Thursday, August 9, 2012
Monarchist Profile: Vincenzo Gioberti
Vincenzo Gioberti was born on April 5, 1801 in Turin, in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and early in life he decided on a religious career. He trained for the priesthood with the fathers of the Oratory and in 1825 was ordained priest. As a young priest he was influenced by the writings of the revolutionary republican Giuseppe Mazzini. He rejected his anti-clericalism but embraced the idea of Italian unity wholeheartedly. While others in the revolutionary camp looked to Freemasonry and the Carbonari to create a “new religious synthesis” in Italy, Gioberti believed that it was the Catholic Church that was the pride and glory of Italy and that it was the Churchy, under the leadership of the Papacy, that was uniquely qualified to lead the Italian people to national unity, renewed vitality and renewed greatness. Since the fall of Imperial Rome it had, after all, been the great Pontiffs of the Italian Renaissance who had come the closest to forging a pan-Italian political unity, which was also a time of artistic and scientific flowering. As Gioberti saw it, the Church was uniquely qualified to bring about such a rejuvenation against and that the Papacy was the one focus of unity that everyone had in common and which could bring together all Italians in a common cause.
It was primarily this work by which Gioberti made the cause of Italian unification something that respectable, middle class people could get behind rather than being the exclusive domain of anti-clerical republicans and bomb-throwing revolutionaries. He recounted the glories of the civilization of the Italian people and in the cultural, non-political sphere, it was certainly the Papacy that was the most brilliant jewel of all. Gioberti envisioned a coming together of Rome and Turin, the spiritual greatness of the Holy See with the secular greatness of the Royal House of Savoy. He proposed that the princes of Italy grant representative government on their own local levels with consultative assemblies to advise but not govern the states. The states of Italy should then bind themselves together in a federation under the supra-national leadership of the Pope in order to have a common military, foreign policy, overseas colonies and a customs union while each state retained its own monarchy and unique local traditions. He rejected the republican nationalism of Mazzini which sought to weld all Italians from Turin to Naples into a single, uniform entity in favor of a more federal model of “consultative monarchies” which would be somewhat similar to what the German states eventually achieved several decades later.
Many people were won over by this argument, among them the future Pope Pius IX who read the book in which it was put forward in 1845. The next year, as Pope, it seemed to many that Pius IX was going perfectly step by step to put the vision of Gioberti into effect. He spoke of the Italian nation, authorized a consultative assembly for the Papal States and began encouraging greater unity and cooperation among the Italian princes. People across the peninsula cheered these moves and it seemed that Gioberti had truly shown the way for the best possible sort of unification. However, Gioberti had said that all depended on the alliance of Rome and Turin and it frustratingly seemed that when Turin favored his philosophy, Rome adamantly opposed it only to see Rome embrace the idea after Turin had discarded it. In 1848 Gioberti returned to his homeland and was warmly welcomed. King Carlo Alberto offered him a seat in the Piedmontese senate but, feeling unworthy, Gioberti turned it down. Still, he was elected to represent his home district in the Chamber of Deputies and eventually became Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia. Finally in a position to put his ideas into effect, Gioberti immediately began trying to reconcile the opposing sides of the revolution, sending an envoy to the Pope, who had fled to Gaeta, with orders that he talk to the leaders of the Roman Republic along the way.
Gioberti left office not long after the accession of King Vittorio Emanuele II and after disagreements with the government he left politics. He was sent on a diplomatic mission to Paris and remained there for the rest of his life, refusing a government pension or any religious assistance. He died of a stroke on October 26, 1852.