Taparelli: 150 Years Later

Eamonn Clark, STL

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the death of Fr. Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, SJ. (I thought it was today, but – apparently not!) My time is short right now but I could not let this moment go by without some brief acknowledgement of this man and his work.

He is the grandfather of Catholic social teaching. He pioneered Catholic theories on mediating associations, the living wage, subsidiarity, “social justice,” and the character of international affairs. He led the charge among the emerging “neo-Thomist” school in Italy, first in Rome, then in Naples where he was exiled, then in Sicily where he was further exiled. He was rehabilitated by Pius IX, who put him as a founding co-editor of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, which is still in print today.

His most famous student, who was in a semi-clandestine after school club at the Roman College devoted to reading St. Thomas, was Giacchino Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII.

His works remain almost entirely untranslated, except for the French edition of his magnum opus, “Theoretical Wisdom of Natural Right Based on Fact,” which is as difficult to read as it sounds, notwithstanding the old Italian prose. There is some work being done to bring this text into the English language. I can’t wait… it will be really special.

Taparelli was decidedly a 19th century conservative, meaning, he rejected entirely the ideas motivating the French Revolution, which set him in opposition to many of his peers. Further, his close connections with the Italian peninsula’s political elite (including his own brother), coupled with his intellectual eclecticism and bold attempts to re-introduce St. Thomas into seminary formation, made him a lightning rod. So controversial was he that not even Leo XIII cited him in any text, despite the unmistakable influence, an influence that ran even into Pius XI as well. Pius thought that the theologian to read, after St. Thomas, was Taparelli.

For a meaningful introduction to Taparelli, his era, and his work, I recommend Thomas Behr’s recently released book.

We owe quite a bit to this man. I find it inappropriate to pass over this occasion without acknowledging him – and perhaps offering a prayer for his soul, though he is likely in no need.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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