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Two works put on the Index
'And who could be grieved by love?'
The letter consigned to the papal messenger in Naples, perhaps did not reach the Pope’s hands, because there was no reply. On the contrary, in June 1849, without any warning, two works were put on the Index, Delle cinque piaghe della santa chiesa and the other on a political subject La Costituzione civile secondo la giustizia sociale [The Civil Constitution according to Social Justice]. In this writing one sees the ardent participation of don Antonio in the Italian Risorgimento: he supported the unity and independence of Italy from Austria through a federation of the States, as the stage to complete political unity. The subject returns in other works, as in the Progetti di Costituzione per lo Stato Pontificio [Plans for a Constitution for the Papal State], written in 1848, with the intention of helping the Holy See.
With what state of mind did don Antonio accept the condemnation? He confided to his friend, Paolo Barola: “..the unexpected happening which I met with so recently, that of seeing my two little works put on the Index of prohibited books, has in no way altered my peace of mind and the contentment of my soul. Rather it has led to feelings of gratitude and praise for that divine Providence, which disposing all things with love, allowed this to occur, again solely out of love.”
Total abandonment to divine Providence, besides being his constant experience, became his teaching in the Massime di perfezione cristiana and in his letters of spiritual direction, where it is proposed as a regular foundation of life.
The topic of Providence was always most dear to him. From his youth he made it an object of research and deep study. This culminated in his mature work the Teodicea [Theodicy].
In the difficult months of his stay in Naples don Antonio distanced himself from those sad events, immersing himself in lofty meditations on the Vangelo di Giovanni [St John’s Gospel]. Having begun it a year earlier, he now took it up again, while the storm raged around about him.
The Introduzione al Vangelo secondo Giovanni [Introduction to the Gospel according to John] remains, however, incomplete and was published posthumously. Because of the sublime atmosphere which it breathes, one would think it had been written at a time of peace and serenity even external. It consists in a deep meditation on the Word, light of the soul, and the incorporation of the human being into Christ, by means of baptism and sharing in the eucharistic life, whose effects endure beyond earthly life. These are pages of lofty spiritual theology and a witness to intimate mystical experience!
With the thickening of the clouds over his works and after the two works were placed on the Index, don Antonio was kept at a distance from the Pope and compelled to take his leave of him. Nevertheless the intrigues of the Court and the Bourbon police did not succeed in preventing a last audience in which the Pope confided in him; “They fear that you have influence over me.”
He journeyed, then, back to Stresa where the community of his brethren waited for him. He returned there with the sad experience of being misunderstood, mocked, suspected and accused about what he held most dear: his faith and his attachment to the Pope. In the world’s eyes he could seem a failure. But he did not think so. He thanked the Lord and blessed him for his sad experience because he alone knows what is truly good for the soul. He was used to “looking on things from on high”. They are his words. To his friend don Michele Parma, who was close to him spiritually, he replied: “…I thank you….because you want to share with me the strange and almost unbelievable events by which Providence leads me, though its immutable counsels never fail. When I meditate on these things I wonder at them; and as I wonder, I love; loving them I celebrate them, celebrating them I give thanks; and thanking God I am full of happiness. And how else could I act, since I know by reason and by faith, and feel deep within my spirit, that everything God does, or wishes or allows, is done by an eternal, an infinite, an essential love? And who could be grieved by love?”
Having returned to community, he lived for some time in the noviciate house, near the Sanctuary of the Crucified, above Stresa. In November 1850 with a group of brethren he moved to the lakeside, to the Bolongaro palace, a gift of Signora Anna Maria to the Institute of Charity. This elegant dwelling was suddenly transformed into a type of religious house. And at the same time a cultural centre where don Antonio welcomed numerous guests who came to him to draw on his wisdom and entrust themselves to his spiritual guidance. Among the many who came we can single out don Bosco, the theologian Paolo Barone, professors don Pietro Corte and don Alessandro Pestalozza, Father Vercellone, Father Lacordaire, the future Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, the Marchesi Arconati and Boncompagni, Counts Collegno, Cibrario, Dandolo, Gustavo Benso di Cavour, friends Ruggero Bonghi and Manzoni.
For don Antonio, being guests meant being part of the religious family in which everything was shared, even prayer.
It was precisely at this time that Manzoni, as if to comfort his friend in his misunderstandings and disappointments, wrote the Dialogo dell’ Invenzione, in which he extolled Rosminian philosophy, as that which offers the most secure foundation of all knowledge.
Meanwhile don Antonio continued his fatherly and wise care of his religious Institutes which over the years had increased in members and works. He lived in an even more intimate seclusion with God, continuing his philosophical studies. To this period can be dated his most sublime philosophical work, the Teosofia [Theosophy], which would be left uncompleted.