In the excitement over the news of John Paul II’s beatification, and thoughts about John Paul I not accompanying him to the honors of the altar, I completely missed another bit of news; on January 14, Pope Benedict also signed the decree approving a miracle for an Italian Catholic layman, sociologist and economist Giuseppe Toniolo, which qualifies him for beatification.
Toniolo (1845-1918) had immense impact on Catholic thought; his ideas on workers’ rights influenced Pope Leo XIII in his writing of his great social encyclical Rerum Novarum. He spoke on behalf of agricultural laborers and supported the spread of dairy cooperatives in northern Italy; he spearheaded the Catholic Action movement and had a great influence those who wanted to move Catholics back into politics, from which they were shut out during the forming of the Italian nation in 1870.
His ideas were adapted by the early leaders of the Partito Popolare in the 1920, and the future Democrazia Cristiana.
Toniolo was also married and with his wife raised seven children.
This is a delight and pretty heartening for me, because Toniolo was quite important to John Paul I. An admirer of Pope Leo’s encyclical, and an upholder of workers’ rights Luciani was very well acquainted with Toniolo’s thought.
In the 1960′s, he was bishop of Vittorio Veneto, which was not far from Toniolo’s birthplace of Treviso. Toniolo was buried in the church of the Assumption in Pieve di Soligo, in Luciani’s own diocese. Luciani recalled in one of his sermons how the farm workers would go to the church to venerate Toniolo. It was in fact in this very church that the healing that led to approval for the beatification took place. (It was of a young man in his 30′s who had sustained some injuries in a fall).
It was also in this church in May 1961 that Luciani gave a talk commemorating both the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum and Toniolo’s life and work. (I gave an exceprt from it here while talking about Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, Charity in Truth). At that time Toniolo was known as the “Servant of God,” because his cause had been introduced. He was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1971.
Here is a portion of Luciani’s talk, on Toniolo’s influence on Rerum Novarum and on his social innovations in the Veneto (I’ll repeat what was in the earlier post for better context):
I want . . . to explain the reason why Pieve di Soligo was chosen for today’s event. And the reason is right over there: the tomb of Giuseppe Toniolo, to the right of those who enter by the main door of this church. The diocese of Vittorio Veneto wants to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Rerum novarum. And where else, but close to the one who contributed from close by to the preparation of the famous document and who was a convinced and tireless propagator of the ideas of Rerum Novarum?
Rerum Novarum, like other papal documents on social themes, contains three sorts of truths: truths of faith, of reason, and of simple observation.
Truths of faith: for example, in Rerum Novarum, the supernatural destiny of man is present from beginning to end; the reasoning that emerges, now here, and now there, is this: “Yes, let’s seek a good arrangement for the workers, but let’s recall that no arrangement can be good if it puts the other arrangement of heaven in danger!” In this area of truth, obviously, Toniolo had nothing to suggest to Leo XIII.
Nor did he in the sector of “truths of reason,” which is the sector of good sense, of natural law, old as the centuries, which the Pope interprets authentically. To this sector belong, for example, the statements of Rerum novarum about the right to property and the right of workers to unite in associations.
It is instead in the sector of observation that the advice of Toniolo could be useful. Social phenomena formed the material for observation. Society, in fact, changes as life changes, and to the changes there must correspond, on the part of the Church, not a different truth, but a different dose of the same truth. Hence a constant adaptation, an opening of our eyes to quickly register the signs of the new times.
I will supply an example: it is a truth of reason that the state must intervene in favor of the workers, in cases where they are not succeeding in reaching just and reasonable goals on their own. Well then, in Quadragesimo anno we hear Pius XI concerned with indicating the limits of state intervention and it is understandable; it was in 1931, the period of totalitarian governments that actually intervened too much in social questions.
In Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII urged the state to intervene in favor of the workers. This means that the Pope was convinced that in 1891 the workers could not do it alone and that the states were taking little action. But from where did this conviction come to him? Not from Sacred Scripture or from philosophy, but from the world itself, which from the observatory that is the Vatican, he sought to read as though in a book. He tried to make the reading easier for himself with the help of Catholic thinkers, who, however, were divided on this point.
“The state is like pitch,” said some; “if we dip our finger in it, we will not get it out again; the workers must act alone without the state!” “If the state does not intervene with its massive power, the workers will remain as miserable as they are, the power of the employers are too great!” answered the others, and they were the flower of bishops, thinkers and politicians, in France, Belgium, Germany and England. Among these was none other than Giuseppe Toniolo and he was distinguished among them by the moderation of his tone and the acuteness of his reasoning.
Did he have an influence on inserting the thesis of state intervention and other points in the encyclical?
The decree of introduction of the cause of Giuseppe Toniolo says the Leo XII “doctissimos in hac encyclica conscribenda consuluit viros, quos inter Servum Dei Josephum Toniolo [consulted very learned men in the writing of this encyclical, among them the Servant of God Giuseppe Toniolo.”
When questioned on the subject, the Servant of God was accustomed to change the subject. The thesis, however can be confirmed by comparison of passages of Rerum novarum with passages of two works by Toniolo and by the statement of well-informed people. And it is a pleasure to be able to say this here, in Pieve, from where in the vacation period of 1889 the letters were sent that consolidated the basis of that Unione cattolica per gli studi sociali, which called the attention of Leo XII to the Servant of God and his teachings. As if to say that Pieve too is connected by a thread, however thin, to the famous document!
Toniolo was a propagator of the social ideas of Leo XIII before and after the issuing of Rerum Novarum.
A few kilometers from here the social dairy of Soligo, the first in the province, was begun on May 24, 1883. It was founded by a lawyer, Gaetano Schiratti, but the idea belonged to his brother-in-law Toniolo. To how many social words did Toniolo give ideas, impetus and a contribution of work, of words, of writing?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Luciani, through his admiration for Toniolo, has helped pray this beatification into being. And so it turns out that he is connected by more than one “thin thread” to the announcements of of beatifications this week.