This post concentrates on the papacy of Pope Pius IX, (21 June 1846 - 7 February 1878), with the exception of St Peter, the longest reign ever, and surely one of the most complex. It is impracticable to offer anything other than a fairly brief resume of the main events, which of necessity, will be the subject of continuing posts. I hope that you will find these of interest.
Immaculate Conception - Rubens
Pope Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, in Senigallia, Italy, on 12 May, 1792, the son of influential and respected parents, minor nobility, and the youngest of nine children. (In this post he is referred to as Mastai - a family name by which he was commonly known)
He was educated privately up to the age of eleven, when he was sent to the College of St Michael, Volterra, under the strict and high standards of the Piarist Fathers (‘Scolopes’), where he remained until 1809. Religious instruction and practice occupied an important part of the curriculum, with daily Mass and recitation of the Rosary and Litany of the Saints. Education was planned over a seven year term, with three cycles, 'grammar', 'humanities', and 'rhetoric', which together provided a sound basis in mathematics, science, literature, languages which included Latin and Greek, history and geography. Optional subjects included music, singing, painting, drawing, architecture, and dancing. Mastai learned to play the flute and the cello, and also taught himself French. There were public performances of plays and ballets at the College, also music recitals. Whilst school discipline was strict, it did not consist only in the observance of a detailed rule, but insisted that behaviour was imbued with dignity and poise, stipulating that all should treat each other with the greatest civility, neither must they use nicknames or other improper terms, nor show too much familiarity. A priest was in charge of discipline, assisted by 'prefects' chosen from among the most dependable boys. Mastai was a prefect for several years.
After leaving college in 1809, he went to Rome to continue his studies with a view to the priesthood, but was forced to leave when the city fell under the control of Napoleon's troops. He returned to Serraglio and enlisted in the PiusVII Dragoons in which he remained for two years. As a result of an epileptic fit, one of many experienced by him during late adolescence, he was obliged to abandon his military career, and interpreting this as God's Will, decided to concentrate on his spiritual advancement. Over a few months, his epileptic condition improved to the extent that he was admitted to the Roman College and Ecclesiastical Academy, and Rome University, to study for the priesthood.
On 10 April 1819, in Rome, he was ordained to the priesthood, and the next day Easter Sunday, he celebrated his first Mass in the church of Sant'Anna dei Falegnami, annexed to the Ospizio Tata Giovanni, a children's home where over many months, he had spent many hours instructing the children. In the ensuing years he maintained this apostolate, as well as being in great demand as a preacher for retreats and missions.
From July 1823 until November 1825, as 'auditor' he accompanied Mgr Muzzi, on an Apostolic Mission to Chile, with the third member of the party Don Salusti, as the official 'secretary'. On arrival, they found a new masonic government in power - a result of a 'coup d'etat'. In spite of certain difficulties, the Mission was able to journey throughout Chile, instructing and teaching the Catholic faith, with many confirmations by Mgr Muzzi, assisted by the two priests, who themselves were fully occupied with providing Mass and the Sacraments. Their final departure from Chile saw them travelling overland into Argentina, from whence they eventually set sail for home.
On his return more than two years later, Mastai was so worn-out by his missionary work in Chile, and exhausted by the long and dangerous journey by sea and land, that he was ordered by his superiors to take a complete rest. The memories and experience gained however, were to remain with him throughout his life.
On 3 June 1827, he was consecrated Bishop of Spoleto, governing that city during the revolutionary riots of 1831 adopting a successful policy of moderation and peace.
On 17 December 1832 he was moved to the diocese of Imola and was made Cardinal by Pope Gregory XVI.
‘Mastai,’ writes Mgr. Balan,(Italian priest, writer, and historian - contemporary of Mastai) who draws a flattering portrait of him,’ was a man of singular virtue, of great piety and purity, and of a mild and compassionate character. But he was also firm and a great expert in political matters; he had a deep understanding of the sad conditions of our society, he had personal experience of numerous upheavals and of the artfulness of the sects, and he was well versed in ecclesiastical discipline. He was eloquent, sober, temperate, with an attractive personality, kindly, a stranger to any undeserved favour towards his relatives, generous in giving his help and protection, affectionate, of a singularly delicate conscience, and he had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary. But in very stormy times he became Pope.’
Pope Pius IX (1846) - year he was elected Pope
Pope Pius IX was consecrated on 21 June 1846, followed by celebrations and public acclamations that went on into the night in the city of Rome. ‘People are always careful, to separate the Pontiff from the man; however everywhere people shouted “Long live Pius IX!” and nowhere did they shout “Long live the Pope!” (Viscount d’Arlincourt - Charles Victor Prevot, French novelist)
The personality of the new Pontiff, whose fundamental traits of goodness and candour could seem like weakness and naivety; the reformist tendencies of his own family; the fact that he had been elected Pope in preference to the intransigent Cardinal Lambruschini, Secretary of State to Gregory XVI; combined with his first public acts as Pope; could lead people to think that the time had come when the Church and the Revolution would be reconciled.
His first action was to grant an amnesty to 400 political prisoners and exiles, the victims of the strict anti-liberal policy of his predecessor Pope Gregory XVI, who were granted pardons simply by signing a declaration of loyalty. As far as Pope was concerned his gesture of clemency had no political implications, but in fact the amnesty proved to be the spark which was to set the whole of Italy and much of Europe alight, it was the beginning of a collective madness in public opinion, partly spontaneous and partly artificially created, which came to a head in the European revolutions of 1848.
“We will use the physical tears of the families and the physical of exile, to make out of the amnesty a popular weapon. We will always ask for it, happy to obtain it as late as possible, but we will ask for it with a loud voice” (Nubius, head of the Alta Vendita ‘political’ club)
It is not difficult to find in the part which was artificially created, the cause of the ‘collective madness of public opinion’ which from July 1846 to July 1848 was to create, around the name of Pius IX, the myth of a ‘liberal Pope’. This myth was in reality the fruit of a ‘systematic exploitation’ of the Pope’s initiative, and its purpose was to bring about the historic ‘embrace’ between the Church and the principles of the French Revolution.
‘The positive and conscious acts of the Pope were manipulated by means of public agitation and of those who directed it taking advantage of Pius IX’s concessions, magnifying them in order to change their significance and keeping up constant pressure to obtain new ones …….. The Risorgimento (the revolutionary movement for the unification of Italy) was directed against the Pope but it could not say so openly: for this reason, some believing Catholics contributed to it and even participated in it.’(Salvatorelli - Italian historian, 1886-1974)
Pope Pius IX - painting by Theodor Breidwiser
The public demonstrations supporting the new Pope were so enthusiastic that the Pope himself was both surprised and disturbed, and he asked the people to show restraint. Although he was not against civic progress, he was totally against the breaking-up of the Papal States and Italian unification, preferring the concept of a federation of States with the Pope as President. In spite of his protestations, he was acclaimed as a reformist and ‘liberal’ prince symbolizing and supporting the aims of the Italian Risorgimento.
‘The Roman Pontiff who for a long time had been the object of rancour, of spite, of anger and of the fury of evil men, became in Pius IX the delight and love of all peoples, the idol of Catholics, the wish of Protestants, and the object of admiration of Muslims’(Aubert)
On 15 March 1847 he granted freedom to the press on administrative and political matters. The main purpose of this was to minimise the problem of a clandestine press, but in practice it had the opposite effect, with an increase in clandestine publications provoking demonstrations and anti-government protests,
‘The government was irresolute, the censor incapable of putting a brake on excesses, and the Press largely in the hands of the radicals’ (Giacomo Martina SJ - Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the Gregorian University, Rome) (late 20th century)
On 5th July the Pope created the Civic Guard, composed of Italian citizens resident in Rome between the ages of 21 and 60, divided into fourteen battalions, corresponding to the fourteen rioni or boroughs of Rome. On its coat of arms, Religion and Liberty were depicted extending to one another one hand, while holding a crucifix in the other. Cardinal Gizzi, the Pope’s Secretary of State, opposed the creation of the Civic Guard, protesting ,
‘If Your Holiness puts arms into the hands of the people, you will become the laughing stock of the multitude. And when Your Holiness becomes tired of the excess demands of the people, you will meet resistance and you will be hounded out of Rome with the very same guns which you are now giving the people for their defence. Since I do not wish to be responsible for the consequences of such an act, I prefer to resign.’
His resignation aroused great concern throughout Europe. In the words of Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor,
‘The resignation offered by Cardinal Gizzi, and accepted, can only be considered as a phase in the drama which unfolds daily in the Papal States - an eminently serious drama of which only Providence knows the conclusion. What has happened in the Papal States is a revolution – masked as a reform’
Prince Metternich - Austrian Chancellor
On 1st October 1847, in a Motu Proprio, the Pope instituted the Municipal Council and the Senate of Rome, and on 14 October he created the Council of State, something which had previously been rejected by Pope Gregory XVI. The College of Cardinals became the Senate of the new regime, while two legislative bodies were instituted, the High Council and the Council of Deputies. Bills required the sanction of the Pope to become law.
'The Council of State was regarded as ‘a social revolution, which is no superficial matter but instead an attack on the very foundations. It is the fulfillment of the celebrations and cheers of the crowd, of the tears and the joys and the fraternal embraces’(Sterbini – leader of the Risorgimento in Rome).
The revolutionaries’ goal was to transform the Council of State from a consultative body into a genuine parliamentary legislature. Metternich predicted the inherent dangers of this new organisation, observing that
‘the Council of State contains the germ of a representative system which is as incompatible with the sovereign authority of the head of the Catholic Church as it is with its constitution.’
The Council of State led to the formation of a government composed of nine ministers which placed its authority alongside that of the Pope. The government was chaired by Cardinal Ferretti, who within six months had resigned when he realised that he could not control the situation.
On 23 February 1848, with the fall of the monarch Louis Phillipe, and revolution in Paris spreading to Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Parma and Venice, the Communist Manifesto was published in London by Marx and Engels, commissioned by the so-called ‘League of the Just’.
On 13 March, Prince Metternich resigned as Austrian Chancellor.
In various Italian States, liberal constitutions were proclaimed, and on 14 March the Pope conceded the ‘Fundamental Statute for the Temporal Government of the States of the Church’. There was widespread enthusiasm in the streets,
‘this is not a revolution, it is a political and social cataclysm. The Pope and the Pope alone may perhaps be able not only to save himself, but also to become a moderating force over the events' (Massimo D'Azeglio (1798-1866)- Italian statesman, novelist and painter.)
When the day of the opening of Parliament came, less than a quorum (49 out of 100 deputies) turned up. The whole situation was artificial, for neither the Pope nor his ministers nor the deputies had any real knowledge as to how this new political system worked, and there was little sense of mutual responsibility. The effective power now rested on the one hand with the Pope, and on the other with the ‘political’ clubs of the Risorgimento, and victory depended upon which could control the populace, and in particular which had the support of the new Civic Guard.
On July 19, Mamiani resigned as premier, and the Pope concluded that the only thing to do was to appoint the one powerful and able man in Rome, Count Rossi, to succeed him. Rossi was yet another revolutionary who over the previous 33 years had been involved in various political movements in Italy, Switzerland and France, culminating in his role as French ambassador to Rome in 1846. Despite his reputation as a free-thinker, and his marriage to a Protestant wife, he became a close friend of the Pope. With the revolution in Paris in February 1848, he ceased to be the French ambassador, but chose to remain in Rome.
Pellegrino Rossi - murdered 1848
Rossi was a realist, contemptuous alike of the conspirators in the political clubs and of the politicians in the chambers, and he determined to take the necessary practical steps to save the Papal State, which was falling into chaos. The most urgent need was to enforce order, and Rossi appointed a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Zucchi, in charge of the disorganised and demoralised Papal army, under whose leadership the rule of law was noticeably re-established. Particularly effective was the decision to disarm all those who were not members of the Civic Guard, a decision not calculated to make him popular, as neither was the Napoleonic discipline which he imposed on the army.
Political confusion was not confined to Rome; the future of all the Italian States was in the melting pot, as indeed was the future of Italy. But Rossi had a policy for Italy as well as for Rome, based on the policy of the Pope and Vincenzo Gioberti, Italian priest, philosopher and politician, which was aimed at a federation of States with the Pope as President. The liberal-minded religious philosopher Antonio Rosmini, lent his support to this plan, but at the critical moment a newly elected Turin government determined not upon federation, but upon an offensive alliance against Austria, with which the Pope would have nothing to do. Rosmini resigned his mission rather than pursue the war-mongering policies of Turin, and remained in Rome.
Turin demanded a kingdom in the north which could never be part of a federation, but would dominate the whole peninsular, to the real apprehension of every other Italian State. Had Rossi been able, as he and the Pope both hoped and intended, to proclaim from Rome the summoning of a Constituent Assembly, comprising official representatives of the Italian states, to draw up the constitution of the new Italian Confederation, it is possible that the ground would have been cut from under the feet of the revolutionary republican ‘fusionist’ party of Mazzini, and that Pope Pius IX would never have subsequently been forced to flee from Rome.
By the end of June 1847, the tone of public demonstrations had become ominous, with the mob leaders determined to win the Civic Guard, and the Pope becoming disillusioned and depressed. His initial popular appeal in Rome was fading, and physically he was described as having aged ten years since his accession a year previously. A crisis was reached on December 27, 1847, when he was presented with thirty-five miscellaneous demands, some verging on the insolent. As a result the Pope decided that the giant demonstrations which the political ‘clubs’ were organising for News Year’s Day should be called off, with troops confined to barracks and the officers of the Civic Guard kept at their quarters. As it happened the Pope decided to drive out through the streets the next afternoon, as a conciliatory gesture to his many devotees, resulting in his carriage being stopped and surrounded by a vast cheering crowd, causing the Pope real distress.
The note of menace behind the enthusiasm, with such banners as ‘Justice, Holy Father, for your people which is on your side’; ‘Down with the Police’; and ‘Death to the Jesuits’; mingling with the Vivas; fanatical faces in the poor Trastevere quarters, staring into his carriage; revealing their fear that he, the hero of the populace, was weakening.
This dangerous mob pressure increased monthly during the year 1848. Public disappointment because the Pope would not lead the war against Austria, frustration and job-hunting in the Assembly, the notion that somehow the ordinary people had been tricked and cheated by the Jesuits outspoken in their criticism of the 'risogormenti', of an utopian social transformation, combined to make the political clubs even more powerful. It must be remembered that Mazzinian schemes for the summoning of popular constituent assemblies to unite Italy on a democratic basis were being implemented elsewhere in the autumn of ’48, with Florence taking the lead with extremists gaining control.
Pope Pius IX - in later years
If Rossi’s plans for preserving the Princes and federating the existing constitutional governments were allowed to prevail at Rome, the popular uprising everywhere would be checked. Not surprisingly he had many enemies. Nevertheless, in spite of threats to his life, he attended the opening of the Chamber at the Palace of the Cancellaria on November 15th, where, in the courtyard immediately after alighting from his carriage, he was attacked by a group of men – ostensibly a ‘guard of honour’, receiving fatal stab wounds in his throat and dying within a few minutes. The onlookers began to fraternise with the Carabinieri, and it was clear that this was the beginning of a revolution which had been carefully planned. From now on all decent and moderate reformers were estranged from the leaders of the movement. The Dutch ambassador to Rome, de Liedekerke, a Protestant, a constant critic of the Papal government but an admirer of the Pope, in a letter dated 24 November, wrote, ‘I think that never has a Sovereign, so worthy of the love and devotion of his subjects of all classes, found himself so basely and so completely abandoned as at the present time.’
The Pope reacted quickly, appointing a new Premier in the person of Montanari. This had little effect for by midnight his cabinet had all resigned having discovered that the Carabinieri and the soldiers were both siding with the revolution. The ‘Clubs’ controlled by Sterbini, himself strongly suspected of involvement in Rossi’s murder, intended a giant demonstration for the next morning, when they were to demand:-
1) the summoning of a Constituent Assembly to Rome,
2) the proclamation of Italian nationality,
3) authority for the Chamber to declare war,
4) separation of the spiritual and temporal powers i.e. the end of the Papal State, and
5) the adoption of Mazzini’s programme.
The Pope had no intention of agreeing, and anticipating the demonstration, summoned representatives from the Chamber and the Council to be with him early the next day. A vast crowd was on its way up to the Quirinal, the Civic Guard and the Carabinieri had thrown in their lot with them, and the Papal troops were fraternising.
Inside the palace there were only one hundred Swiss Guards, with the Pope joined by Cardinal Antonelli, Bishop Palma, and a few priests and courtiers, and the ambassadors of France, Spain, Bavaria, Portugal, Russia, Holland, Brazil, Belgium and Prussia. The crowd made their five demands, which the Pope flatly refused. They then rushed off to arm themselves, and within an hour there were some six thousand armed men in the piazza. Shots were fired and Bishop Palma was shot dead at his window. The Civic Guard brought up a field gun, and the Pope made his formal protest to the ambassadors,
‘I protest before you all against the force which is being used towards me; and I wish to say that do what they will, I do not consent.’
Finally the Pope was forced to accept a Cabinet, but regarding the five demands he would only agree that they be discussed in the Chamber, thus postponing the matter. The crowd regarded their victory as complete, and departed. The next day saw the disbanding of the Swiss Guards and the installing of the Civic Guards in the Quirinal.
The Pope was now a prisoner under constant surveillance by the Civic Guards. He was accompanied by his loyal Under-Secretary of State, Cardinal Antonelli, a source of encouragement and strength. It had become useless and indeed harmful for the Pope to remain in Rome, he could do nothing to help his friends, and he would be compelled to put his signature to the five point program, which his conscience would not allow. The stage was set, and the plot for his escape was planned with care, and executed with skill………………….. (To be continued)
Ack. 'Pio Nono' by E.E.Y.Hales. London1954 Eyre and Spottiswoode.
'Pius IX' by Roberto de Mattei. Gracewing Publications
'Pope Pius IX. The Man and the Myth' by Yves Chiron.
'Herod was delighted to see Jesus Christ in his court; he hoped that Our Lord would perform some miracles in his presence. Hence he proposed many questions to Him, but Jesus remained silent and gave no answer, thus reproving the vain curiosity of the haughty ruler. Miserable the soul to whom the Lord speaks no longer!'
(Thoughts from St Alphonsus)