Romano Amerio: The Rehabilitation of an ‘Integrist’

A major figure of the Traditional movement is now undergoing something of a posthumous rehabilitation. Dr. Romano Amerio has a singular status among those who object to present ecclesial novelties in the name of tradition. This Swiss-Italian philosopher and philologist was a lay peritus who assisted a member of the Central Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, Bishop Jelmini of Lugano, Switzerland.

Romano Amerio died in 1997. Why he is news now is explained by Vaticanologist Sandro Magister:

“He was the most authoritative and erudite representative of criticism of the Church in the name of Tradition, but for decades the discussion of his thought was barred… In La Civiltà Cattolica, the magazine of the Rome Jesuits, printed with the prior scrutiny and authorization of the Vatican secretariat of state, a review has been published that signals the end of a taboo.”

Go to the www.chiesa site to read the article from La Civiltà Cattolica and Magister’s take on it.

To appreciate the significance on the ending of this “taboo,” we need to take a look at what Dr. Amerio said. We focus here on a few of his thoughts on ecumenism as expressed in his 1985 magnum opus, Iota Unum (available from our bookstore).

“The change in thinking about Christian unity is the most striking that has occurred in the Catholic system since Vatican II,” Amerio writes (p. 549) To contrast the thrust of Unitatis Redintegratio (the conciliar decree on ecumenism) with that of the Church’s traditional teaching, he gives the following four-point doctrinal summary of a 1949 instruction of the Holy Office, Instructio de Motione Oecumenica. Written at a time when the ecumenical movement outside the Catholic Church was gaining great momentum, this instruction was something of a synthesis and application of Pope Pius XI’s Mortalium Animos, giving tight guidelines on how Catholic theologians can use the movement in order to advance the mission of the Church. Because of this, the document was both reserved in its enthusiasm about the movement and quite conservative in its approach, as Amerio’s summary indicates:

First: “the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of Christ” that is, it does not need to acquire things that go to make up the fullness of Christianity from other denominations. Second: Christian unity must not be pursued by means of a process of assimilation between different confessions of faith, or by adjusting Catholic doctrine to the teachings of other denominations. Third: true union between the churches can come about only by the return, per reditum, of separated brethren to the true Church of God. Fourth: separated brethren who rejoin the Catholic Church lose nothing of the truth to be found in their own denominations, rather they retain it just as it was, but in its completed and perfected context, complementum atque absolutum. (p. 550)

At variance with these traditional conceptions, according to the peritus-philosopher, is the new teaching:

The change introduced at the council is apparent in outward signs and in a shift in theory. In the conciliar decree Unitatis Redintegratio, the Instruction of 1949 is never mentioned, and the word return, reditus, never occurs. It is replaced by the idea of convergence. That is, the different Christian denominations, including Catholicism, should return not to each other but towards the total Christ who is outside all of them, and upon whom they must converge.

Unitatis Redintegratio rejects the idea of a return of separated brethren and adopts the idea of a simultaneous conversion on the part of all Christians. Unity should be brought about not by a return of the separated brethren to the Catholic Church, but by a conversion of all the churches within the total Christ, a Christ who is not identified with any of them but who will be constructed by means of their coming together as one.” (Ibid.)

The effect of this shift in teaching is ecumenism as a unity sought rather than a pre-existing Catholic unity to be communicated to those who do not yet have it. “The assumption that Christian unity is to be sought through the reassembly of pieces, all of them of equal standing, has now completely supplanted the traditional view of the matter.” (p. 554) Dr. Amerio points out that these novelties are implicit in Unitatis Redintegratio, which speaks of reformation in the Church and conversion as means to achieving the unity of Christians. Other passages of the decree speak of a “change of heart,” as a means to achieving the goal of ecumenism.

But the meaning of conversion in this context is somewhat unclear. Firstly, if one is to avoid mobilist* errors, it must be emphasized that there is a Christian condition or state of being within which individual Christians work out their salvation and strive for perfection, and that there is never any need to be converted from that state to another. Secondly, this continual growth in holiness, although needed as part of any growth towards overall Christian unity, remains essentially a personal thing and can never itself constitute Christian unity. ( p. 552)

This brief summary of an expert’s take on ecumenism is sufficient to show how penetrating is his critique of the reforms. Those who would like to read more are encouraged to procure Iota Unum.

We hope that Amerio’s “rehabilitation” will be complete and that it will hearken the dawn of a new day in the Church’s life, a day when Catholic Tradition triumphs over liberal novelty. In the meantime, we are heartened to hear that traditional criticisms are being given a voice, albeit a rather low one for now. Callow cries of “integrist” may soon go away! (By the way, “integrist” is a pejorative term used in Europe for traditionalists.)

* The word “mobilism” is used throughout his book. He uses it to mean a false dynamism or metaphysical evolutionism akin to the error of Heraclitus: all is flux.