chapter  4
60 Pages

Religion

Eventhoughitwaslimitedtocultureingeneral,DeSanctis'sassessmentof thebanefulinfluenceoftheCounter-ReformationontheItaliannationis representativeoftheclimateofopinionthatprevailedamongItalian intellectualsofthenineteenthcentury.Yet,withqualifications,thisnegative viewhasbeensharedbymostscholarsinthefirsthalfofourcenturyandis stillheldbysome.Tobesure,inhismasterfulStoriadell'eta'baroccain Italia0935)BenedettoCroceprovidedamorebalancedassessmentofthe periodthananyofhispredecessorswouldhavebeenwillingtocountenance. Heacknowledged,forinstance,thattheChurchofRomewasnomore intolerantthanmostProtestantchurchesandthattheworksofCatholic theologians,churchhistoriansandbiblicalscholarswereinnowayinferiorto thoseoftheiropponents.Healsorecognizedthepresenceintheranksof ItalianCatholicismoflargenumbersof'uprightmen,heroicmissionaries, blamelessandgeneroussouls'deservingofouradmiration;andhehadwords ofpraiseforthemanycharitableinstitutionsthattheChurchfoundedor promoted;asanItalian,heevenexpressedgratitudetowardtheChurchand towardtheJesuitorderinparticularforhavingquenchedthesparksof religiousdivision,thussparingthecountrythehorrorsofreligiouswarfare. Forallthat,however,Croce'sassessmentoftheCounter-Reformationwas hardlymorebenignthanDeSanctis's:inhisviewtheCounter-Reformation wasnogreatspiritualmovementcomparabletotheRenaissanceorthe Reformation.Rather,itwasasaddeviationinthehistoryofthehumanspirit, forultimatelytheCounter-Reformation'merelydefendedaninstitution,the CatholicChurch';assuch,itcouldnothave'thegreatness...ofaneternal spiritualandmoralmoment'inhistory.'Nomatterhowhardonetries',he wrote,'onecannotfindintheCounter-Reformationanyotherideabutthis:that theCatholicChurchisahighlysalutaryinstitutionandisthereforeworth preservingandstrengthening.'Aconsequenceofthiswas,inhisview,that theCounter-Reformationwasessentially'political'inthesensethatitinvolved arelentlesssearchforwhatevermeans(cultural,religiousorpolitical)were bestsuitedtosafeguardandbuttresstheChurchasaninstitution.Andthis, Croceasserted,explains'theintellectualandmoralpovertyinherentinthe Counter-Reformation...Nogreatbook...wasinspiredbyit;nogreatpoet, ...noartist';allculturalexpressionswereturnedintomereinstrumentsfor servingtheChurchand,asaresult,theyallwitheredorranghollow.Inthe end,heconcluded,'theorthodoxyoftheCounter-Reformationparalleledand fosteredItaly'sdecadenceandwasinitselfanorthodoxyofdecadence'. 2

Thisnegativeassessmentstillhasitssupportersandseventeenth-century Italyhasrecentlybeenportrayedasanation'humiliated,depressed,sunkin darknessandpollutedbyhypocrisy',asanationguidedbyaChurchthat 'lackeda·propheticvoicecapableofconfrontingthepowersthatbewiththe genuinetranscendenceofotherwordlyvalues}orasanationinwhich

2.BenedettoCroce,Storiadell'etabaroccainItalia.Pensiero,poesiaeletteratura, vitamorale,2ndedn,Laterza,Bari1946,pp.10,11,14,17,72,485.