinal value of the earlier decrees fits into this
train of thought.
3. The Decree of 1854, with which the works of Rosmini were removed
from examination, recognizes the orthodoxy of his thought and of his
declared intentions. In 1849, he wrote to Bl. Pius IX, in response to
the placing of two of his works on the Index, "In everything, I want to
base myself on the authority of the Church, and I want the whole world
to know that I adhere to this authority alone" (A. Rosmini, Lettera al
Papa Pio XI, in: Epistolario completo, Casale Monferrato, tip Panc
1892, vol. X, 541, lett. 6341). The Decree, however, did not intend to
state that the Magisterium adopted Rosmini's system of thought as a
possible instrument of philosophical-theological mediation for
Christian doctrine nor did it intend to express an opinion about the
speculative and theoretical plausibility of the author's positions.
4. The events following Rosmini's death required a certain distancing
of the Church from his system of thought and, in particular, from some
of its propositions. It is necessary to consider the principal
historical-cultural factors that influenced this distancing which
culminated in the condemnation of the "40 Propositions" of the Decree
Post obitum of 1887.
The first factor is the renewal of ecclesiastical studies promoted by
the Encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879) of Leo XIII, in the development of
fidelity to the thought of St Thomas Aquinas. The Papal Magisterium saw
the need to foster Thomism as a philosophical and theoretical
instrument, aimed at offering a unifying synthesis of ecclesiastical
studies, above all in the formation of priests in seminaries and
theological faculties, in order to oppose the risk of an eclectic
philosophical approach. The adoption of Thomism created the premises
for a negative judgement of a philosophical and speculative position,
like that of Rosmini, because it differed in its language and
conceptual framework from the philosophical and theological elaboration
of St Thomas Aquinas.
A second factor to keep in mind is the fact that the condemned
propositions were mostly extracted from posthumous works of the author.
These works were published without a critical apparatus capable of
defining the precise meaning of the expressions and concepts used. This
favoured a heterodox interpretation of Rosminian thought, as did the
objective difficulty of interpreting Rosmini's categories, especially,
when they were read in a neo-Thomistic perspective.
5. In addition to the historical-cultural and ecclesial factors of the
time, however, one must admit that one finds in Rosmini's system
concepts and expressions that are at times ambiguous and equivocal.
They require a careful interpretation and they can only be clarified in
the light of the overall context of the author's work. The ambiguity,
the misunderstanding and the difficulty of understanding some
expressions and categories, present in the condemned propositions,
explain how certain interpretations of an idealist, ontologist and
subjectivist stamp might be attributed to Rosmini by non-Catholic
thinkers; it was to warn against them in an objective way that the
Decree Post obitum was drawn up. Respect for historical truth also
requires underlining the important role played by the Decree of
condemnation of the "40 Propositions" because it not only expressed the
real concerns of the Magisterium against erroneous and deviant
interpretations of Rosminian thought that were in contrast to the
Catholic faith, but also foresaw what actually would happen with the
reception of Rosmini's thought in intellectual sectors of secular
philosophical culture, which were shaped by transcendental idealism or
by logical and ontological idealism. The inner consistency of the
judgement of the Magisterium in its interventions on this subject
appears from the fact that the doctrinal Decree Post obitum does not
make any judgement that the author formally denied any truth of faith,
but rather presents the fact that the philosophical-theological system
of Rosmini was considered insufficient and inadequate to safeguard and
explain certain truths of Catholic doctrine, which were recognized and
confessed by the author himself.
6. On the other hand, it has to be recognized that widespread, serious
and rigorous scientific literature on the thought of Anthony Rosmini,
written by theologians and philosophers belonging to various schools of
thought in the Catholic world, has shown that the interpretations
contrary to Catholic doctrine and faith do not really correspond to the
authentic position of Rosmini.
7. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following an
in-depth examination of the two doctrinal Decrees, promulgated in the
19th century, and taking into account the results emerging from
historiography and from the scientific and theoretical research of the
last ten years has reached the following conclusion:
The motives for doctrinal and prudential concern and
difficulty that determined the promulgation of the Decree Post obitum
with the condemnation of the "40 Propositions" taken from the works of
Anthony Rosmini can now be considered superseded. This is so because
the meaning of the propositions, as understood and condemned by the
Decree, does not belong to the authentic position of Rosmini, but to
conclusions that may possibly have been drawn from the reading of his
works. The questions of the plausibility of the Rosminian system, of
its speculative consistency and of the philosophical and theological
theories and hypotheses expressed in it remain entrusted to the
At the same time the objective validity of the
Decree Post obitum referring to the previously condemned propositions,
remains for whoever reads them, outside of the Rosminian system, in an
idealist, ontologist point of view and with a meaning contrary to
Catholic faith and doctrine.
8. In fact, the Encyclical Letter of John Paul II Fides et Ratio, named
Rosmini among the recent thinkers who achieved a fruitful exchange
between philosophy and the Word of God. At the same time it adds that
the fact of naming persons does not intend "to endorse every aspect of
their thought, but simply to offer significant examples of a process of
philosophical enquiry which was enriched by engaging the data of faith"
(Fides et ratio, n. 74).
9. It must also be affirmed that the speculative and intellectual
enterprise of Antonio Rosmini, characterized by great courage and
daring, which at times bordered on a risky rashness, especially in some
of his formulations, where he was trying to offer new possibilities to
Catholic doctrine in the face of the challenges of modern thought, was
undertaken in a spiritual and apostolic horizon that was honoured even
by his staunch enemies, and found expression in the kind of works that
led to the founding of the Institute of Charity and the Sisters of
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the
undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, confirmed this Note on the Force of the Doctrinal Decrees
concerning the thought and works of Fr Antonio Rosmini Serbati, adopted
in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation and ordered it published.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, 1 July 2001.
JOSEPH Cardinal RATZINGER
TARCISIO BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli
Blessed Liberty: The Posthumous Miracle of Antonio Rosmini
by Dario Antiseri, Sandro Magister
A beatification ceremony is approaching that is a miracle in its own
right: the beatification of the priest and philosopher Antonio Rosmini.
It's a miracle because just six years ago, the new blessed was still
under a condemnation issued in 1887 by the congregation of the Holy
Office, against 40 propositions drawn from his writings.
Absolution came on July 1, 2001, with a note from the then-prefect of
the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, cardinal Joseph
And it was only after the removal of this obstacle that the cause of
his beatification was put on the fast track.
Antonio Rosmini will be proclaimed blessed on Sunday, November 18, in
Novara, the northern Italian diocese where he spent the last part of
his life. Pope Benedict XVI has appointed cardinal Josè Saraiva
Martins, the prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints, to
preside over the celebration.
In addition to being a deeply spiritual priest, Rosmini was a profound
thinker and a prolific writer. The complete edition of his works, being
prepared by Città Nuova, will ultimately run to 80 large
volumes. Fr. Umberto Muratore, a religious of the congregation that
Rosmini founded, does not hesitate to compare him, as a philosopher, to
giants like Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine.
Of his books, the one still most widely read and translated is "Delle
cinque piaghe della santa Chiesa [Of the Five Wounds of the Holy
Church]." One of the wounds that he denounced was the ignorance of the
clergy and the people in celebrating the liturgy. But it is a mistake
to view him as a standard bearer for the abandonment of the use of
Latin. He wrote, instead, that "reducing the sacred rites to the
vernacular languages would mean resorting to a remedy worse than the
He was also a great political theorist. He was a dyed-in-the-wool
liberal during a period – the mid-19th century – when liberalism, for
the Church, was synonymous with the devil. In his book "Filosofia della
politica [Philosophy of Politics]," Rosmini expresses his admiration
for "Democracy in America," the masterpiece of his contemporary Alexis
de Tocqueville, a founding father of faith-friendly liberalism.
Rosmini anticipated by more than a century the statements on religious
freedom affirmed by Vatican Council II. He was a critic of Catholicism
as a "religion of the state." He was a tireless defender of the freedom
of citizens and of "intermediate bodies" against the abuses of an
It is not surprising, therefore, that those spreading Rosmini's thought
in the Catholic camp today are above all the proponents of a form of
liberalism open to religion, which in Europe has its leading figures in
the "Vienna school" of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek.
The portrait of Rosmini reproduced below was written by a prominent
representative of these Catholic thinkers, Dario Antiseri, a professor
at the Libera Università degli Studi "Guido Carli" in Rome, and
the author of a highly respected "History of Philosophy" translated
into a number of languages. His portrayal was published on November 1
in the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, "Avvenire."
Antiseri focuses his attention on just one aspect of the figure of
Rosmini, his political theories. But this may be the aspect that best
displays his originality. Rosmini's ideas are still distasteful to many
Catholics, bishops and priests included.
Even after Rosmini's beatification, his thought will still have a long
road ahead of it before it becomes accepted language in the Catholic
Rosmini, the Anti-totalitarian
by Dario Antiseri
Antonio Rosmini's first and fundamental concern in the political arena
was that of establishing the conditions needed to guarantee the dignity
and freedom of the human person. And it is in this perspective that, in
his view, the question of property becomes crucial.
In opposition to socialist economic theory, Rosmini clearly maintains
the connection between private property and individual freedom.
"Property – he writes in his 'Filosofia del diritto [Philosophy of
Law]' – truly expresses the close union between a thing and a person.
[...] Property is the originating principle of legal rights and duties.
Property constitutes a sphere around the person, of which that person
is the center: no one else may enter within this sphere."
Respect for another's property is respect for that other person.
Private property is a means for the person to defend himself from
encroachment on the part of the state.
Person and state: the former is fallible, the latter, never perfect.
And here is a famous passage taken from the "Philosophy of Politics":
"Perfectionism – meaning the system that believes it is possible to
achieve perfection in human affairs, and sacrifices present goods for
imagined future perfection – is a result of ignorance. It consists of
an arrogant prejudice that judges human nature too favorably, basing
itself upon pure conjecture, upon a postulate that cannot be granted,
and with an absolute lack of reflection upon natural limitations."
Perfectionism ignores the great principle of the limitations of things;
it does not consider that society is not composed of "angels confirmed
in grace," but rather of "fallible men"; and it forgets that every
government "is made up of persons who, being men, are all fallible."
The perfectionist neither uses nor abuses reason. And those who are
most intoxicated by the malignant idea of perfectionism are the
utopians. These "prophets of boundless happiness," with the promise of
an earthly paradise, work busily to build quite serviceable hells for
their fellow men.
Utopia, Rosmini asserts, is "the tomb of all true liberalism" and "far
from making men happy, it digs an abyss of misery; far from ennobling
them, it renders them as ignoble as beasts; far from pacifying them, it
introduces universal war, substituting power for law; far from
distributing wealth, it concentrates it; far from moderating the power
of the government, it makes this absolute; far from opening competition
to all in all areas, it destroys all competition; far from expanding
industry, agriculture, art, and commerce, it deprives them of any
incentives, blocking private initiative and spontaneous activity; far
from spurring minds to great invention and hearts to great virtue, it
smothers and crushes any vitality of the soul, rendering impossible any
noble effort, any magnanimity, any heroism; virtue itself is
prohibited, and even faith in virtue is destroyed."
And here it must be specified that connected with Rosmini's
anti-perfectionism is his staunch criticism of the arrogance of that
strain of thought that celebrated its own triumphs in the writings of
the Enlightenment, and then unleashed the horrors of the French
The goddess Reason was taken as symbolizing man's presumption that he
could take the place of God and create a perfect society. The judgment
that Rosmini levels against the fatal presumption of the Enlightenment
calls to mind similar assessments, those of Edmund Burke first of all,
and then those of Friedrich A. von Hayek.
An anti-perfectionist on account of the natural "infirmity of men,"
Rosmini is quick, again in his "Political Philosophy," to point out
that the critical barbs that he aims against perfectionism "are not
intended to deny the perfectibility of man and society. That man can
continually become more perfect as long as he lives is a precious
reality; it is a dogma of Christianity."
Rosmini's anti-perfectionism thus implies an even greater effort. From
this arises, among other things, his attention to what he calls "long,
public, free discussion," because it is from this kind of friendly
hostility that men can draw out the best from themselves and eliminate
the errors of their own projects and ideas.
We read further in the "Philosophy of Law":
"The individuals who comprise a people cannot understand each other if
they do not speak a great deal among themselves; if they do not
confront each other vigorously; if errors are not drawn forth from
minds and, once fully revealed, combated in all their forms."
As an anti-statist, and therefore a defender of "intermediate bodies,"
and as a champion of freedom, Rosmini was very attentive to the
sufferings and problems of the needy and the most disadvantaged.
But the duty of Christian solidarity did not make turn a blind eye to
the harms of state-run assistance programs.
"Government beneficence – he asserts – is in great demand in view of
the most serious difficulties, and instead of good it can produce great
harm, not only to the nation, but also to the same poor class that it
is pretending to help; in that case, instead of beneficence, it is
cruelty. Very often it is also cruel because it dries up private
sources of charity, discouraging citizens from helping the poor, who
are thought to be receiving help from the government, while instead
they are not and cannot except to the slightest extent."
So these are a few of Antonio Rosmini's positions, as a political
theorist. It is not difficult to understand their extreme relevance and
their astonishing timeliness.
And, together with this, the incalculable harm – not only to Catholic
culture - caused by the long marginalization of this priest-philosopher.
A biographical sketch
Antonio Rosmini was born in Rovereto, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
on March 24, 1797. He attended the public school. In August of 1816, he
took his final exams at the imperial secondary school, earning the
grade of "eminence" in all subjects, and a written evaluation that says
he is "endowed with tremendously keen intelligence."
In the autumn of 1816, he began to attend theology classes at the
university of Padua, where he received his degree on June 23, 1822.
Meanwhile, in 1821, he was ordained a priest by the bishop of Chioggia.
The patriarch of Venice, cardinal Ladislao Pyrcher, brought him to
Rome. There, introduced by the abbot Mauro Cappellari, the future Pope
Gregory XVI, he met twice with Pope Pius VIII, who gave this advice to
the priest-philosopher: "Remember, you must attend to writing books,
and not occupy yourself with the affairs of the active life. You handle
logic rather well, and we need writers who know how to make themselves
In 1830, he published his first great philosophical work, "A New Essay
on the Origin of Ideas."
On February 2, 1831, Rosmini's friend cardinal Cappellari rose to the
pontifical throne, and on September 20, 1839, the Institute of Charity
that Rosmini had founded received definitive approval.
In just over ten days, from November 18-30, 1832, Rosmini wrote "The
Five Wounds of the Holy Church," in which he denounces the dangers
threatening the Church's unity and freedom, and points out the remedies
for these. The book would be published in 1846.
In 1839, he published the "Treatise on Moral Conscience," in which he
argues that intelligence is illuminated by the light of being that is
the light of truth, and therefore there is something "divine" in man.
His theses were harshly attacked by some Jesuits.
In 1848, with a mandate from the king of Piedmont, Carlo Alberto di
Savoia, Rosmini returned to Rome on a diplomatic mission, with the aim
of persuading Pope Pius IX to preside over a confederation of Italian
states. But when the Piedmont government demanded that the pope join in
the war against Austria, Rosmini resigned from his diplomatic post.
But Pius IX ordered him to remain in Rome. He was spoken of as the next
cardinal secretary of state, and after the foundation of the Roman
Republic, as prime minister. But he refused to preside over a
revolutionary government that stripped the pope of his freedom. On
November 24, 1848, Pius IX fled to Gaeta. Rosmini followed him. But he
quickly fell into disgrace by opposing the political line of cardinal
Giacomo Antonelli, who wanted to use foreign armies in support of the
pope. In 1849, Rosmini left the company of Pius IX.
During his trip back to northern Italy, on his way to Stresa, the news
reached him that his words "The Five Wounds of the Holy Church" and
"The Civil Constitution according to Social Justice" had been placed on
the Index of forbidden books.
Under attack from the Jesuits, but bolstered by visits from his
friends, including the author Alessandro Manzoni, Rosmini spent his
last years in Stresa, guiding the two congregations he had founded and
writing his loftiest work, the "Theosophia."
Tried by the Vatican for the first time in 1854, he was absolved. He
died in Stresa on July 1, 1855. The Church's condemnation came in 1887,
against 40 propositions drawn from his works. The revocation of this
condemnation came in 2001.
Rosmini and Rosminianism
Antonio Rosmini Serbati, philosopher, and founder of the Institute of
Charity, born 24 March, 1797, at Rovereto, Austrian Tyrol; died 1 July,
1855, at Stresa, Italy; was educated at home until his twentieth year,
and, after a three years' course at the University of Padua, returned
to Rovereto to prepare for Holy orders. He was ordained priest at
Chioggia, 21 April, 1821, and in 1822 received at Padua the Doctorate
in Theology and Canon Law. In 1823 he went to Rome with Mgr. Pyrker,
Patriarch of Venice, met Consalvi and other prominent men, and was
encouraged by Pius VII to undertake the reform of philosophy. The next
three years (1823-26) he spent in philosophical pursuits at Rovereto,
devoting himself especially to the study of St. Thomas. He had already
adopted as principles of conduct:
* never to assume external works of charity on his
own initiative, but, until summoned by some positive outward
manifestation of God's will, to busy himself with his own
sanctification, a thing always pleasing in the Divine sight (principle
* at any clear sign from God, to assume with
alacrity any external work of charity, without, so far as concerned his
higher will personal preferences or repugnances (principle of
On these maxims he based the rules of the Institute of Charity which,
at the instance of Maddalena, Marchioness of Canossa, and of John
Loewenbruck, a zealous priest from German Lorraine, he founded in 1828
at Monte Calvario near Domodossola. In 1828 he again went to Rome,
where he was encouraged by Leo XII and later by Pius VIII to pursue his
philosophical studies and consolidate his institute. During this visit
he published his "Maxims of Christian Perfection" and his "Nuovo saggio
sull' origine delle idee" (1829; tr. "Origin of Ideas", London,
1883-84). In the autumn of 1830 he inaugurated the observance of the
rule at Calvario, and from 1834 to 1835 had charge of a parish at
Rovereto. About this time the pope made over to Rosmini several
missions tendered him in England by the vicars Apostolic, as also the
Abbey of S. Michele della Chiusa in Piedmont. Later foundations
followed at Stresa and Domodossola. The Constitutions of the institute
were presented to Gregory XVI and, after some discussion regarding the
form of the vow of religious poverty, were formally approved 20
December, 1838. On 25 March, 1839, the vows of the institute were taken
by twenty Fathers in Italy and by six in England (Spetisbury and Prior
Park). The Letters Apostolic ("In sublimi", 20 Sept., 1839) formally
recorded the approval of the institute and its rule, and appointed
Rosmini provost general for life. The institute then spread rapidly in
England and Italy, and requests for foundations came from various
countries. The publication of Rosmini's "Trattato della coscienza
morale" (Milan, 1839) led to a sharp controversy. Against Rosmini were
writers like Melia, Passaglia, Rozaven, Antonio Ballerini, all members
of the Society of Jesus, in which Rozaven held the office of assistant
to the general. On the defensive, along with Rosmini, were L. Eastaldi,
Pestalozza, Pagamini. For fifteen years the wordy war was protracted,
with a truce from 1843 to 1846, due to an injunction of Gregory XVI
enjoining perpetual silence on both sides. Pius IX, who succeeded
Gregory in 1846, showed himself favourable to the institute, and
various new foundations in England attested its vitality. In 1848
Rosmini published (Milan) his "Costituzione secondo la giustizia
sociale" and "Cinque piaghe della chiesa"; the latter against
Josephism, especially in thematter of Austrian episcopal appointments
in Northern Italy. In August of the same year, he was sent to Rome by
King Charles Albert of Piedmont to enlist the pope on the side of Italy
as against Austria. Pius IX appointed him one of the consultors to
deliberate on the definability of the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception, and at the outbreak of the revolution asked Rosmini to
share his exile at Gaeta. Antonelli's influence, however, prevailed and
Rosmini left Gaeta, 19 June, 1849. His works, "Costitunone" and "Cinque
piaghe", were condemned in August, a sentence which he unhesitatingly
accepted. A further attack was made on him in the "Postille" and the
"Lettere di un prete Bolognese" (1848). Pius IX (1850) referred the
"Postille" to the Congregation of the Index, which rejected it as
false. In view of other charges the pope ordered an examination of all
Rosmini's works. The decision, rendered 3 July, 1854, was that all the
works be dismissed (esse dimittenda), that the investigation implied
nothing disparaging to the author, to the institute founded by him, or
to his exceptional services to the Church, and that to prevent any
renewal and dissemination of charges and strife, silence was for the
third time imposed on both parties. Within a year after this decision
Rosmini died. His body reposes in the Church of the Santissimo
Crocifisso built by him at Stresa. (See ROSMINIANS.)
THE ROSMINIAN SYSTEM
According to Rosmini, philosophy is "the science of the ultimate
reasons or grounds of human knowledge". The philosopher at the outset
must answer the questions: What is knowledge? What is thought? Can we
be certain of what we know? Rosmini's answer is given in his ideology
and logic. Intellect, he holds, is essentially different from sense;
thought is objective, sensation is subjective. The term of the
intellectual act is seen in such a way that the seer, at the moment, is
conscious neither of himself nor of any relation with himself as
seeing. The primal and essential act of human intelligence, thus
terminating in its object, is intuition — an attitude rather than an
activity, in which the mind pronounces no judgment on what is known,
but merely receives the communication of the intelligible object. All
our concepts, when analyzed, reveal being (somethingness) as their
essential constituent; or, conversely, human concepts are nothing but
determinations more or less complex of the simple and elementary notion
of being. This fundamental idea is indeterminate and general, conveying
to the intellect no knowledge of particular things, but simply
manifesting itself as the essence of being. Our abstraction does not
produce it, but merely discovers it already present in thought. Being,
as it appears within man's experience, has two modes, each governed by
its own conditions and laws each with well-defined attributes, diverse,
but not contradictory. Manifesting itself to the mind as the
intelligible object, not exerting any stimulus upon the intellect, but
simply illuminating it, this is being in its ideal mode. As it acts or
is acted upon in feeling, modifying the human subject in sensation,
constituting the sentient principle in action and passion, this is
being in its real mode. The former is essentially objective, simple,
and one — universal, necessary, immutable, eternal; the latter is
subjective and, in our world, contingent, particular, temporal,
manifold, and almost infinitely varied in aspect. Ideal being is not
God, but we may call it, says Rosmini, an appurtenance of God, and even
Divine, for its characteristics are not those of created finite things,
and its ultimate source must be in God. If thought had in it no element
transcending the contingent and finite, all knowledge of the absolute
and infinite would be inexplicable, and truth, uncertain and variable,
would exist only in name.
To explain our knowledge of particular real entities, Rosmini says that
our knowledge of realities reduces itself to a judgment whereby we
predicate existence of what is felt by us. Real entities act upon man's
senses, and he immediately recognizes them as particular activities of
that essence of being already manifested under another mode in
intuition. Because of its simplicity, the human ego, or
subject-principle, is constrained to bring together and collate its
feeling and its knowledge of being, and thus it perceives being
energizing in the production of feeling. This act of the human subject
whereby it cognizes real entities, Rosmini calls reason. By sense we
are introduced to realities, but we could not know them as beings
unless we already possessed the idea of being. This is given to our
mind prior to all perception or individual cognition; it is not
acquired by any act of thought, but is implanted in us by the Creator
from the beginning of our existence: it is innate, and constitutes for
us the light of reason. Furthermore, it is the very form of the human
intelligence, a form not multiple, but one — not subjective, but
objective — i.e., not a quality or attitude or component of the human
subject, but distinct from it and superior to it, existing in an
absolute mode and called theform of the mind because, in manifesting
itself to man, it draws forth and creates, so to speak, the act of his
Logic, says Rosmini, is "the science of the art of reasoning". The
scope of reasoning is certainty, i.e., a firm persuasion conformable to
truth. The truth of a thing is, in last analysis, its being, and since
being is the form of the human intellect, it follows that a criterion
of truth and certainty lies at the base of all thought and reasoning.
The principles which govern reflection and argument are founded on the
primitive intuition of being. "Being is the object of thought"; this is
the principle of cognition, and it is antecedent to the principle of
contradiction. Error is found, not in the idea of being, which is
without any determination, nor in the principles of reasoning, which
simply express the essential object of the mind in the form of a
proposition without adding anything foreign, but in reflection, and
hence in the will, which usually initiates reflection. Logic shows us
how to use reflection so as to attain truth and avoid error.
The Sciences of Perception are psychology and cosmology. The subject of
psychology is the ego in its primal condition, i.e., stripped of its
acquired relations and developments. The soul is felt by and through
itself; it is essentially a principle of feeling. "The human soul is an
intellective and sensitive subject or principle, having by nature the
intuition of being and a feeling whose term is extended, besides
certain activities consequent upon intelligence and sensitivity." This
"extended term" is twofold: space, which, simple and immovable,
underlies all sense phenomena as the idea of being underlies the
phenomena of thought; and body, a limited extended force which the
sentient principle passively receives and thereby acquires
individuation. It is a favourite doctrine of Rosmini that the extended
can exist only in synthesis with a simple, immaterial principle.
Considered apart from this principle, the material corporeal term lacks
the unity and coherence necessary for existence and permanence. Our own
body, the "subjective body", is felt directly as the proper term of the
human sentient principle and is the seat of corporeal feelings. Other
(external) bodies, since they modify not the soul, but the bodily term
in connexion with the soul, are felt by an extra-subjective perception.
We feel our own bodies as we feel external bodies, through vision,
touch etc.; but we also feel them immediately with a fundamental
feeling, always identical and substantial, in which no distinct limits,
figure, or relation of parts can be assigned. Shape, hardness, colour
etc., belong to the extra-subjective world. But the body is not merely
felt by the soul; it is also intellectually perceived by the soul in a
primordial and immanent judgment, whereby being is applied to it (the
body) in the way above described. In this perception is found the true
nexus intimately uniting soul and body. The body is the felt-understood
term of the human principle which in this intellective synthesis
performs its first act as a rational soul and exerts a real physical
influence on its bodily term. Hence Rosmini's definition of life as
"the incessant production of all those extra-subjective phenomena which
precede, accompany, and follow parallel with the corporeal and material
Every time that by generation an animated organism is produced,
perfectly constituted according to the human type, the vivifying,
sentient principle rises to the vision of the intelligible object,
ideal being. This happens in virtue of a primordial law, established by
God in the creative act. There is, however, no chronological passing
from sentience to intelligence, as if one could assign an instant in
which the human soul was purely sentient and another following in which
it had become rational. All is consummated in a single point of time.
The soul's immortality is deduced from its nature as an intellective
principle having for its object-term the eternal and necessary idea of
being. This is independent of space and time, and the act of intuition
continues even after the bodily term has been dissolved by death, and
the soul's immanent perception of its body has been for a period
Cosmology, which considers the ordered universe, the nature of
contingent real being and its cause, is not a complete science in
itself; it must be treated in connexion with the sciences of reasoning
in which reflection, testing the observations of intuition and
perception, discovers new truths and arrives at the existence of beings
beyond the reach of intuition and perception.
The Sciences of Reasoning are ontological and deontological. The former
comprise ontology and natural theology. Ontology treats of being in all
its extent as known to man, viz., ideal being, the necessary object of
the intellect; real being, i.e., subjective force and feeling; moral
being, the relation between real and ideal — a special act of
recognition and adherence on the part of the subject harmonizing it
with the object. Light,life, love; intellect, sense, will — these are
the forms under which the essence of being manifests itself in man's
world; they are also the foundation of the categories. Natural theology
treats of the Absolute Being, God. The existence of God is known, not
through perception or direct intuition, but through reasoning. Ideal
being is being under only one of its forms and therefore incomplete; in
the real world we meet only partial realizations of being. Comparing in
reflection the products of our perception with the essence of being
manifested in intuition, we see that they do not exhaust the
possibilities of that essence; yet this must find its full realization
in some way far transcending our experience; it cannot, in that
fulness, be finite and imperfect as are the things of this world. This
knowledge of the Absolute Being Rosmini calls negative-ideal; it tells
us not so much what God is as what God is not.
Definite proofs of God's existence are furnished by being in its
essence and in each of its forms. The essence of being is eternal,
necessary, infinite; but these attributes it would not possess if it
did not subsist identical under the other two forms of reality and
morality, complete and perfect. Where it exists under all these forms,
it is being in every way infinite and absolute, i.e., God. Again, the
ideal form that creates intelligence is an eternal object and hence
demands an eternal subject with infinite wisdom — God. The real form of
being is contingent, and it therefore postulates a First Cause in whose
essence subsistence is included. Finally, the binding force of the
moral law is eternal, necessary, absolute, and its ultimate sanction
must be found in an Absolute Being in whom the essence of holiness
subsists. Thus man naturally does not perceive God; his knowledge of
God is but of a negative kind. In the supernatural order of grace, the
real communication of God to man, a new light super-added to that of
reason brings man into conjunction with God's own reality, which
reveals itself to him in an incipient and obscure manner, yet acts upon
the soul with positive efficacy. Thus the Christian becomes a new
creature, consors divinœ naturœ.
The deontological sciences treat of the perfections of beings and the
ways in which these perfections may be acquired, produced, or lost.
Amongst them, ethics, the science of virtue, is prominent (see
"Compendio di Etica", Rome, 1907). Each moral act contains three
elements: the law, the subject's free will, and the relation (agreement
or disagreement) between law and will. Man is not a law unto himself;
the moral imperative must come from a higher source, from the necessary
and universal object of the understanding Being, manifested to the
mind, has an order of its own, and the various entities we know though
it occupy different places in the scale of excellence. We cognize them
by an act of intellect; we recognize them by a practical act of our
will, adhering to the good we see in them with an intensity determined
by the moral exigence of the object. The idea of an entity, therefore,
as the medium which reveals its excellence, clothes itself with the
authority of law; and as all ideas are but determinations of the idea
of being, the first of laws and the first principle of obligation is:
"Follow the light of reason", or "Recognize being". Besides the
testimony of consciousness and the consent of mankind, the proofs for
free-will, i.e., the power of choice between objective good (duty) and
subjective good (pleasure, self-interest), are closely bound up with
Rosmini's theory of man and the soul. Man is stimulated by sensation
and his subjective modifications; at the same time he is illumined by
the light of being eternal and absolute whence he can draw strength to
overcome the allurements of sense and unite himself to the absolute
In reference to the third element Rosmini used a distinction which led
to sharp controversy. By peccatum (sin) he means the sinful condition
of the will in its antagonism to objective good; by culpa (sin as
fault), the same condition considered relatively to its cause, free
will. Ordinarily, peccatum is also culpa, and every sin is traceable to
a free agent. But, in abnormal circumstances, there may be peccatum
where there is not, at the moment, culpa. The acts of an acquired
sinful habit, when performed without advertence or deliberation, are
contrary to law, though at the moment the will is not responsible. They
are culpœ and imputable, but to complete the imputability one must link
them with the first free wicked acts whence the habit resulted.
Original sin is a true sin yet not a culpa, not imputable to the person
in whom it is found as to its free cause. The responsible cause is to
be sought in the free will of Adam, whose sin was both peccatum and
culpa. Rosmini wrote voluminously in defence of the traditional
Catholic doctrine of original sin. Conscience he defines as "a
speculative judgment on the morality of the practical judgment"; and
since morality, he points out, belongs to an order of reflection
anterior to the conscience, there may exist in man moral or immoral
conditions apart from conscience — a doctrine which he also applied to
original sin and to certain states of virtue and vice. Regarding
probabilism, he distinguishes, in the question of the doubtful law,
what is intrinsically evil from what is evil only on account of some
extrinsic cause, for example, prohibition by positive law, and lays
down the rule: "If there is a doubt respecting the existence of the
positive law, and the doubt cannot be resolved, the law is not binding;
but if there is a doubt in a matter pertaining to the natural law and
relating to an evil inherent in action, the risk of the evil must be
avoided." This theory provoked controversy, but Rosmini maintained that
it accorded substantially with the teaching of St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
The science of rational right arises from the protection which the
moral law affords to the useful good. The classification of the goods
and rights which we possess in our relations with our fellow-men, is
based on freedom and property. Freedom is the power, which each one
has, to use all his faculties and resources so long as he does not
encroach on the rights of others. Property is the union of goods with
the human personality by a triple bond, physical, intellectual, and
moral. The moral bond guards the other two, for the moral law forbids
one man to wrest from another what he has united to himself by
affection and intelligence. The subject of right may be either the
individual man or man in society. Concerning the three societies
necessary for the full development of the human race, Rosmini
speculates at length in his "Filosofia del diritto" (Milan, 1841-43).
Rosmini applied his philosophical principles to education in "Della
educazione cristiana" (Milan, 1856) and especially, "Del principio
supremo della metodica" (Turin, 1857; tr. by Grey, "The Ruling
Principle of Method Applied to Education", Boston, 1893). His basic
idea is that education must follow the natural order of development.
The mind of the child must be led from the general to the particular.
The natural and necessary order of all human thoughts is expressed in
the law: "A thought is that which becomes the matter, or provides the
matter of another thought." The whole sum of thoughts which can occur
to the human mind is classified in divers orders of which Rosmini
enumerates five. To the first order belong thoughts whose matter is not
taken from antecedent thoughts; each of the successive orders is
characterized by its matter being taken from the order immediately
preceding it. The ruling principle of method is: Present to the mind of
the child (and this applies to man in general), first, the objects
which belong to the first order of cognitions, then those which belong
to the second order, and so on, taking care never to lead the child to
a cognition of the second order without having ascertained that his
mind has grasped those of the first order relative to it, and the same
with regard to the cognitions of the third, fourth, and other higher
orders. In applying this principle to the different orders, Rosmini
explains the cognitions proper to each, the corresponding activities,
the instruction which they require, the moral and religious education
which the child should receive. Both in his general theory of adapting
education to the needs of the growing mind and in the importance he
attached to instinct, feeling, and play, Rosmini anticipated much that
is now regarded as fundamental in education. "The child", he says, "at
every age must act." To regulate the different kinds of activity, and
to make each kind reasonable, is really to educate. It is in the
kindergarten system of Fröbel, the contemporary of Rosmini, that
these principles are most fully worked out.
The most important of Rosmini's posthumous works, the "Teosofia"
(ontology and natural theology), was published in five volumes (Turin,
1859-64; Intra, 1864-74). In 1876 some Catholic newspapers and
periodicals in Italy, interpreting the "Dimittantur" decree of 1854,
declared that Rosmini's works were open both to criticism and to
censure. The Rosminian school on the contrary maintained that, while
the decree gave no positive approval, it at least guaranteed that the
books examined contained nothing worthy of censure and could therefore
be safely read, and their conclusions accepted by Catholics. This view
seemed to be confirmed by the Master of the Sacred Palace, who, in a
letter to the "Osservatore Romano" (16 June, 1876), reminded the editor
of the silence enjoined on both parties and stated that no theological
censure could be inflicted. A month later, the "Osservatore Cattolico"
of Milan, as ordered by the Prefect of the Congregation of the Index,
acknowledged its interpretation to be erroneous.
After the death of Pius IX, the controversy was renewed. An answer of
the Index was given (21 June, 1880) that "dimittantur signifies only
this — a work dismissed is not prohibited" — and another (5 Dec., 1881)
that a work dismissed is not to be held as free from every error
against faith and morals and may be criticized both philosophically and
theologically without incurring the note of temerity. Both answers were
taken by the adversaries of Rosmini's doctrines to justify new
censures, while the Rosminian writers contended that these answers in
no degree rendered untenable the position they had always occupied. On
14 Dec., 1887, a decree of the Inquisition condemned forty propositions
taken from the works of Rosmini. The decree, published 7 March, 1888,
lays special stress on the posthumous works which, it says, developed
and explained doctrines contained in germ in the earlier books; but the
propositions condemned have no theological nota attached. About
one-half of the propositions refer to Rosmini's ontology and natural
theology; the remainder, to his teachings on the soul, the Trinity, the
Eucharist, the supernatural order and the beatific vision (Denzinger,
"Enchir.", 1891 sq.). Some of the propositions were clearly taught in
the works examined in 1854; others repeated what Rosmini had said over
and over again in the principal books published during his lifetime.
The superior general of the Institute of Charity enjoined obedience and
submission on the members. Leo XIII in a letter to the Archbishop of
Milan (1 June, 1889) plainly stated that he approved and confirmed the
decree. Cardinal Mazella discussed the propositions exhaustively in
"Rosminianarum propositionum trutina theologica" (Rome, 1892). This
brought out a reply from an erudite layman, Prof. Giuseppe Morando,
under the title "Esame critico delle 40 proposizioni Rosminiane"
Besides the works already mentioned, Rosmini wrote a large number of
treatises the more important of which are: "Il Rinnovamento della
Filosofia in Italia" (Milan, 1836); "Psicologia", (Novara, 1843; Turin,
1887; tr., London, 1884-88); "Logica", (Turin, 1853; Intra, 1868); "La
Filosofia della Morale" (Milan, 1831);" L'Antropologia in servizio
della Scienza Morale" (Milan, 1838); "Antropologia sopranaturale"
(Casale, 1884); "Teodicea" (Milan, 1845); "Filosofia della Politica"
(Milan, 1858); "La societa e il suo fine" (Milan, 1839); "V. Gioberti e
il Panteismo" (Milan, 1847); "Introduzione alla Filosofia" (Casale,
1850); "Introd. al Vangelo secondo S. Giovanni" (Turin, 1882).