No Longer a Troublesome Prophet1

A Conversation with Monsignor Clemente Riva about Rosmini

 

The bicentenary of the birth of Antonio Rosmini, one of the greatest philosophical minds in Italy and Europe in the 19th century, has not passed unnoticed. A long series of cultural initiatives has paid homage to his international stature. He is publicly acknowledged as a most prominent person in the history of thought, of the Risorgimento, of the Catholic Church.

We spoke with Monsignor Clemente Riva, an auxiliary Bishop of Rome and a Rosminian religious.

Monsignor Riva, more than three years ago, the Holy See gave the 'nihil obstat' for the beatification of Antonio Rosmini . What point have we reached?

Riva: The causa has been set under way by the Diocesan Tribunal of Novara. Under the care of Bishop Renato Corti, two commissions, one doctrinal and the other historical , have worked hard during the two past years, producing a great amount of material. We have now arrived at the phase where witnesses, both within and outside of Rosmini's Institute of Charity, are being questioned.2

Every year since 1967 the well known "Cattedra Rosmini" takes place at the International Centre of Rosminian Studies at Stresa. About a hundred interested intellectuals from all over the world actively participate in this. The last one, devoted to "Rosmini and the place of God in Reason and Religion"3 has confirmed unequivocally the importance of Rosmini in the world of culture taken in the broadest sense.

The person and work of Antonio Rosmini are now seen as a universal legacy. Let me give you some examples. During the last "Cathedra", a Polish professor was surprised at the significant agreement between the Rosmini's thought and that of John Paul II on human rights and the dignity of the human person. Meanwhile in England fourteen volumes of Rosmini's works have already been translated (with an impression of four thousand copies for each volume). These have been sent to universities throughout the world where courses on Rosmini are innumerable. Furthermore, another professor from Georgia, taking part in the "Cathedra", has translated "The Five Wounds of the Church", the most well known of Rosmini's works, into his own language (and is now translating it into Russian). He considers this basic even for the orthodox world to which he belongs. Rosmini analysed the problems of the Church in his day and felt the need of radical reform taking the primitive Church as the model to follow. This return to the Church of our roots, to primitive Christianity, has great ecumenical value and is therefore greatly relevant. Rosmini was a prophet even in this matter.

 

But he was a prophet who suffered opposition for a long time or was at least forgotten. How do we explain this long "purgatory" of Antonio Rosmini, within and outside the Catholic Church which seems to have come to an end only recently?

 

I would call it a "calvary" rather than a "purgatory" because the former expression seems to be more representative of his life. Rosmini founded the Institute of Charity on Monte Calvario, a hill near Domodossola. He wanted to "challenge" modern thought (in his time the chief systems were idealism and empiricism) by entering into the heart of it and then criticising it from within. Some of his detractors saw Rosmini as an "assimilator", and because of this he was called the Italian Kant or the Italian Hegel. In actual fact he built up a system of philosophy which was an encyclopaedia of Christian inspiration. This provided an alternative to the origin of Enlightenment and could enter into dialogue with the culture of his times without feeling inferior to it. Moreover the calvary of Rosmini was due to neo-Thomism which the Catholic Church of the second half of the nineteenth century upheld as the criterion of orthodoxy. Rosmini was a genuine follower of the Fathers of the Church and of Thomism but from this point of view he appeared too much ahead of his times. To sum up, forty propositions were taken were taken from his works and condemned by the Church because he was the victim of the fear of Modernism at the end of the nineteenth century which was also condemned. In actual fact Rosmini, who was well loved by people of the calibre of Manzoni, Fogazzaro and Rebora, is modern without needing to be a modernist. At one time his works were considered "dangerous" and not in agreement with Catholic truth. Today this very unfair judgement has been completely overturned and the modernity of Rosmini is beyond discussion.

 

What is Rosmini's charism?

 

Antonio Rosmini has no special charism. His whole aim in life and in his work was simply charity, charity in all its aspects, intellectual, spiritual, social because charity is a gift of God and is God himself.

 

What are the most relevant works of Rosmini at the present time?

 

Without any doubt The Five Wounds of the Church would take first place. As much as ever this is a prophetic book in the light of Vatican II. But I bear in mind also the pedagogical works, for instance the one devoted to Christian education which Alessandro Manzoni esteemed so highly. Nor must we forget the basic books such as the Philosophy of Right, the Philosophy of Politics and The Commentary on the Gospel of St John. I should also mention his enormous Epistolario4 which comprises thirteen big volumes. Even if they don't make for easy reading today because of his formal, classical language. Rosmini's philosophical works, generally speaking, are still sound, principally as a fundamental critique of any thought which aims at denying or denigrating the religious experience of the human being and its highest values.

 

So what is Rosmini's message to the men and women of the present day?

 

At the present time we are talking a lot about the need for a new cultural plan for the Church as it prepares for the unknown and promise of the Third Millennium. Rosmini helps us to understand that any plan at all needs a solid theological and philosophical foundation. He helps us to rediscover the basics and principles of life itself and to have "courageous" guidelines at the end of this confused and fearful century. Rosmini has been, and continues to be, a witness to the Providence, who guides us also in this great playing out of history. And as the "last father of the Church", as he has been called, he reminds us of the ideal of a Church both free and poor, totally loyal to the Gospel but also sensitive to the heart of today's world. Rosmini is a teacher for everyone, philosopher and theologian, priest and religious, believer and non believer.

 

 

1 A translation of Un profeta non piu scomodo, Speranze n.143 pp.26-28. This article, by Gianni Maritati, appeared in Il Messaggero di Sant'Antonio-December 1997. He states: "With his 'The Five wounds of the Church' Rosmini, whose bicentenary of birth occurs this year, anticipates the themes of Vatican II. But because it was too much in advance of the times it was condemned by the Holy Office. Now the cause of his beatification is proceeding. His life was a long story of charity". TEXT

2 This informative Diocesan Process was concluded on 24th March 1998. The Postulator has presented the Acts of the Process to the Apostolic See. The Apostolic Process for the Cause of the Canonization opened on 6th June 1998. We await the decree of validity of the diocesan process from the Congregation of the Cause of the Saints. After this a judgement of the reputation for holiness and heroic virtues of Rosmini will have to be made. (Translator) TEXT

3 "Rosmini e la domanda di Dio tra ragione e religione". TEXT

4 This is the name given to the Volumes of Rosmini's Letters. Two volumes of selected letters were published in 1901 by R and T Washbourne; Counsels to Religious Superiors, edited by Claude R. Leetham, Burns Oates, 1961 and more recently 4 volumes of The Ascetical Letters of Antonio Rosmini, translated by John F. Morris. It may be of interest to know that Rosmini received about 60 000 letters! TEXT