Meeting 2005 Freedom is the greatest good that the heavens have given to men

Libertas Ecclesiae
and Lay State
On December 2nd, in the Protomoteca of the Campidoglio in Rome, took place the traditional dinner organized by the Rimini Meeting for the presentation of the 2005 Edition and the Great Exhibition on the Emperor Constantine, which will open on March 13th.
Here below are notes from the discussion led by the former President of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, Giorgio Vittadini and Marco Politi, Editor of the Italian daily Il Riformista

Francesco Cossiga

A great liberal, Francesco Ruffini, said that religious freedom, which is not only the freedom not to believe, but also the freedom to believe, is the first of all freedoms, and that where there is no religious freedom, there can be no other freedom. I believe that the disappearance of the great European ideologies and cultures has left a gap that gives origin, for example, to the Chirac type of ideology, in which freedom consists in forbidding freedom. Secularism has been substituted by laicism, and laicism has been made into a religion.

Giorgio Vittadini

How can we counteract this State? By vindicating the fact that a man can experience the search for truth through his historical existence, through examples that witness a greater humanity.
We cannot counteract with an idea of Church, an ideology about the Church; we can only offer an historical experience of the Church, an experience of freedom in life, in the family, in love, in our work; an historical experience that reveals the truth. In this way, we vindicate the possibility of this living experience.
When Catholics let go of experience, they don’t defend the libertas ecclesiae, because they no longer know what libertas or ecclesia are.
On the other hand, this was how, 1,500 years ago, in an age worse than this, a new society was built up. People like us began to experience the truth and infected people of other ideologies; they rebuilt the experience of a visible freedom that was possible and immediately practicable in person to person relationships. In the same way, we have not to take away a bit of power from those who have it, but to live the power that each of us has been given, the power to experience the truth in every aspect of life. It may take a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, eleven hundred years, but we’re on a winning course.

Marco Polito

One of our defects as “secularists” is that every so often we discover Christians and we find them strange. There was even a headline in a newspaper some time ago that said, “Here Comes a Strange Christian.”
Then we find other Christians who, in the current, very ideological climate in which Christianity is presented as a series of ideas opposed to other systems of ideas, talk about Christianity like Vittadini, and I find what they say deeply convincing. These are Christians who don’t limit themselves to preaching about freedom, but tackle the problem of setting it to work, promoting it with concrete action in defense of freedom, like education.
I have the sensation that to conceive of Christianity as a system of ideas, and therefore as an ideology, is more protest than action; in this sense, I would associate it more with Protestantism, as if it were to have accepted a minority role within secularized society and had only the problem of survival, whereas the range of opinions that Vittadini expressed once again here seems to aim at spreading throughout the national community. It is not by chance that the word “works” crops up again and again in these arguments. I feel an extraordinary convergence of interests in this terrain and an extraordinary creativity in a field where secularists and Catholics can work together. After all, we all have before us the problem of the Nanny State, which carries us from the cradle to the grave, and most times claims the right to decide for you what is better, where to spend your money, and what you need. I think the State should limit itself as much as possible to regulating community life, to promoting opportunity, and to deciding less and less what a person should do with his life.


The Letter to Diognetus is a masterpiece of secularity. It says Christians don’t differ from others in what they eat, in how they dress, or in how they speak, but only in how they live.
I think theological speculation is precious for culture and even for the Church, but there was a great danger, and there still is, of identifying faith with theology, and of not realizing that Christianity is not a system of principles, but a fact. Then it is perfectly logical that human reason should speculate on this fact and draw principles on the basis of classical philosophy–not in order to oppose it, but for comparison. Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a philosopher, but a person whom we Christians believe to be also God. He was born in a historical moment in a precise place. He is like a blade of light that struck a historical place. Principles have no fixed place. Aristotelian philosophy is not the philosophy of Athens, it is simply Aristotelian. But Christianity has a place–Palestine, then Rome–because of a simple fact. Its universal vocation placed it in what was the capital of the civil world of the time. If the capital of the world had been Cologne, then the papacy would have been in Cologne; St Peter would not have gone to Rome, but to Cologne, if Cologne had been in existence.


Personal experience is greater than politics. This is the watershed for us, and our point of encounter: the primacy of society, as experience of the “I,” before the State. This is the crucial point, and it is transversal to the parties: politics is a service.
In the present moment of history, politics and the State are in confrontation with the Libertas ecclesiae, not only on the fundamental point of human identity, but even on the fact of serving a concrete reality that risks losing its well-being and falling apart. We speak of libertas ecclesiae and of a truly lay State not so as to affirm an abstract philosophical principle, but rather so as to ask questions about how to help an entrepreneur who wants to build, about how to help a needy family that has not enough money to send the children to school.

Today, the State is synonymous with the reduction of personal freedom, not the contrary. What I find astounding in situations like we have in Italy is ignorance of the fact that people who form associations can be a great help for the State, and not something harmful or a drain on resources. Think of the question of schools and education. I don’t understand why people insist on the term “private schools.” I would prefer to speak of independent schools, where it is the families who organize the teaching that they judge most suitable for their children; independent, not private or Catholic, and this is an enormous, extraordinary help for the State that is struggling, often with harmful consequences.


The problem is to give the best that is possible today, for myself and for those around me, and this is the problem we all have. The problem is conceiving oneself, before countless problems, before a State full of difficulties, with an historical experience able to overcome all the difficulties and conceiving the various popular identities as a source of enrichment and not a source of diversity and danger. From this point of view, the present moment is a fascinating one, if we accept this challenge.
Costantine the Great.
Ancient Civilization at the Crossroads
Between East and West

A complex, many-sided personality, Constantine (Naissus, 282 – Nicomedia, 337), son of Constantius Chlorus and Helen, was the author of the famous Edict of Milan, in 313, which was the first step towards the full recognition of Christianity. He generously fostered its spread, and did not hold back from interference in both doctrinal and ecclesiastical questions.
It was he who decided to abandon Rome, Caput Mundi, and found the new capital of the Empire, Constantinople, on the shores of the Bosporus, near the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, in 331, the Christian “New Rome,” in opposition to the Old Mother, governed by a senatorial class, for the most part pagans.
The choice of site for Constantinople was no mere chance. It stood on the eastern axis of the Empire, marked out mainly by the course of the Danube, and from there it was easier to keep in check the barbarian menace and form alliances to strengthen control over the vast empire.
Geographically, the empire can be compared with that of present-day Europe, as it is taking shape once more today, a huge reality characterized by a Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian symbiosis, which under Constantine underwent profound economic and military reform.
The Exhibition begins with a historical and geographical orientation that outlines the tetrarchy, the “government by the four,” established by Diocletian in 293. It then presents the protagonists of the period: the Emperor and his family and successors, up to the time of Julian the Apostate, the last of Constantine’s dynasty.
A large section is devoted to the political and religious change that followed the battle of the Milvian Bridge, in which Constantine defeated Maxentius and conquered Rome. The famous vision that preceded the battle is reassumed in the imperial iconography of the Christogram–the symbol obtained by superimposing the Greek letters Chi (Christ) and Rho (P), the first letters of the word Christ. This symbol became at once widespread thanks to its powerful meaning.
The architecture of the period is marked by radically innovative ideas from both the technical and stylistic points of view, which can be seen in the dynamics, in the brightness and essentiality of the interiors, and as regards typology. It is in these years that the Christian basilica is born, with several naves, destined to enjoy great success in the following centuries, and experiments were made with buildings built on a central plan of great complexity and genius, as witnessed by a large number of imposing imperial constructions in Rome, Constantinople, Trier and in the Holy Land.
The figurative art reveals clearly the novelty of this period, in the imperial and private portraits, which recover a classical balance and appear so different from those of the previous generation of the tetrarchy; in the production of reliefs and the definition of a typically Christian iconography; in painting, as can be appreciated in the rare surviving examples presented in the exhibition; and in the costly artistic masterpieces.
A final section is devoted to court life and the new ceremonial introduced at the time of Constantine, with his refusal to go up to the Capitol to pay homage to Iovis Optimus Maximus, the father and custodian of Rome, after his victory at the Milvian Bridge. This ceremonial, destined to become more and more complex, was powerfully symbolic, often tied to places of great significance to the Roman people, like the Circus, the Forum and other places of cult.
Over 250 artistic masterpieces, coming from the most important European museums, enrich this exhibition/event. These include imperial statues in porphyry, enormous portraits, silverware treasures, precious stones, frescoes, mosaics, windows, crystal, ivory carvings and weaponry. It is truly an event not to miss.

Constantine the Great
Ancient civilization
at the crossroads
between East and West

Rimini, Castel Sismondi
Exhibition hours:
March 13– July 3, 2005; 9 am–7 pm
July 4–September 4, 2005; 3 pm–11 pm
Entrance Fee E 9, reduced E 7
price includes automatic guide
schools and young children (6-11) E 5
Access for disabled available
Information and bookings:
Tel +39 541/783100 fax +39 541/786422