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Vincenzo Gioberti

Italian statesman and philosopher, b. 1801; d. 1852

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Gioberti, VINCENZO, Italian statesman and philosopher; b. at Turin, April 5, 1801; d. at Paris, October 26, 1852. When still very young he lost his parents, and at the age of sixteen he was admitted among the clerics of the court; he studied theology at the Turin University, and obtained there the doctorate; he was ordained priest in 1825 and appointed court chaplain and professor in the theological college. In 1828 he made a journey through Lombardy, and became friendly with Manzoni and other great men. He caused Rosmini’s philosophy to be known in Pied-mont, though at a later date he became its opponent. At this time under the pen-name “Demofilo” he was writing articles in Mazzini’s “Giovane Italia”, printed at Marseilles. In 1833 he resigned his court chaplaincy, and soon after was arrested on suspicion of political intrigues. Nothing could be proved against him, but he was expelled from the country and went to Paris, where he made many friends. He now ceased contributing to the “Giovane Italia”, and Cousin offered him a chair of philosophy on condition that he would not oppose Cousin’s own philosophical system. Though financially in very straitened circumstances, Gioberti refused the offer. He then accepted an offer to teach philosophy in a private school at Brussels conducted by an Italian. During his stay in Brussels most of his works were published.

In 1841, on the appearance of his book “Del Buono”, the Grand Duke of Tuscany offered him a chair in the Pisa University, but King Charles Albert objected, and the offer came to nothing. His fame in Italy dates from 1843 when he published his “Del primato morale e civile degli Italiani”, which he dedicated to Silvio Pellico. Starting with the greatness of ancient Rome he traced history down through the splendors of the papacy, and recounting all that science and art owed to the genius of Italy, he declared that the Italian people were a model for all nations, and that their then insignificance was the result of their weakness politically, to remedy which he proposed a confederation of all the states of Italy with the pope as their head. It is curious that in this work he is very severe on the French, yet he has not a word to say about the Austrians who then occupied Lombardy and the Venetian territory. Pope and prince received the work very coldly, and a few Jesuits wrote against it. In 1845 he was once more in Paris and published the “Prolegomeni al Primato”, in which he attacked the Jesuits; and in 1847 he printed “Il Gesuita Moderno”, a large sized pamphlet, full of vulgar invective; in 1848 this was followed by an “Apologia del Gesuita Moderno”. These works were answered in 1849 by the Jesuit Father Curci’s “Divinazione sulle tre ultime opere di V. Gioberti”. Early in 1848, when Italy was burning with hopes of liberty and independence, Gioberti returned to his native land and was joyously received by his fellow-townsmen. Soon afterwards he went to Milan to calm the over-impetuous and to oppose Mazzini; from there he visited King Charles Albert at Sommacampagna. He received a mission for Rome, and on his arrival his reception was so enthusiastic that the pope became alarmed. On his return from Rome the king wanted to appoint him senator of the kingdom, but Gioberti preferred to be elected as deputy; he became president of the Chamber and, in July, he joined the Collegno cabinet. After the unfortunate Salasco armistice he broke up the cabinet, declared for a continuation of the war against Austria, and bitterly assailed the Revel ministry. He next founded a society to propagate the idea of a federated Italy, with the King of Piedmont and not the pope at its head. In December he became president of the ministry (with Rattazzi and other democrats), but whereas the new cabinet was all for war, Gioberti had learned caution, and was anxious to reorganize the army. Moreover, he wanted Piedmont to reestablish in their estates the pope and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had been driven out by the revolution; so he quarreled with his fellow-ministers and resigned on February 20, 1849, but in the newspapers he carried on the quarrel. After the disastrous battle of Novara (March 23, 1849), Victor Emmanuel II offered him a portfolio; he agreed to join the ministry but would not take a portfolio. He was then sent as plenipotentiary minister to Paris to so-licit French aid in Italy. He was unsuccessful, and finding he was out of favor at Turin he resigned his post, but remained in Paris, where, after three years passed in study, he died. In 1851 he published his “Rinnovamento civile d’Italia” which contains an impassioned criticism of political events from 1848 onwards. This last book, while it clings to the idea of a federated Italy, shows that Gioberti was a republican, and that he hoped the loss of the papal temporal power would bring about the religious renovation of Italy. Thereupon all his works were put on the Index. His closing years were embittered by seeing his hopes shattered, and this bitterness finds an echo in his works.

Gioberti’s philosophy is a mixture of pantheistic ontologism with Platonism and traditionalism. The ontologism of Malebranche, as modified by Cardinal Gerdil, had been taught him at the Turin University. His first principle is that the primum cognitum of the human intellect is idea or being; i.e., absolute and eternal truth as far as “human intuition” can grasp it is God Himself. “Being” he calls the primum philosophicum, because in the mental order it is the primum psychologicum, and in the order of existing things it is the primum ontologicum; it is the common foundation of all reality and all knowledge. Intuition of being embraces the judgment, “being exists or is necessarily”, which is not the result of any mental process, but is the spontaneous effect produced when being presents itself to the mind. But in being we merely see its relative attributes, not its essence, which remains unknown (the superintelligible) and is the object of revealed religion. Among these relative attributes is comprised the creative act, by intuition of which, in being, we arrive at a knowledge of its results, namely, contingent things, and thus establish the formula idealis, “being creates existing things”, ens treat existentias. This judgment is synthetical a priori, not in the Kantian sense, but by “objective synthesis” resulting from the revelation of being. However, intuition of the idea remains too indeterminate; and hence the necessity of speech which so circumscribes the idea that we can contemplate or rethink it (this is pure traditionalism).

His theory of creation is the most important part of his system and requires a longer explanation. He calls the idea also the Esse Universale, which is common to and identical in all things, and which is nothing more or less than their possibility itself. Before the creation the idea (being, God) is universalis and abstract. It becomes concrete by its own act, individuating itself, making itself finite, and multiplying itself. “To create is therefore to individuate.” In this process the intelligible that was absolute becomes relative; there are two cycles to the process, one descending, inasmuch as the idea infringes on the concrete (mimesis), the other ascending, inasmuch as it reaches out more and more towards the intelligible absolute (methexis), and participates of the Divine Being (this is pure Platonism). Thus he arrives at the conclusion that in the intellectual order the ideas of created things are so many steps in the scale of the Divine Essence. And as regards creation, he adopts the saying of Hegel that “logic… is nothing but creation”. From all this, Gioberti’s pantheism is evident. No doubt he is always asserting that God was distinct from His creatures; but the the sincerity of these statements is not beyond question. As a matter of fact, after his separation from the Mazzinians they published a letter of his to the “Giovane Italia” in which he expressly stated that “pantheism is the only true and sound philosophy”. His theory of mimesis and methexis is also used to prove the immortality of the soul. Then again the idea of being is made the foundation of moral obligation as a binding force, and, inasmuch as it approves or disapproves, we have the concepts of merit and demerit. The aim of the moral law is to bring to pass the perfect union of existences and being, in other words to complete the methexic cycle. Man endowed with freedom can approach or keep away from being; hence the origin of evil; and when such aversion from being is endless it becomes necessary and immanent. Later, however, recognizing that this would be an exception to the “logical” law of methexis, he denied this eternal immanence of evil.

It is noteworthy that, in politics, he denied the sovereignty of the people. In Gioberti’s theory the object of religion is the supernatural and the superintelligible, which meant according to him the essence of being revealed by means of speech. On the other hand he treats at length of the harmony between religion and science or civilization. But as a rule all his vague theorizing was tinged with rationalism, and even in his latest works he writes: “science and civilization must go on throwing light on what is supernatural and superintelligible in religion”; and again, “modern rationalism is destined to bring about the union of orthodoxy and science”. His philosophical works are: “Teorica del sovrannaturale” (1838; 2nd ed., with replies to critics, 1850); “Introduzione allo studio della filosofia” (1840); “Lettere sugli errori politico-religiosi di Lamennais” (1840); “Del Bello” and “Del Buono” (1841); “Errori filosofici di Antonio Rosmini” (1842). Mention should also be made of his posthumous works: “Riforma Cattolica”; “Filosofia della Rivelazione”; “Protologia”. His complete works in thirty-five volumes were published at Naples, in 1877.


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