Antonello De Oto: Altar and Mostrine

Antonello De Oto
Ed. Cedam
pp. 104

It is a beautiful book, the one that Antonello De Oto has dedicated to the complex theme of the relationship between spiritual assistance and the military world.

With a thorough knowledge of the subject - he is an associate professor of canon law at the University of Bologna and delegated by the Rector for the University's relations with the Armed Forces - the academic has retraced his latest work, "Altare e Mostrine "Just published for CEDAM, the complex history of military chaplaincies.

A precious work, fruit of a long and articulated scientific research, not only of the sources but also of the remarkable historical dynamics, made possible by the particular speculative skill of the jurist and by the literary passion of the academic.

All presented to the reader with the twofold perspective: of canon law - which is the set of legal norms at the base of the activities that characterize the ecclesiastical structures - and of the laws of the Republic, in whose military articulations these activities find their expression.

The text flows in an agile and fast manner, without the continuous and obligatory reference to the multiple legal sources harnessing the pleasure of reading. That proposes to the reader the evolutionary path that led to the "incardinarsi" of the "Castrense Church" in the order structure of the Royal Army first and then the Armed Forces.

De Oto starts his analysis starting from the complex relationship between the Church and the Weapons, which from the very beginning saw it take precedence over a purely military language - (such is that of Tertullian, the first of the Latin-speaking theologians, II century, who in his works associates the Christian with the figure of the soldier) - a millenarian and messianic message, which put in sharp contrast to serve the Christ of peace with serving the state in arms.

A contrast, if we reflect, still present in the Catholic world: just think of the clamor aroused last year by the clear opposition of some Catholic associations and prayer groups to the consecration of John XXIII to the Patron Saint of the Italian Army (see article) and to the often inclination of the Argentinean Pope towards positions of intransigent pacifism, in which it is not rare to see signs of antimilitarism.

The careful research work of the book begins with the Garibaldian epic, which saw many priests offer their Ministry to the Risorgimento troops and fight, as Italians, against the Papal States. In this regard, legendary figures were Ugo Bassi, a Barnabite priest, killed by the Austrians in Comacchio (FE) and by Don Angelo Arboit, the chaplain of the Thousand, whom Garibaldi described as "my brother in arms".

Subsequently, the condition of the "military clergy" in the period of the Great War is analyzed, during which the religious assistance service was ensured by two thousand seven hundred and forty chaplains with the rank of Officer and by twenty-one thousand six hundred and sixty clerics and seminarians destined, like the future Pope Roncalli, to Military Health Corps or in the trenches.

The author's examination also addresses the period between the two wars, in which the widespread anticlericalism present in the hierarchies of the Royal Army, limited the continuation of the work of religious assistance only to military prisons and hospitals, marking a furrow that only the signature of the Lateran Pacts in the 1929 managed to mend with the policy of rapprochement wanted by Mussolini

An accurate historical reconstruction path, that of prof. De Oto, carried out in the light of the numerous changes in the military world, not least in 2005 that of the suspension of the lever, which finally leads the reader to understand the genesis of the current structure of the Military Ordinariat, configured as a constituency of the Catholic Church assimilable to a diocese, to whose head there is a military ordinary having the rank of bishop and with the rank of general of an army corps, and to descend, a military general vicar, three inspectors with supervisory functions and about one hundred and fifty military chaplains.

To conclude the extensive examination, also carried out in correlation with what happened in other European countries, the author's considerations on the continuing validity of this Institute and some of its proposals for a possible legal change, which reconcile the needs of "spending review", intervene and secularism of the modern state with the never dormant need of the soldier to receive, when away from home because on a mission (but also when in garrison), individual assistance, perhaps characterized by a broader spiritual connotation than the strictly religious one.

Assistance to be extended also to fellow soldiers of other confessions and to non-believers. Unconditionally offered by men of Faith. In uniform.

Enrico Baviera