(continued from previous post)
Whilst the re-establishment of the hierarchies of England and Holland was being considered, requests that the traditional belief in the 'Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary' be defined as a dogma of faith, were being received at Rome in increasing numbers. The vision of the Blessed Virgin seen by the novice nun, Catherine Laboure, in the Rue du Bac, Paris, in 1830, which included the inscription, “O Marie, concue sans peche, priez pour nous qui avons recours a vous” (“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”), gave significant impetus to the movement. Pio Nono was known to have a special devotion to the Mother of God, and on 1 June 1848 he appointed a commission of twenty theologians, under the Jesuit, Fr. Passaglia, to study the merits and implications of such a proclamation.
The Immaculate Conception - Francisco de Zurbaran (1630)
On 2 February 1849, the Pope issued the Encyclical ‘Ubi Primum’ from Gaeta, asking the Bishops for prayers and advice on this question. Of some 600 replies, only that of the Archbishop of Paris, Sibour, with one or two others, took the line that the belief was not definable; a few more, mainly from Protestant countries, regarded it as inopportune. The overwhelming majority were enthusiastic, and drafts were then prepared by the Jesuit priests, Fr Perrone and Fr Passaglia. The Pope anticipated any suggestion that the new dogma was 'the invention of the Jesuits', by allowing the Bishops whom he invited for the solemn proclamation on December 8th, 1854, to introduce a number of modifications into the text at the last moment. “We must accept this humiliation,” he is reported to have said, “so that it won’t be said that everything depended on the Jesuits”.
Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Rue du Bac, Paris, the site of Our Lady's appearance to St Catherine Laboure in 1830. Link below provides further information. http://www.catholiccompany.com/blog/inside-chapel-our-lady-miraculous-medal
The belief in question, as it ultimately came to be defined, was that the Virgin Mary, at the moment of her conception, a normal, human conception, was miraculously exempted from the taint of original sin. There was no direct scriptural warrant for the belief, save that implicit in the salutation of the Angel Gabriel, “Hail Mary, full of grace”; and there was the difficulty, felt by St Bernard and by St Thomas Aquinas, that if the Virgin were thus without sin she was in no need of redemption, of which all mankind stood in need. The reply to this was that of Duns Scotus, who professed that, in being freed from original sin, Mary was participating in advance, and in a more perfect way, in the redemption won by her Divine Son. The answer to the absence of direct scriptural warrant was simply the tradition of the Church and the deductions which it was logical to make from the great and unique privileges of Mary. The altogether exceptional nature of the sanctity of Mary was part of the belief of the early Fathers; her divine maternity was defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431; and her freedom from actual sin has never been doubted. The Feast of the Conception of Mary, of eastern origin, was being celebrated in England in the 11th century, and devotion to her Immaculate Conception was encouraged by St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109). In 1476, Pope Sixtus IV approved the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and explicitly encouraged the devotion. The Council of Trent (1545-63) carefully exempted the Virgin Mary from the taint of evil when defining the doctrine of original sin.
Column of the Immaculate Conception, Rome - erected to commemorate dogmatic proclamation by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854
For Pio Nono the proclamation of the dogma in St Peter’s was certainly one of the supreme moments of his life, and more than once he was overcome with emotion while reading it out. To commemorate the event he caused a very tall and graceful column to be erected in the piazza di Spagna, at Rome, surmounted by a statue of the Virgin as she had appeared to the novice, Catherine Laboure, at Paris. It is one of the more striking of the many monuments which he left in the city.
From the point of view of the future policy and procedure of the Holy See, however, the most significant thing was not the dogma itself, but rather the manner in which it was proclaimed. A suggestion that the Bishops should be associated with the Pope in the proclamation, was not taken up. According to an article in the ‘Dictionnaire Encyclopedique de la Theologie Catholique’ (1871 edition), it was officially stated that, “if the sovereign Pontiff alone pronounced the definition, to which all the faithful spontaneously adhered, his ruling would furnish a practical demonstration of the sovereign authority of the Church in the matter of doctrine, and of the infallibility with which Jesus Christ has invested His vicar on earth”. Thus the dogma was pronounced upon the sole authority of the Pope, after he had fully consulted both the theologians and the episcopate.
A precedent of the greatest importance was thus set, which had its influence upon the form in which the dogma of Papal Infallibility came later to be defined in 1870.
Similarly nearly 100 years later, in 1950, when Pope Pius XII came to define the analogous dogma of the ‘Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven’, he followed a method of enquiry, and of consultation with the episcopate, which clearly derived from that employed by Pio Nono in 1854.
On 12 April 1850, Pio Nono rode in state back through the Lateran Gate of Rome, from which he had made his escape in disguise, some 18 months previously. French troops provided his escort, and the Roman crowd was dense and enthusiastic. The Pope, a more cautious and wiser man than previously, would continue reforming the political, juridical, and administrative institutions of his state, but he would not make the same mistakes as before. In the political sphere, Cardinal Antonelli, as Secretary of State, exerted great influence but always acted in conformity with the Pope’s wishes. One of the things the Pope had learnt about himself, was that he was a poor politician, and it made sense for him to have an efficient servant who would take responsibility, under himself, for the multifarious diplomatic business involved in matters affecting both the Universal Church, and the Italian Principality. The Cardinal, a Neapolitan of peasant origin, in minor orders but never admitted to the priesthood, was street-wise, very capable, courageous, but above all obedient and totally loyal to the Pope. The limit to which Pio Nono would go in the matter of constitutional innovation was outlined in his Motu Proprio of September 1849. No mention was made of restoring the Constitution of March 1848, a factor conveniently overlooked by enemies of the Pope who subsequently accused him of reneging on his promises - promises which had never been made in the first place!
With the return of the Pope, a Council of State was set up. In the same year (1850), the elective provincial and municipal councils reappeared, as did the ‘Consulta’ at Rome, half elected by the provincial councils and half appointed by the Pope. A policy of laicisation was adopted so that by 1856, only 289 ecclesiastics as against 6836 laymen were employed in the administration, with the Heads of main departments of State often laymen. The Secretary of State had, by long tradition, to be a cardinal, and he might be, as Antonelli was, in minor orders only.
Count Camillo Benso Cavour - by Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891)
During the 1850s, Cavour, the aggressively anti-Catholic Piedmontese Prime Minister, sought to increase secular power in Piedmont, at the expense of the Church. This involved the enforced closure of all contemplative monastic and conventual establishments, only allowing those to remain that were judged to be actively working for the benefit of society, such as nursing or teaching Orders. Cavour had long-term political aspirations, which included Piedmontese control of the Papal State and ultimate control of the whole Italian peninsular. It was an audacious conception, guessed at by few even within Piedmont. His first step was his notorious participation in the Crimean War, as the ally of France and England, in the hope of gaining their favours. The King, it has to be said, appeared supportive of the war. Cavour was negotiating this in January 1855, while the Law of the Convents was still being debated in Turin, and even at this early date he was plotting the dismemberment of the Papal State.
The onslaught upon the Religious Orders in Piedmont, culminating in the ‘Law of the Convents’ at Turin in 1855, confirmed the Pope in the conviction that the whole ‘Risorgimento’ movement was essentially anti-Catholic. The Moderates as well as the Mazzinians, seemed hostile to the Church, with subsequent developments increasing the Pope’s hostility and prompting him to formulate the ‘Syllabus of Errors’ (1864), which effectively reiterated his earlier public denunciations of Piedmontese persecution.
Map of Italy 1850-1858
During the 1850s the enemies of the Church constantly sought excuses to invade the Papal States, their agenda being to destroy the Temporal power of the Church and to open the door to the creation of an Italian Republic. Thus it was that Cavour lost no opportunity to publicly criticise the Pope and the Roman government . Yet in 1856 a report on the Papal State was produced by Raynerval, the French ambassador in Rome, in which he stressed the progress that had been made with the laicisation of the Roman administration.
He ridicules the notion that the Roman government was a bad government: -
“its weaknesses and imperfections are of the same kind as are met with in all governments.... the pontifical government is a government composed of Romans, acting after the Roman fashion ….. there is, in truth, misery here as elsewhere, but it is infinitely less heavy than in less favoured climates. Mere necessities are obtained cheaply. Private charity is largely exercised. Establishments of public charity are numerous and effective ….. Important ameliorations have been introduced into the administration of hospitals and prisons. Some of these prisons should be visited, that the visitor may admire – the term is not too strong – the persevering charity of the Holy Father.”
After pointing to practical achievements – the expansion of trade, the construction of railways, the building of houses; and demonstrating that the average Roman pays less than half what the average Frenchman pays in taxation, he concludes that “the pontifical administration bears the marks of wisdom, reason, and progress”.
Needless to say, this is not what Napoleon or Cavour wanted to hear, and Raynerval paid the price for his courage and honesty, being removed to St Petersburg the following year.
Vittoria Emmanuel II, King of Piedmont Sardinia.
Pio Nono had a surprising affection for the young Victor Emmanuel, King of Piedmont, almost certainly due to the loyalty and support he received from his mother Queen Maria Teresa, and his wife Queen Marie Adelaide, both of whom corresponded regularly with the Pope, and both desperate to see amicable relations re-established between Turin and Rome. As relations in Turin between Church and State deteriorated, the Pope always sought to excuse the king, suggesting that he was badly advised by his anti-Catholic ministers. The king, in a letter to the Pope, admitted that he was in perpetual fear of being forced to abdicate should he fail to support constitutional change, even though personally against such change, and he wielded little power in such matters. Pio Nono was under no illusions as to where the power lay, and throughout his pontificate, in spite of continual and increasingly aggressive behaviour from Piedmont, his personal relationship with Victor Emmanuel was one of genuine compassion and spiritual concern.
(to be continued)
Ack. “Pio Nono” by E.E.Y.Hales, published by Eyre & Spottiswood, London 1954.