La Civiltà Cattolica on a Journey with History

First published in 1850, La Civiltà Cattolica made its mark over a period when the very meaning of communication changed, over and above its modalities. In today’s culture, shaped by social networks and new digital media, communication means less and less transmitting news and more being witnesses to and sharing visions and ideas with others. So one of the first consequences is the need for the message to spring forth clearly from the page, sharing the intellectual experience, both moral and spiritual.

Making culture means assuming one’s responsibilities and duties wisely: “when people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Benedict XVI, Message for the XLV World Day of Social Communications, June 5, 2011). Computer technology, contributing to create a network of connections, pushes us to become witnesses to the values on which our existence is based.

This is what La Civiltà Cattolica intends to offer its readers: the sharing of an intellectual experience illuminated by the Christian faith profoundly grafted onto the cultural, social, economic, and political life of our times. Its contribution is serious and educated but not elitist or for specialists.

It is above all a journal sharing its own reflections not only with the Catholic world, but with everyone seriously involved in the world and desirous of having trustworthy sources of formation that inspire thought and allow personal judgment to mature. It is in its genetic code to be a bridge, interpreting the world for the Church and the Church for the world, contributing to an open, full, cordial, and respectful dialogue. The writers of La Civiltà Cattolica are convinced that a cultural journal cannot be neutral: the more one becomes the bearer of a vision of reality, the more it will be meaningful, interesting, and useful.

There is no need to remind ourselves of the essential role of the cultural journals of our 20th century between the two world wars. They were a living and restless place of exchange, meeting, and cultural confrontation, of values and of ideas. La Civiltà Cattolica has never fallen short of this duty. As a journal or a review, it has the duty to confront, examine, and judge. Journals have meaning if they remain faithful to their duty to review the cultural world and if they have a great breadth of outlook.

It is not a matter of being propagandists and ideological companions, but of having an active, critical conscience, capable of declaring tastes and perspectives, and above all opening landscapes, inspiring action and awareness. La Civiltà Cattolica – our predecessors wrote in 1851 – “enters under your roof to bring you news, to propose doubts, to give you clarifications of this or that question, among the most debated.” The identity of our masthead includes therefore not only good analyses and original research, but also the taking of positions which are able to speak to the intelligence and to the heart of our readers, urging them to make choices.

The cultural proposals which the journal has o ered since its foundation are characterized by a special synergy with the Holy See, as is also attested by Pius IX’s brief Gravissimum Supremi of February 12, 1866. From that time on, the journal has been able to perform a modest service to the Church, and in particular to the Pope, in his universal ecclesiastical commitments. This “particular bond with the Pope and the Apostolic See” – as Pope Francis reminded us (Discourse to the Community of Writers of La Civiltà Cattolica, June 14, 2013) – is an essential part of the journal, which is therefore to be considered one of a kind.

The specificity of La Civiltà Cattolica, its proper contribution which the editors can o er, comes from this uniqueness: the fact that it is the fruit of writers, all of whom are Jesuits. Thus, it is a journal that is called to o er a spiritual vision of reality, which is lived by the religious who work in the editorship of the journal.

Our treasure is the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola, an incarnation spirituality, humanistic, curious and attentive to the search for the presence of God in the world, which has forged saints throughout the ages, intellectuals, scientists, and those involved in formation. The principle inspiration of this spirituality is a very simple criterion: “search for and find God in all things”, as St. Ignatius writes.

Thus, for La Civiltà Cattolica to be faithful to the Church essentially means responding to the appeal of the Pontiffs to the Company of Jesus in its entirety, and in particular to that of Pope Francis. In the audience conceded to the Jesuits of the journal three months after his election, the Pontiff, taking up again the mission which his immediate predecessors had conferred upon the journal, he relaunched and enriched it in meaning. The pope expressed the key words of this mission thus: dialogue, discernment, and frontier.

If initially, in the heart of the 19th century, the style of La Civiltà Cattolica was combative and polemical, in keeping with the general climate of the age, now this toughness is channeled into condemning the hypocrisies of our time. But our principle task “is not to construct walls but bridges.” The Pope has in mind an open dialogue based on the belief that “others have something good to say.”

This dialogue builds on the capacity to “collect and express the expectations, desires, joys, and dramas of our time, and to o er the elements for a reading of reality in the light of the Gospel.” In fact – contrary to what is often thought – “the important spiritual questions are more pressing than ever, but someone must interpret and understand them.” It is not, therefore, a matter of choosing either God or the world; rather it is always God in the world, the God who works to bring it to fulfillment.

For this reason, we need a discernment that “seeks to recognize in the human and cultural situation the presence of God’s Spirit, the seed of his presence already sown in events, in sensibilities, in desires and in the heart’s profound aspirations and in social, cultural and spiritual contexts.” From here starts our quest in all the fields of knowledge, art, science, and political, social, and spiritual life.

And to accomplish this task we must stand at the frontiers, not in the rearguard. This means “accompanying those who are living through difficult transitions,” allowing ourselves to “take conflicts into account.” This is to stand on the frontier and why – the Pontiff continued – “your proper place is at the frontier. This is the place of Jesuits.

Today too what Paul VI said about the Society of Jesus, taken up by Benedict XVI, applies in a particular way to you: ‘Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits.’ Please be pioneers empowered by God.” The temptation to avoid, however, is that of “domesticating the frontiers: it is essential to go out to the frontiers but not to bring frontiers home to touch them up with a little varnish and tame them.”

This attachment to dialogue, discernment, and the frontier, necessarily implies an attentive ear to the needs of people today, of the different forms of expression and life in society, with great respect and care. 50 years on from the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which our Journal followed with great care, allowing itself to be shaped profoundly by its spirit, we feel it is a permanent duty of the Church to examine the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel.

Today, openness to the international dimension is much more accentuated than in the past. A journal of culture is less identified with a particular nationality. Today, to comprehend reality, a broad and pluralist perspective is necessary. For some years now, the writers of the journal – all Jesuits – have come from various nations and continents. Thus, La Civiltà Cattolica has a more international profile. We feel the need to o er the journal to a greater number of readers in different languages.

So we have welcomed the proposal to launch an English edition of La Civiltà Cattolica which stands side by side now with the editions in French, Spanish, and Korean. English is the most international language and therefore it represents well the slant which the journal wishes to have.

Clearly this multilingual dimension will not leave the identity of the journal unchanged because, having readers in other languages, the examples of other countries and cultures will become part of the heart of the journal as never before. And this will be our way of living today our fidelity to the request of the then Pontiff to our predecessors with regard to their writings “to disseminate and diffuse them widely in all Nations”, as Pius IX wrote in his brief Gravissimum Supremi.

Since 1850 the journal has enjoyed notable success. The first issue, a print run of 4,200 copies, was re-printed seven successive times. After four years, circulation rose to 13,000 copies: a truly extraordinary number for that epoch, so much so that the printer had to acquire a “high speed machine” in England to take the place of the hand operated press.

This is not a purely technical detail but is rather the opening up of a perspective linked to an edition capable of diffusing the message of the journal as much as possible on an international basis. Italy, in fact, was not yet united when La Civiltà Cattolica was first diffused throughout the entire peninsula. It is also true that the journal still today arrives in the diplomatic pouch to all the nuncios in the world: this is already a very strong international element.

La Civiltà Cattolica by its tradition and very nature expresses a high form of cultural journalism located in a di cult frontier territory. The way themes are approached in plain language by La Civiltà Cattolica means it is a journal that carries out in-depth research while being, as our predecessors have said, an “intellectual pasture” accessible even to non- specialists in different fields of study and reflection.

This broad approach to culture through language and themes (from politics to history, from literature to psychology, from cinema to economy, from philosophy to theology, from popular customs to science) renders it particularly adapted to our times. The complexity and fragmentation of modern life requires effort to understand and recompose fragmented knowledge.

From the editorial of the first issue of 1850 our journal has interpreted its catholicity thus: “La Civiltà Cattolica would not be catholic, that is, universal, if it were not able to engage with every form of public life.” Thanks to the multiplicity and breadth of the subjects treated, our readers are able to become familiar with numerous debated and timely issues. Above all, they will have the materials and stimuli to form a personal opinion, thanks to the incisive, but not overly complex or articulated, analysis.

However, we do not intend simply to follow and comment upon cultural events or pre-formulated reflections. As much as possible, we want to look ahead, anticipate the tendencies and phenomena, foresee their impact, and keep the attention of our readers alert.

Thus, we intend to respond to the appeal that Benedict XVI made to us in February of 2006 when he received us in private audience: “La Civiltà Cattolica, to be faithful to its nature and to its task, will not fail … to renew itself continually, reading correctly the signs of the times.” It is precisely in this sense that we recognize ourselves well in a definition made by Msgr James I. Tucek of Dallas in the 1960s. At the time of the Council he was in Rome as head of what is now the Catholic News Service and called us: “a digni ed, but hard punching magazine.”

This work is the fruit of an editorial board which is called “the college of writers.” La Civiltà Cattolica is the expression of the work of a team, and therefore of shared research and toil: every article before its publication — whether it is written by members of the editorial board or comes from elsewhere — is subject to the judgment of the others and, in the end, is the fruit of an internal dialogue. We writers are, as Leo XIII wrote of us in the brief, Sapienti Consilio “united in community of life and study.” I myself as director am a part, with added responsibility, of a work which is radically collegial. Our journal is therefore the expression of a community of scholarship, which is open to the world and to contributions by the Jesuits of five continents.

In entrusting La Civiltà Cattolica to our English-speaking readers, relying on their generous trust, I confirm once again a thought which our journal formulated beautifully in 1851. It still seems very timely: “Between the one who writes and the one who reads there runs an exchange of thoughts and sentiments which holds much by friendship, often it arrives at being almost a secret intimacy: above all when the loyalty of one part and the trust of the other solidify it.”

Antonio Spadaro, SJ
Editor-in-Chief, Rome