Rosmini, Ratzinger, and Kuhn: Observations on a Note by the Doctrinal Congregation

By Guarino, Thomas | Theological Studies, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Rosmini, Ratzinger, and Kuhn: Observations on a Note by the Doctrinal Congregation


Guarino, Thomas, Theological Studies


WHEN JOHN PAUL II, in the encyclical Fides et ratio, mentioned Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855) in the same breath with warhorse Thomists such as Gilson and Maritain, Orthodox thinkers such as Florensky and Lossky, and idiosyncratic writers such as Newman and St. Edith Stein, as a possible model for properly understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology, he created something of a problem for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). (1)

The problem, of course, stems from the fact that some of Rosmini's ideas had been explicitly condemned in the 19th century by the Congregation of the Holy Office, and Rosmini had been classified in generations of theology manuals as either a proximate ontologist or a semi-rationalist. (2) How, the obvious question became, does one reconcile the earlier condemnation with the pope's recent benign citation? Has the pope forthrightly contradicted and thereby revoked the earlier censure? It is precisely Ratzinger's attempt to answer this question that will form the substance of this article. In the process, I hope to show that what is of significant importance is not only the Congregation's rehabilitation of Rosmini, but also the many neuralgic issues in contemporary theological epistemology touched by the CDF's remarks. (3)

THE NOTE OF THE DOCTRINAL CONGREGATION

The Note of the Doctrinal Congregation begins with a review of the documents relating to Rosmini's case. By 1849, Rosmini, born in 1797 in Rovereto, then in the Austrian Tyrol, had already had a distinguished theological career. (4) He had published several works of philosophy and theology, had founded a religious congregation, and had been appointed by Pius IX as one of the consultors regarding the definability of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Indeed; in 1848, when revolutions swept Europe, Pius IX even asked Rosmini to accompany him in exile to Gaeta. In 1849, however, two of his works, including The Five Wounds of the Church, were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. Just a few years later, in 1854, a decision was rendered by the Congregation of the Index, Dimittantur, claiming that all of his works were to be removed from examination and that the investigation found nothing disparaging to the author. After Rosmini's death in 1855, controversy about his writings again flared up. In 1880, under increasing pressure from neo-Scholasticism, the Congregation of the Index claimed that the Dimittantur signifies only that a work is not prohibited, nothing more; the following year, the same Congregation noted that a work dismissed is not necessarily free from every error against faith and morals. Rosmini's works were again subject to serious criticism and, as Ratzinger notes, in December 1887, forty propositions taken from his works were condemned by the Congregation of the Holy Office in the decree Post obitum (DH 3201-3241).

Ratzinger says that a "hasty and superficial" reading of this history might lead one to think that the magisterium was involved in an objective contradiction in its interpretation of Rosmini's works. Such however is not the case; it is the task of the present Note, regarding the doctrinal value of the earlier statements, to clarify matters (no. 2). To this justificatory end, Ratzinger claims that the decree of 1854, Dimittantur "... recognizes the orthodoxy of his [Rosmini's] thought and of his declared intentions." At the same time, that decree "did not intend to state that the Magisterium adopted Rosmini's system of thought as a possible instrument of philosophical-theological mediation for Christian doctrine ..." (no. 3). Following Rosmini's death, the Note continues, there was a certain distancing of the Church from his philosophical and theological synthesis; such distancing requires a consideration of the principal historical and cultural factors that ultimately led to the condemnations of the decree Post obitum in 1887.

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