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Alberto Melloni (Hg.), Giuseppe Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic Reformer, Zurich-Berlin 2008, LIT-Verlag, 34.90 EUR, 296 S.,  ISBN 978-3825813130

This volume certainly has the merit of offering a complete and articulated view of Giuseppe Dossetti’s figure. His political and juridical commitment, his religious and, more generally, intellectual culture are broached in the perspective of trying to bring about original contributes and of paving the way for new possible researches. Because of their conciseness, many of the essays proposed can offer only some indications to help orientate us, but which would need some more verifications and investigations.

The vastness of the arguments discussed (the political activity in the Resistance and in the Second World War, the religious and ecclesiastical activity, the juridical studies, the prayer, the study of the Holy Book) and of the analyzed period (from the young formation to the return to the public scene in defence of the Italian Constitution) does not allow a detailed analysis of every single contribution. In this sense, it seems on one hand more useful, to bring about general considerations, concerning the overall significance of the work and, on the other hand, to discuss it in detail in order to emphasize the novelty, the limits and the merits of the most original contributes.

Certainly it is not easy to propose a new interpretation of a personality like Dossetti, who has been studied a lot, especially with regard to his political experience. Nonetheless, his religious, intellectual and political vicissitudes need not be considered totally closed to further efforts of comprehension. Not only because of the obvious reason that historical research is always in development and its nature brings it to be reconsidered, to be corrected or to have information added to what has already been considered a given, but also in virtue of a peculiar «fragmentation» of Dossettian Work, [1] due to the scarce systematic approach of the author which gives leeway to new interpretative paths. Even more significant, in this regard, is the tendency (for) to ever-growing attention to Dossettian biographical contextualization. A precise assessment of the different phases of the Cold War is definitely important, for instance, in order to comprehend the fundamental causes of Dossetti’s withdrawal from politics towards the end of 1951.[2] The outbreak of the Korean war, the intricacy of the European unification process and the ever-increasing obviousness of the impossibility to transform the Atlantic Organization into a real «Atlantic Community» represented a decisive turning point, the closing of a political season and the opening of a completely different new era. The consequences on the national level, both political and religious, did not leave space for the reformation perspective advocated by the Dossettian group. In this regard, Alberto Melloni states that «in the early Fifties Dossetti began to realise that there were too many obstacles in his path: the international scenario, Italian politics, and most of all, the mentality of the Roman Catholic Church would frustrate his efforts».[3]

The effort of contextualizing Dosetti’s work has been carried out particularly in two contributions: «The Place of Dossetti Within Western European Left Catholicism» of Gerd-Rainer Horn and «Dossetti nel quadro del costituzionalismo europeo» of Enzo Balboni. Without any doubts, this is the most fruitful way to achieve a better comprehension of the Dossettian phenomenon, also capable of seizing its limits, eluding that apologetic approach founded on the detrimental idea of a persistent validity (and up-to-dateness) of Dossettian positions. Notwithstanding the right intuition, however, the English historian and the Italian jurist do not go any further than the mere generic indications. After having offered a brief picture of the democratic Catholicism situation in France, Germany and Belgium during the Second War World and the immediate post-war period, Horn claims:

«the emergence of the corrente dossettiana was thus no exceptional occurrence within the lifeworld of European Catholics at mid century. But, as was the case with Dossetti’s CLN activism, Dossetti’s postwar engagement at the helm of a leftwing tendency within DC did not entirely conform to the Western European norm. For, whereas elsewhere in Europe, the forces of the Catholic Left diminished as the memory of liberation faded to give way to Cold War concerns, the gruppo dossettiano marched to a different drummer, garnering support in the course of the second half of the 1940s, reaching a (numerical) highpoint at the June 1949 Venice DC party congress».[4]

Having pointed this out, the author does not go so far as to explain the reason of this «exceptionality», or what precisely the Dossettian ideological peculiarity consists of in comparison with other European currents of Catholicism of the Left wing (the category that, said incidentally, would deserve more specifications). In this sense, it would be rather useful to verify, for instance, the degree and the reason of the profound hostility or mistrust of the western nations’ leading classes – both Catholic and Non-Catholic –  towards the Dossettian phenomenon. [5]

Similarly, Enzo Balboni has tried to insert Dossetti’s constitutionalist competences within the contest of European constitutionalism. Although having specified that the juridical education of the intellectual of Reggio Emilia had been founded on canonist bases and on a deep knowledge mostly of Roman law and of Civil law, Balboni correctly maintains that both in the constituent experience and in his following activity Dossetti has demonstrated «to know how to manage with confidence the fundamental categories of the constitutional law and of the comparative law».[6] In this sense, the constituent experience has been a «moulding experience» not only on the practical and on the political theory level, but also on the doctrinal acquisitions in the juridical field. For the occasion of his promotion to full professor in Ecclesiastical law to the Faculty of Jurisprudence of the University of Modena, in the account regarding his teaching and scientific program, Dossetti had recognized that:

«The role he played, most of all at the Constituent Assembly, as a member of the Commission of the 75, of the first Sub-commission, and then of the restricted Committee appointed to the Republic Constitution’s final account, has forced me to tackle more deeply, on a level not only empirical and historical-political but also strictly scientific-systematic, numerous problems of public law (Function and structure of the State, Parliament, elections law, Judiciary, Constitutional Court), which however have remarkably enlarged my doctrinal horizon beyond the special discipline field I cultivated »[7]

The constituent experience had, therefore, been judged as being significant even from a scientific viewpoint. In an undoubtedly surprising way, in addition to the monography «La formazione progressiva del negozio nel matrimonio canonico (contributo alla dottrina degli sponsali e del matrimonio condizionale)», the Reggian jurist had also decided to present as a work to be tried by the judging Commission[8] the discourse pronounced on 21st March 1947 at the Constituent Assembly in defence to the art. 7 of the Italian Constitution, published in the small volume «Chiesa e Stato Democratico».[9]

Both in the constituent works and in the interventions on the topic about the structures and the functions of the legal system (and in particular the renowned relation held at the conference of the Italian Catholic jurists in November 1951) [10] Dossetti has matured both on the historical and political level as well as on the juridical level, as Valerio Onida righteously asserts, his own idea of the «New State».[11] Nevertheless, the originality of the Dossettian view of the State or the doctrinal framework that lies at its foundation does not emerge from Onida’s and Balboni’s contributions either (except in some rapid references). In this sense, an effort of contextualization should persuade the research of how much Giuseppe Dossetti’s theoretical formulation can be judged as a sui generis work and how much, vice versa, it can be fitted in a more extensive framework. It may appear advisable, in this direction, to comprehend the Dossettian viewpoint concerning the State within the «new State’s myth»,[12] which has deeply characterized Italian history[13] and which had found in Romolo Murri’s democratic radicalism and in Luigi Sturzo’s self-government and anti-statalist democracy two fundamental expressions of the antigiolittism of Catholic matrix. [14]

From this viewpoint, it would have been interesting to partner Kenneth Pannington’s study «Giuseppe Dossetti’s Medieval Sources», circumscribed to the only canonist discipline, with a work of analysis of the philosophical and political medieval sources, from San Tommaso to Von Coccejo, [15] most of all taking into consideration that starting from them the Reggian politician comes to a complete reversal of the bases over which the modern State has been built.

The most interesting and original contribution, however, is provided by the young historian Enrico Galavotti who has tackled the problematic theme of Dossetti’s young education. The scarcity of documents available has made it extremely arduous to analyse the theme in an exhaustive way. In this direction, the autobiographical testimony given by the Reggian monk himself, even though important, should be considered with the utmost caution. In fact, whereas it is very significant in order to comprehend the value of some experiences, like for instance, the one in the Reggian Azione cattolica with Dino Torreggiani, [16] in other cases they turn out to be definitely misleading. The hostility with regard to fascism, which Dossetti has always declared to be very precocious, [17] has been traced back to a more suitable measure by historical research. In his essay, Galavotti paves the way for further thorough research:

«Giuseppe Dossetti’s education is in conclusion (after all) a process in which certainly operate (work) common dynamics to an entire generation of Catholics, the maturity access of whom is intervened in a determined political and ecclesiastical climate. It shall (will) be important, to this regard, to comprehend, beyond the autobiographical testimony, the quality and the dimension of Giuseppe’s involvement in the juvenile fascist organization»[18]

These themes have been broached afterward in Gavalotti’s own volume, in which has emerged a not marginal involvement of the student of Reggio in the fascist organization. [19] Dealing with the Reggian GUF (University Fascist Groups), from 1933 to 1935 Dossetti had been more than once reporter of themes explicitly «internal» to the fascist culture. [20] Gavalotti’s analysis on this Dossettian specific experience is, however, rather restrained. A further effort of investigation would certainly be important in order to understand more clearly both the actual incidence of this participation on the intellectual and political education of the Reggian youth and the maturation of his radical anti-fascism.

In synthesis, it can be asserted that the volume edited by Melloni has the merit of indicating two guiding lines of research: on the one hand, a better contextualization of the Dossettian work, able to pave the way to comparative enquiry; on the other, an even more accurate analysis on his political, intellectual and religious formation.  With regard to the religious aspect, it would be certainly interesting to verify, for example, the suggestions proposed by Paolo Bettiolo concerning a possible influence of the Germans Romano Guardini and Karl Adam, [21] so significant in the Catholic culture during the years between the World Wars. [22] Likewise, it would be useful to understand the actual importance of some presumed or real «maestri», with particular reference to the juridical studies: from Antonio Cicu to Arturo Carlo Jemolo and, above all, Vincenzo del Giudice, one of the few whom Dossetti, when alive, explicitly indicated as his «maestro».[23]

In addition to this, in this volume the monastic experience is studied in its full range and offers the occasion for the monastic experience to be explored in its fullness. There are many interesting annotations contained most of all in Roberto Fornaciari’s contribution regarding the spirituality, the ecclesiology and theological vision of the monasticism peculiar to Dossetti. [24] From this point of view the degree of doctrinal maturation which has characterised Dossettian itinerary, beginning from the fundamental Conciliar experience with the personal proximity to cardinal Lercaro and to the fathers Döpfner and Suenens can be comprehended.[25] The studies of this volume will without doubt allow a more appropriate comprehension of fundamental aspects of Dosetti’s biography.

[1]On the incompleteness of dossettian doctrinal corpus see G. Campanini, Dossetti politico, EDB, Bologna, 2004, pag. 16
[2] A thorough analysis of the Christian Democratic leading classes’ different phases and strategies is to be found in G. Formigoni, La Democrazia cristiana e l’alleanza occidentale, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1996 and  in M. Del Pero, L’alleato scomodo. Gli USA e la DC negli anni del centrismo (1948-1955), Carocci, Roma, 2001
[3]A. Melloni, Foreword, in Giuseppe Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic reformer, ed. By A. Melloni, LIT, Zurich-Berlin, 2008, p. 3
[4]G.-R. Horn, The Place of Dossetti Within Western European Left Catholicism, in Ibid., p. 50
[5]In this direction see the relevant early indications to the Belgian case in P. Acanfora, L’alternativa democratico cristiana alla leadership di Alcide De Gasperi: la vicenda politica del dossettismo nel giudizio della diplomazia belga in «Storia e problemi contemporanei», n. 45, May-August 2007, pp. 145-173
[6]E. Balboni, Giuseppe Dossetti nel quadro del costituzionalismo europeo, in Giuseppe Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic reformer, cit., p. 67
[7]Archivio Centrale dello Stato (ACS), Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (MPI), Direzione Generale Istruzione Universitaria (DGIU), fascicoli professori ordinari, III versamento, b. 181, «Relazione sull’attività didattica e scientifica del prof. Giuseppe Dossetti, straordinario di diritto ecclesiastico nella Università di Modena»
[8] The Commission was composed by the professors Arturo Carlo Jemolo, Vincenzo Del Giudice, Agostino D’Avack.
[9]ACS, MPI, DGIU, fasc. pers. prof. ord., III versamento, b. 181, «Elenco delle pubblicazioni del prof. Giuseppe Dossetti, straordinario di diritto ecclesiastico nella università di Modena (presentate per la conferma ad Ordinario)». Naturally, although they appreciated  «the endowments of intelligence, of culture, of literary beautiful form which emerges from it», the members of the committee could not avoid to question the purely scientific value of the work. It is to be seen in the same archival location the file that contains the «Relazione della commissione giudicatrice per la promozione del prof. Giuseppe Dossetti ad ordinario di diritto ecclesiastico».
[10]Cf. G. Dossetti, Funzioni e ordinamento dello stato moderno, in Id., Scritti politici, ed. by G. Trotta, Marietti, Genova, 1995, pp. 346-375
[11] Cf. V. Onida, Giuseppe Dossetti, uomo della costituzione, in Giuseppe Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic reformer, cit., p. 59
[12]Cf. P. Acanfora, «I liturgici di Dio: il mito dello stato nuovo in Giuseppe Dossetti», in Itenerari di cultura giuridica e politica, ed. by M. Sirimarco, Aracne, Roma, 2006, pp. 19-59
[13]Cf. E. Gentile, Il mito dello stato nuovo. Dal radicalismo nazionale al fascismo, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 1999
[14] Cf. Ibidem, pp. 31-82. Giovanni Giolitti was one of the most important Italian politician who managed Italian government during first period of Twentieth century.
[15]Coccejo has been rapidily quoted by Balboni in Giuseppe Dossetti nel quadro del costituzionalismo europeo, cit., p. 76
[16]Cf. E. Galavotti, Sulla formazione di Giuseppe Dossetti: appunti per una ricerca, in Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic reformer, cit., pp. 127-132. Actually, Dossetti in his memories tends to  marginalize also the experience in the Azione cattolica. However, he recognized the great importance which had had for him Dino Torreggiani’s role and presence, above all on an «existential» level more than a cultural one. Cf. A colloquio con Dossetti e Lazzati. Intervista di L. Elia e P. Scoppola, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2003, pp. 24-25
[17]Cf. A colloquio con Dossetti e Lazzati, cit., p. 24
[18]E. Galavotti, Sulla formazione di Giuseppe Dossetti: appunti per una ricerca, cit., p. 132
[19]Id., Il giovane Dossetti. Gli anni della formazione, 1913-1939, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2006, pp. 85-92
[20]In December 1933, within the district group’s activities «Amos Maramotti», Dossetti held a conference on «L’originalità del fascismo»; in January 1934, as a  member of the Comando Federale dei Fasci Giovanili, he gave a report, to the Casa del Fascio of Montecchio, on the theme «Esperimento bolscevico e rinnovamento fascista»; in November the 30th, 1934 he held a conference on «La limitazione della libertà individuale in rapporto alle esigenze di vita dell’ordine sociale» and in January  1935 on «Bolscevismo e civiltà romana».
[21]Cf. P. Bettiolo, Lettura della tradizione e scelte nel presente ecclesiale e civile. Uno schizzo, in Dossetti. Stuides on an Italian Catholic reformer, cit., p. 87, note 7
[22]Cf. R. Moro, La formazione della classe dirigente cattolica (1929-1937), Il Mulino, Bologna, 1979
[23]ACS, MPI, DGIU, fasc. pers. prof. ord., III versamento, b. 181, letter on headed paper (page)  of the Jurisprudence Faculty of the Modena University sent by G. Dossetti to the Department of Education’s minister G.R. Ermini in October th 26th in 1954. For a judgement given on Del Giudice cf. also A colloquio con Dossetti e Lazzati, cit., pp. 16-17
[24]Cf. R. Fornaciari, Fonti e autori di riferimento sulla vita monastica in Giuseppe Dossetti, in Dossetti. Studies on an Italian Catholic reformer, cit., pp. 143-156
[25]Cf. F. Margiotta Broglio, Introduzione to G. Dossetti, Il Vaticano II. Frammenti di una riflessione, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1996, pp. 9-19

Paolo Acanfora


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