Rosmini website

                        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 rehabilitation.
      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 beatification.
      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 returned …
      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 way imagined.

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 been broken…
      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 Rosmini.
      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 II.
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 Rosmini anticipate?
      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:


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 3201-3241).

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 theoretical debate.

    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 Divine Providence.

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.


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 Ratzinger.

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 disease."

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 omnipotent state.

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 Church.

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 Revolution.

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 feared."

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 of passivity);
    * 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 indifference).

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.)


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 intelligence.

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 feeling (subjective)".

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 destroyed.

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 good.

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" (Milan, 1905).

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).