“NATURE AND CULTURE IN CATHOLIC ENVIRONMENTALISM: ROMANO GUARDINI’S LETTERS FROM LAKE COMO

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Christopher Shannon, in the frame of the last WDY presented us some ideas from Romano Guardini, one of the most profound modern Catholic thinkers, who in 1926 wrote a famous  book called Letters from Lake Como. In this book, Guardini develop a range of questions concerning man’s relation to the natural world, a foundational text of a tradition of authentically Catholic “environmentalism.”   

Guardini born in 1885 in Verona, Italy, soon moved with his family to the city of Mainz, in Germany where his father went in search of employment.  His parents were faithful, if not excessively devout Catholics who raised Guardini with a love for the great classics of European humanism, ranging from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Goethe’s Faust.  By the early twentieth century, however, science had eclipsed literary humanism as the great achievement of European civilization.  Indeed, for the enlightened of that age, modern science had rendered traditional Christianity obsolete.  Guardini tried to embrace the spirit of his age through the study of chemistry and economics.  Attending the University of Munich, he noticed that many of his fellow students had abandoned their religious beliefs; this caused him to begin to question his own faith.  Guardini then underwent a period of spiritual crisis that he would later compare to that of St. Augustine.  He emerged from this crisis with a renewed faith, but continued to pursue his secular studies.  Still, after a few months of studying economics at the University of Berlin, he felt the call to the priesthood, eventually receiving holy orders on May 28, 1910.  Over the next ten years, Guardini pursued a Ph.D. that would qualify him to teach in the German university system, served two years of service as a hospital orderly for the German army during World War I, and held various parish assignments.

 Between the main ideas of Guardini, it could be mentioned the issue of the meaning of industrialism as it has spread into a previously unindustrialized region of Italy.  He frames the problem in the following way:  “I saw machines invading the land that had previously been the home of culture.” Significantly, he criticizes industrialism as less a corruption of pure nature than a transformation of culture.  Nature was made for human habitation.  The question is not whether to interact with nature or leave it alone, but how to live with nature in a manner that is both human and natural

 The unnatural relation between man and nature extends to social and economic relations among people.  The factories that destroy nature also introduce an unnatural relation of production and consumption into human society.  

 Mass production and consumption had so distorted natural human living that people were nearly unable to imagine any other way of living:  the artificial had become natural?

 

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