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The Five Wounds of the Church


It is not possible to examine in detail this testimony of Rosmini’s great love for the Church. What follows are simple notes aimed at presenting some of the more general points:

1. It is undoubtedly the most famous of Rosmini’s books, written with great passion and love for the Church. It caused him immense personal damage, but he felt that the renewal of the Church was of such great urgency that he had to be prepared to suffer for it. Rosmini borrowed the image of the “crucified Church” from Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254).

2. Rosmini wrote it in 1832, but did not publish it, “the time did not seem ripe”. In 1846, a new Pope was elected, Pius IX “who seems destined to renew our age and give the Church the impetus for a new, glorious stage of unimaginable development”: Rosmini published it in 1848 for a circle of friends “who have shared my sorrow, and now look forward with me in hope”. It was issued immediately in other editions, against Rosmini’s wishes, by pirate publishing houses. It had a swift and wide diffusion. There was also an English edition of the book published in London, translated by an Anglican canon.

3. With hindsight we can say that the publication of the book in 1848 was a great mistake, given the agitated political situation in most of Europe. It was bound to raise fierce opposition from all quarters, but especially from the Austrian Government. Austria, who was occupying most of North Italy, viewed Rosmini as “our most formidable enemy” and “the evil genie of Pius IX” (from a letter of the Austrian Ambassador in Rome, 1849). Rosmini was a subject of the Austrian Empire (Rovereto was under Austria at that time), but he did not hide his strong desire for the independence of Italy as a confederation of free Italian states. Moreover, in the Five Wounds, Rosmini called for full freedom of the Church in all rightful things, but especially in the appointment of bishops, and in the full ownership of all Church’s properties. Austria, on the contrary, exercised at the time an absolute control over the appointment of bishops in the Austrian Empire, and the clergy and the properties of the Church were dependent on its authority.

4. But why were 1848-1849 the worst years for the publication and diffusion of the Five Wounds of holy Church?

5. Rosmini had been sent to Rome as a special envoy of the king of Piedmont, Carlo Alberto, with the task of persuading the Pope to agree to a concordat and to accept to be the head of a Confederation of free Italian States. The Pope, who had Rosmini in the greatest esteem, welcomed him and told him to get ready to be made a Cardinal. Everybody at the curia was sure that Rosmini would have been made the next Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the political situation in Rome deteriorated, with the assassination of the Prime minister of the Papal States and a popular uprising. Priests and some Cardinals were killed, and the Pope was forced to flee Rome in disguise. He made his way to the kingdom of Naples and he remained at Gaeta for over a year under the protection of the king of Naples and of the Austrian Government. He asked Rosmini to follow him to Gaeta, and initially he relied heavily on Rosmini for advice. Things changed drastically for Rosmini with the arrival of the Austrian ambassador, “welcomed like a Messiah”. The Pope was easily persuaded that the safety and security of the Pope and of the papal States was with the traditional protectors, Austria, Naples and any other Power that opposed movements of independence or of liberalisation. The Pope told Rosmini that he was no longer a “constitutionalist”, and that he had abandoned all his liberal views. Moreover, Rosmini found almost impossible to approach the Pope, and the Cardinals, led by Cardinal Antonelli, a staunch supporter of Austria, made sure that Rosmini had no influence on the Pope. And indeed, they used the Five Wounds as a powerful tool against Rosmini.

6. Rosmini was asked by the Pope, under pressure from some of the Cardinals, to clarify his teaching on the following suspected opinions found in the Five Wounds:
1) The divine right of clergy and people in the election of bishops;
2) The use of the vernacular in the Liturgy;
3) Criticism of Scholasticism;
4) The separation of Church and State. Rosmini clarified all points and sent a written paper to the Pope. He sent a second letter, but to no avail:  people at the papal court made sure that no letter from Rosmini reached the Pope.
    Soon afterwards, the police of the kingdom of Naples began harassing Rosmini with the clear intent to have him out of the kingdom and in no position of influencing the Pope.

7. Rosmini left Naples on 15th July 1849. As he was making his way towards Stresa, on 13th August 1849 he received the letter from the Congregation of the Index which stated that on the order of the Pope the Congregation had met (in May-June, when Rosmini was in Naples, but the meetings had been kept secret from him) and had decreed that the book “Of the Five Wounds of Holy Church” had been condemned and placed in the Index of forbidden books. The Pope had approved the decree and asked for submission. Rosmini submitted at once, “I had been kept in the dark about the meetings of the Congregation and I was never told the reasons for the condemnation. I sent my full submission… Sit nomen Domini benedictum”. He wrote in his letter of submission: “As a devoted and obedient son of the Holy See, which through the grace of God I have always been in my heart and publicly professed to be, I declare that I submit to the prohibition of this book, absolutely, simply, and as completely as possible, begging you to inform the Holy Father and the Sacred Congregation”. A few days later he wrote to the Master of the Sacred Palace: “I will add that by the grace of God alone, I have never in my life had a temptation against the faith, nor have I ever hesitated a moment to condemn anything that the Holy See might find wrong in my writings or elsewhere”.

8. No official reason for the condemnation was ever given. Rosmini was assured that nothing wrong theologically had been found in the book; his own view was that the book had been condemned because of the pressure of Austria on account of his insistence that the elections of bishops are no matter for the State but for the Church and that clergy and people have a divine right to elect their bishops, with the approval and final say of the Pope.

9. The book was taken out of the Index just a few years before Vatican II. It was widely known to the Bishops who took part in Vatican II, and many of the ideas of the book found their way in the Vatican II Documents. Pope Paul VI called the Five Wounds of Holy Church “a prophetic book”. It is the opinion of many that some of the Wounds are still waiting for a cure, and we may need perhaps a Vatican III to tackle more resolutely the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wounds; and even the First and Second Wounds are still very much open, although the Church of Vatican II has produced important documents towards “healing” them.

10. The Five Wounds of Holy Church is a precious theological book on the Church that Rosmini loved with all his heart. Here are some important points which have been taken up by Vatican II and subsequent Papal Documents:
• The living union of clergy and laity in the one People of God. • The active and     intelligent participation of all to the Liturgy
• Christianity as a “supernatural” reality and mystery.
• The centrality of Scriptures and of the Sacraments.
• The return to ancient traditions and to the Fathers of the Church.
• The necessity of a living theology.
• The profound education of the clergy, on Scripture, Fathers, Traditions.
• The collegiality of the bishops with the Pope at the Head.
• The renewed awareness amongst Christians of the Bishop as Father and Shepherd of the local Church.
• The presence and the consent of  the People of God (clergy and laity) in the election of their Shepherd, the Bishop.
• The responsibility of the whole People of God for the Church.
• The freedom of the Church from political powers and earthly riches. • The real poverty of bishop and clergy, chosen as a vocation.
• The work of charity of the Church for the poor to whom the riches of the Church partly belong.



The Five Wounds:

1. The division between people and clergy at worship
2. The insufficient education of the clergy
3. Disunion amongst the Bishops
4. The nomination of Bishops in the hands of civil government
5. The enslavement of Church’s goods (by the State and by the lack of poverty of the members of the Church)