Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Blessed Liberty: The Posthumous Miracle of Antonio Rosmini

by Dario Antiseri, Sandro Magister


Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855) was a Catholic priest and founder of the Institute of Charity (a religious congregation). Rosmini was under condemnation by the Holy Office until six years ago when he was exonerated. He was proclaimed blessed on November 18, 2007. Dario Antiseri gives a summary of Rosmini's political philosophy, explaining that 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."

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Sandro Magister, November 12, 2007

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.


The newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, in which Dario Antiseri's article was published:

> "Avvenire"


The note from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, which on July 1, 2001, absolved Antonio Rosmini from condemnation:

> "The magisterium of the Church..."


Websites dedicated to the new blessed:

English website>

Rosmini In English

Italian website>


The dossier dedicated by "30 Days" to Rosmini's beatification, including an interview with cardinal Josè Saraiva Martins, prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints:

> Blessed Antonio Rosmini

© 1999-2007  Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa - Partita IVA 00906801006

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

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