The Rosmini Case, Revisited

Interview With Archbishop Bertone

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 5, 2001 ( Last week the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a Note saying "the reasons for concern" regarding the work of Antonio Rosmini have been surmounted.

"Doctrinal difficulties" had determined the publication of the "Post Obitum" decree of 1887, which condemned 40 propositions attributed to Rosmini´s works.

The decree retains the validity of its content "for whoever reads the propositions outside the context of Rosminian thought" -- in other words, with an "idealistic and ontological" perspective, the Vatican congregation explains.

Vatican Radio spoke with Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the congregation, on the meaning of the Note.

--Q: In 1849, two works of Rosmini were added to the Index of prohibited books. How was this possible?

--Archbishop Bertone: This inclusion of Rosmini´s works is a fact that must be considered in relation to the upheavals, not only cultural but also political, of that time. We must remember his famous book, "The Five Plagues of the Church," a very controversial work, but also prophetic, which at the same time contains the intuitions of the philosopher and of Rosmini, the man of the Church.

--Q: One reads in the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the reasons for concern and doctrinal difficulty that determined the promulgation of the 1887 decree have been reconsidered. According to the Note, this is due to the fact that the propositions recorded and condemned in the decree do not reflect Rosmini´s real position, but possible conclusions that might derive from a reading of his works. Therefore, is the condemnation of the propositions upheld for anyone who reads them with a view that differs from Rosmini´s?

--Archbishop Bertone: Exactly. Our Note has been written very carefully. It had to be so, both because of Rosmini´s person, as man of the Church, as well as the person of Leo XIII, who decided to promulgate the decree of condemnation.

It is necessary to note that the condemned propositions have been taken in large part from Rosmini´s posthumous works, whose publication was lacking in a critical framework, which would explain the precise meaning of the expressions and concepts used by the philosopher.

This is what lends itself to heterodox interpretations of Rosminian thought, if we keep in mind that his thought is very complex, even hermetic. His language is not understood on a first reading.

Let us also think of the cultural context at the end of the 1800s, when the debate on Thomism and Thomist studies was taking place and there was need to guarantee -- this was Leo XIII´s primary concern -- the programmatic unity of ecclesiastical studies, and the formation of candidates to the priesthood, and of those who would teach in the Church.

On the other hand, we must not forget the cultural upheavals directed against the Church, which took advantage of the thought of a man of the Church, such as Rosmini, to oppose him to the Church and Thomism, despite the fact that Rosmini always said -- and many of his letters prove it -- that, in each of his options, he wanted to be subject in everything and for everything to the judgment of the Church.

--Q: Can it be said, therefore, that there is profound consistency in the magisterium´s judgment, including in this last Note?

--Archbishop Bertone: This consistency must be emphasized because, when the magisterium pronounces itself, there is also an appreciation of the specific cultural moment, in which the thought of an author must be placed, and it is here where the Church´s judgment must also be understood, in relation to the formation of men of the Church, who must be formed in fidelity and in the transmission of the patrimony of the faith and Catholic doctrine.

Let us remember that Rosmini has been specifically quoted by John Paul II in his encyclical "Fides et Ratio," as a model of an attempt at dialogue between reason and faith, even though this reference -- as the Pope states in the encyclical -- does not mean an approval of all the thought and all the concrete options of a philosopher or thinker, quoted by him in the encyclical.

--Q: Can it be said, therefore, that the problem is not in the author´s thought, but in the interpretation?

--Archbishop Bertone: That´s right, in the interpretation. We say in the Note that extrapolated propositions used in heterodox interpretations do not correspond to the integral thought of Antonio Rosmini.

Some of his options, which are certainly problematic, are left to the free academic discussion of scholars and philosophers. Some options, especially interpreted according to a specific line, might lead to conclusions that are incompatible with the thought and patrimony of faith of the Church.

I would like to underline, in conclusion, the last lines of the Note which manifest that the intellectual enterprise of Antonio Rosmini developed on an ascetic and spiritual horizon of a most high level.

Rosmini was a spiritual man, a man of God and a man of the Church of a very high level. This has been demonstrated both in his profession of full obedience to the Pope as well as in the foundation and foundation charisms of the two great charity institutes.