Saturday, 16 February 2013

Igino Giordani: the oxymoron of a catholic party


I have long been aware of the figure of Igino Giordani through his writings, of which the most beautiful one to me is his "Diary of Fire" and I also knew of his having been an MP in the Italian parliament, a journalist and an expert on the Fathers of the Church. It is only now though, after having read his memoirs ("Memorie d'un cristiano ingenuo" - "Memoirs of a simple christian") that I am beginning to realize more fully the enormity of his example. While in the past I have very much admired certain aspects of his life, I am now seeing that it is really his life as a whole that is an instance of his imitation of Jesus. To give you a sense of what I mean, let me pick out just a couple of moments from his autobiography.

While I don't intend to summarize his story, it is worth noting that Giordani (1894–1980) was the first of six children of a bricklayer and his illiterate wife and that he initially trained to become a bricklayer like his dad. Thanks to his father's employer, who provided him with the necessary financial support, Giordani ended up attending a junior seminary and eventually studying humanities at the University of Rome. On the verge of going to university, he was conscripted and sent to fight in the First World War. There a bullet shattered a ten centimeter segment of his right femur, requiring a three year stay in hospital and a series of 18 operations (the first of which was performed without anesthetics!).

It is at this point of exposure to war, that I was particularly impressed by the following passage, where Giordani talks about the impossibility he felt of "killing a human person: a brother":1
"The five or six shots that I fired, in the air, I did out of necessity: I could never aim the barrel of my gun at the enemy trenches, with the intention of killing a child of God."
Upon being discharged from hospital at the end of the war, Giordani immediately finds himself confronted with another battle: that of opposing the fascist regime and the alignment of parts of the Church with it. Here he speaks out against clericalism, which is:
"an exploitation of religious power for the political ends of a government, a party, a bank, … [… It is an] iron belt, disguised as gold, by which the freedom of the children of God was restrained, the proclamation of the Gospel deformed and the spirituality of the Church compromised."
And adds that:
"During other periods Christianity was being attacked in the name of reason and freedom, while today we can affirm that it is only by a destruction of reason and freedom that Christianity can be attacked."
A particularly poignant assessment of that period is also expressed by him as follows:
"Christ wasn't crucified because Judas betrayed him, but he was crucified because Pilate washed his hands of him."
Giordani's outspoken attacks against the abuse of clerical power and offenses against reason, published also in the monthly "Parte Guelfa" whose editor he was, led to a clear and direct condemnation by Church authorities in 1925. Instead of rebelling and placing himself in opposition against the Church, Giordani chose obedience and published one final issue of the magazine. There, on the first page, he reprinted the authorities' condemnation and added that the magazine "submits itself fully" to the Church’s judgment and "happily offers its loyal and disinterested allegiance," evidenced by its decision to shut down. This struck me in many ways like St. Thomas More’s silence, which in "A Man For All Seasons" was described as "bellowing up and down Europe!" or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s obedient submission to being denied permission to publish his theological and philosophical works.

After the war, Giordani moves from being part of the antifascist resistance to joining the public political life, which results in his becoming a member of the Italian parliament. Here, the following reasoning about how the Church and politics are to relate struck me in particular (and I believe it prefigures the Vatican II position also expressed in Lumen Gentium2):
"The Church incarnates the Gospel: but it mustn’t become a party, confuse itself with a category (party or regime) because it is catholic, i.e., universal, and, as the mystical Christ, it must love all, serve all, even enemies."
All of the above paints a very clear picture to my mind of someone who was all about following Jesus, disregarding whether that brought him into conflict with state or Church, but also of someone who did it with tremendous humility and, as the memoirs’ title indicates, simplicity. A great example of this attitude is also the following event:
"One day Pius XII called me […] and asked me: "Giordani, but what have you written in that newspaper3 of yours? I have received complaints saying that you are a revolutionary" He then quoted a phrase from my latest cover story, where it says that the excess of the rich is the lack of the poor: that unjust or unjustly used property is theft.
"Holy Father," I answered, "that is a quote from Saint John Chrysostom."
"But you should have said so …"
"Holy Father, when an article is written in half an hour or an hour, there is not time for citing sources."
"True, true, " he said, beginning to smile, "They say that you are a revolutionary. But, don't worry, they also say that about me: what do you think? In fact, in these days, Roosevelt put it as "too radical""
"But," I replied, "a true christian is necessarily a revolutionary: don't we want to change the world? But, our revolution is beneficial, it builds rather than destroys; brings love instead of hatred, it brings society back together in solidarity."
There would be so much more to say about him (e.g., his life as a lay, married person and father of four, his establishing of the modern Vatican library (and publishing a journal of library science that both the Moscow and Beijing libraries subscribed to during the height of communism), his career as a writer, his encounters with the great minds of the 20th century, etc.), but that will have to wait for a future post. To conclude, let me instead leave you with the following poem by Igino Giordani, which also gives us a glimpse of his interior life:
"I have begun to die
and what happens,
matters to me no more;
now I want to vanish
in the forsaken heart of Jesus.
All this sinning,
by greed and by vanity,
in love disappears:
I have reconquered my freedom.
I have begun to die
to death that no longer dies;
now I want to rejoice
with God in his eternal youth."
It should come as no surprise that Igino Giordani - Servant of God - is in the process of being recognized as a saint - a saint I will be very proud of!

1 All the quotes from Igino Giordani here are from "Memorie d'un cristiano ingenuo," with the crude translations from Italian, for which I apologize, being mine.
2 "[T]he faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion. [… I]t must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world." (Lumen Gentium, §36)
3 "Il Quotidiano" was a daily newspaper, directed by Giordani 1944–1946.