Romanitas: essential for Catholicism

March 03, 2015
Source: District of the USA

What full implication does the word "Romanitas" have for Catholics?

From another editorial of Fr. Michel Simoulin (featured in the Montreal de l'Aude, France priory newsletter, Le Seignadou of March 2015), we offer some words about the importance of the Eternal City of Rome and its encompassing influence on the Catholic Faith.

Romanitas is not a vain word

Our [Dominican] sisters’ and children’s eyes are still shining, their hearts are still full of joy, their souls of the graces received in Rome, and their minds still embalmed with the “perfume of Rome”. What happiness! [This is in reference to the 40th anniversary Rome pilgrimage of the Fanjeaux Dominican sisters—Ed.]

From near or far, we all followed the beautiful pilgrimage of our sisters and their students to Rome. The luckier ones were able to participate, and it was a magnificent act of faith, that united the gratitude for these 40 years of grace with the pride and peaceful public statement of our fidelity to the Eternal Rome, the Rome of the popes, but especially the Rome of the martyrs.

This was the second time in 15 years that the “outcasts” gathered in number at St. Peter’s tomb, to declare their Romanity and their fidelity to the Church. In 2000, it was the Society of St. Pius X, and this year, it was the Congregation of the Dominicans of the Holy Name of Jesus, with its religious, families and friends, and especially its children, young and old. For all, it will remain a great moment of theological fervor, and we hope that it will leave a strong and lasting mark on all.

This pilgrimage did not go unnoticed, and the hosts of the Vatican did not fail to open wide eyes at this cohort of enthusiastic, fervent and recollected religious and children. Obviously, but I do not want to dwell on this, we would have liked to sing the Mass, at least once, in one of the Roman basilicas! For the joy of all, and for the good and the edification of the children, to imprint in their hearts through the Mass a living love for Rome and the Church, this would have been a remarkable grace.

But let us leave that aside, and let us remain in thanksgiving—it is more edifying—to keep alive in us a love for Rome. Quella roma, onde Cristo e romano. We know well this beautiful line from Dante: “That Rome, whose Christ is Roman.” Without meaning to, the poet expressed a profound truth.

The philosopher Etienne Gilson had some beautiful reflections on this thought of Dante:

Here, we are at the heart of Dante’s political ideas in their most universal and philosophical form. […] Dante wished to demonstrate a truth that he rightly considered new and original, and that still is so today in its essence, if not in its realization: a single world, united under the authority of a free Emperor, and a single global Church, united under an equally single and free pope, this pope and this Emperor each depending only on God. So the empire, but what empire?

In Dante’s eyes, the question did not arise, for his Monarchy traces its history to give its titles. This empire already exists as a seedling; it is the empire of Rome. […] Is Empire not the vocation proper to Rome among all peoples? Others have art, others have science, others have eloquence, “but you, Rome, remember to impose your empire on all peoples; your art will be to make peace reign among the nations, sparing the vanquished and slaying the proud” (Aeneid, VI, 851-853).

In the poet’s broader Christian perspective, Rome’s providential role in the political unification of the globe becomes the role she plays at the same time in the great work of universal redemption. It is not for nothing that Jesus Christ wished to be born in the Roman Empire, at the time when political peace reigned among the peoples. The Roman Empire, Virgil and the Aeneid are three inseparable moments of the genesis of the Sacred Poem.” (Etienne Gilson, Dante et Beatrice)

Dom Gueranger sang with admiration of the Romanity of the Church, and Louis Veuillot, in the name of Constantine’s Donation, proudly exclaimed: “Rome is the pope’s”. It is true, but, as Fr. Calmel so wisely wrote, “The Church is not the mystical body of the pope; the Church with the pope is the Mystical Body of Christ,” and the Church was not given to him, but entrusted to him: in the Church, the pope remains ever the servant, and not the master. It is Rome who preaches the immutable truth to which the pope must faithfully lend his voice.

If the pope is the visible Vicar of Jesus who has ascended to the invisible heavens, he is no more than the vicar: vices gerens; he fills the spot, but he remains someone else. The grace by which the Mystical Body lives does not come from the pope.”

Christ became Roman when the Church became Roman, when Rome was baptized by the blood of the martyrs and became Christian, and the homeland of all Christians. It was the martyrs who took possession of Rome, to give it to Jesus Christ, long before Constantine gave it to the pope. Yes, Rome is the pope’s, but Rome belongs first to Jesus Christ.

The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is Roman. And St. Pius X wisely added these amplifications to the four traditional marks of the Church, in January 1907:

The Church is called one, holy, Catholic, apostolic, Roman, and I would add, persecuted. Did Jesus Christ not say so? It is one of the Church’s characteristics to be always persecuted. Persecution is the sign that we are truly the children of the Church of Jesus Christ.”

And Archbishop Lefebvre wished his priests to be “Roman”. In the early days of the Society, he would send young priests to spend six months in Rome to

acquire the spirit and the sense of the Catholic and Roman Church, and to deepen the mystery of their Holy Mass… May they leave Rome with an indefectible attachment to Peter and to his successors, insofar as they are truly his successors and behave as such” (letter, September 15, 1977).

The last chapter of his Spiritual Journey is another homage to the Romanitas of the Church:

God, Who leads all things, has in His infinite wisdom prepared Rome to become the Seat of Peter and center for the radiation of the Gospel. […] “Romanitas” is not a vain word. […] Let us love to see how the ways of Divine Providence and Wisdom pass through Rome. We will conclude that one cannot be Catholic without being Roman. […] God willed that Christianity, case in a certain way in the Roman mold, receive from it a vigorous and exception expansion.”[1]

It is because he was a Roman citizen that St. Paul, having made an appeal to Caesar, came to Rome to die, but it was Jesus Christ Himself who willed that St. Peter be crucified in Rome. And Christ became Roman when Peter and Paul baptized Rome’s soil with their blood. That is why we love Rome as we love the Church and Jesus Christ, and we are Roman with all our heart because that is where St. Peter and St. Paul planted the roots of the Holy Church, whose head is Jesus Christ, whose soul is the Holy Ghost, whose heart is the Virgin Mary and whose sinful members we all are.

It is Rome that preserves for us the Faith and the truth for which the martyrs died. It is Rome that sings the glory of Jesus Christ. And the Roman Church is beautiful and holy, despite the sinners that we are, because she still reveals to us today the sweet face of Jesus Christ, King of souls, of families, and of peoples.

O Roma Felix
Blessed Rome, you who were consecrated
By the glorious blood of these two princes!
Purpled with their blood, you alone
Surpass all other beauties of the world.

(Aurea luce, Vespers hymn, June 29—Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome)


1 Spiritual Journey, pp 71-73.