1902 Encyclopedia > Vincenzo Gioberti

Vincenzo Gioberti
Italian philosopher
(1801-52)




VINCENZO GIOBERTI, (1801-1852) the ablest philosophical writer of modern Italy, and one of the most interesting actors in the recent history of the country, was born in Turin on the 5 th April 1801, the only child of parents in moderate circumstances there, and was educated by the fathers of the Oratory with a view to the priest-hood, to w-hich he was ordained in 1825. His study of the ancient philosophers, and the fathers and doctors of the church, occupied him for years, during which he led a very retired life ; gradually, however, he took more and more interest in the affairs of his country, as well as in the litera-ture of the day, entering warmly into the new ideas then beginning to be discussed in connexion with politics. The freedom of Italy from foreign masters became his ruling motive in life, and this freedom in his conception of it was an emancipation, not only from armed masters, but from modes of thought alien to its genius, and detrimental to its European authority. This authority was in his mind connected with papal supremacy, though in a way quite novel— intellectual rather than political. One must remember this in considering nearly all his writings, and also in estimating his position, both in relation to the ruling clerical party— the Jesuits—and also in relation to the politics of the court of Piedmont after the accession of Charles Albert in 1831. He was now noticed by the .king and made one of his chaplains. His popularity and private influence, however, were reasons enough for the court party to mark him for exile ; he was not one of them, and could not be depended on. Knowing this, he in 1833 asked permission to resign his chaplaincy, but was suddenly arrested while walking with a friend in the public gardens, and, after an imprisonment of four months, sent out of the country in the escort of a carabineer, under decree of banishment. This was done without trial or process—simply, it would appear, by private influence of the clerical party, his name being at the same time struck off the list of theological doctors of the college of Turin. With broken fortunes and ruined plans Gioberti arrived in Paris in the beginning of October 1833. A year later he went to Brussels, where he spent the best period of his life from that time to 1845, teaching philosophy, and assisting in the work of a college superintended by his friend Gaggia, yet finding time, by rising early and sitting late, to write many works of great importance in philosophical inquiry, but bearing a special relation to his country and its position. His spirits never returned to him, however, as his whole being was bound up with the welfare of his native country. An amnesty having been passed by Charles Albert in 1846, Gioberti had liberty to return to Italy, just as Pius IX. in the beginning of his pontificate manifested strongly liberal sympathies. Gioberti took no step, however, till the end of 1847, and did not return to his native land till after certain negotiations, and the public expression of popular enthusiasm in his favour. On his entrance into Turin, 29th April 1848, there was a general ouburst of this enthusiasm, mainly caused, it appears, by his unjust banishment and by the large circulation of his books, especially the Gesuita Moderno. The city was illuminated; deputa-tions waited upon him; the king made him senator, but, having been returned both by Turin and by Genoa as deputy to the assembly of representatives, now first meeting under the new constitution, he elected to sit in the lower chamber, for his native town. Previous to the opening he made a tour in various provinces, beginning at Milan and including Rome, where he had three interviews with the liberal pope, who at that moment seemed to be the repre-sentative of his ideal imagined in the work Del Primato morale e civile, which Pius had read and admired. While he was engaged in this tour, constantly addressing the people publicly, the chamber met and elected him president. In the same parliament sat Azeglio, Cavour, and other liberals, and Balbo was prime minister. At the close of the same eventful year, a new ministry was formed, headed by Gioberti; but with the accession of Victor Emmanuel in March 1849 his active life came to an end. For a short time indeed he held a seat in the cabinet, though without a portfolio; but an irreconcilable disagreement soon fol-lowed, and his removal from Turin was accomplished by his appointment on a mission to Paris, whence he never returned. There, refusing the pension which had been offered him and all ecclesiastical preferment, he lived frugally, and spent his days and nights as at Brussels in literary labour. Many other exiles gathered about him, and the Marquis Pallavicino became his bosom friend. He died suddenly, of apoplexy, on the 26th October 1852.





Gioberti's writings are more important than his political career. In the general history of European philosophy they stand apart. As the speculations of Rosmini, against which he wrote, have been called the last link added to mediaeval thought, so the system of Gioberti, more especially in his greater and earlier works, is unrelated to other modern schools of thought. It shows a harmony with the Roman Catholic faith which caused Cousin to make the superficial criticism that "Italian philosophy was still in the bonds of theology." Method is with him a synthetic, subjective, and psychological instru-ment. He reconstructs, as he declares, ontology, and begins with the " ideal formula," " the Ens creates ex nihilo the existent." He is in some respects a Platonist, and transplants certain dogmata from the ancient idealist. He identifies religion with civilization, and arrives in his treatise Del Primato morale e civile degli Italiard at the conclusion that the church is the axis on which the well-being of human life revolves. His later works, the Binnovamcnto and the Prolologia, are sometimes thought to be less affirmative in this matter, and there is a division in opinion among his critics how far he shifted his ground under the influence of events before he died. His first work, written when he was thirty-seven, had a personal reason for its existence. A young fellow-exile and friend, Paolo Pallia, having many doubts and misgivings as to the reality of revelation and a future life, Gioberti at once set to work with La Teoriea del Sovranuaturale, which was his first publication (2 vols., 1838). After this the enormous labours of his pen made up for the lateness of his commencement as an author. Philosophical treatises in two or three volumes, which would occupy, generally speaking, half a lifetime, followed in rapid succession, each one being a corol-lary to the last. The Teoriea was followed by Introduzione alio Studio delta Filosofia in three volumes, passing through the press in 1839-40. In this work he states his reasons for requiring a new method and new terminology. Here he brings out the doctrine that religion is the direct expression of the idea in this life, and is one with true civilization in history. Civilization is a conditioned mediate tendency to perfection, to which religion is the final com-pletion if carried out; it is the end of the second cycle expressed by the second formula, the Ens redeems existences. Essays on the lighter and more popular subjects, Del Bello and Del Buono, followed the Introduction, but were not published as a volume till 1846, having first appeared in connexion with the writings of other authors. Del Primato morale e civile degli Italiani and the Pro-legomeni to the same, and soon afterwards his triumphant exposure of the Jesuits, H Gesuita Moderno, in five successive volumes (eight volumes altogether), began to be issued in 1843, and no doubt hastened the transfer of rule from clerical to civil hands. It was, as has been seen, the popularity of these semi-political works, heightened by other occasional political articles which fill two volumes, and by his Binnovamento civile d'ltalia, that caused Gioberti to be welcomed with such enthusiasm on his return to his native country. All these works were perfectly orthodox, and aided in drawing the liberal clergy into the movement which has resulted since his time in the unification of Italy. The Jesuits, how-ever, closed round the pope more firmly after his return to Rome, and in the end Gioberti's writings were placed on the Index, although with no unfavourable result as far as their influence is concerned. The remainder of his works need not be particularized, although they give his mature views on many points, especially La Filosofia delta Mivelazione and the Prolologia. The entire writings of Gioberti, including those left in manuscript, have been carefully edited by Giuseppe Massari in thirty-six volumes.

See Massari, Micordi Biografici e Carteggio (Naples, 1863); Lettere di Vincenzo Gioberti e Giorgio Pallavicino (Milan, 1875); Rev. C. B. Smyth, Christian Metaphysics (London, 1851).







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