Those who may not know the blog, Palazzo Apostolico (“Apostolic Palace”), authored by Paolo Rodari and run by the Italian newspaper, Il Foglio, may want to take a look. One of Rodari’s recent posts deals with liberal Catholicism in Italy. A phenomenon of the nineteenth century, Rodari writes that liberal Catholicism consisted in the position that it was a good thing that the Church lose its temporal power inasmuch as it could devote its energies exclusively to its spiritual vocation. Most interestingly, Rodari writes that liberal Catholics of that era believed that they owed obedience and allegiance to the Pope and to the Church’s core precepts (as Rodari says, this distinguishes them from the “liberal” of today), even as they also believed that individual conscience had an important role to play and that they were not obliged to “bow their heads” to the wishes of bishops and cardinals. The heroes of the liberal Catholics were Cardinal John Henry Newman, Alessandro Manzoni (author of The Betrothed), and Antonio Rosmini.
The referent of this post’s title is former Italian President and liberal Catholic, Francesco Cossiga (a controversial figure in his own right), whose party was the Democrazia Cristiana (now gone), and who recently passed away . Below the fold, a translation of some of Cossiga’s thoughts about liberal Catholicism from Rodari’s post. — MOD
“This book tells the following story: that once there was a civilization called ‘Western’; that it developed distinctive ‘legal’ institutions, values, and concepts; that these Western institutions, values, and concepts were consciously transmitted from generation to generation over centuries, and thus came to constitute a ‘tradition’; that the Western legal tradition was born of a ‘revolution’ and thereafter, during the course of many centuries, has been periodically interrupted and transformed by revolutions; and that in the twentieth century the Western legal tradition is in a crisis greater than any other in its history, one that some believe has brought it virtually to an end.”
So begins the late Harold Berman’s Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (HUP 1983), as important and learned a book in law and religion as has ever been written. Berman traces the development of contemporary Western legal institutions from the medieval period to the present, emphasizing especially the importance of the Papal Revolution of Pope Gregory VII, which, he writes, “gave birth to the modern Western state — the first example of which, paradoxically, was the church itself.” (113) Berman’s monumental contribution is as powerful as it is fascinating; if anything deserves the rank of canonical in law and religion literature, it is this book. — MOD