Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism / Edition 1

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For years, historians have argued that Catholicism in the United States stood decisively apart from papal politics in European society. The Church in America, historians insist, forged an "American Catholicism," a national faith responsive to domestic concerns, disengaged from the disruptive ideological conflicts of the Old World. Drawing on previously unexamined documents from Italian state collections and newly opened Vatican archives, Peter D'Agostino paints a starkly different portrait. In his narrative, Catholicism in the United States emerges as a powerful outpost within an international church that struggled for three generations to vindicate the temporal claims of the papacy within European society.

Even as they assimilated into American society, Catholics of all ethnicities participated in a vital, international culture of myths, rituals, and symbols that glorified papal Rome and demonized its liberal, Protestant, and Jewish opponents. From the 1848 attack on the Papal States that culminated in the creation of the Kingdom of Italy to the Lateran Treaties in 1929 between Fascist Italy and the Vatican that established Vatican City, American Catholics consistently rose up to support their Holy Father. At every turn American liberals, Protestants, and Jews resisted Catholics, whose support for the papacy revealed social boundaries that separated them from their American neighbors.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An important book. . . . Highly recommended . . . for graduate students and scholars."
The Catholic Historical Review

"A masterful accomplishment, both in its scholarship and its reader-friendly prose style."
Theological Studies

"Provides an elaborately rich context for understanding modern Catholicism even as it undermines the canonical interpretation of American Catholic history. . . . Groundbreaking, provocative, wide-ranging, and nicely written. . . . Challenges future historians to rethink the history of American Catholicism in an appropriately international context."
American Historical Review

D'Agostino examines the origins of Catholic conflict with American liberalism, showing how Catholics participated in an international culture of shared myths, rituals, and symbols that glorified papal Rome. When Mussolini and the pope established Vatican City in 1929, American Catholic support of Fascist Italy drew suspicions from liberals in mid-twentieth-century America.

Catholicism is an international religion, and the Catholic Church an internationally important institution. With his careful archival research and innovative analysis of the "Roman question", D'Agostino challenges us to re-think exceptionalist histories of American Catholicism and of Italian immigration, and to take seriously the ideologies that connect the U.S., Italy, and Europe. (Donna R. Gabaccia, University of Pittsburgh)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855157
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 4/19/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter R. D'Agostino (1962-2005) was associate professor of history and Catholic studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Rome in America was awarded the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize by the American Society of Church History.

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Read an Excerpt

Rome in America

Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism
By Peter R. D'Agostino

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

Chapter One

The Roman Question

The Battle for Civilization, 1815-1878

On 29 November 1847, several thousand New Yorkers gathered at the Broadway Tabernacle to honor Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti. His popular "enlightened policy and liberal measures" boded well for champions of the movement to unify Italy. Mayor William Brady presided as Protestant clergy rubbed shoulders with Gotham's redoubtable Roman Catholic bishop John Hughes. An ebullient audience applauded letters celebrating Mastai-Ferretti. Former president Martin Van Buren heralded the "patriotic head" of the people of Italy. Vice President George Dallas admired the "sublimity of his genius; ... the unassailable purity of his life; ... [his] rare combination of intellectual and moral excellences, fitting him for the love and leadership of a reviving people." Secretary of State James Buchanan discerned in Mastai-Ferretti "an instrument destined by Providence to accomplish the political regeneration of his country." Horace Greeley waxed non-nativist as he read the address to this "Heaven-appointed instrument" of a "wise and beneficent policy." It was a remarkable sight, indeed, this Anglo-Protestant embrace of the man who had ascended the papal throne in 1846 and taken the name Pius IX.

The first eighteen months of Pius IX's pontificate (1846-78) inspired dreamy hopes for a new dawn in the interwoven stories of liberty and of Italy. The possibility that the Vicar of Christ might baptize the liberal-national struggle to oust Austrians from Italy captivated Europeans and Americans. The Risorgimento, the movement for Italian unity and independence between 1815 and 1870, mediated the Church's rendezvous with progressive ideas in the nineteenth century. Pius did not encounter liberalism in abstract theological manuals or philosophical disputations but in the blood-drenched collision of armies that determined the earthly destiny of his sacred home.

During Pius's long pontificate, the ideology of the Roman Question took shape. After Napoleonic Europe crumbled, monarchs reclaimed their losses at the Council of Vienna (1815). Over the next three decades, Italian Catholics nurtured visions of Italian unification under the auspices of the papacy. But the revolutions of 1848 that erupted throughout Europe ended this flirtation between liberal nationalism and Catholicism and set the Church on a course of reaction. Radical democrats struggled unsuccessfully against moderate liberals for leadership of the Risorgimento, which culminated in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In the process Pius lost most of his Papal States, a territory that stretched across the center of the Italian peninsula from Rome to Ancona and as far north as Bologna. He condemned the Italian kingdom, Liberal Italy, with reckless fury. Finally, on the 20th of September in 1870, Italian troops broke through the ancient wall near the Porta Pia, conquered papal Rome, and transferred Italy's capital from Florence to the Eternal City. Pius dramatized his intransigent protest, proclaimed himself a "prisoner in the Vatican," and awaited the downfall of the demonic state that had incarcerated him and the "real Italy," the Catholic nation.

Americans participated in these events. The Roman Question, the contested status of the papacy in Liberal Italy, generated an ideology of protest and subversion against the usurper state throughout the Catholic world. American Catholics, like Catholics elsewhere, demanded the restoration of the Papal States. The pope's temporal power was a necessary precondition to his spiritual autonomy, argued Catholics who denounced Liberal Italy as an evil and monstrous injustice. In addition, the restoration of papal Rome held the key to the preservation of civilization. In contrast, American Protestants and Jews celebrated Italian liberty, unity, and independence. For them the blow struck against papal tyranny was evidence of the millennial march of progress from the New World to the Old. Consequently, the conquest of the Papal States strengthened boundaries separating Catholics from other Americans. The explosion of Catholics' communication media from 1848 to 1878-newspapers, periodicals, devotional texts, transatlantic correspondence-facilitated the dissemination of the ideology of the Roman Question and the rise of a popular cult to Pius, a suffering Christ figure crucified on the modern Calvary called the Vatican.

The Neoguelf Origins of the Ideology of the Roman Question

Catholics created the ideology of the Roman Question out of ideas and symbols prevalent during the Restoration (1815-48), when Catholic romantics embraced the great themes of the Risorgimento-liberty, unity, independence. Italy, they believed, was a Catholic nation with a universal mission. Influenced by liberal ideas their French rulers had impressed upon them, Italian Catholics harmonized romantic and liberal values into suggestive histories of how downtrodden Italy might revive past glories through reform of state and Church. However, even as romantics prophesied an Italian resurgence, despots backed with the force of arms kept Italy divided.

Pope Gregory XVI (1831-46) ruled his Papal States without a constitution, and his encyclical "Mirari vos" (1832) did not hide his disgust for the new ideals animating Europe. He condemned liberalism, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press and supplied American nativists with evidence of Catholic hostility to democracy. Austrian military dominance over the Italian peninsula may have inspired romantic musings about barbarian invaders of late antiquity, but realists scoffed at the idea that an independent or liberal Italy was in the making. Austria ruled over Lombardy-Venetia and had close ties to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchies of Parma and Modena, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The House of Savoy's stranglehold over the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (hereafter, the Kingdom of Piedmont) further ensured division and absolutism.

Still, dreamers wrote, preached, and painted a national past. Where did they turn for paradigmatic precursors for this most unlikely national resurgence? Ancient Rome, an obvious repository of Italian greatness, lost appeal after the Napoleonic interregnum tainted the propaganda value of classicism. Few doubted Italian preeminence in the Renaissance, but its political failures had ushered in foreign servitude. Consequently, advocates of the national idea plundered the Middle Ages in their search for Italy. Even if reaction reigned in Gregory's Papal States, papal Rome had once been a source of Italian unity and civilization. Catholic ideologues for a united Italy, the "neoguelfs," who took their name from the Guelf supporters of the medieval papacy against northern European imperial intrusions into Italy, envisioned a reinvigorated papacy at the center of European civilization and Italian national history. On the theological level, neoguelf writers debated the nature of papal and national sovereignty. On the ethico-civic plane, they highlighted the centrality of Catholicism as the source of civilization. Appealing to history, neoguelfs contended that the papacy was the center of any proper rendering of the Italian past.

Historian Francesco Traniello explains how neoguelfism took both liberal-nationalist and absolutist formulations during the Restoration. In Du pape (1819) Joseph-Marie Compte de Maistre argued that the sovereign gave the nation "its social existence and all of its resulting goods." Medieval popes, he contended, had defended the liberty of Italian princes from Germanic imperial domination. The pope, in fact, was the custodian of the very idea of sovereignty. To attack the pope's temporal sovereignty over the Papal States was to assault all sovereigns and civilization itself. Alessandro Manzoni, by contrast, opposed de Maistre's theocratic ideal. In Discorso sopra alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia (1820), Manzoni claimed national identity existed independently of political power. When the Lombard invaders subjugated the Latin people on the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire, the conquered nation did not assimilate. While de Maistre portrayed the pope as the defender of Italian princes, Manzoni depicted the pope as "an object of veneration" to the oppressed Italian nation suffering under the Germanic heel. Manzoni likened Italy to Israel in bondage inside Egypt. The Italian nation had turned to the pope as a religious symbol of hope, not as a temporal ruler.

Neoguelfs improvised creatively upon such formulations before 1848. They called for a confederation of existing Italian states under the presidency of the pope, and they accepted the idea of a constitution. Most neoguelfs aligned themselves with moderate liberals (henceforth, the "moderates") and remained stalwart enemies of republican democrats (henceforth, the "democrats") like Giuseppe Mazzini. Deeply concerned for the freedom of the Church, neoguelfs criticized state control over Church property, ecclesiastical appointments, and papal communication networks. In the eighteenth century, such Erastian arrangements had interfered with the Church, undermined Catholic morality, and led ecclesiastical leaders to neglect spirituality. Thus, neoguelfism proposed Church reforms that would trigger the renewal of Italian society.

Neoguelfism shared affinities with "ultramontanism," an international movement that rallied Catholics to the pope as the source of Church liberty and independence against the absolutist state. For a brief moment during the Restoration, some ultramontanes called for a separation of Church and state as a way to free the Church from the state. But after repeated papal condemnations of liberalism and the separation of Church and state, ultramontanism in the late nineteenth century grew into a mass phenomenon perpetuated through popular devotions that cultivated affections for the Holy Father, his absolute authority over the Church, and the restoration of the Papal States.

During the 1840s, neoguelfs inspired hope for the Risorgimento as both a political and spiritual awakening. In The Five Wounds of the Church (1848), Father Antonio Rosmini lamented divisions within the Church as well as state influence over bishops and priests. He believed a vernacular liturgy would enhance lay participation in the mass, and he called for laity and clergy to select bishops. Rosmini urged clergy to withdraw from temporal concerns and for the Church to reject state privileges and make itself accountable to the laity, not to the state. Once liberty permeated the Church, Rosmini hoped it would revitalize the nation, which would thrive within a united federation of Italian states.

In 1843, famous Piedmontese priest and statesman Vincenzo Gioberti published On the Moral and Civil Primacy of the Italians, an 800-page neoguelf manifesto. He exalted papal Rome as the center of civilization and the Italian nation. Catholicism, with the papacy as its universal guide, had created the Italian nation, the papacy's vehicle to spread civilization. "The Italians, humanly speaking, are the Levites of Christianity; being specifically chosen by Providence to have among them the Christian Pontificate." And "if in the proper religious sphere the Pope no longer belongs to Italy alone among the nations, ... in the civil sphere he was the creator of Italian genius." Gioberti linked the resurgence of Italy, "a nation of priests," to Christian themes of redemption and resurrection. There were no racial overtones to Gioberti's idea of the nation, a people forged in history through God's Providence. The nation grew organically out of family, village, and province and was not the last point of providential social development. Just as war had aggregated nations under the umbrella of the Roman Empire, in the Christian era the papacy linked nations into a spiritual imperium, without negating national aspirations for independence. Gioberti called for a confederation of Italian states under the presidency of the pope who would initiate liberal reforms within the confederation without limiting the autonomy of existing rulers.

During the first two years of Pius's pontificate, neoguelf ideas seemed prophetic. Wishful Catholics, liberals, and Protestants fantasized how Pius would bless a national war against Austria. When the consecration was not forthcoming, the 1848 Italian revolution quickly took an antipapal turn. The moderates' search for national leadership shifted from the papacy to the monarchy of Piedmont. After 1848, neoguelfism laid the foundation for the Catholic "anti-Risorgimento," and its root ideas became building blocks of the ideology of the Roman Question. Thereafter, neoguelfism offered a Catholic alternative to both the moderate and democratic imaginings of an Italian nation, and American Catholics embraced neoguelfism in their blistering anti-Risorgimento crusade for three generations.

Before the revolution of 1848, the United States Catholic Magazine endorsed Gioberti's Moral and Civil Primacy and the myth of Pius IX as an Italian Moses. "Pius IX is ... destined to be in the hands of divine Providence the restorer of Italian nationality and the saviour of Italy." Pius had "lately recognised-at least virtually-the democratic principle of popular representation," while Austria stubbornly remained "the avowed enemy of all reform." The Catholic Magazine framed the events in terms pilfered from Italian neoguelfs. "The old struggle between the Guelfs, ... the ardent friends of Italian liberty, and the most uncompromising champions of Italian nationality," and the Ghibellines, who "had secretly or openly advocated the cause of the German emperors, and had sought to establish a foreign despotism on the ruins of Italian freedom," was again unfolding. The Catholic Magazine backed Gioberti's moderates against the democrats, "revolutionists," who were "the greatest curse to Italy" and "the greatest pests of any well organized society." Although "we dearly ... prize republican institutions, we do not suffer our enthusiasm to betray us into the absurd belief that such institutions are adapted to the temperament and character of every people."

The Catholic Magazine, captive to the myth of Pius IX, described Gioberti's work as if it represented the pope's mind. Pius was enacting a "legal revolution, ... a confederation similar to that of the Swiss cantons, or of our own glorious union." The Catholic Magazine thoroughly endorsed Gioberti's neoguelfism. "Why should not Italy be free and independent? ... Is she not the mother of empire, the fountain of civilization, the land of genius, the home of the fine arts, the parent of inventions, the birth-place of Dante, of Tasso, of Galileo, of Columbus, of Michael Angelo? ...


Excerpted from Rome in America by Peter R. D'Agostino Copyright © 2004 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : whose Rome? Whose Italy? 1
Pt. I Intransigence, 1848-1914
Ch. 1 The Roman question : the battle for civilization, 1815-1878 19
Ch. 2 The transnational symbolic contest for Rome, 1878-1914 53
Ch. 3 The mayor of Rome is an "atheist Jew," 1910-1914 84
Pt. II Transformation, 1914-1929
Ch. 4 The Great War : "keep the Roman question alive," 1914-1920 103
Ch. 5 The church encounters the order Sons of Italy in America, 1913-1921 132
Ch. 6 Catholics meet Mussolini : "the chosen instrument in the hands of divine providence," 1919-1929 158
Pt. III Realization, 1929-1940
Ch. 7 The Lateran Pacts of 1929 and the crisis of 1931 : defending "The Holy Island" 197
Ch. 8 Preaching fascism and American religious politics 230
Ch. 9 Stubborn and lonely : American Catholic anti-fascists 258
Ch. 10 Parish conflicts : the church and fascist Italy manage "all spirit of rebellion" 282
Epilogue 304
Notes 317
Bibliography 361
Index 383
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