If, prior to Vatican II, Giorgio La Pira had been Balducci’s lodestar in sociopolitical affairs, in matters of theology a similar role was fulfilled by Jacques Maritain. The most influential philosopher in the ambit of Left Catholicism from the 1930s to the 1950s, Maritain had successfully defended freedom of choice for Catholics in secular matters, while emphasizing the overall primacy of the spiritual.[1] Following Vatican II and its call for an embrace of the modern world, such an approach, emphasizing the duality of temporal and spiritual spheres, no longer appeared to conform to the new Zeitgeist. Vatican II’s enthusiastic embrace of ‘the signs of the times’ now caught the imagination of progressive Catholics such as Balducci. The primacy of the spiritual no longer appeared to provide answers to the questions of the day.[2] As was to be expected, Balducci became an energetic supporter of the innovations propounded by Vatican II. And Testimonianze, initially operating within a perfectly Maritainian ‘contemplative atmosphere’,[3] began to turn its attention increasingly to the here-and-now. By 1966, Testimonianze began to organize national conferences on various themes related to the message of Vatican II, causing conservative representatives of the curia to worry about the journal constituting, in effect, ‘a political movement of the Catholic Left’.[4]

Ernesto Balducci first obtained a distinct degree of national notoriety when, in 1962-3, he publicly came out in full support of the first Italian Catholic conscientious objector to the military draft, Giuseppe Gozzini. Balducci’s interventions resulted in judicial prosecutions by both civilian and ecclesiastic authorities, receiving much media coverage.[5] From then on, Balducci received constant invitations to engage in public debates, to give talks and furnish interventions in radio and television programmes. Likewise, he now received an endless stream of personal letters from (frequently) young Catholics in search of advice on how to reconcile their faith with concrete social and political engagements.[6] Balducci now emerged as the leading activist- reformer within the Italian Catholic church.

By the late 1960s, Balducci’s personal-political-theological itinerary began to execute another turn. In the face of growing opposition by the hierarchy vis-a-vis the concrete implementation of the progressive message of Vatican II, Balducci began to air his growing doubts about the possibility for a thorough reform of the church. He began to fear that ‘the sole effect of the Council would consist in a superficial reordering of the Church and a marginal renovation which would fail to affect profoundly public awareness’.[7] Monica Galfre dates this growing scepticism more precisely to 1968.[8] And, in fact, one symbolic measure of this increasing pessimism as to the self-reforming mechanism of the Catholic church can be seen in Balducci’s relationship with Pope Paul VI. In 1966, Balducci was allowed to return to Florence due to the intervention of Paul VI, who was able to overcome the powerful opposition by Alfredo Ottaviani and the archbishop of Florence, Ermenegildo Florit. But in the wake of 1968, ‘the elements of critique and dissent with regard to papal decisions become much more accentuated’.[9] In April 1969, Balducci could thus confide to his diary: ‘The line of Paul VI, which is constantly more propelled by fear, finds echoes in the strengthening of the reactionary institutions of the episcopacy.’[10]

By about 1968, Balducci began to cast aside his recently acquired ‘progressive optimism’ and began to search for new yardsticks. ‘If the “yes” to the Council was due to its reconciliation with reason and modernity, his [now emerging partial] “no” to the Council was a result of the Council’s non-critical manner of that reconciliation.’[11] In tandem with the evolution of Balducci’s personal convictions, Testimonianze, in the second half of the 1960s, began to engage in an interpretation of Gaudium et Spes and Vatican II from the standpoint of constructive criticism, ‘pointing in a more radical and theologically well-versed direction’.[12]

  • [1] A brief survey of the central figure of First Wave Left Catholicism can be consulted inHorn, Western European Liberation Theology, pp. 89-97.
  • [2] Balducci’s move from convinced Maritainian to post-Maritainian advocate of new departures in the relationship between church and state is well argued in Daniele Menozzi, ‘Chiesa esocieta nell’itinerario di Ernesto Balducci’, in Bruna Bocchini Camaiani (ed.), Ernesto Balducci.La chiesa, la societa, la pace (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2005), pp. 61-7; see also Mary Malucchi,Ernesto Balducci. Cattolicesimo, Marxismo, etica planetaria (Florence: Chiari, 2002), pp. 26-7.
  • [3] A phrase used by Luciano Martini in the conversation transcripts composing Balducci’sFede e scelta politica, p. 221.
  • [4] Bocchini Camaiani, Ernesto Balducci, p. 209.
  • [5] Bocchini Camaiani, Ernesto Balducci, pp. 71-9.
  • [6] Note here the insightful comments by Nicoletta Silvestri, ‘Archivio Privato Sezione I’, inBruna Bocchini Camaiani, Monica Galfre, and Nicoletta Silvestri (eds), Percorsi di archivio.L’archivio di Ernesto Balducci (Florence: Edizioni Regione Toscana, 2000), pp. 57-61.
  • [7] Malucchi, Ernesto Balducci, p. 42.
  • [8] Monica Galfre, ‘Alle frontiere dell’inquietudine. Balducci e la Chiesa’, in BocchiniCamaiani, Galfre, and Silvestri (eds), Percorsi di archivio, p. 177.
  • [9] Bocchini Camaiani, Ernesto Balducci, p. 224.
  • [10] Entry for 24 April 1969 in Ernesto Balducci, Diari (1945-1978) (Brescia: Morcelliana,2009), p. 818.
  • [11] Note the relevant important passage in Raniero La Valle, ‘Balducci e il Concilio’, inBocchini Camaiani (ed.), Ernesto Balducci, p. 334.
  • [12] Giovanni Turbanti, ‘La lettura e i commenti di Ernesto Balducci al Concilio’, in BocchiniCamaiani (ed.), Ernesto Balducci, p. 264.
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