Friday, June 30, 2023

The Gentleman from Verona

 From Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing:

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) was born in Verona in Northern Italy, but while he was very young his family moved to Mainz in Germany, where his father was Italian consul. Except for regular trips to Italy, he lived in Germany during his formative years and wrote in German. For many thinkers, this history might be a mere biographical detail. In Guardini’s case, it has considerable significance.

He was a beloved figure among his students and had an enormous influence on the Catholic Church and European culture in the twentieth century – and beyond. He inspired later thinkers as diverse as von Balthasar, Pieper, Giussani, Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis). His influence probably owes something to his dual heritage, which combines German academic rigor with a gentler Italian humanism.

Guardini’s greatest and best-known books – The End of the Modern World, The Spirit of the Liturgy, and The Lord –have remained in print and influenced generations. The End of the Modern World was particularly prescient. In 1950, Guardini could already write that it was easy to describe the modern age because, “in all crucial respects the modern world has come to an end.”

The two World Wars had released not only unbounded violence, but unprecedented human disorientation and rootlessness. More:

Monstrosities of such conscious design do not emerge from the calculations of a few degenerate men or of small groups of men; they come from processes of agitation and poisoning which had been long at work. What we call moral standards – responsibility, honor, sensitivity of conscience – do not vanish from humanity at large if men have not already been long debilitated. These degradations could never have happened if its culture had been as supreme as the modern world thought.

Guardini is a valuable figure for all of us who understand the need to recover the human things that were lost in what he acknowledges were gains in power and wealth – but which also led to the radical discontinuity and fragmentation of recent decades.  There’s no going back to some legendary, pre-modern Catholicism. A new way forward has to be created by using past materials in a new synthesis, which he began to develop.

Regnery Books has assembled a one-volume collection (687 pages!), The World and the Person and Other Writings, five lesser-known but equally insightful Guardini books (with my longish introduction), which will be published tomorrow.

Guardini called these books “reflections.” But they “reflect” his deep and internally consistent theological, philosophical, and – unusual among religious writers – literary culture. His books on Dante and Rilke, along with frequent references to Augustine, Pascal, Dostoyevsky, Heidegger, and even Nietzsche, present an eclectic but profound and coherent vision of the Church and the world.

Guardini had the kind of mind – the living virtue, as he puts it in his book on the virtues – that can range everywhere, flexibly but faithfully. His books are less like academic treatises than living conversations with a wise and trusted friend. (Read more.)


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