Rosmini-Serbati, Antonio

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Founder of the Institute of Charity, philosopher, theologian, and patriot; b. Rovereto, Trentino (then under Austrian domination, now part of Italy), 1797; d. Stresa (Lago Maggiore), 1855. Against the initial objections of his parents, he was ordained in 1821. His retired life until 1826 can be considered as a preparation for his work. During this period, his studies embraced mathematics, political theory, education, medicine, natural sciences, Oriental languages, and all branches of philosophy and theology. The History of Love, an early work of Rosmini on holy Scripture, bears witness to his intense application to the word of God and to his great talent for synthesis.

Rosmini's deliberate aim, in an age characterized by liberal ideas and revolt against established order, was to achieve a balance between old and new by showing how true development in every science depends upon growth from basic and unchangeable principles. On the advice of Pius VII he devoted himself to this task, principally in philosophy.

Rosmini's personal traits were defined and established in these early years. Prayer and devotion to the will

of God became habitual with him; he grew familiar with practical affairs through the management of the large fortune inherited from his father; and his extraordinary capacity for lasting friendship with different types of men manifested itself (Manzoni, Tommasco, Capellari [later Gregory XVI], and Gustavo Cavour were among his many intimates). The plan of his Congregation, for which he had the active encouragement and advice of St. Maddalena di Canossa, was completed in 1828. His chief ecclesiastical work during this time, and what he called "nearly my only recreation," was the formation of a clerical circle at Rovereto to study the then too-muchdisregarded St. Thomas Aquinas.

In 1826 Rosmini went to Milan to continue his research and to begin publishing the results of his philosophical studies. He was a writer of astounding fertility and originality. His complete works, many published posthumously, are at present (2001) being edited in a planned 80-volume critical edition (Rome-Stresa, 1966). About 30 volumes have been produced to date. To these must be added 13 volumes, with some 700 pages per volume, of letters (Casale 1905). He treated thoroughly the problem of the origin of ideas and certitude, the nature of the human soul, ethics, civil society, the relationship between Church and State, human rights, metaphysics, grace, original sin, and the Sacraments in general. It is impossible to name a single school of thought to which he can be said to belong. Basing himself upon an encyclopedic reading of philosophers and ecclesiastical tradition, he endeavored to present principles that would interlock and serve as a basis of unity for all knowledge.

As the foundation of his system he placed the intuition of universal and undetermined being, which he was careful to distinguish from the concept of God. Although many of his adversaries (M. Liberatore, SJ, for example) later maintained that there could be no distinction between the two concepts and consequently accused Rosmini of ontologism and pantheism, this accusation is no longer accepted by scholars (see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Note on the import of the doctrinal Decrees concerning the thought and works of the Priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati, n. 6, Vatican, 1 July 2001). The "idea of being" is for Rosmini the objective and infallible light of reason, the source of man's dignity as a person, the font of moral obligation, the unshakable foundation of human rights, and the spring of the immortality of the soul. Man's moral goodness or badness depends upon the use or misuse of this innate light according to which he can either evaluate things in their objective order or attempt to place them in an order of his own creating.

Theological works published during Rosmini's lifetime concern the nature of original sin, which he maintained was more than a mere lack of sanctifying grace, the providence of God and what he called "supernatural anthropology," a study of fallen human nature restored through the Sacraments.

His ascetical works are not numerous, but their content regards the fundamental issues of the Christian life. This is especially the case with Maxims of Christian Perfection (Rome 1830), in which he shows how all duties culminate in devotion to Christ's Churcha devotion that he himself manifested in submitting fully to the ecclesiastical prohibition of two of his works. Maxims form the basis of his Constitutions of the Society of Charity, synopsised in the Apostolic Letters In Sublimi (Gregory XVI, 1839) which approved the Rule of Rosmini's religious Institute.

From 1826 until his death, Rosmini's growing influence as a leader in the forces opposing the domination of sensism in European thought was subject to continual attack. He was looked upon with suspicion by Austria on account of a panegyric on Pius VII (Modena 1831), in which he condemned Josephinism. His Treatise on Moral Conscience (Milan 1839), which contained an attack on the use of probabilism as applied to the natural law, was repudiated especially by P. Ballerini, SJ, who wrote anonymously as il prete bolognese. Rosmini's teaching on original sin and the distinction he made between sin (peccatum ) and fault (culpa ) were also the source of bitter criticism. The Five Wounds of the Church (Lugano 1847), in which he treats of the dangers to the Church from within, and A Constitution Based on Social Justice (Milan 1848) were placed on the Index (1848) for unspecified reasons in the troubled days that followed the assassination of Pellegrino Rossi at Rome. At the same time, Rosmini, following Pius IX in his flight from Rome, fell from favor at Gaeta after expressing his views for a constitution and against Austrian domination.

In 1854, after a full examination of Rosmini's published writings, a papal commission, with Pius IX presiding at its final sitting, declared that the works under consideration were to be dismissed without censure. Posthumously, 40 propositions taken from all the works of Rosmini were condemned without any specific theological censure in 1887 under Leo XIII (Enchiridion symbolorum, 320141). Their contents cover practically every point of Catholic theology, but supporters of Rosmini have always denied that they express his genuine thought. Their position has been officially accepted today by the Magisterium in its examination of the 19th century doctrinal decrees concerning Rosmini's works (see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Note on the import of the doctrinal Decrees concerning the thought and works of the Priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati,n. 6, Vatican, July 1, 2001).

Rosmini exercises a growing influence through the philosophy of Christian spiritualism, and through his ascetical writings. John Paul II numbered him among modern thinkers in whom a fruitful meeting between philosophical knowledge and the Word of God has been realized (see Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, n. 74). He is also acknowledged as a man of great sanctity of life whose beatification process is currently (2001) with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

See Also: rosminians; spiritualism.

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 13.2:291752. a. hilckman, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanishe Konsil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al. (1966) 9:5355; Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:118889. g. b. pagani, Vita di Antonio Rosmini, ed. g. rossi, 2 v. (rev. ed. Rovereto 1959). Rivista Rosminiana (Domodossola Stresa 19062001). Sources in Eng. Principles of Ethics, tr. d. cleary, t. watson, c/w, (Leominster 1988); Anthropology in Aid of Moral Science, tr. c/w (Durham 1991); The Philosophy of Right, tr. c/w, 6 v. (Durham 1993); The Philosophy of Politics, tr. c/w, 2 v. (Durham 1994); Conscience, tr. c/w (Durham 1989); Psychology, tr. c/w, 4 v. (Durham 1999); A New Essay concerning the Origin of Ideas, 3 v, tr. r. murphy, d. cleary, t. watson (Durham 2001); Maxims of Christian Perfection, tr. w. a. johnson (4th ed. London 1889; repr.1963); Theodicy, tr. f. signini, 3 v. (London 1912); The Five Wounds of the Church, tr. d. cleary (Leominster 1987); Constitutions of the Society of Charity, tr. d. cleary (Durham 1992); Counsels to Religious Superiors, ed. and tr. c. leetham (Westminster, Md. 1961); Ascetical Letters tr. j. morris, 6 v. (Loughborough 19932000); A Society of Love, tr. d. cleary (Durham 2000). Studies: c. leetham, Rosmini, Priest and Philosopher (New York 1982), complete chronological bibliog. of Rosmini's works. d. cleary, The Principles of Rosmini's Moral Philosophy (London 1961); Antonio Rosmini: Introduction to His Life and Teaching (Durham 1992).

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Antonio Rosmini-Serbati

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Antonio Rosmini-Serbati

The Italian philosopher and priest Antonio Rosmini-Serbati (1797-1855), who supported the Risorgimento, was one of the few churchmen of his day who endeavored to lay a philosophical and theological foundation for Roman Catholic involvement in national politics.

Antonio Rosmini-Serbati was born at Rovereto on March 24, 1797. After the usual studies, he was ordained a priest in 1821. Up to his time and for some time after, the Church forbade Roman Catholics in Italy to take part in national politics. Rosmini's studies led him to consider in what way Catholics could actively engage in politics, social reform, and the study of science without having to renounce the principles of their faith. He perceived that the educational methods of the Roman Church and its presentation of doctrinal matters were not suited either to the minds or to the tempers of his contemporaries. He also saw great deficiencies in the training of the clergy.

In 1828 Rosmini-Serbati established his Institute of Charity (Rosminians) at Monte Calvario near Domodossola. He modeled it on the Jesuit order, whose devotion to the Church and multifaceted activities he admired; it was approved by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839. The institute was established in England by Father Luigi Gentili, and there it played a part in the revival of Catholicism.

At this time the two major forces with which the Roman Catholic Church contended were nationalism and philosophic idealism. Nationalism was to change the face of Europe within a hundred years. Philosophic idealism supplied Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with the bases of their theories and influenced the scientific thought of men such as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. To Rosmini's credit, he understood the importance of both movements. But in trying to change the minds of his contemporaries, he was like a man with his shoulder against a mountain.

The election of Pope Pius IX in 1848 seemed providential to Rosmini. The new pope was known as the "pope of progress" because of his liberal views. When war broke out between Italy and Austria in 1848, Pius declared the papacy to be neutral because of its universal significance for all men. By this time Rosmini was known for his views. The Piedmontese government empowered him to negotiate a settlement with Pius. Rosmini wrote an account of this mission called Della missione a Roma … negli anni 1848-49 (1881). Pius soon changed from his earlier liberalism to a hard-core conservatism, and Rosmini fell into disfavor. He was attacked, his teachings were declared suspect, and he had to retire from all active participation in public life and teaching.

Rosmini's philosophy and teaching were based on an adaptation of current idealism. He placed at the center of his system what he called "ideal being." This was a hybrid sharing traits of the Neoplatonist ideal of Renaissance thinkers and the abstract Kantian idea of the unknowable Ding-an-Sich. Rosmini held that the "ideal being" was a reflection of God to be found in every man. He rescued the Kantian idea from its unknowability by declaring that not only was it most knowable but that it was the foundation of all else: the rights of the individual and man's concepts of truth and logic, and of his political and legal system. He expounded his theories in a series of books: Maxims of Christian Perfection (1830); New Essay on the Origin of Ideas (3 vols., 1838); Theodicy (1845); and Psychology (1850). His political thought was expressed in his Of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church and The Constitution according to Social Justice (both 1848).

When Rosmini fell into disfavor, Pius IX had all his works examined for possible error. But on examination by the Roman Congregation of the Index, they were declared free from error. Rosmini died on July 1, 1855.

Further Reading

Biographical studies of Rosmini-Serbati include Giovanni Battista Pagani, The Life of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati (Eng. trans. 1907), and Claude Richard Harbord Leetham, Rosmini: Priest, Philosopher and Patriot (1957).

Additional Sources

Ingoldsby, Mary F., A short life of Antonio Rosmini, 1797-1855, Stresa, Italy: International Centre for Rosminian Studies, 1983.

Leetham, Claude, Rosmini: priest and philosopher, New York: New City Press, 1982. □

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