55. To Seminarian Stephen Rossetti

[Editor’s note]45…Having given up being for God, I began to live for an idol of flesh and then for another more jealous and demanding end — ambition. The seductive images and caressing promises of this deceptive goddess had led me to the point of not thinking and not desiring anything else but one thing: the humanitarian apostolate (note what kind of big words the inventive imagination of ambition can come up with). In this regard the intellect had a great master-plan to develop, the will had its own faith to put forward, and the human person a great work to put into action.

The first step would have been journalism; this would have been followed by the step of public exposure; and then doctrinal proselytism followed by the practical one which would be the last phase of propaganda and the beginning of the new system of social organization. Prince Napoleon, on May 15th, 1865, proclaimed solemnly this system in Ajaccio perhaps in spite of and perhaps with the connivance of his cousin46. The same Prince, in July 1866, stated in Paris: “France must be the support of Prussia, the Fatherland of the great Luther (sic), which attacks Austria with its arms and its ideas.”

The Baron Ricasoli,47 still dictator of Italy, in July 1866, published a letter addressed to the humanitarian associations, calling them the mirror and the reflection of the sentiment of all the Italians.  As you can see, having to do with this kind of people, it is easy to propagate revolutionary doctrines. Priests and friars in jail, liberal thinkers elevated to the status of heroes. Guerrazzi48 never knew how to find the beast “monk” in any natural history, the beast “monk” in deference to the Guerrazzian affirmation, was erased from the list of the other beasts as an empty name. Civinini49 calumniated evangelical morality as contrary to the warlike spirit and to the pursuit of heroism. By now in the Italian army the things used for worship have become useless junk in the ambulances of the medical corps and the chaplains have become social entertainers of officers.

Jurists of the new school declared the state a moral entity without religion; the King as the personification of the state, in his appeal for the national war, reviews all the elements of human power and leaves out the greatest power of all which is God. Cialdini,50 the thunderbolt of war, the first soldier of Italy, gives to the press a communiqué in which he declares he abandons himself into the hands of destiny. Garibaldi,51 who is called “the heart of Italy” by the best expression of Italian adulation, declared that he adores God in spirit and truth under the vaults of heaven, but to hate priests to the death (what a tender little heart!). Mazzini,52 the personified wisdom of Italy, the inspiration of youths in their twenties, proclaims himself the Apostle of the idea (an idea very complex!). Napoleon, the political sphinx of Europe, in 1866, declares solemnly in France his determination to develop to the fullest the principles of ’89.53

Now you can see how many theoretical supporters my master-plan had, how many assurances of growth and of diffusion. Prescinding from the decrees of God, all human circumstances smiled upon our hopes: free speech, freedom of action, rather encouraged the one and the other, the crowds ready and easily swayed, the open road ahead leading toward a very attractive goal. I said “prescinding from the degrees of God”, because in this alone the men of good will should put their trust now, because humanly speaking they are totally unable to stop the ever growing wave of irreligion and license.

I have given you a resume of all the resources which the revolutionary system may gather for its purposes and I have described to you the social question from studies made of actual facts. Oh, that God would grant that, as I was full of energy and shrewdness in carefully studying and running the ways of iniquity, so now I would have the will and courage to put into action all the counter-projects; to devise a counter-attack; to destroy that which I have built; to build that which I have destroyed; to look for new ideas; to change, to cut, renovate, purify, in order to rise again all at once afterward to new and more solid convictions, to a faith more beautiful and vigorous; to the apostolate par excellence which is humanitarian as no other can be (because  Catholic) and more than any other conducive to the liberty and prosperity of the people, to the great apostolate which for eighteen centuries has been proclaiming from East to West, from North to the South: the alliance of nations, the principle of free association, the emancipation of the masses, the equality of the races, the practical toleration (not doctrinal, that is another thing), the equitable distribution of riches, the priority of personal capabilities instead of the privileges of birth (for example, the  ecclesiastical hierarchy), the equality of the powerful with the weak, the monarch with the subject before the fundamental law of the justice truth, the rights of nationality and of race (recognized also in the liturgies and rituals), the cooperation among all the nations guaranteed by one principle of authority (the teaching Catholic Church), the progress of the human intelligence, the apotheosis of heroism and of sacrifice (“This is my command, that you love…There is no greater love than that of laying down one’s life for his friends.” St. John, the Evangelist54 ).

The humanitarian program of the Christian Religious without considering that it is a little more brilliant than that of the associations set up just for this purpose, has also the advantage of antiquity over the latter and the merit of having applied it on a vast scale, a scale with which nobody in the world will ever be able to compete. Oh, enslaved liberal thinkers who pass yourselves for the delight of the human race and are rather its greatest shame; Oh, you parasite bugs who so generously go about sucking the marrow out of poor humanity, tell me if you please, for how much is your apostolate for sale? Your party is legion, but tell me how many in this legion of yours, by assuming the priesthood of truth, have you made the oath to conquer the terrible enemies of truth, error and human passions more with word than with example? Oh, go away, because if ever the masses whom you wish to instruct would follow your example just for a moment, Europe would find itself immediately in the hands of the most powerful. European civilization would certainly have more to gain if you would yield it to an invasion of Japanese monks who, although they preach a doctrine obscured by error, teach, however, a morality a thousand times more pure and closer to perfection than yours, oh, you native propagandists.

Oh, yes, go also into the regions of the East to teach and promote the emancipation of women, to cover them afterward with the shame of your lewd conduct. Go there to teach the redistribution of wealth which for you always means a new way of getting at the purse of the poor. Go, go and proclaim the right to work, the supremacy of personal abilities, the freedom of production, but at the same time continue as well to live off the sweat of someone else, take advantage of someone else’s work, and to become the manipulators of public opinion. Would that instinct of self-preservation be able to suggest to you counsels of prudence and of self-reserve in the midst of these people who, perhaps, would not surrender themselves immediately to all your subtleties; would that the courage of precipitous flights save you in the hour of danger from the rods and clubs of those people without education.

These are my wishes for you leaving everything else up to the judgment of God who in His mercy is able to make grace super-abound where the sin is greater and who may have, perhaps, decreed that you, persecutors of Damascus, will become the martyrs of Rome.

Beloved friend, forgive me for all these long-winded discourses which help me to counterbalance the rigid solitude in which I find myself. I have no one with whom I can exchange a few words, and now that I can do it, I may abuse it. But you are so good that you’ll put up with me and will understand that the in special conditions in which I find myself there is indeed a need to lift the imagination with beautiful and comfortable thoughts. The great Beccaria55 wrote that the souls of men, like fluids, always put themselves at the same level of the objects which surround them. This truth describes my situation perfectly: talking about good and useful things I feel in me as it were a force which draws me up and up in a region more serene and pure than this earth of ours; I feel an instinct, I dare say, of progression, a desire of perfection, an aspiration for heaven.

Therefore if by speaking, writing and meditating about beautiful things our soul also is embellished and becomes better, why not to speak or write or meditate always,  no matter how, even at the cost of violating the law of aesthetics and of provoking the censures of rhetoricians and the idle talk of pedantic grammarians? Yet there are many hours in the day and perhaps even many days in the week in which we find ourselves in such a cold and dull mood of sloth that all the faculties of our soul become hardened. We are really fortunate if, when reading or writing a letter the first noxious vapors of sloth appear, we are able to dissipate them and thus avoid a lowering of temperature which is always harmful to our moral vegetation (if I am allowed to use this expression).

Now, I will pass to some more contemporary things. My vacations are going by very fast. I have received from Severino56 a short letter which was like a humble traveling companion to a great and long letter from Motta. Even Perruccati has written to me a long letter before crossing the Po River. Riccio has not written to me anymore. Probably he is in the process of attempting a great moral revolution which will correct him of all those weaknesses that you well know.  Oh, if it were possible to send a petition to the Father who is in Heaven so that He would remove from the earth that evil beast which is called selfishness, it would be beautiful to live here. But, if God does not allow us to kill this monster, he does not refuse us, however, the strength to free ourselves from its venomous bites when it attacks us.

I hope that Riccio as he grows all the more in his good resolutions will be able to value all the more also that supreme duty of charity by which we ought to love each other and to love each other with a growing measure of affection according to the requirements derived from sharing the same vocation and from the homogeneity of behavior which come from sharing the same age and the same common life. I stayed at the home of Vandero for two days: he came up from Turin alone and with the task of checking if everything was ready for the trip to the country by all the family. Now he has gone back to Turin and will come with the family later. The Professor Elia has already arrived with his mother and sister.57) The latter is truly an angel from paradise for her beautiful qualities of mind and soul. Even at the time when I used to look at women more like a George Sand would than a Silvio Pellico58, it never crossed my mind to call her a pious humbug, like I used to call many other women. That aura of reserve that radiates from her face, that gentle and tranquil look of hers have always aroused in me whenever I saw her a feeling of veneration as to a superior being. As in the past, so also now I’m reminded of the truth of those words of Dante59: “just by looking at them I myself am lifted up.”

Oh, virgin fortunate, may God in heaven give you credit for all the good thoughts which your reserve has always aroused in my mind. Every morning, whenever I see you at church in an act of profound prayer, I ask the Lord to be able to possess a pure heart, a humble and faithful soul as your, and I wish our country’s women were like you in the observance of the most difficult duties and in the pursuit of the most lofty virtues. The moral decadence of Italy comes in great part from the lax status of women in society. Let there be born again in them in an instant the consciousness of their ancient dignity and with modest young ladies, with faithful spouses, with mothers dedicated to teaching their children, will come a generation of serious and well-behaved young men, of temperate husbands dedicated to their homes, of model fathers of families.

You ask me what books you should read. My poor opinion is this: few but good. The effects of what we read are not immediately felt and this makes us many times doubt the fruitfulness of our reading. Let us persuade ourselves that everything we read with conviction and with love imprints itself indelibly within us and will never be erased. Let us not be disturbed if, in trying to trace the origins of our ideas, we are not able to find their original form. The seed is transformed and produces a fruit which does not at all resemble the first embryo. If we are capable of carrying on a thought pattern with synthesis, analysis, induction, and analogy, we ought to be grateful to those good books which have given us the know-how.

Would you know to which book, to what kind of books specifically you owe your debt of gratitude for this progress? All of them and none of them. Time makes possible the aggregation of many vagrant atoms and the result is a body. Which atom can call itself the progenitor of the whole? Every book which we read is an atom we aggregate to the whole. Credit should be given to time or better to God who makes the assimilation fruitful. Coming to the concrete: read the Bible which is an inexhaustible fountain of truth. Oh, if everybody60 would read it, there would not be such petulance in the learned who know so well how to mislead people.

Become familiar with the thoughts of Balbo61 who will give you good criteria for judging many questions which are debated today. Here is the very reason why we should not be discouraged if there are no immediate effects. There are seeds that rot for a year in the ground and then sprout without anybody knowing how.

If you find in the rectory other books which treat of contemporary questions with authority and depth of judgment, put yourself to the task of studying them thoroughly. I don’t have to prove to you that it is our duty to always keep the supernatural sciences on the same level as and in concordance with the natural sciences both experimental and speculative.62 I do not know Wiseman,63 but he cannot be but good under this point of view.

I recommend to you above all to write out on paper the reasoning you develop in your mind.64  Our intellect is like one of those phenomena which we observe so many times in the animal order: the more we take from it, the more it wants to give and the more production is increased….

  1. Cfr. Letters 9, 23. The first and last pages of this letter are missing. 

  2. Napoleon III, emperor of the French People (1852 — 1870). Prince Napoleon (Napoleon JosephBonaparte) was the son of Jerome Bonaparte, the former King of Westphalia, cousin of Napoleon III, and a Corsican Deputy to the French National Assembly. 

  3. Bettino Ricasoli (1809 — 1880), Italian politician and Prime Minister (1860 — 1862, 1866 –1867). He is here called “dictator of Italy” as a reference to his personality and to the fact that he had beenthe dictator (Prime Minister of the Archduchy of Tuscany with dictatorial powers) during the turbulent years1859 — 1860 that led to the unification with Piedmont for which he was instrumental. 

  4. Dominic Guerrazzi, Italian politician and writer. He considered the Pope and the Papal States as an obstacle to be eliminated in order to achieve Italian unity. 

  5. Joseph Civinini, journalist and politician. He was the editor of The Nation of Florence and a deputy to the Italian Parliament. 

  6. Henry Cialdini (1811 — 1892), general and diplomat, head of the armed forces after the defeatof  Custoza in 1866. 

  7. Joseph Garibaldi (1807 — 1882), Italian patriot and general. He and a “thousand men” conquered Sicily and Southern Italy bringing them into the Kingdom of Italy under the Savoy House of Piedmont. 

  8. Joseph Mazzini (1805 — 1872), Italian patriot and theoretician. He was an untiring revolutionary writing extensively for the cause of Italian and European unity. He even conceived the idea of a “universal religion” incorporating the tenets of Christianity and the common elements of other religions and secular ideas of brotherhood of all men. 

  9. 1789, the year of the French Revolution. 

  10. John 15: 12-13. 

  11. Beccaria Cesare (1738 — 1794), Italian criminologist, economist, and jurist. In his Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1764) he argued against the abuses of criminal law, especially against capital punishment and torture. His views inspired reforms in the penal code of many Europeans nations and the U.S.A. 

  12. Cleric Severino Lusana (cf. Letter #4); for Motta & Perruccati, cf. Letter #4 also. For Riccio, cfr. Letter 2. 

  13. Virginia Elia. The family had received a special permission from the Holy See to keep the Blessed Sacrament in the house where they stayed, “even against the wishes of the Pastor.” (Cf. Letter 118. 

  14. Silvio Pellico (1789-1854), writer and patriot. In 1831, encouraged by Abbot Giordano and Cesare Balbo, he wrote “My Prisons”. 

  15. Dante Alighieri (1265 — 1321), the greatest Italian poet and the “father” of the Italian language. His Divine Comedy is a classic of world literature. 

  16. Here Marello is a forerunner of our present day emphasis on the reading of the Bible encouraged and recommended by Vatican II. 

  17. Cesare Balbo (1789 — 1853), renowned Italian historian and politician. 

  18. Here Marello enunciates a principle that has been incorporated in the Oblate Constitutions (1981)art. 109. 

  19. Wiseman, Nicholas (1802 — 1865), English prelate, first Cardinal of Westminster (1850) when Pius IX reestablished the Catholic hierarchy in England. 

  20. For an example of Marello’s notes on his readings, cfr. Scritti e Insegnamenti pp.13 – 19,34 – 39 and Spanish Escritos y Ensenanzas.