(An entry for Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy (Scarecrow Press), to be published, 2006)La Civiltà Cattolica, a journal edited by priests of the Society of Jesus, began publication in April of 1850, for a short time in Naples, but ultimately in Rome. Its lengthy issues, which appeared twice monthly, were planned as part of an orderly discussion of the foundations, nature, and benefits of Catholic culture. Each issue came to include theological, philosophical, scientific, historical, sociological, and polemical articles, as well as a book review, a chronicle of world events, and fictional pieces. "Sometimes", the editors wrote, "the same truth comes to you exposed by one author as a theory, implanted by another in a dialogue, rendered evident and almost physically palpable by a third in a short story" (Series I, volume 2, p. 14).
The original editors of La Civiltà Cattolica, including Revs. Carlo Maria Curci (1809-1891), Matteo Liberatore (1810-1892), and Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio (1793-1862), were scholars, literary men, and political activists. Their chief concern, in developing a comprehensive theory of the nature of Catholic civilization, was to avoid shallow, time-bound discussions of the consequences of the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, and the growth of European liberalism, capitalism, socialism, and nationalism, placing them, instead, within the broader context of the centuries-long battle of religious and secular minded world views. In pursuance of this goal, they developed many sub-themes: the need to understand the Catholic vision through a deeper study of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Mystical Body of Christ; the complementarity of social authority and the individual person in the attainment of order, human freedom and dignity; the disaster of a modern world view, emerging out of Protestantism, the Enlightenment, and the Revolution, which had locked authority and the individual in an unnatural combat against one another to the detriment of both; the practical political and social consequences of a choice for either the Catholic or the Modern outlook in everything from the nature of government to the question of workers’ rights in a world shaken by the Industrial Revolution; the importance of clarifying the terrible contemporary misunderstanding of the Christian and contemporary relationship to Progress and Liberty by means of precisely the kind of systematic teaching that the journal encouraged, utilizing a long-neglected, logical, revitalized scholastic philosophy; and the value of a strengthened Papacy in fighting an ever more widespread, international, revolutionary secularism.
While written only in Italian, its substantive articles, ecclesiastical backing, and aggressive promotion gave the Civiltà enormous influence in the entire Catholic world. It was extremely significant in shaping both Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors (1864), as well as that Catholic Social Doctrine reflected in the avalanche of Encyclicals from the pontificate of Leo XIII onwards. The Civiltà’s conviction that supernatural religion was the primary force working for the perfection of natural life gained it bitter enemies from everyone who insisted that particular constitutional, democratic, nationalist, utilitarian, or racist systems were the first building blocks of Progress, and that anyone who refused to recognize this axiomatic reality was hopelessly "intransigent".
Jemolo, A.C., Chiesa e Stato in Italia negli ultimi cento anni (Torino, 1948).
Memorie della Civiltà Cattolica (Roma, 1855).
Rao, J., Removing the Blindfold (St. Paul, 1999).
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