Ernesto Buonaiuti (1881 – 1946) was an Italian historian, philosopher of religion, Christian priest and anti-fascist. He lost his seat at the University of Rome due to his opposition to fascists and their agreement with Catholic Church.

As a scholar in History of Christianity and religious philosophy he was one of the most important exponents of the modernist current.


Buonaiuti was born in Rome. He was ordained priest on December 19, 1903, and began his studies, working with the historian of religions Salvatore Minocchi, using the resources given by the positive method in the study of the original Christianity in his book Il cristianesimo primitivo e la Politica imperiale romana ("The primitive Christianity and the Roman imperial politics"), 1911.

At 24 years old he founded the magazine Rivista storico-critica delle scienze teologiche ("Historic-critic magazine of the theological sciences"), in order to propagate his vision of the religious culture in Italy and after that he directed the magazine Ricerche religiose ("Religious researches"). Those magazines were soon banned by the church and categorized in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the index of publications to be considered as forbidden to Catholic readers.

On January 25, 1925 he was punished with excommunication, that was confirmed several times, because in his works he defended the ideas of the modernist movement, particularly in his works Il programma dei modernisti ("The modernists' program", 1908) and Lettere di un pretre modernista ("Letters from a modernist priest", 1908).

In his autobiography Il pellegrino di Roma ("The Pilgrim from Rome", 1945), Buonaiuti reconstructed the history of his conflict with the Catholic Church, from which he continued to claim himself as a loyal son, even after the excommunication.

Since 1925 he was a professor in the University of Rome, in the cattedra of History of Christianity; however, after the Concordato in 1929, the University forbade him to teach, and to exam students, and he was sent to extra-academical tasks, as library investigation, and the writing of research papers. In 1931 his universitary cattedra was definitively revoked, because he refused to swear the "oath of loyalty" to Fascism (all teachers were forced by law to swear an oath of loyalty to the Fascist government, and those who refused were fired).

In 1945, after the allied victory in Second World War he was restored in his role of universitary professor, but he could not be allowed to hold lessons, since, according to the bureaucracy and the laws resulting from the Concordato, which were kept by the new government, the teaching in any Italian State University was forbidden to any excommunicated priest.


The complete work of Buonaiuti is very extended: he wrote more than three thousand works, between books and articles, and among those there is the ponderous Storia del Cristianesimo ("History of Christianity") in three volumes, the autobiography (Il pellegrino di Roma) and many studies about Gioacchino da Fiore (Gioacchino da Fiore: i tempi, la vita, il messaggio) and Martin Luther (Lutero e la riforma in Germania).

Storia del Cristianesimo

The three books of Storia del Cristianesimo were published between 1942 and 1943; the first volume is about Ancient history, the second is about Middle Ages and the third one is about Modern history. It is considered the most significant work of Buonaiuti's scientific activity. As he himself wrote in his autobiography in 1945, the work was motivated by apologetic reasons: "in order to institute the definitive budget of the Christian action in history, now that from a thousand signals one could easily and certainly deduce that the Christianity was approaching its hour of dramatic expiration".

The main theme of the work revolves around the mystic and moral character of the Christianity and its subsequent transformation in a filosofic-theologic system and a bureaucratic organization. In Buonaiuti's idea, the main religions aren't speculative views of the world and rational schematizations of reality, but a normative indication of a set of pre-rational and spiritual behaviours. Christianity, born as an announcement of palingenesis, implied a huge social program "which imposed a progressive conceptual enrichment and an increasingly rigid disciplinar organization. To live and bear fruits in the world, Christianity was condemned to lose its nature and degenerate" (Storia del cristianesimo, I, p. 15 and seq.). The only option of salvation for the Church and all of modern society is, in Buonaiuti's idea, the restoration of the elementary values of primitive Christianity: love, pain, regret, death.

Il Pellegrino di Roma (also La generazione dell'esodo)

Autobiographic work, published in Rome in 1945. The title quotes a definition that the Italian historian Luigi Salvatorelli gave of him, entitling one of his essays "Ernesto Buonaiuti, pellegrino di Roma" to emphasize Buonaiuti's love for the Catholic Church, despite the serious disciplinary sanctions he had to face (La Cultura, XII, 1933, pp. 375-391). Buonaiuti claims as his own two works of modernist subject published as anonymous in 1908: Lettere di un prete modernista ("Letters from a modernist priest"), which he considered "a youth's sin", and Il Programma dei Modernisti ("The modernists' program"). His modernist positions are motivated by scientific reasons (Biblical critic and esegesis). Initially his modernism seemed similar to the positions of the liberal theology of the Protestants (Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack); however, after researching on the spirituality in the ancient world, from Zarathustra to the Greek tragedy authors, Buonaiuti began to recognize in the pre-Christian spiritual experiences an anticipation of the Christian view of life. Buonaiuti claims to be Catholic and to want to stay so usque dum vivam ("until I'll have life"), as he wrote to the Theology faculty of the University of Lausanne, which had offered him a cattedra in History of Christianity if he joined the Calvinist Church.


  • Domenico Grasso: Il cristianesimo di Ernesto Buonaiuti, Morcelliana, Brescia 1953.
  • Lorenzo Tedeschi: Buonaiuti il concordato e la chiesa: con un'appendice di lettere inedite, Milano, Il Saggiatore 1970.
  • Fausto Parente: Ernesto Buonaiuti, Roma, Istituto della enciclopedia italiana 1971.
  • Max Ascoli: Ernesto Bonaiuti, Napoli, Arte tipografica 1975.
  • Ambrogio Donini: Ernesto Buonaiuti e il modernismo, Bari, Cressati 1961.
  • Annibale Zambarbieri: Il cattolicesimo tra crisi e rinnovamento: Ernesto Buonaiuti ed Enrico Rosa nella prima fase della polemica modernista, Brescia, Morcelliana 1979.
  • Valdo Vinay: Ernesto Buonaiuti e l'Italia religiosa del suo tempo, Torre Pellice, Claudiana 1956.
  • Enrico Lepri: Il pensiero religioso di Ernesto Buonaiuti, Roma, Libreria Tropea 1969.
  • Liliana Scalero: Colui che vaga laggiù: una biografia di Buonaiuti, Parma, Guanda 1970.
  • Giorgio Levi Della Vida, Fantasmi ritrovati, Napoli, Ricciardi.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ernesto Buonaiuti. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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