Cornelio Fabro

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Cornelio Fabro CSS (1911–1995) was an Italian Catholic priest of the Stigmatine Order and a scholastic Thomist philosopher. He was the founder of the Institute for Higher Studies on Unbelief, Religion and Cultures.

Known for his prodigious philosophical production, Fabro was part of the scholastic revival of Thomism. One of his major contributions to twentieth-century philosophy was to draw attention to the notion of "participation" in Aquinas' metaphysics.

Fabro was also interested in modern philosophy, particularly the relationship Kierkegaard's thought to Christian philosophy, the origins and nature of anthropocentrism in modern thought, and the critical analysis of "progressive" theology.[1]

Early Biography[edit]

Fabro was born at Flumignano, Udine, in Northern Italy on August 24, 1911, to Angelo and Anna Zanello.[2] He was the third of four children including two older brothers Antonio and Secondo, and a younger sister Alma Teresina.[3]

Until his fifth year, he suffered from a motor disease that prevented him from speaking though he was able to communicate via signs. He also suffered from anorexia and cried continuously. A local Capuchin Fr. Guardiano suggested visiting the "Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie" in Udine, after which he was cured.[4]

During the World War he contracted typhus but was cured by a military medical doctor . In the summer of 1915 he was operated on for Mastoiditis at the hospital of Udine where he remained till spring 1916. Consequently, his early schooling was received at the hands of his older brother.[4]

In 1922 he transferred to the "Scuola Apostolica Bertoni" of the The Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata better known as the Stigmatines, continued his schooling in grammar schools of the Order and graduated from «Scipione Maffei» Hunior High school.

On November 1, 1927 he entered the novitiate of the Stigmatines in Verona.


In 1928 Fabro completed his pre-seminary studies and began studies of philosophy at the "Scuola Apostolica". After completing private studies at the Marian sanctuary at Ortonovo La Spezia in 1929 he transferred to the Curia Generalizia and International College of the Stigmatine Order at the convent of Sant'Agata dei Goti on via Mazzarino in Rome in order to begin his philosophy studies at the "Collegio Sant’Apolinare", the future Lateran University. In 1931 he graduated with the highest marks with his thesis entitled L’oggettività del principio di causa e la critica di D. Hume (The Objectivity of the Principle of Causality and Criticism of D. Hume). After completing his Licentiate in philosophy in 1931 Fabro began studying for a Licentiate in theology at the Pontifical International Institute Angelicum, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum[5] On December 20, 1934 he received a prize from the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for his monograph entitled Il principio di causalità, origine psicologica, formulazione filosofica, valore necessario ed universale (The Principle of Causality, its Psychological Origin, Philosophical Formulazation, and Necessary and Universal Value).

On September 8, 1934 Fabro was transferred to his Order's religious house at the Church of Santa Croce in Via Flaminia where he was assigned as church organist. On April 30, 1935 he returned to the convent of Sant’Agata and received priestly ordination at the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Fabro resumed his studies in philosophy and theology at the Pontificium Institutum Internationale Angelicum, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum. On July 7, 1935 he obtained a licentiate in theology from the Angelicum.[6]

For the period of summer-fall 1935 Fabro was on scholarship at the «Stazione Zoologica» of Naples.[6] In 1935-1936 he taught cosmology and psychology in Verona and studies natural science at the University of Padova.

In 1936-1937 Fabro continued his study of theology at the Angelicum and received a doctorate on October 28, 1937 with a dissertation on the metaphysical notion of participation according to Saint Thomas Aquinas entitled La nozione metafisica di partecipazione secondo S. Tommaso d'Aquino. Fabro published this dissertation as a book in 1939 with "Vita e Pensiero" of Milano.[6]

During the period 1936 to 1940 Fabro also taught biology, rational psychology, and metaphysics at the Lateran University.[6]


From 1938 to 1940, he was ordinary university professor at Pontifical Urbaniana University. In this last university he was first university professor, extraordinary (1939) and then ordinary (1942), of Metaphysics.

In 1948, he taught Theoretical Philosophy in the University of Rome.

Fabro was invited in 1954 as Visiting Professor to give the Chaire Card. Mercier lectures at the University of Louvain on "Participation and Causality". These were published in 1960 in Italian and in 1961 in French.

Fabro also won the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Naples in 1954.

He also taught at the University of Perugia. He was the head of Faculty of Education from 1965 to 1967. In 1959, he founded at Urbaniana University the first ever European Institute of the History of Atheism.

Thomistic Metaphysics[edit]

Fabro's contributions to Twentieth-century Thomistic metaphysics are many. According to Fabro, being is first grasped by the intellect in an apprehension and not by means of an abstraction or a judgment. He distinguishes between being-in-act (esse in actu) and being as act (esse ut actus). The former is able to be said of accidents, the substance, principles of being, etc., while the latter is reserved for the actuating principle of being.

With regard to the notion of participation, Fabro introduces a distinction between predicamental participation (characterized by univocal predication) and transcendental participation (characterized by analogical predication).


His works were written in Italian. Here is an English translation of titles of some of his Italian works.

  • The Metaphysical Notion of Participation according to St. Thomas Aquinas, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, Turin, 1939;
  • Perception and Thought, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1941;
  • The Phenomenology of Perception, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1941;
  • Introduction to Existentialism, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1943;
  • Problems of Existentialism, A.V.E., Rome, 1945;
  • Between Kierkegaard and Marx: For a Definition of Existence, Vallecchi, Florence, 1952;
  • The Absolute in Existentialism, Miano, Catania, 1953;
  • God: Introduction to the Theological Problem, Studium, Rome, 1953;
  • The Soul, Studium, Rome, 1955;
  • From Being to Existence, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1957;
  • Brief introduction to Thomism, Desclée, Rome, 1960;
  • Participation and Causality according to St. Thomas Aquinas, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, Turin, 1960;
  • Introduction to Modern Atheism, Studium, Rome, 1964 (English translation: God in Exile: Modern Atheism: A Study of the Internal Dynamics of Modern Atheism, From its Roots in the Cartesian cogito to the Present, Newman Press, Westminster MD, 1968);
  • Man and the Risk of God, Studium, Rome, 1967;
  • Thomistic Exegesis, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, 1969;
  • Thomism and Modern Thought, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, 1969;
  • Karl Rahner and the thomistic hermeneutic, Divus Thomas, Piacenza, 1972;
  • The Adventure of Progressive Theology, Rusconi, Milan, 1974;
  • The Anthropological Turn of Karl Rahner, Rusconi, Milan, 1974;
  • Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Christianity, Japadre, L'Aquila, 1977;
  • Prayer in modern thought, Editioni di Storia e Letteratura, Rome, 1979;
  • The trap of historical compromise: from Togliatti to Berlinguer, Logos, Rome, 1979;
  • The unacceptability of historical compromise, Quadrivium, Genoa, 1980;
  • The alienation of the West: observations on the thought of And Severino, Quadrivium, Genoa, 1981;
  • Introduction to Saint Thomas, Ares, Milan, 1983;
  • Reflections on freedom, Maggioli, Rimini, 1983;
  • The Rosmini Enigma, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, Naples, 1988;
  • Proofs of the Existence of God, La Scuola, Brescia, 1989;
  • The Odyssey of Nihilism, Guida, Naples, 1990;
  • For a Project of Christian Philosophy, D'Auria, Naples, 1990.


  1. ^ "Cornelio Fabro". Cultural Project Cornelio Fabro. Retrieved 25 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Life / Biographical Note". Retrieved 25 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Accessed October 10, 2012
  4. ^ a b Accessed September 30, 2012
  5. ^ Metafisica della partecipazione, Elvio Fontana, EDIVI 2011, 29
  6. ^ a b c d Accessed September 30, 2012


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