The essay Why we cannot but call ourselves “Christians” by Benedetto Croce reflects the discomfort of the then old philosopher in the face of Nazi neo-paganism; tragic reason that had led him to rediscover the Christian roots of modern civilization in contrast with Hitler’s barbarism. The Notepad of Michael the Great
After Nice, Vienna. After a cathedral, a synagogue. Jihadist terrorism has returned to hit the heart of Europe. There are those who argue that it is not “religious war” because they fear, using the expression, to end up promoting it. Many think so, and perhaps Pope Francis himself. Thomas Aquinas would call it “pium mendacium”, the good lie. I make you believe false, but for a good purpose: a morally legitimate choice, among others, for Dietrich Bonhoffer and Paul Feyerabend. Another tradition, which refers above all to Augustine and Kant, holds instead that lying is always and in itself an evil, even when the purpose is noble or altruistic. In fact, it violates that demand and expectation of truth which is the basic requirement of a communication ethic. That of the evaluation of the lie is a controversy that runs through the entire history of the church. It may therefore even happen that a Jesuit pontiff decides to use the doctrine of a Dominican friar to deny the religious nature of the conflict with Islam. The truth is that, on the theological level, the distance between Islam and Christianity is unbridgeable. And this damnably complicates the question of dialogue between those who believe in the Bible and those who believe in the Koran.
In any case, the history of European civilization would have been impossible without Christianity. The writer, who also defines himself as an agnostic (in the sense specified by the English biologist Thomas Huxley in 1869), is convinced of it without ifs and buts since when, in his youth, he had the good fortune to read the famous Why we cannot fail to say ” Christians “by Benedetto Croce (1943). The essay, as the passages proposed here show, reflects the discomfort of the then old philosopher in the face of Nazi neo-paganism; tragic reason that had led him to rediscover the Christian roots of modern civilization in contrast with Hitler’s barbarism. Of course, his Christianity is not a miracle of transcendence but a process of history, which “operates at the center of the moral conscience and therefore more than any other animates the ethic of fraternity”. And for him the revolution that removes pagan polytheism, inherits the legacy of the Roman Empire, civilizes peoples and barbarian customs, stands as protector of Europe against Islam, illuminates the dark ages with the primacy of spiritual power over armed power. . But as the historical process proceeds, Don Benedetto adds, on the one hand the relationship between religion and the church becomes rigid in dogmas, sacraments, hierarchies, disciplines, courts, patrimonies; and on the other hand, since “the thought is never finished thinking”, the moral values ​​of Christianity go beyond the faith gathered in myths. But as the historical process proceeds, Don Benedetto adds, on the one hand the relationship between religion and the church becomes rigid in dogmas, sacraments, hierarchies, disciplines, courts, patrimonies; and on the other hand, since “the thought is never finished thinking”, the moral values ​​of Christianity go beyond the faith gathered in myths. But as the historical process proceeds, Don Benedetto adds, on the one hand the relationship between religion and the church becomes rigid in dogmas, sacraments, hierarchies, disciplines, courts, patrimonies; and on the other hand, since “the thought is never finished thinking”, the moral values ​​of Christianity go beyond the faith gathered in myths.
And since everything that advances is transformed in history, those moral values ​​continue in new forms: in the Renaissance which sets aside medieval asceticism; in the Reformation which reinterprets the teaching of Paul; in the new civil resources produced by the progress of science and law; in the Enlightenment which dissolves superstitions; up to the idealists and historicisms that found the concept of reality as history, and to the philosophers of liberalism such as Kant. All in the list of authors relegated to the Index; and all heirs in some way of the Christian revolution and forerunners of modernity, which still in the late nineteenth century would have been the object of the vain anathemas of the “Syllabus”. But faced with the barbarism that threatened the death of civilization, Croce chose to trace its course back to the sources, so that the children of history would recognize themselves as children of Christianity. Despite the rhetorical emotion with which he described it, Croce’s Christianity therefore remains totally secular.Why we cannot but call ourselves “Christians” by Benedetto Croce
Claiming the name of Christians to oneself does not usually go without a certain suspicion of pious anointing and hypocrisy, because more than once the adoration of that name has served to complacency and to cover things very different from the Christian spirit, as could be proved by references that are omitted here in order not to give rise to judgments and disputes that distract from the object of this discourse. In which we only want to affirm, with the appeal to history, that we cannot but recognize ourselves and call ourselves Christians, and that this denomination is simple observance of the truth.
Christianity was the greatest revolution that humanity has ever accomplished: so great, so comprehensive and profound, so fruitful in consequences, so unexpected and irresistible in its implementation, that it is not surprising that a miracle, a revelation from above, a direct intervention of God in human affairs, which received a completely new law and direction from him.
All the other revolutions, all the major discoveries that mark epochs in human history, do not support her comparison, appearing with respect to her to be particular and limited. All, not excluding those that Greece made of poetry, art, philosophy, political freedom, and Rome of law: not to mention the most remote of writing, mathematics, astronomical science, medicine, and what more is due to the East and Egypt. And the revolutions and discoveries that followed in modern times, insofar as they were not particular and limited to the way of their ancient precedents, but invested the whole of man, the very soul of man, cannot be thought without the revolution. Christian, in a relationship of dependence on her, to whom the primacy belongs because the original impulse was and continues to be hers.
The reason for this is that the Christian revolution operates in the center of the soul, in the moral conscience, and, by giving prominence to the intimate and the proper of this conscience, it almost seemed that it acquired a new virtue, a new spiritual quality, which then it was lacking in humanity.
[…] This new moral attitude and this new concept came in part wrapped in myths – kingdom of God, resurrection of the dead, baptism to prepare for it, atonement and redemption that takes away the sins of the elect to the new kingdom, grace and predestination, and on saying; – they laboriously passed from more corpulent myths to others more subtle and transparent in truth; they were intrigued in thoughts not always brought to harmony and they collided in contradictions before which they paused uncertain and perplexed; but not therefore they were not substantially those that we have briefly enunciated and that everyone feels resound within himself when he pronounces to himself the name of “Christian”.
[…] It was also natural and necessary that the formative process of truth, which Christianity had so extraordinarily intensified and accelerated, should pause at a certain point, temporarily, and that the Christian revolution should have a breath of rest (a breath that in history can be chronologically of centuries) and gave itself a stable structure. And here too the fall from the height to which Christian enthusiasm moved, and the fixation, the practicing, the politicization of religious thought, the arrest of its flow, the solidification which is death. But the polemic against the formation and existence of the church or churches is as unreasonable as it would be against the universities and other schools in which science, which is continually critical and self-critical,
[…] Nor are the other common accusations against the Catholic Christian Church valid for the corruption that I allow to penetrate within me and often in a very serious way spread; because every institution carries within itself the danger of corruption, of the parts that usurp the life of the whole, of private and utilitarian reasons that substitute for moral ones, and every institution suffers in fact these events and continually strives to surpass them and to restore health conditions. This also happened, albeit in a less scandalous or more petty way, in the churches that against their Catholic eldest daughter, shouting her corruption, they rose up in the various evangelical and Protestant confessions.
The Catholic Christian Church, as it is known, also during the Middle Ages, benefiting from the Christian spirits that spontaneously re-ignited in or out of its paintings, and contemplating them for its purpose, became bloodless and tacitly reformed several times; and when, later, due to the corruption of her popes, her clergy and her friars and the changed general political condition, which had taken away the dominion she exercised in the Middle Ages and gained her spiritual weapons, and, finally , due to the new critical, philosophical and scientific thinking, which made his scholasticism antiquated, he was at risk of getting lost, he reformed himself once again with prudence and politics, saving himself as much prudence and politics can save, and continuing in the work his, bringing back the best of triumphs in the newly discovered lands of the New World.
[…] It was therefore, despite some anti-Christian appearances, the men of humanism and the Renaissance, who understood the virtue of poetry and art and politics and worldly life, claiming its full humanity against medieval supernaturalism and asceticism and, in some respects, in that they extended Paul’s doctrines to universal significance, disconnecting them from the particular references, hopes and expectations of his time, the men of the Reformation;
they were the severe founders of the physical-mathematical science of nature, with the discoveries that aroused new means to human civilization; the advocates of natural religion and natural law and tolerance, the harbinger of further liberal conceptions; the Illuminists of triumphant reason, who reformed social and political life, clearing away what remained of medieval feudalism and the medieval privileges of the clergy, and dispelling the thick darkness of superstitions and prejudices, and igniting a new ardor and a new enthusiasm for for a true and renewed Christian and humanitarian spirit;
and, behind them, the practical revolutionaries who from France extended their effectiveness to the whole of Europe; and then the philosophers, who tried to give a critical and speculative form to the idea of ​​the Spirit, by Christianity substituted for the ancient objectivism, Vico and Kant and Fichte and Hegel, who, directly or indirectly, inaugurated the conception of reality as history, concurring to overcome the radicalism of the encyclopedists with the idea of ​​the development and the abstract libertarianism of the Jacobins with the institutional liberalism, and their abstract cosmopolitanism by respecting and promoting the independence and freedom of all the various and identified civilizations peoples or, as they were called, nationalities: – these, and all others like them, that the church of Rome,
And he must and must reject with horror, as blasphemous, the name that belongs to those good Christians, of workers in the vineyard of the Lord, who made the truth first announced by Jesus bear fruit with their labors, sacrifices and blood. and by the first Christian thinkers, but elaborated, but not unlike any other work of thought, which is always an outline to which new touches and new lines are to be added in perpetuity. It can by no means yield to the concept that there are Christians outside of every church, no less genuine than those inside it, and all the more intensely Christians because they are free. But we, who write neither to please nor to dislike the men of the churches and who understand, with the respect due to the truth, the logic of their intellectual and moral position and the law of their behavior,
A very significant proof of this historical interpretation is given by the fact that the continuous and violent antichiesastic controversy, which runs through the centuries of the modern age, has always stopped and reverently kept silent at the memory of the person of Jesus, feeling that the offense to him she would have been offended to herself, to the reasons for her ideal, to the heart of her heart. Even some poets, who, for the license that poets are allowed to pose fantastically in symbols and metaphors the ideals and counter-ideals according to the ways of their passion, saw in Jesus – in Jesus whom I love and wanted joy – a negator of joy and a spreader of sadness, he ended up giving the palynody of his first saying, as happened to the German Goethe and the Italian Carducci.
[…] And that, although all past history flows into us and all of history are children, ancient ethics and religion were overcome and resolved in the Christian idea of ​​conscience and moral inspiration, and in the new idea of God in whom we are, live and move, and who cannot be either Zeus or Jahve, and not even (despite the flattery of which we have wanted to make him the object in our days) the Germanic Wotan; and therefore, specifically, we, in the moral life and in thought, directly feel ourselves to be children of Christianity.
No one can know whether another revelation and religion, equal to or greater than that which Hegel defined as “absolute religion”, will happen in mankind, in a future of which the slightest glimpse is nowhere to be seen; but it is clear that, in our present, we are not outside the terms set by Christianity, and that we, like the first Christians, still struggle to compose the ever-reborn and harsh and ferocious contrasts between immanence and transcendence, between morality of conscience and that of command and laws, between ethics and utility, between freedom and authority, between the celestial and the terrestrial that are in man, and from being able to compose them in this or that their single form arises in us the joy and inner tranquility, and from the awareness of never being able to fully compose and exhaust them, the virile sentiment of the perpetual fighter or perpetual worker, to whom, and to the children of his children, the matter of work, that is of life, will never fail. And to keep and rekindle and nourish the Christian sentiment is our ever-recurring need, today more than ever pungent and tormenting between pain and hope.
And the Christian God is still ours, and our refined philosophies that call the Spirit, who will always surpass us, always and ourselves; and, if we no longer adore it as a mystery, and because we know that it will always be a mystery to the eye of abstract and intellectualistic logic, undeservedly believed and dignified as “human logic”, but that limpid truth it is to the eye of concrete logic , which could well be called “divine”, meaning it in the Christian sense as that to which man continually rises, and which, by continually joining him to God, truly makes him man.

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