This piece has been chosen for my collection Day of Wrath. It was slightly modified and presently can only be read as a PDF within the book, ready for printing in your home for a truly comfortable reading. Cheers. The author
“I have dipped into Mein Kampf but never read it: it was written only partly by Hitler, and that is the problem. More important are… Hitler’s table talks: daily memoranda which first Heim (Bormann’s adjutant, whom I interviewed) and then Picker wrote down at his table side”. —David Irving
[Gratitude to the Jesuits - Protestant fanaticism - Similarities between Germany and Italy - Dante and Luther - The Duce is one of the Caesars - The march on Rome - a turning-point in history - Delightful Italian towns - Rome and Paris.]
When all’s said, we should be grateful to the Jesuits. Who knows if, but for them, we might have abandoned Gothic architecture for the light, airy, bright architecture of the Counter-Reformation? In the face of Luther’s efforts to lead an upper clergy that had acquired profane habits back to mysticism, the Jesuits restored to the world the joy of the senses.
It’s certain that Luther had no desire to mould humanity to the letter of the Scriptures. He has a whole series of reflections in which he clearly sets himself against the Bible. He recognises that it contains a lot of bad things.
Fanaticism is a matter of climate—for Protestantism, too, has burnt its witches. Nothing of that sort in Italy. The Southerner has a lighter attitude towards matters of faith. The Frenchman has personally an easy way of behaving in his churches. With us, it’s enough not to kneel to attract attention.
But Luther had the merit of rising against the Pope and the organisation of the Church. It was the first of the great revolutions. And thanks to his translation of the Bible, Luther replaced our dialects by the great German language!
It’s remarkable to observe the resemblances between the evolution of Germany and that of Italy. The creators of the language, Dante and Luther, rose against the ecumenical desires of the papacy.
Each of the two nations was led to unity, against the dynastic interests, by one man. They achieved their unity against the will of the Pope.
I must say, I always enjoy meeting the Duce. He’s a great personality. It’s curious to think that, at the same period as myself, he was working in the building trade in Germany. Our programme was worked out in 1919, and at that time I knew nothing about him. Our doctrines are based on the foundations proper to each of them, but every man’s way of thinking is a result. Don’t suppose that events in Italy had no influence on us. The brown shirt would probably not have existed without the black shirt. The march on Rome, in 1922, was one of the turning-points of history. The mere fact that anything of the sort could be attempted, and could succeed, gave us an impetus. A few weeks after the march on Rome, I was received by the Minister Schweyer. That would never have happened otherwise.
If Mussolini had been outdistanced by Marxism, I don’t know whether we could have succeeded in holding out. At that period National Socialism was a very fragile growth.
If the Duce were to die, it would be a great misfortune for Italy. As I walked with him in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, I could easily compare his profile with that of the Roman busts, and I realised he was one of the Caesars. There’s no doubt at all that Mussolini is the heir of the great men of that period.
Despite their weaknesses, the Italians have so many qualities that make us like them.
Italy is the country where intelligence created the notion of the State. The Roman Empire is a great political creation, the greatest of all.
The Italian people’s musical sense, its liking for harmonious proportions, the beauty of its race! The Renaissance was the dawn of a new era, in which Aryan man found himself anew. There’s also our own past on Italian soil. A man who is indifferent to history is a man without hearing, without sight. Such a man can live, of course—but what a life?
The magic of Florence and Rome, of Ravenna, Siena, Perugia! Tuscany and Umbria, how lovely they are!
The smallest palazzo in Florence or Rome is worth more than all Windsor Castle. If the English destroy anything in Florence or Rome, it will be a crime. In Moscow, it wouldn’t do any great harm; nor in Berlin, unfortunately.
I’ve seen Rome and Paris, and I must say that Paris, with the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, has nothing on the scale of the Coliseum, or the Castle of San Angelo, or St. Peter’s. These monuments, which are the product of a collective effort, have ceased to be on the scale of the individual. There’s something queer about the Paris buildings, whether it’s those bull’s-eye windows, so badly proportioned, or those gables that obliterate whole façades. If I compare the Pantheon in Rome with the Pantheon in Paris, what a poor building—and what sculptures! What I saw in Paris has disappeared from my memory: Rome really seized hold of me.
When the Duce came to Berlin, we gave him a magnificent reception. But our journey in Italy, that was something else! The reception when we arrived, with all the ceremonial; the visit to the Quirinal.
Naples, apart from the castle, might be anywhere in South America. But there’s always the courtyard of the royal palace. What nobility of proportions!
My dearest wish would be to be able to wander about in Italy as an unknown painter.
For an introduction to these series, see here.
Below, some indented excerpts of “Grandeur and Obedience,” the seventh chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, and my brief comment.
Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:
In my previous post criticizing Erasmus I mentioned how the modern mind is too coward to approach the main psychosis of Christendom, the doctrine of hell. Unlike the previous entries on Civilisation, of the episode about the Counter-Reformation I’ll barely quote the essentials to annotate what I have just said in that post. Clark said:
The first thing that strikes one is that those who say that the Renaissance had exhausted the Italian genius are wide off the mark. After 1527 there was a failure of confidence; and no wonder. Historians may say that the Sack of Rome was more a symbol than a historically significant event: well, symbols sometimes feed the imagination more than facts—anyway the Sack was real enough to anyone who witnessed it.
If you compare the lower part of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, which was commissioned by Clement VII as a kind of atonement for the Sack, with a group in Raphael’s Disputa or with the Creation of Adam, you can see that something very drastic has happened to the imagination of Christendom.
Michelangelo had been reluctant to undertake the Last Judgement; under Clement’s successor, Pope Paul II, he was persuaded to continue it although with a rather different purpose. It ceased to be an act of atonement, or an attempt to externalise a bad dream, and became the first and greatest assertion of the Church’s power, and of the fate that would befall heretics and schismatics. It belongs to a period of severity, when the Catholic Church was approaching its problems in rather the same puritanical spirit as the Protestants.
Paul III took the two decisions that were successfully to counter the Reformation: he sanctioned the Jesuit order and instituted the Council of Trent. [The Counter-Reformation] was also a period of austerity and restraint, typified by the leading spirit of the period, St Carlo Borromeo, whose legendary asceticism is commemorated in this picture.
How had that victory been achieved? In England most of us were brought up to believe that it depended on The Inquisition, the Index, and the Society of Jesus. I don’t believe that a great outburst of creative energy such as took place in Rome between 1620 and 1660 can be the result of negative factors, but I admit that the civilization of these years depended on certain assumptions that are out of favour in England and America today. The first of these, of course, was belief in authority, the absolute authority of the Catholic Church. This belief was extended to sections of society which we now assume to be naturally rebellious. It comes as something of a shock to find that, with a single exception (Caravaggio), the great artists of the time were all sincere, conforming Christians.
And so what most repulsed Nietzsche, the restoration of Christianity after the Italian Renaissance, was consolidated.