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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

d) The Pope, the planet and the medieval past

3) Catholicism and the Middle Ages during the Second Vatican Council. From neo-modernism to neo-intransigency

Riccardo Facchini

Texte intégral

1This paper aims to analyze how the Middle Ages have been perceived and represented by the Catholic Italian world during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Council was in fact the place where different views about the modern world and the role played by the Church in contemporary and past societies emerged. However, even if this topic could be investigated by analysing the works of priests, bishops and even popes, I will focus my attention on the ways secular Catholic intellectuals have perceived the idea of the Middle Ages. I hope to widen my research on Catholic medievalism tout court in the future.

2In the first place, this paper analyzes the development of two different approaches. On the one hand, it highlights the idealization of the medieval era effected by the traditionalist and anti-conciliar movements. This part of the Catholic world represents an interesting field of research for medievalists because of the political and religious uses of the past carried out to justify anti-modern ideas. Tradionalist movements looked at the Middle Ages with the aim of creating a mythic past, a golden age, an official, orthodox and legitimist medieval era to use in a religious-political way. This process of mythologization of the Middle Ages was born especially during the nineteenth century, and several Catholic-Romantic topics flooded into the traditionalist field, which in turn suited the different needs of twentieth-century Intransigent Catholics. Among these themes, I consider the political exploitations of the Crusades and of the epic-chivalric tradition.

3I then investigate the historiographical tradition embodied by those intellectuals considered heirs of modernist theological ideas. Here, we can immediately see a deep difference with the traditionalist approach, in particular in the rank of the intellectuals involved in the debate. Indeed, the secular traditionalist area was mostly characterized by the presence of polemicists whose intellectual level is not comparable to that of the neo-modernists. Anti-council thought, with a few exceptions, could be considered a sort of neo-intransigentism that did not produced any notable innovation during the twentieth century. Instead, the modernist and the neo-modernist contexts were part of a complex intellectual universe, composed by young theologians, historians, and church historians, teeming with new theological and historiographical ideas, which then flooded into the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Of these figures, this paper investigates in particular the works of Ernesto Buonaiuti (1881-1946)—a historian and philosopher of religion and an excommunicated Catholic priest—as well as those of Raffaello Morghen (1896-1983) and Raoul Manselli (1917-1984), both medievalists and Buonaiuti’s pupils. Special attention is devoted to two of their most studied topics, which were heavily inspired by modernist ideas. The first consists in Morghen’s idea of “Medioevo Cristiano,” according to which the Christian tradition—which must not be confused with the Romantic “Res Publica Christiana”—was the leitmotif that inspired and characterized all the medieval era. The second is represented by the opposition between the early Christian Church and what the Dominican father Marie Dominique Chenu defined as the “Constantinian Church”—that is, the Church as we know it after the edict of Milan (313).

4My ultimate goal consists in identifying the origin of certain myths and historiographical concepts in both areas, generated in order to legitimize doctrinal, ecclesiological, or political ideas. This research aims to fill a lack in the studies on Catholic medievalism due, firstly, to the reluctance to address the religious uses of the Middle Ages (Richard Utz, in 2013, reported an “exclusion of religion” from the debate on medievalism) and secondly, as suggested by Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri (2011), by the fact that the Middle Ages have been perceived, by the public and sometimes also by academics, as an era dominated by Roman Catholicism. This reading has led, at times, to the consideration of the religious exploitation of medieval topics as somehow justifiable and to be taken for granted.


5Artifoni 2015
Carpegna Falconieri 2011 (chapter 10, Un medioevo cattolico, p. 204-229)
Facchini 2018.


Università Europea di Roma

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