His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, on 26 June 2006, authorized the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the Decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Antonio Rosmini. This act also bestows upon Rosmini the title Venerable.
The following brief reflection may help the reader
to understand and participate more actively in this milestone.
While venerability is often explained as a step along the way to Beatification (when the person in question is declared ‘Blessed’), the specific significance of the title Venerable – understood in relation to the Christian virtues – should not be glossed over. To do so would be to miss a part of our spiritual journey which accompanies the Cause.
The decree of recognition of heroic virtue marks an important ‘change in gear’ in the long and involved process which may eventually lead to canonization. The Cause has moved from being a diocesan process (thus local; the Bishop of the Diocese in which the person died initiates the Cause) to being an apostolic or papal process and thus of universal importance. The Pope himself instructed the Congregation of Saints to recognize Rosmini’s life of heroic virtue.
This change is not just a procedural detail. The shift from a local to universal focus echoes on a spiritual level and resonates through our witness. We, as it were, ‘let go’ of Father Founder as ‘ours’ in order to rejoice with the universal Church in welcoming Rosmini into the company of those whose life of holiness is deemed an inspiration for all – as a treasure to be shared, a model of life to be imitated. So, the fruit of all the prayers and petitions offered humbly by generations of Brothers, Priests and Sisters, Ascribed and friends of Rosmini, - accompanied at times by moments of pain, disappointment and hurt – is not just ‘for us’ but for the universal Church, for all people and all societies.
This ‘letting go’ is of course nothing like a severance. If anything, it calls for a deeper knowledge and love of Father Founder, and one with a public face. For it is to the Daughters and Sons of Rosmini, that the Church - individuals and groups - will now turn simply to say: tell us more. The lives of the Saints never remain private; as reflections of the face of Christ, they are sought out, and their insights and stories rightly shared and told.
But let us return to the process. What does the decree actually say? Following a very thorough inquiry into the holiness of a Servant of God (one whose Cause has been initiated) it declares that he/she has practiced all the virtues - three theological and four cardinal - in heroic degree. In short, the decree confirms that the person in question reached the holiness necessary for beatification or canonization.
And what does to an heroic degree mean? It is not a simple pass or fail test! Nor, obviously, is it something completely unattainable or beyond us; ‘Venerables’ show us an achievable way. It is about setting out along the path of integrity and perfection and resolving to stay the course, notwithstanding the mistakes, regrets, trials and obstacles (cf. Mt 5:48; 1 Th 4:3). In contrast to what many people think about virtue and holiness, at least on first reaction, the Church has sought to underline their ‘earthiness’. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), reviewing the process of Canonization, insisted upon the connection between heroic virtue and the duties of a person in ordinary daily life. He spoke of the need for constant faithful fulfilment of these duties and obligations. Pius XI (1922-1939) picked up on the same theme and again emphasized that heroic virtue was to be sought in the ordinary things of daily life. Indeed he warned against a false, unreal, counterfeit piety. John Paul II also underlined the practical dimension of holiness, describing it as a task incumbent upon every believer. It is, then, to give content and shape to the quest for holiness that we turn to the lives of the Venerables, Blesseds and Saints.
As regards the virtues themselves it is not our intention to go into detail here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 1803 – 1829) is an easily accessible reference which explains them clearly: the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Furthermore, Fr Claudio Papa, the Postulator of the Cause, has published in Charitas an article on Rosmini and the virtues as has Fr Eduino Menestrina (see September 2006 edition).
But one question we can consider here is: Why now? From public condemnation in 1887 to the 2001 Nota of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which cleared the way ahead from a doctrinal point of view, to the pontifical recognition of Rosmini as Venerable in 2006. Of course there is no single answer to that question which can be explained only in reference to God’s Providence and human intrigue. But if the gift of holiness is a task which shapes the whole of Christian life and a duty which concerns every Christian (cf. Pope John Paul II Novo Millennio Inuente, 30), then we might ask what duty or task is asked of those drawn to live a Rosminian spirituality? Again, there is no single answer. But perhaps we can approach this question by answering another. In the anglosaxon world it is not uncommon to hear the comment: not more blessed and saints, surely not another Italian (or Polish) Founder or Foundress. How can we respond? Such lamentations, though wanting, are understandable. Often they are aired in the context of discussions expressing the desirability of having more lay people canonized saints or the need to have saints with an international appeal. So, where does Rosmini and Rosminian spirituality fit?
Four recent perceptions, and all from outside the immediate Rosminian family, might help us to bring into focus an emerging picture.
1) Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio no. 74
“We see the same fruitful relationship between philosophy and the word of God in the courageous research pursued by more recent thinkers, among whom I gladly mention … Antonio Rosmini.”
2) Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ (Father-General of the Jesuits), Rosmini, a Prophet for the third Millennium?
“The Society of Jesus rejoices in the process of beatification which has recently begun of this great Christian figure and pledges itself to it whole-heartedly … it is a sign of the new times that give one reason to hope that Rosmini, an example to us all, can play a fundamental role at the dawn of the twenty first century. In what sense? We are not dealing so much with a nostalgic restoration of Western Christianity but what the Pope more precisely and correctly calls a ‘new evangelisation’…
We can take three central themes [in Rosmini’s thinking]: the meaning of Man, the service of the Church and the primacy of Charity …. At this time of the ‘universalisation’ of human existence, Rosmini proposes a philosophy which centres on man (and the universality of rights); a spirituality fixed on the mystery of the Church (and the ‘catholicity’ of vocation), and a civilization of love as we face the dawn of the third millennium.
3) Pope John Paul II: Address to the Chapter
“Antonio Rosmini lived through a time of turbulence which was not just political, but intellectual and religious as well … the question of freedom dominated all others. Often this was understood as a rejection of the Church and an abandonment of Christian faith…. In the midst of this turmoil, Antonio Rosmini saw that there could be no liberation from Christ but only liberation by Christ and for Christ; this insight inspired his whole life, and lies at the heart of his extensive writings which are at one and the same time scientific and religious, philosophical and mystical…. He knew that faith without reason withers into myth and superstitions; and therefore he set about applying his immense gifts of mind not only to theology and spirituality but to fields a diverse as philosophy, politics, law, education, science, psychology and art, seeing in them no threat to faith but necessary allies…. As the Church enters into the Third Christian Millennium, the evangelization of culture is a crucial part of the new evangelization, and it is at this point that the Church looks eagerly to the sons and daughters of Antonio Rosmini…. Christians are sometimes tempted to miss the point of the kenosis of the Cross of Jesus Christ, preferring instead the ways of pride, power and dominion. In such a context, the Institute of Charity has a specific mission to teach the path of freedom, wisdom and truth, which is always the way of charity and the way of the Cross….”
4) Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB Gli assi del pensiero: due grandi apologeti della fede cristiana a confronto con la modernitÓ
Pope Benedict XVI’s newly nominated Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone SDB, recently published an article in the Italian daily newspaper Avvenire on John Henry Newman and Antonio Rosmini. In his exposÚ he underlined Rosmini’s importance for today as one who can show the power of Christ’s liberating truth (cf. Jn 8:32) in a context of fragmentation (of learning and social disintegration) and excessive subjectivism (often experienced socially as exaggerated individualism).
Layman, no! Italian, yes! But Rosmini’s venerability is a cause for thanksgiving and celebration for everyone. Courageous thinker, prophet for the third millennium, evangelizer of culture, teacher of wisdom, bearer of witness to the power of Christ’s liberating truth and love. Let us rejoice that in him we find an inspiring disciple of Jesus Christ, a man passionate about the Church, an encouraging guide to robust holiness, a creative teacher of faith and reason, and a tireless witness to truth for our societies today.
Commission for the Promotion of the Cause of Antonio Rosmini.