The Last Two Years in Italy
ISHALL have to begin somewhat further back than two years, in order to make my statements intelligible to most of my readers, who are not provided by our daily press with means of keeping in touch with Italian affairs. It is obviously impossible to refer to books, or even to periodicals, for a description of the changing scene of politics and society.
Professor A. Lawrence Lowell’s Governments and Parties in Continental Europe gives a good account of the static form of Italy’s constitution, and a brief historical view of its working under the exigencies of party government. But this book, besides that it is now thirteen years old, contains little information about that most vital part of a country’s history, the inter-relation of social and political forces. King and Okey’s Italy of To-day, published in 1901, though written from the point of view of extreme English Liberalism, is on the whole a fair and accurate treatment of the subject, and gives enough of the history of the present kingdom to make the presentation complete. But even the reader of King and Okey has much to learn before he can understand actual conditions. When they wrote, the reign of Victor Emmanuel III, a wise, laborious, and upright ruler, had only just begun. He has done much for his country, and, surely, seven years make a vast difference in the life of a country so vigorous and progressive as modern Italy. Statistics for the past few years show an astonishing growth in commerce and manufactures. Also in the higher arts of civilization, especially in literature, music, and natural science, she seems in a fair way to regain something of her ancient preëminence and renown. Relations between Church and State have greatly improved; and, in purely secular politics, important changes have taken place since the last general election in November of 1904.
I allow myself briefly to recall certain leading points in Italian history of the past thirty years. The old party of the Right, consisting originally of Conservatives whom the splendid leadership of Cavour had transformed to a sort of Constitutional Liberals, remained in power until 1876; and individual statesmen trained in his school, Ricasoli, La Marmora, Lanza, and Sella, proved themselves to be his not unworthy successors. Of them, it may be said, in short, that, in hard and perilous times, and often without time for reflection or experiment, they established the new kingdom on a basis which experience has shown to be mainly sound. Even the system of local government, the faultiest part of the whole Italian constitution, is probably more to be ascribed to centrifugal tendencies due to long centuries of local autonomy, than, as is commonly done, to the political unwisdom of the founders.
The Right, under the above-mentioned leaders, manifested both the strength and the weakness that belong to conservative government in general. They were honest, able, and patriotic, and guided the newly built ship of state as none others could have done. But, like so many other conservatives, they were hopelessly out of touch with the people. In fact, they illustrated the general principle that no social class need be expected, except under pressure, to legislate wisely for another. The Right struggled long and faithfully, and at last successfully, to make receipts and expenditures balance. But in the mean time, mistaking the complaints of the tax-burdened masses for mere popular clamor, they undertook no measures of reform, nor did they try to readjust an iniquitous incidence of taxation.
When the democratic Left came into power in 1876, it in turn illustrated another principle of wide application, that the first leaders of a popular party are likely to be much more interested in place-hunting and the exploitation of offices than in looking after the interests of their constituents. Ever since, with few and brief intervals, the Left, in so far as it can be called a consistent political party, has remained in office. And for eleven years after its first accession, almost uninterruptedly, its leader, and therefore also Prime Minister of the kingdom, was Agostino Depretis, a man whose sole political qualifications were a certain sagacity in interpreting the popular will, or rather humor, and, as it is very well put by King and Okey, “ a profound knowledge of human vice and frailty.”
Italy had been exhausted, morally as well as physically, by the struggle for union and independence. The Right, out of office and bereft of its great leaders, degenerated so rapidly and completely that it could offer no consistent opposition. " With Minghetti’s unhappy assistance,” to quote again from King and Okey, “ Depretis made a coalition with a section of the Right, and created a party without a programme, that lived from hand to mouth on parliamentary manœuvres, and nursed a shameless corruption, which ate out all that was wholesome in Italian politics. The civil service became a machine to secure a ministerial majority. Constituencies were bought with local railways and public works, with every direct or indirect form of bribery. . . . Depretis, it. is true, widened the franchise and abolished some of the more odious taxes. But it is to this period that Italy still mainly owes the worst features of her later politics.”
It is unnecessary for my present purpose to trace the course of events from the death of Depretis in 1887 down to the year 1904, which I have chosen as my point of departure. Francesco Crispi succeeded Depretis in the premiership, remaining in power until 1892. Recalled three years later, because it was thought that he alone could deal with the troubles in Sicily, he completely failed to meet the situation. The disastrous Abyssinian war soon followed, whether by his fault or not there is still great diversity of opinion. At any rate he had to bear the blame, and was driven from office for good and all. Short-lived ministries followed one another in quick succession, until, in 1903, Giolitti succeeded upon the death of Zanardelli.
Giovanni Giolitti, who has been Prime Minister almost ever since, is a characteristic product of the Italian public life of to-day. He was born in Piedmont, sixty-six years ago, in the humblest condition. His boyhood and youth were passed in a struggle with poverty; but, having managed to get a scanty education, he secured a government appointment as clerk in the Treasury. Approving himself competent and laborious, he was steadily promoted until, in 1889, being of course member of Parliament, he was made Minister of the Treasury under Crispi; and having meanwhile acquired an expert knowledge of partisan tactics and the arts of electioneering, his rise to party leadership was only a matter of time; after having been made Prime Minister for the first time in May, 1892, he was driven by the Bank scandals of the following year into obscurity and even into exile. And, although there is no question of his personal honesty in this and all other matters, it would seem that this retribution was not altogether undeserved. However, he was soon back in Parliament and public office.
Of Giolitti it may be said in brief that, although a pedantic bureaucrat, as is not unnatural considering his early career, and without constructive statesmanship, he is not by any means a merely unprincipled demagogue. He has a real desire to serve his country, and his administration of the last two years proves abundantly that he has some statesmanlike qualities. But, as so often happens in such cases, his egotism was developed by his long struggle with adversity to a degree that has enabled it to overcome his patriotism. Of none of his political principles is he so sure as of his eagerness to be prime minister. To win elections and to secure his other political ends, he is not above resorting to bribery, and even to violent intimidation.
In the early autumn, then, of 1904, with Giolitti in office as Premier and Home Secretary, and Parliament not in session, the whole country was startled by the announcement that a strike, begun at Monza, had been made general at Milan, Italy’s greatest industrial centre; and that this was due to no industrial conditions, but was a protest of all laboring men against the wanton slaughter by the military of their brother workmen in the mines of Sardinia and the fields of Castelluzzo. And closer inquiry proved that the action of the soldiers was quite without cause or even excuse. The strike spread rapidly to Genoa, Turin, Venice, Florence, and Naples. There was little or no disorder; but at Milan, though not in the other cities, the newspapers had to confess, when they reappeared after five days’ suspension, that trade and industry had been completely paralyzed in the mean while. The Deputies of the extreme Left, Radicals, Republicans, and Socialists, made common cause, and after they had vainly agitated for an immediate reconvention of Parliament, which had adjourned until November 25, determined to use obstructionary tactics at the coming session. And although the “ evolutionary ” Socialists and Radicals repudiated this part of the programme, there was no question that the others could make trouble if they wanted to. It may have been chiefly this consideration that determined Giolitti to call for a dissolution and a general election, more especially since, as prime minister, he had the election machinery in his hands. The King accepted the dissolution and decreed that the election should take place on November 6.
Giolitti had, of course, disclaimed all responsibility for the rash and criminal action of the military in the previous September, and had asseverated his intention of forbidding the military authorities to interfere in disputes between capital and labor. But it is most important to note here that it was in the report to His Majesty made at this time, and published along with the royal decree in the Official Gazette, that he astonished even his own party by announcing as a part of his programme for the next session the resumption by the state of the operation of the railroads, then under the control of private companies whose contracts terminated June l5, 1905. Besides that the measure, which has since been carried into effect, has been thoroughly justified by success, this private management was so scandalously inefficient that the announcement was unquestionably a good electioneering move.
This election, perhaps the most important, as it was certainly the most interesting, that the kingdom has ever known, was signalized by the entrance of the Clericals into politics, I mean as a separate political factor. Pius IX, interposing his non possumus to every overture of Victor Emmanuel and his ministers, some of which he might greatly have profited by, and which will never be offered again, had forbidden the faithful to take any part in the usurping government. This policy was formally promulgated, as the veto non-expedit, by the Sacred Penitentiary in 1883, wherein, however, it was significantly provided that all the circumstances must be taken into account before such participation could be regarded as a sin. In accordance with this veto, Leo XIII, in 1895, forbade Catholics to vote, by a formal decree, and he seems to have been obeyed by the great majority of those in close communion with the Church. But the present Pope, as Patriarch of Venice and Cardinal Sarto, in consequence of his intimate knowledge of the people, had always been outspokenly opposed to such a policy. Conscientious laymen also were weary of a system which kept them from the polls where they might, as loyal Churchmen, have voted against the Divorce bill, and in favor of religious instruction in the public schools.
Giolitti and his followers, thoroughly alarmed by the growth of the Socialist vote, saw that here was an opportunity too good to be lost. A combination was made with the Clerical party, by which fusion candidates were put into the field, not a few of whom were high Clericals, and who were all supported, nearly or quite unanimously, by the Catholic press. The Archbishop of Florence conducted an active campaign in behalf of the fusionists in his diocese, and in some districts all the conservative elements united with the Clericals against the Socialists and other “ subversives.” The result was a complete victory for the allies. In Florence and Venice, and even in industrial Milan and Turin, all of their candidates were returned. In Rome and Bologna, they were only partially successful.
Returned to power under these conditions, even so practiced a parliamentarian as Giolitti could estimate only uncertainly how many votes he should have at his disposal. At first, as for instance when the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies was elected, and the bill for the civil list presented he had a comfortable majority. But within a few months, that is, in February and March, 1905, his railway bill got him into trouble. This would have been hard to formulate and steer through the Chamber in any case, because it provided for resumption of the railways by the government, and for all the details of organization and control. Giolitti had, apparently against his own better judgment, allowed the introduction of two articles providing severe punishments for railway employees who should form a compact looking to the damage, interruption, or suspension of the train service.
In the opinion of many impartial persons, these provisions were both unnecessary and unjust, while among the Socialists and laborers they aroused a storm of indignation. And experience having shown that, in public services where there are a great many regulations rarely or never carried out, obstruction is just as effective and much pleasanter than striking, besides meaning no loss of wages, so in this case, rules about the condition of engines and carriages, the registration of baggage, and so forth, were so scrupulously regarded that most of the trains never got off at all. Sixty-four trains running out of Rome were suspended, and the others ran from one hour to twelve hours late. Giolitti, who as Home Secretary had to bear the blame, became so ill that he could not attend the sessions. But his Minister of Public Works, Tedesco, gave notice that his chief would neither withdraw the offensive clauses nor bring pressure to bear on the men. Public indignation grew until the men themselves were on the point of yielding, when suddenly Tedesco announced Giolitti’s resignation on account of ill health. Unfriendly critics did not fail to point out that this was the fourth time that ill health had been invoked to save the Premier from an embarrassing political situation. At all events, the King accepted his resignation and the railway obstructionists yielded. After many vicissitudes, and after being once compelled to resign the royal mandate, Alessandro Fortis, Giolitli’s nominee, succeeded in forming a coalition ministry in April, 1905.
The new ministry, whose speedy dissolution was freely predicted at the time, managed to hold together until the summer adjournment. But trouble began soon after the reopening of the session in the autumn. The so-called modus vivendi with Spain, involving the abolition of Italian duties on Spanish wines, was promptly rejected by the Chamber, with censure of the three members of the Cabinet, Ferraris, Rava, and Tittoni, who were responsible for it. But as this censure was coupled with a statement that the Chamber still retained confidence in the Ministry as a whole, Fortis, in the face of a previous declaration that he would stand or fall with his colleagues, weakly consented to supply their places. But it was only after a crisis of forty days, and just before Parliament adjourned for its Christmas recess, that he succeeded in presenting himself to the House with seven of the new and three of the old ministers.
After the session had resumed, the first, week in January, 1906, this new ministry lasted only a few days. Assailed on every hand, and having no consistent policy to set forth, Fortis challenged Baron Sidney Sonnino, the leader of the Centre, to sum up and present the hostile arraignment. Sonnino accepted the gage, and in a carefully prepared speech unsparingly reviewed the history of the Giolitti and Fortis ministries since the last general election. In truth, he had little difficulty in making up a formidable list of promises unfulfilled and crying public needs incompetently dealt with. Fortis, though one of the ablest of debaters, could make only a weak defense, and Giolitti’s apology came even more haltingly off. The usual motion, to approve the declarations of the Prime Minister and proceed to the order of the day, was lost by a majority of thirty-three. Fortis and his colleagues at once resigned.
As was to be expected, the King summoned Sonnino to form a new ministry, and he accepted the charge. But while everybody knew that it must be a coalition ministry, because the opposition to Fortis had come from all shades of political opinion, no one expected such a coalition as was actually sprung on the House and country. Guicciardini as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luzzatti as Minister of the Treasury, and others, were wellknown Liberal Conservatives whose appointment occasioned no surprise. But Sacchi, the Minister of Justice, and Pantano, the Minister of Agriculture, were an astonishment and a scandal to many. Both were extreme Radicals with decidedly republican leanings, and the latter had been Sonnino’s bitter personal and political foe. But more than this, Sacchi, being a zealous supporter of the Divorce bill, was an offense to the Clericals and to many others whom it was not the part of political prudence to antagonize. Nor had the country yet forgotten that, just after the assassination of the late King, Pantano had publicly suggested that now was a good chance to overthrow the monarchy and become a republic. Neither brought anything to the new government but weakness and suspicion. And it was not long before Sacchi outraged the moral sense of the whole nation by pardoning a notorious murderess.
Of Sonnino himself, who assumed the portfolio of the Interior, it is not too much to say that no living Italian has deserved better of his country. In the dark days between 1892 and 1896, when Italy was on the verge of bankruptcy, when friends and enemies alike could see nothing ahead but repudiation, he saved the national credit in a way that must remind Americans of Alexander Hamilton.1 By the sternest parsimony and by merciless taxation, aided by his own extraordinary administrative genius, he placed his country on her present sound financial basis and laid the foundations of future prosperity, at the same time teaching his countrymen the much-needed lesson that if they must needs have a great army and navy, expensive public buildings and such extravagances, they must also pay the bills. But teachers of such hard lessons never make themselves personally popular, and, besides, Sonnino was not now Minister of Finance or of the Treassury, but Home Secretary. Being a profound student of social and economic problems, especially in the south, he was in a way eminently qualified for this position. But the Home Minister comes into closer contact with the people than any other, and Baron Sonnino, though respected universally for his great abilities and for his severe and high rectitude, has none of the sympathetic qualities that would endear him to a people so responsive as the Italians. He is too proud and too tactless even to avoid giving unnecessary offense. Add to this that, as a leader of his party in the Chamber, he was an unready debater in a house full of quickwitted rhetoricians, and it will be seen that even he contributed some elements of weakness to his own ministry.
In matter of fact, his government lasted less than four months, that is, until May 28, 1906. His absurd association with Sacchi and Pantano, and his own defects as a parliamentary leader, soon involved him in difficulties, as did also his haughty and uncompromising spirit. After the last eruption of Vesuvius, for example, taking warning from the misuse of the money subscribed for the sufferers in the Calabrian earthquake, he very wisely appointed the Duke of Aosta as treasurer of the relief-funds. But when some Neapolitan deputies complained that this was a reflection on the honesty of their constituents, he retorted that Neapolitan honesty was a thing he was quite willing to reflect upon, — an unnecessary piece of candor that cost him a number of votes on the critical division. His opponents, consolidated under Giolitti, waited for their opportunity, and voted him down when he had unwisely staked his fortunes on an unimportant issue.
Giolitti was summoned by the King to form a new ministry, and made, as I have been credibly informed, the express stipulation that there should not be a general election, except by limitation, until he gave the word. He himself became Minister of the Interior (Home Secretary), and Tittoni, ablest of the younger Italian diplomats, was recalled from the embassy at London, to be made Minister of Foreign Affairs. This ministry has been in power ever since, and even its opponents are compelled to admit that its services have been very considerable. During the last two years, and beginning before that time, Italy’s commerce and manufactures have increased by leaps and bounds, and the budgets have shown a large balance to the good. Tittoni has improved relations with Austria, and in other ways safeguarded Italy’s position in European politics. For that position of late years had been none of the most secure.
It must be remembered that the Triple Alliance between Germany, Italy, and Austria, at the time it was formed in 1882, was designed in part to protect Italy against France, in those years an outspokenly malevolent neighbor. But relations with France, especially since Loubet’s visit in 1904, have gone on steadily improving. Italy has also become a sort of silent third in the good understanding between France and England. In fact, at the Algeciras Conference. Italy’s moral support went to the side of France and England rather than to Germany, her ally. But the Marquis Venosta, her representative, an astute and seasoned diplomat of the old school, conducted his negotiations with such address that, although the German press raged and fumed, the Berlin Foreign Office could find nothing against which to enter a diplomatic protest. Wherefore, in case of a European war, say between England and Germany, Italy, as one of her statesmen has put it, might find herself compelled to choose between her friends and her allies. And it is generally believed that she has given her partners to understand that they need not expect her help in any individual quarrel.
On the other hand, the Triple Alliance is still of service to Italy precisely for the reason that, much of the old hostility between Italians and Austrians still remaining, it makes Austria formally, and to a certain extent really, her ally. There is accordingly no serious opposition in Italy to maintaining it, nor to keeping up the strong army and navy which it implies. But the army and navy have not merely the incentive of making the country an acceptable ally. A year ago in May, Admiral Mirabello, the Minister of Marine, in proposing the naval estimates, which were accepted, declared it to be Italy’s policy to maintain a stronger fleet than any other power whose coastline is exclusively Mediterranean. This, of course, could mean only Austria.
In home politics, unquestionably the most important development of recent times has been the entrance of the Clericals into politics, their coalition with the Moderate Liberals, to which I have already referred, and the consequent declension, I mean politically, of the Socialists. There are only three or four Clerical deputies in the Chamber itself, but Giolitti, since many of his seats were won by their aid in 1904, must govern himself accordingly, and two members of his new Cabinet, Tittoni and Gianturco, belonged to the Clerical Right. There can, in my opinion, be no doubt that in consolidating the Moderate Liberals and Clericals against the Socialists, he has rendered a real service to the country, as well as strengthened his own political position.
I have already related how, in the general election of November, 1904, there were in many colleges open coalitions between the Moderates and Clericals, which were unopposed, nay, in some cases actively encouraged, by the ecclesiastical authorities. The non-expedit could hardly be maintained in practice after this, and judging from the acts and utterances of Pius X before his election, he personally was willing enough to see it go. At any rate, on June 20, 1905. he addressed an Encyclical to the Italian Bishops in which the non-expedit was practically, though not formally, abolished. Grave reasons, said His Holiness, deterred him from abrogating the law. But reasons equally weighty, deduced from the welfare of society, might demand that in special cases it be suspended, especially when his venerable brothers, the Italian Bishops, considered it necessary. In fact, in April, 1907, the non-expedit was formally suspended for Girgenti, at the request of her bishop. But it has been a dead letter ever since the Encyclical, whether with or without formal suspension. And after the Encyclical was published, the Giornale d’ Italia of Rome printed a long series of interviews on the subject with public men of every shade of political opinion from extreme Conservatives to Socialists. They all agreed, with remarkable unanimity, that the Pope’s action would be for the good of Italian politics, because thereafter a large and most respectable class of citizens would be openly and honestly represented.
I have said above that Giolitti did well by his country in consolidating Moderate Liberals and Clericals against the Socialists. By this I do not mean to say that the Socialists might not become a useful factor in public life. On the contrary, it is precisely the laboring classes, whom they are supposed to represent, and who are building up modern industrial Italy, that are actually unrepresented in Parliament. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say that, in Italy, Socialism has been almost independent of the proletariat. Its leaders have come from the middle classes, who are its natural foes, and from the “ intellectuals.” A number of reasons can be given for this, — revolutionary habits of mind inherited from the Risorgimento, and not yet outlived; illiteracy, total or partial, among the lower classes; the absence of a compact liberal party; but chiefly, perhaps, too much “ higher education,” with its natural consequence of overcrowding in the learned professions.
Italy has, according to the most recent census, 24,196 lawyers, or seven and a half in every thousand of the entire population (the percentage is only one and a half in university-ridden Prussia), 22,168 physicians, and 813 dentists. Unemployed professional men find an easy outlet for their discontent, and sometimes emolument and political honors, in agitation on behalf of the down-trodden poor, including such persons as underpaid teachers and employees of the higher class. Hence it results that, although there are a few less than 257,000 registered proletariat electors, the Socialist party has shown a voting strength of more than 325,000; also that, in the last general elections, out of thirty-three Socialist deputies returned, twenty-eight were university men of the middle class, and not a few of them well-to-do, three were of the lower middle class, and only two were workmen. Nevertheless, though unrepresented to this extent in Parliament, the laboring classes take only a languid interest in that part of the Socialist programme which calls for manhood suffrage. Nor is it at all likely that, until they are much better educated than at present, manhood suffrage would send many more deputies of their own class to the Chamber; or, that such deputies, if elected, would do their cause much good, or add weight to the national councils.
Undoubtedly the laboring classes have many and serious grievances. The incidence of taxation weighs heavily upon them, as there are very high duties on salt, sugar, and coffee, and octroi imposts on articles of food and drink are levied by all municipalities of any size. Nor, in spite of the favorable budgets of the last few years, has the government reduced any tariff except that on petroleum. But although the Socialist party contains elements that may some time go to the making of a good and serviceable labor party, its present enfeebled condition is cause for satisfaction. Though its motives are oftentimes good, its principles are just as often bad. It has gone so much to school to the quasi-philosophical socialism of Marx and to the other German sects, that its openly avowed theories, much more, I believe, than its inner motives, are unsocial and anti-Christian to a degree.
The spectacle of Christian Socialism in England, which has shown itself so powerful at the recent Lambeth Conference, is strange to the Italian mind. Two enthusiastic young Romans, devout Catholics, who lately presented themselves to the Socialist leaders, and, as Christians, demanded enrollment and active service, were coolly informed that they had come to the wrong shop. That the Church itself, with its long record as oppressor and the abettor of oppression, and with its present hostility to the Christian Democratic movement, is largely to blame for this unhappy opposition, the more outspoken Catholics are quite willing to admit. Meanwhile the Socialists, along with the other Secularists, have been crushingly defeated in the Chamber on the subject of religious education. The result of this important vote, taken last February, was to leave religious instruction where it was before. If municipal boards abolish it in the public schools, parents may demand that it be given, in the school building, but out of school hours, by priests or other persons, who are remunerated from the public funds.
On the whole, then, the last two years have been peaceful and prosperous, and signalized by no violent political changes. A law has been passed that will raise the salaries of many thousand deserving government employees. The railway service has been greatly improved, and the next few years will see the construction of many new lines that are already demanded by the volume of home and foreign trade. The national defense has been provided for after many years of waiting, though it seems that the naval defenses have been exaggerated and the military slighted. But the very peace and harmony that now characterize the political and parliamentary situation are, in themselves, a disquieting phenomenon. All effective opposition seems to have disappeared. The protests even of the extreme Left have become feeble and perfunctory, while the opposition elements in the Centre have been absorbed into Giolitti’s huge majority. In fact, as the Corriere della Sera of Milan has observed, in an admirable article on the present situation, the strength of the Giolitti ministry is parliamentary rather than governative, a circumstance that makes his virtual dictatorship a subject for alarm. For example, toward the end of the last session the Chamber rejected a bill, formulated by Rava, the Minister for Public Instruction, for increasing the salaries of university professors. But Rava, though thoroughly discredited in this and other ways, is retained in office because his chief is strong enough to protect him. There are rumors, not generally credited, of a dissolution and general election next spring. As an Italian chamber is elected for a term of five years, the present one does not expire by limitation until the autumn of 1909.
I have already dealt with some religious matters in so far as they are connected with Italian politics. The religious and ecclesiastical history of Italy for the two years just ended possesses an extraordinary interest, but for the most part concerns the rest of the world as much as Italy itself. The Syllabus Lamentabili of July, 1907, directed against the scientific criticism of the Bible; the Encyclical Pascendi in condemnation of the Modernists; the excommunication of Loisy and others, are known and have been discussed all over the civilized world. However, not only does the political situation, as between the Papacy and the Kingdom, give a special character in Italy to acts of ecclesiastical authority, but, in addition to this, the Papacy, as Gregorovius pointed out, in spite of the world-wide range of its power, has always been an Italian institution. It is false to reproach the Italians with being an irreligious people, as is so often done by foreign writers, merely because their own religious notions and practices are different from what they find in Italy. But it is true, and it is probably what these writers usually mean, that the Italians were never Christianized anywhere near so thoroughly as were the Teutonic tribes of northern Europe. The continuance of pagan cults and pagan memories, the persistence of the ancient Roman Imperium under the form of the Roman hierarchy, and the tradition, unbroken in spite of all that is thought and said to the contrary, of classical civilization, were obstacles never entirely overcome in the evangelization of Italy.
The historical consequences of this condition in mediæval and early modern times readily suggest themselves. One of the consequences in our own times I take to be this, that it is hard nowadays to excite the Italian against the Church except as a political factor; which means that, now that he thinks himself secure from it politically, it is hard to excite him against it at all. Even if he be indifferent or unbelieving, as so many of the educated classes are, the long unbroken tradition of cult and observance, in many cases older than Christianity itself, the might and majesty of the Church and its ancient renown, have a powerful hold upon him in spite of his intellectual attitude.
These facts must be borne in mind when we consider the subject of Modernism in Italy. That the Italian clergy and laity, and the best of them, have been strongly influenced by this movement there can be no doubt whatever. The condemnation of the“ Christian Democrats,” and subsequently of their leader, Don Romolo Murri, and the decree of the Holy Office that placed Fogazzaro’s Il Santo on the Index, are well-known facts. It may not be so well known that, in the summer of 1907, after the promulgation of the Syllabus Lamentabili, five Italian priests addressed anonymously an open letter to the Pope, entitled Quello che vogliamo (What We Want), protesting in the plainest and most vigorous terms against his violation of freedom of thought and conscience, and reproaching him with reversing the enlightened policy of his predecessor. And more importantly, on October 28, 1907, a month after the publication of the Encyclical Pascendi, appeared, also anonymously, Il Programma dei Modernisti (The Modernists’ Programme), a reply to the Encyclical, and generally supposed to be the work of priests.2
The mere fact of such a reply, coming from a Roman Catholic source, in itself gave this document a special importance. And this effect was enhanced by all the qualities that such a composition ought to show, — learning, moderation, dialectical skill, and respect for the person of the Sovereign Pontiff. The authors had no difficulty in vindicating the Modernists from the Encyclical’s accusation of agnosticism and irreligion, nor in proving that the persons responsible for it, whom with studious irony they always imply not to be the Pope, had no adequate conception of the critical and philosophical problem. And following the lead of their master, the great and saintly Newman, who, as Tyrrell has shown, was the father of all Modernist thought, they maintain that throughout the ages, especially when the Greek Fathers brought Christian theology into harmony with Neo-Platonism, nnd also when St. Thomas reasserted it in terms of Aristotelian philosophy, the Church has constantly adjusted her teaching to the language of contemporary thought.
Of course, the authors of the Programme, and all who had in any way collaborated in it, were excommunicated. In the diocese of Rome the book was interdicted under pain of mortal sin declared against those who bought it, sold it, or kept it in their possession. On the morning after it was published, emissaries were sent to all the churches in Rome where there were suspected priests, in the hope that some of them, in consequence of the excommunication, might reveal their identity by omitting to say mass. But in the whole city that morning there was not a single mass less than usual. Then the Cardinal Vicar telegraphed to the bishops of all dioceses where there were priests under suspicion, instructing them to adopt similar measures. But even this inquisition yielded no results. The Programme has been translated into English, French, and German, and the Italian edition has long since been exhausted.
I have said above that it is hard to arouse the Italian against the Church, except politically; hard it is, indeed, but not impossible. And this difficult feat the intransigent party now in control seems to have accomplished. They have followed up their worse than useless persecutions in a way that has grieved their friends and delighted their enemies. To select one or two instances, Mgr. Fracassini, a cautious and orthodox thinker, who was appointed by Leo XIII to a place on the Biblical Commission, was suddenly deposed about a year ago from his post as Rector of the Seminary at Perugia, at first on such grounds as that he was the friend of Murri and Loisy, and allowed his students to read Il Santo; and afterwards, when the archbishop had indignantly protested, the further reason was given that his teaching of Scripture was not in conformity with the desires of the Pope. More recently, Don Salvatore Minocchi of Florence, a learned Hebrew scholar, delivered a lecture, which he had submitted to the ecclesiastical authorities, upholding the familiar view that the accounts in Genesis of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the Fall, were originally Babylonian myths that were taken over by the Hebrew writer, purged of polytheistic error, and transformed into a teaching of the Unity of God. He was cited to appear before the Archbishop of Florence, and having refused to sign a declaration of his belief in the literal, historical truth of those narratives, was suspended from the priesthood. At about the same time the editors of the Rinnovamento of Milan, a liberal theological journal, were put under the major excommunication.
How numerous these Modernists are, it is of course impossible to say.3 But it is quite certain that there are a good many of them, both of clergy and laity, and that they are even more powerful in character and intelligence than in numbers. Some high-placed ecclesiastics, notably Cardinals Capecelatro and Bonomelli, are well known for their charitable attitude toward modern thought. And in spite of popular indifference, traditional reverence for the Church, and its perfected discipline, threatening signs of the times are not wanting. The authors of the Programme attribute the violence of the Curia against the new theology in part to the fact that its members are not at all sure of the tenability of the old. Analogously, their violence in launching excommunications against persons may be partly due to lack of confidence in their own power. At any rate their gross and cruel violations of liberty of thought and conscience have aroused indignation and resentment, even among the apathetic Romans. I know it to be a fact that many of the most cultivated and intelligent Roman laymen were recently on the point of publicly expressing their sympathy with Modernists, and defying the excommunication. It is hard to say what might not happen in the event, not at all unlikely, of the election of a liberal and progressive Pope.
Meanwhile Pius X, in spite of his complete subservience to the party of reaction, has accomplished a noteworthy reform in the administrative and judicial procedure of the Church by his decree dated June 29, 1908. Considered summarily, this decree in the first place reduces to order the Roman Congregations, which, since they were first instituted by Paul III and systematized by Sixtus V, have, in respect of their functions and attributions, developed numerous inconsistencies, inequalities, and anachronisms; and in the second place, by taking from the Congregations all judicial competence, and bestowing this upon the Courts of the Rota and the Segnatura, which are thus restored to their antique splendor and importance. It establishes the distinction now generally observed between judicial and administrative procedure. Speaking more particularly, it is to be remarked that the importance of the Congregation of the Consistory is greatly increased, while that of the Congregation of the Propaganda is greatly diminished. The dioceses in Great Britain, Holland, Luxembourg, the United States, Canada, and Newfoundland, formerly regarded as missionary jurisdictions, will be taken away from the Propaganda and put into direct relations with the Holy See.
Especially in Great Britain, Holland, the United States, and Canada, the dioceses have long since been thoroughly organized, and their bishops have not infrequently complained that they were treated as if they were in charge of uncivilized communities. Catholics in these countries will therefore have the satisfaction of being on an equal footing with their fellow subjects of the Roman obedience in other parts of the world. However, as a writer in the Journal des Débats (July 23) acutely observes, this increased self-importance will not be without its compensations. The procedure of the Propaganda is both quick and gratuitous, while that of the Holy See is slow, expensive, and beset with formalities. But it is only just to add that the present decree relieves petitioners of the Curia of the necessity of employing certain intermediate agents and procurators, of whose expensive services they were formerly, whether laymen or ecclesiastics, individuals or communities, compelled to avail themselves.
But I must content myself with this bare mention of a reform which reflects much credit on the present Pontiff and his advisers, and by which they have promoted the cause of justice and good government. As the decree does not take effect until the present month of November, and as certain regulations and dispositions governing matters of detail have not yet been published, I shall return to this same subject in a future article.
- Baron Sonnino was, first, Minister of Finance, and afterwards Minister of the Treasury, for a time performing the duties of both offices, in the Crispi Ministry that lasted from December 15, 1893, to March 4, 1896.↩
- “Supposed to be ” is the expression used by the French translator, but I think there can be no doubt of the fact. In Part III the authors refer to their early scholastic education, after receiving which they forced themselves to learn the language and understand the thoughts of he modern world.↩
- I use this term in a wide and vague sense, including all who are in sympathy with modern critical and historical theology. Thus it takes in many who would stop far short of the extreme critical position of Loisy. Modernism is not a party, but only a league of sympathy among minds that are moving in the same general direction.↩