Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Intellectuals of Italian Catholic Action and the Sacralisation of Politics in 1930s Europe



There has been a growing revival of interest in the subject of political religion in recent years. However, despite this tendency, the perspective of contemporary Italian Catholics on the subject has hardly been touched upon, except by Emilio Gentile and Renato Moro. This article addresses this gap, analysing the response to the phenomenon of political religions during the 1930s by the two intellectual branches of Italian Catholic Action, namely, the FUCI and the Movimento laureati. Indeed, it was during the 1930s that these intellectuals became most aware of the novelty and danger posed by the emergence of the political religions. The article follows the analyses provided by the FUCI and the Movimento laureati on Bolshevism, National Socialism and Italian Fascism. During the 1930s new concepts such as ‘political religions’, ‘religion of the blood’, ‘totalitarian religion’ and ‘new idols’, all expressed the effort of these Catholic intellectuals to come to terms with the new reality of the sacralisation of politics being carried out by the totalitarian experiments.

On voit depuis quelques années un intérêt renouvelé porté à la religion politique. La perspective italienne catholique reste cependant pratiquement oubliée, si ce n'est dans les écrits de Emilio Gentile et Renato Moro. Cet article cherche à combler ce vide en analysant la réaction au phénomène des religions politiques pendant les années 1930 de la part des deux sections intellectuelles de l'action catholique italienne, à savoir FUCI et le Movimento laureati. C'est en effet pendant cette décennie que les ces penseurs prirent conscience du nouveau danger présenté par l'apparition des religions politiques. L'article reprend les traces des critiques montées par FUCI et le Movimento laureati au sujet du bolchévisme, du national-socialisme et du fascisme italien. Pendant ces années 1930, une série de nouveaux concepts – ‘religion politique’, ‘religion du sang’, ‘religion totalitaire’, ‘nouveaux idoles’ – témoignent de l'effort des intellectuels catholiques cherchant à faire face à la nouvelle sacralisation de la politique au sein des expérimentations totalitaires.

Dem Thema der politischen Religion wurde in den letzten Jahren erneut wachsendes Interesse entgegengebracht. Doch trotz dieser Strömung wurde die Perspektive der italienischen Katholiken der Zeit zu diesem Thema kaum erwähnt, außer von Emilio Gentile und Renato Moro. Dieser Artikel thematisiert diese Lücke und analysiert, wie die zwei Intellektuellenbewegungen der italienischen Katholischen Aktion, nämlich die FUCI und der Movimento laureati, auf das Phänomen der politischen Religionen in den 1930er Jahren reagierten. In den 1930er Jahren nämlich wurden sich diese Intellektuellen der Neuartigkeit und der Gefahr infolge des Aufkommens politischer Religionen verstärkt bewusst. Der Artikel orientiert sich an den Analysen der FUCI und des Movimento laureati über den Bolschewismus, den Nationalsozialismus und den italienischen Faschismus. In den 1930er Jahren drückten neue Denkbilder wie ‘politische Religionen’, ‘Religion des Blutes’, ‘totalitäre Religion’ und ‘neue Idole’ alle aus, dass diese katholischen Intellektuellen darum bemüht waren, sich mit der neuen Realität der Sakralisierung der Politik abzufinden, die mittels der totalitären Experimente umgesetzt wurde.



Hide All

1 See, among many others, Griffin, Roger, Mallett, Robert and Tortorice, John, eds, The Sacred in Twentieth-Century Politics: Essays in Honour of Stanley Payne (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008); Maier, Hans, ed., Totalitarianism and Political Religions: Concepts for the Comparison of Dictatorships, 3 vols. (London and New York: Routledge, 2004–7); Burleigh, Michael, Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War (London: Harper Collins, 2005); idem, Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (London: Harper Collins, 2006); Poewe, Karla, New Religions and the Nazis (New York and London: Routledge, 2006); Griffin, Roger, ed., Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion (London and New York: Routledge, 2005) and Klinghoffer, Arthur Jay, Red Apocalypse: The Religious Evolution of Soviet Communism (Maryland: University of America Press, 1996). However, Emilio Gentile has provided what is probably the most methodologically sophisticated and historically grounded accounts of the phenomenon of the sacralisation of politics. Among his many publications dealing with the subject, see, for example, Emilio Gentile, ‘Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion: Definitions and Critical Reflections on Criticism of an Interpretation’ in Griffin, Fascism, 32–81; idem, Il culto del littorio: La sacralizzazione della politica nell'Italia fascista (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2003); idem, Le religioni della politica: Fra democrazie e totalitarismi (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2001) and idem, ‘Fascism as Political Religion’, Journal of Contemporary History, 25, 1 (1990), 229–51.

2 Kershaw, Ian, ‘Hitler and the Uniqueness of Nazism’, Journal of Contemporary History, 39, 2 (2004), 250.

3 Eatwell, Roger, ‘Reflections on Fascism and Religion’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 4, 3 (2003), 145–66.

4 For the advantages and disadvantages of the term ‘political religion’, see the excellent article by Roberts, David D., ‘“Political Religion” and the Totalitarian Departures of Inter-war Europe: On the Uses and Disadvantages of an Analytical Category’, Contemporary European History, 18, 4 (2009), 381414.

5 Cattaruzza, Marina, ‘Introduction to the special issue of Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions: Political Religions as a Characteristic of the Twentieth Century’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 6, 1 (2005), 23.

6 Gentile, Emilio, ‘New Idols: Catholicism in the Face of Fascist Totalitarianism’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 11, 2 (2006), 143–70; and Moro, Renato, ‘Religione del Trascendente e Religioni Politiche: Il cattolicesimo italiano di fronte alla sacralizzazione fascista della politica’, Mondo contemporaneo, 1, 1 (2005), 967. This article was submitted before the publication of Gentile's, Emilio book, Contro Cesare: Religione e totalitarismo nell'epoca dei fascismi (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2010).

7 Aldo Moro, Giulio Andreotti, Paolo Emilio Taviani, Guido Gonella, Mario Scelba, Mariano Rumor, Amintore Fanfani, to name a few, were all active participants in the life of these organisations in the inter-war period. For the history of these federations see, for example, Torresi, Tiziano, L'altra giovinezza: Gli Universitari cattolici dal 1935 al 1940 (Assisi: Cittadella, 2010); Valier, Maria Luisa Paronetto, Competenza e responsabilità: Spiritualità delle professioni (Rome: Studium, 2002); Giuntella, Maria Cristina, La FUCI tra modernismo, partito popolare e fascismo (Rome: Studium, 2000); Wolff, Richard J., Between Pope and Duce: Catholic Students in Fascist Italy (New York: Peter Lang, 1990); Moro, Renato, La formazione della classe dirigente cattolica (1929–1937) (Bologna: il Mulino, 1979) and Marcucci, Gabriella Fanello, Storia della FUCI (Rome: Studium, 1971).

8 Emilio Gentile, ‘Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion’, in Griffin, ed., Fascism, 32. It has to be remembered that Gentile, additionally, makes the existence of a political religion an integral part of his definition of totalitarianism. See his Le religioni, 71.

9 Gentile, ‘New Idols’, 144; and Moro, ‘Religione del Trascendente e Religioni Politiche’, 11–12.

10 Montini to Emilio Guano, 7 March 1935, Archivio Emilio Guano, b.4, f. ‘FUCI. Corrispondenza 1933–1936’.

11 de Gasperi, Alcide, Scritti di politica internazionale, 1933–1938, vol. 2 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1981), 438–39.

12 Igino Giordani, ‘Segno di contraddizione’, Azione fucina, 16 April 1933.

13 (Giulio Bevilacqua), Miles, ‘Entusiasmo per l'uomo’, Studium, 1 (1936).

14 Miles, ‘Fuoco di Pentecoste’, Studium, 5 (1937).

15 REDS, ‘Crisi di Follia’, Studium, 1 (1938).

16 Yves Congar, ‘Il mondo moderno e la fede’, Azione fucina, 20 Oct. 1935.

18 Yves Congar, ‘Il mondo moderno e la fede’, Azione fucina, 3 Nov. 1935 (emphasis in original).

19 S. Paronetto, ‘Cattolicismo e socialismo’, Azione fucina, 20 Nov. 1932; G. Gonella, ‘L'eredità del marxismo’, Azione fucina, 21 May 1933; and M. d'Herbigny, ‘La propaganda antireligiosa in Europa’, Studium, 5 (1935).

20 Peris, Daniel, Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998).

21 Klinghoffer, Red Apocalypse, 49–51; and Stites, Richard, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 101–5.

22 Vittore Branca, ‘Scrittori Sovietici’, Azione fucina, 1 Nov. 1936.

23 E. R. (Enrico Rosa), ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, Studium, 5 (1934). The Jesuit had become one of the leading writers of Studium during the 1930s. However, his Manichean vision of history and at times extreme conservatism irritated many in the FUCI and the Movimento laureati. Augusto Baroni, for example, complained to Igino Righetti about Rosa's regular column, ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, stating that ‘Vita Ecclesiae should really change title and be called “review of all the evils that the Church cannot find a solution to”. The effect of his columns I find desolating: has Father Rosa become so old [as] to not understand it?’ Baroni to Righetti, 12 March 1935, Archivio del Movimento Laureati, b. 6.

24 E.R., ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, Studium, 4 (1936).

25 E.R., ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, Studium, 10 (1936).

26 Roberts, David D., The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth-Century Europe: Understanding the Poverty of Great Politics (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), 213–70; Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, 37–57.

27 I. Giordani, ‘Rassegne’, Studium, 5 (1934).

28 Franco Piccardo, ‘Il problema religioso della Russia’, Azione fucina, 13 Jun 1937.

29 Miles, ‘Confiteor’, Studium, 12 (1936).

30 On the importance of this papal document see, for example, Chiron, Yves, Pie XI (1857–939) (Paris: Perrin, 2004), 359–63; and Agostino, Marc, Le Pape Pie XI et l'opinion (1922–1939) (Rome: École française de Rome, 1991), 639–61.

31 XI, Pius, Divini Redemptoris, in Española, Acción Católica, Colección de Encíclicas y Cartas Pontificias (Buenos Aires: Editorial Poblet, 1946), 548.

32 Ibid., 528–9.

33 Ibid., 530 and 533. For the FUCI's and Movimento laureati's very positive reactions to the encyclical see, for example, E.R., ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, Studium, 3 (1937); and ‘Una enciclica sul comunismo’, Azione fucina, 21 March 1937.

34 Franco Piccardo, ‘Contributo di autori cattolici alla lotta anticomunista’, Azione fucina, 4 Dec. 1938.

35 G. B. Tragella, ‘La minaccia bolscevica in terra di missione’, Studium, 9 (1937).

38 Letter to Emilio Guano, 7 Dec. 1936, in Archivio Emilio Guano, b.4, f. ‘FUCI. Corrispondenza 1933–1936’.

39 Biesinger, Joseph A., ‘The Reich Concordat of 1933: The Church Struggle Against Nazi Germany’, in Coppa, Frank J., ed., Controversial Concordats: The Vatican's Relations with Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999), 136.

40 Ibid., 145.

41 Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich in Power 1933–1939 (New York: Allen Lane, 2005), 237–8; Burleigh, Michael, The Third Reich: A New History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), 677–8; and Rhodes, Anthony, The Vatican in the Age of Dictators (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 197.

42 Evans, Third Reich, 239.

43 E.R., ‘Vita Ecclesiae’, Studium, n. 6–7, (1934).

44 ‘Le condizioni religiose in Germania dopo il Concordato con la Santa Sede’, Studium, n. 8–9, 1934.

45 Ibid.

46 Gog (Guido Gonella), ‘Tra la vita e il libro: I seguaci del califfo Omar’, Studium, 4 (1934).

47 C. Valente, ‘Sforzi conciliativi dei cattolici tedeschi’, Azione fucina, 14 June 1936.

48 ‘Nazional Socialismo e Cattolicesimo’, Azione fucina, 11 Aug. 1935.

49 Vondung, Klaus, ‘National Socialism as a Political Religion: Potentials and Limits of an Analytical Concept’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 6, 1 (2005), 8990.

50 ‘Razzismo’, Azione fucina, 3 June 1934.

51 Dietrich Von Hildebrand, ‘Lo spirito del Nazionalsocialismo’, Studium, 11 (1935).

54 Miles, ‘Come mai può esser questo’, Studium, 5 (1934).

55 Bendiscioli, Mario, Neopaganesimo Razzista (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1937); and idem, La Germania Religiosa Nel III Reich: Conflitti Religiosi e Culturali nella Germania Nazista (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1936). On Bendiscioli see Marcocchi, Massimo, ed., Mario Bendiscioli: Intellettuale Cristiano (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2004).

56 Bendiscioli, Neopaganesimo, 5.

57 Poewe, New Religions, 31.

58 Ibid., 4–6.

59 Bendiscioli, Neopaganesimo, 31.

60 Bendiscioli, Germania, 74.

61 On the importance of celebrations and the new calendar see Burleigh, Sacred Causes, 110–12 and Vondung, ‘National Socialism as a Political Religion’, 92.

62 Bendiscioli, Germania, 79.

63 Evans, Third Reich, 250.

64 Bendiscioli, Neopaganesimo, 28.

65 Ibid., 29–30.

66 Ibid., 15–16.

67 Ibid., 45.

68 For the importance of this encyclical and the growing awareness of Pius XI of the commonalities between Bolshevism, National Socialism and Italian Fascism as totalitarian movements and regimes, see, for example, Fattorini, Emma, Pio XI, Hitler e Mussolini: La solitudine di un papa (Turin: Einaudi, 2007), 124–38 and Chiron, Pie XI, 363–70.

69 Mit brennender Sorge in Acción Católica Española, 359.

70 Ibid., 366.

71 Ibid., 370.

72 Letter in Archivio del Movimento Laureati, b’.1937 n. 1’.

73 Non Abbiamo bisogno, in Acción Católica Española, 895 and 896–7.

74 Ibid., 899.

75 Miccoli, Giovanni, ‘Chiesa cattolica e totalitarismi’, in Ferrone, Vincenzo, ed., La Chiesa Cattolica e il Totalitarismo (Florence: Olschki, 2004), 126; and Menozzi, Daniele and Moro, Renato, ‘Conclusioni’, in Menozzi, Daniele and Moro, Renato, eds, Cattolicesimo e totalitarismo: Chiese e culture religiose tra le due guerre mondiali (Italia, Spagna, Francia) (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2004), 373–87.

76 Zunino, Pier Giorgio, Interpretazione e memoria del fascismo: Gli anni del regime (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2000), 143–69.

77 Dagnino, Jorge, ‘Catholic Modernities in Fascist Italy: The Intellectuals of Azione Cattolica’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 8, 2 (2007), 329–41.

78 Dagnino, Jorge, ‘Catholic Students at War: The Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana, 1940–43’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 14, 3 (2009), 285304.

79 Adriano Bernareggi, ‘La moralità nella professione’, Studium, 3–4 (1935).

80 ‘Personalità e disciplina’, Azione fucina, 25 Apr 1937.

81 Zama, Piero, Fascismo e Religione (Milan: Imperia, 1923), 1213.

82 Bottai, Giuseppe, Incontri (Milan: Mondadori, 1943), 123.

83 Mussolini, Benito, La Dottrina del Fascismo, in idem, Scritti e Discorsi: Dal 1932 al 1933, vol. 8 (Milan: Hoepli, 1934), 6970.

84 Gentile, Emilio, Il mito dello Stato nuovo, dall'antigiolittismo al fascismo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2002).

85 Gentile, Emilio, La Grande Italia: Il mito della nazione nel XX secolo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2006), 173–84; idem, La via italiana al totalitarismo: Il partito e lo Stato nel regime fascista (Rome: Carocci, 2002), 203–23.

86 Gentile, La via italiana, 137–8. Also see Buchignani, Paolo, La rivoluzione in camicia nera: Dalle origini al 25 luglio 1943 (Milan: Mondadori, 2006), 304–54.

87 Darius, ‘Ecce nova facio omnia’, Studium, 8–9 (1938).

88 Fausto Montanari, ‘Gesù Cristo e il Novecento’, Studium, 5 (1938).

93 Stefano Riccio, ‘La dottrina etica dello Stato’, Azione fucina, 25 Aug. 1935.

94 Gino Ferroni, ‘Valore dell'ordine corporativo’, Azione fucina, 16 Aug. 1936.

95 For Fascism's anthropological revolution, see Zapponi, Niccolò, ‘Lo stile del fascismo: Un'estetica della sopravvivenza’, Mondo contemporaneo, 1, 3 (2005), 550; Matard-Bonucci, Marie-Anne and Milza, Pierre, eds, L'Homme nouveau dans l'Europe fasciste (1922–1945): Entre dictature et totalitarisme (Paris: Fayard, 2004); Gentile, Emilio, Fascismo: Storia e interpretazione (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2002), 235–64; and Mosse, George L., The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 155–80.

96 Carli, Mario, Codice della vita fascista (Rome: Ist. Editoriale del Littorio, 1928), 6.

97 Ibid., 10.

98 Fascista, Partito Nazionale, Il cittadino soldato (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1936), 1112.

99 Fascista, Partito Nazionale, La dottrina del fascismo (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1936), 26.

100 Fausto Montanari, ‘Il superuomo’, Azione fucina, 9 Jun 1935.

101 Ibid.

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid.

104 ‘Personalità e società’, Azione fucina, 18 Apr 1937.

105 Sac. Arcozzi-Masino, ‘Impostazioni errate del problema della personalità’, Studium, 9 (1937).

106 Miles, ‘Eroismo’, Studium, 7–8 (1936).

107 Ibid.

108 Ibid.

109 Gentile, Il culto, 235–65; Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2000), 4288; and Passerini, Luisa, Mussolini immaginario (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1991).

110 Gentile, Emilio, Fascismo di Pietra (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 2008); and Wilkins, Ann Thomas, ‘Augustus, Mussolini, and the Parallel Imagery of Empire’, in Lazzaro, Claudia and Crum, Roger J., eds, Donatello Among the Blackshirts: History and Modernity in the Visual Culture of Fascist Italy (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005), 5365.

111 Fausto Montanari, ‘Augusto nella crisi culturale dell'impero’, Studium, 4 (1938).

112 Ibid.

113 Guido Anichini, ‘Da Prefetto a Vescovo’, Azione fucina, 11 Dec. 1938.

114 Ibid.

115 Report from Brescia, 6 Apr 1934, in Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Ministero dell'Interno, Direzione Generale di Pubblica Sicurezza, Divisione Affari Generali e Riservati, G1, b.19.

116 Reports from Vatican City, 13 May 1932, and from Padua, 4 Oct. 1931, both in Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Ministero dell'Interno, Polizia Politica, b.130.

117 B. G. (Giulio Bevilacqua), ‘Sgombrare l'idolo’, Studium, 1 (1940).

118 Ibid.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

The Intellectuals of Italian Catholic Action and the Sacralisation of Politics in 1930s Europe



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.