Italy was not unified until 1860, and even then it lacked Rome, which remained under papal rule until 20 September 1870. Why did the supporters of the Risorgimento want to change Rome, and how did they do so? We here prepare to visit the monuments of Modern Italy by learning a little more about the main failures and success of the Risorgimento and the contributions of Garibaldi and Cavour.

Show Notes

The movement called the Risorgimento led to the unification and independence of Italy in 1860, but Rome was not added to the new nation until it was taken from papal rule by force in 1871. But the defeated party was not crushed, and the papacy was allowed to continue, though it now was deprived of all political authority. Unreconciled, Pope Pius IX, showed his hostility to the new government by angrily declaring himself a prisoner and refusing to leave the Vatican. He also excommunicated those Catholics who cooperated with the new government. Thus Rome was in the odd situation of having the victor and the defeated living side by side in the same city, refusing to talk to one another.

This period of intense discord between Church and State came to an end only in 1929, when the two parties reached an agreement known as the Lateran Pact. The New Italy promised a degree of compensation to the Church for the properties it had seized, and the Church agreed to recognize the legitimacy of the government that had taken its power by force. The accord also steps back from extreme anticlericalism by allowing the Church to participate in public education and in legitimizing marriages. The broad boulevard that approaches St. Peter’s Basilica from the front is called the Via della Conciliazione, and it was built and named to remember this long-awaited reconciliation. It opened a broad corridor that connects Rome with the Vatican.

Whether there can and should be peace between the new state and the old Church depends in part on what each party stands for. Whether and how far the principles of modern liberalism are compatible with those of the Church remains a matter of debate, most acutely when it comes to abortion law, but extending to other questions as well. Whether theoretically sound or not, the Lateran Pact shows a weakening of the sharp anticlericalism that descended from the French Enlightenment and prevailed at the birth of the New Italy; and the Church too has weakened its critique of modern liberalism. Perhaps Vatican II and Pope Francis are the easiest places to see this.

Not only did the ideas of the French Enlightenment reach Italy, so did the armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon. In fact, Napoleon even furnished an example of how to unify Italy. He made himself the King of Italy and made his infant son the King of Rome. True enough, his Italy included only the north, and it did not last long, but there it was, and he did not let papal resistance keep him from taking Rome. The opera Tosca is just one popular source that shows Italian enthusiasm for Napoleon’s efforts.

Later, when Italians unified Italy on their own, they did it in stages. There were three Wars of Italian Independence, some very adroit diplomacy by the Count of Cavour, a stunningly successful “March of the Thousand” by Garibaldi, a lucky break that Prussia defeated Austria in 1866 even though Italy could not, and the culminating seizure of Rome from the pope in 1870.

Four main leaders of these events usually get singled out, the Fathers of the Fatherland, and each has at least one significant statue in Rome. In addition, streets, piazzas, and bridges bear their names all over Italy. They are Giuseppe Garibaldi; Camillo Benso, the Count of Cavour; Giuseppe Mazzini; and the King, Victor Emmanuel II. We will discuss them individually when we visit their statues.

The goals of these Four Fathers were different in important respects, as we shall see, but the movement they led shared the wish of liberalizing and modernizing Rome and the rest of Italy. So, how does Modern Rome differ from the Rome of the Popes that preceded it? It grants a large and increasing measure of political authority to the people, and grants none to the pope. It has no priests in its government. It stresses individual liberty, so art, books, films, and TV shows cater to the taste of the majority. It calls for people to treat one another well, but it summons them to no elevated or otherworldly moral mission. Rights are mentioned much more than duties. It has come to allow divorce, cohabitation, and abortion, notwithstanding objections by the previous rulers. Education is universal and mostly out of the hands of the Church. The New Italy considers the economy and economic growth to be of great importance, and views education and science especially from this practical point of view.

Modern Rome insists that all may choose their own religion or no religion at all; the old papal regime called this “indifferentism” and insisted that the truths of Catholicism receive government favor and that heresy be punished. In modern Rome, books and magazines of all kinds abound, whereas papal Rome tried to prevent harmful and wrong opinions from seeing the light of day. “Pio No-No” made clear his opposition to modern political principles especially in documents called Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors. He here bitterly attacked modern atheism, rationalism, indifferentism, the freedom of religion, the separation of Church and state, and associated opinions.

Equally bitter, Garibaldi wrote a novel called Rule of the Monk, or Rome in the Nineteenth Century. The Introduction to the English language edition of the book, which available online, summarizes Garibaldi’s goal as being that of showing papal Rome to be “affronted, degraded, defamed, and bleeding from the hundred wounds where the leech-like priests hang and suck.” I find this an accurate description.

Today, the conflict is less intense: the Church has shown itself to be more open to modern doctrines than Pius IX was, and most of Italy’s political leaders are less aggressively anticlerical than Garibaldi was. It is worth wondering whether this accommodation is permanent or not and worth noting how it seems to change with changing leadership, as from Benedict XVI to Francis.


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