The significant reform and renewal of the Religious Orders is one of the least known aspects of Pius IX’s work. He had begun to implement this work prior to his exile in Gaeta, and continued it on his return to Rome in 1850.
Pope Pius IX c. 1860 (ack. hallowed ground images)
Since his first encyclical the Pope had exhorted the Bishops to show themselves in their preaching to be true defenders of the faith. He had also called them to be vigilant with regard to the formation and discipline of the clergy.Throughout Europe generally, with the spread of Protestantism and the Age of Enlightenment, the 18th century was a difficult time for the Catholic Church, with numbers of religious drastically declining and monasteries and convents closing. Although there was some improvement in the early 19th century, the future of many religious institutes was under real threat. In October, 1846, the Pope created the Congregation for the Statute of Regulars, with himself as President, specifically to promote a renewal of the discipline of religious and of conventual life.
In the encyclical ‘Ubi Primum’ (1847) the Pope made clear his intention to address those matters contributory to the decline in religious life. It was generally accepted that stricter rules were necessary regarding admission to the novitiate and religious profession; that common-life be gradually re-installed in all monasteries and convents; and that the opportunity to take simple vows prior to making solemn profession, be introduced in all religious orders. Two further rules were added by the Pope, firstly that all candidates must have a letter of approval from their Bishop, and secondly that the admission and formation of novices was the responsibility of provincial and general superiors, as well as just local superiors.
The 1848 revolution in Rome delayed any immediate action, and it was only in January 1851 that these reforms could be effected. When necessary, Pope Pius IX was not afraid to override the canonical rules of appointment, and appoint on his own initiative a Superior of his choice, rather than accept one whom he thought unsuitable. Neither was he loathe to influence and persuade Superiors to adopt the reforms, one particular example being his friendship with Dom Gueranger O.S.B., the founder of the congregation at Solesmes, and restorer of the Benedictine Order in France.
Dom Prosper Gueranger OSB - abbot of Solesmes Abbey
The secular clergy were as much the object of the Pope’s special attention, as the regular clergy. Here again the 1846 encyclical had reminded the Bishops of their individual responsibilities to guide and care for their clergy, and to be particularly prudent and patient in their choice of suitable candidates for the priesthood. Throughout his pontificate Pius IX did not hesitate to admonish bishops who showed themselves ineffective in the formation of their clergy and unable to enforce respect for church discipline.
Whilst in exile in Gaeta, the Pope planned a seminary in Rome intended for the best candidates from the papal States. The specific purpose of this seminary was to train good priests, who after ordination, would return to their own diocese as ‘exemplar’ priests. The Pope chose a Dominican, Fr Francis Gaude, as its first director, who after two years was elevated to the Cardinalate, and was succeeded by another Dominican, Fr Giovanni Tosa, also appointed by the Pope. Both directors were convinced Thomists, ie. adherents to the principles of philosophy and theology based on the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, which the Pope supported and was keen to promote. In 1853 the Pope laid down the rules and programme of studies to be applied in the new seminary, also other seminaries in Rome; with two years of philosophy followed by four years of theology, concluding with three years of civil and canon law. The study of Sacred Scripture, Church history, Greek and Hebrew were also obligatory. The spread of Protestantism had forced the closure of many seminaries in Europe, and colleges for the French, Germans, Hungarians, Poles, English, Scots, and Irish had been established in Rome, followed by the founding of the Latin American College in 1858 and the North American College in 1859.
Cardinal NicholasWiseman - (ack.daguerreotype by Brady Studios)
In England in 1829, the government had passed the ‘Emancipation Act’ which accorded Catholics their basic civil rights after centuries of prohibition. The Rev Nicholas Wiseman, an Englishman who had lived and been ordained in Rome, later to become Cardinal Wiseman, preached a series of lectures in London in 1836 on the ‘Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church’ which were well received. By the middle of the 19th century England had approaching one million Catholics in a population of 18 million, yet it was still categorised as ‘mission’ territory, governed by eight Vicars Apostolic. This figure included a huge influx of Catholics from Ireland between the years 1845-1850, forced to emigrate by the terrible famine of those years. Additionally there were many conversions from the Anglican Church, in particular the Anglican clergyman John Henry Newman, one of the leaders of the ‘Oxford Movement’, who converted in 1845.
The vicars apostolic commissioned Wiseman to negotiate with Rome with a view to establishing a regular hierarchy in England, to which concept Pope Pius was totally supportive. However the Revolution of 1848 and the Pope’s exile thereafter, meant that official Papal approval was delayed until September 1850, when the Pope confirmed by apostolic letter, the re-establishment of the Episcopal hierarchy in England, instituting an archdiocese at Westminster, and eight dioceses. The next day Wiseman was created a cardinal in a secret consistory and, shortly thereafter, Archbishop of Westminster. A few days later Cardinal Wiseman addressed a Pastoral Letter – “from out the Flaminian gate of Rome” to the English faithful expressing great joy at the turn of events. Unfortunately the Pope’s decision and Wiseman’s perceived triumphalism were not well received by English Protestant opinion. ‘The Times’ spoke of ‘the impudence of Pius IX’ and the Prime Minister, Lord Russell, denounced ‘the Pope’s aggression against English Protestantism’. Effigies of Pius IX and Wiseman were burned in the streets of London, and Wiseman was advised to stay away. He ignored this advice and returned without delay to London, when he succeeded in calming public opinion by issuing an open letter and giving a series of public lectures.
Guy Fawkes of 1850 (Punch)
The Pope himself was surprised by this reaction, having been assured in the winter of 1847/8 by Lord Minto, that there would be no difficulty with the British Government. However, since that time leaders and supporters of the Italian Risorgimento had fled to England, and had succeeded in gaining considerable public and private support in their battle for ‘freedom’ against the ‘tyranny’ of Rome.
In 1848 Pope Pius IX had been the popular liberal Pope, the ‘most enlightened ruler in Europe’, but by the autumn of 1850 he was generally regarded in England as a tyrant. The ‘Society of the Friends of Italy’ was formed to promote “Italian Independence and political and religious liberty’. There emerged an enthusiasm for the Risorgimento and indignation against the Papacy which nourished each other, and it is difficult to imagine a moment less propitious for the publication of the Papal Bull of Restoration and the return of the new Cardinal.
‘Foreign tyranny’ was ‘foreign tyranny’, with no distinction between spiritual and temporal, and although Wiseman weathered the storm and the hierarchy was able to carry on its work, the Pope never regained his popularity in Protestant England. Malice against the Church was exemplified by an Act of Parliament in August, 1851, which pronounced the new ‘hierarchal’ titles illegal, and the following year public processions and the wearing of ecclesiastical habit in public were prohibited for Catholics. These Acts remained a 'dead letter' from the start, but the ministries which passed them were certainly bowing to popular pressure in doing so. It is not out of place to mention one positive effect of this public agitation, namely the conversion of a certain Anglican clergyman, Henry Manning, who would become a close friend of Pope Pius IX, a Cardinal and ardent defender of papal infallibility, and an inspiring future leader of the English Catholic Church.
Cardinal Henry Manning (1880) by Barraud
The experience of restoring the English hierarchy made the Pope cautious when considering a similar step in the Netherlands, where Catholics, found primarily in the southern provinces, represented a third of the population. As in England, the Church was governed by vicars apostolic, who like their English counterparts, wished for hierarchal establishment. In 1849, the Dutch constitution had secured the principles of equality of all religious groups before the law; freedom from state interference in clerical appointments; and free communication with Rome. Following protracted negotiations with the Dutch government, and once the Pope had satisfied himself that Cardinal Wiseman was able to maintain his position in England, the Papal Bull of Restoration in Holland was signed in March 1853. The public outcry in Holland was comparable to that experienced in England three years earlier, and for similar reasons,with one of the the main bones of contention being that the city of Utrecht, so dear to Protestant tradition, had been chosen as the seat of the new Archbishopric; in England it had of course, been Westminster. To calm the situation and as an act of goodwill to the Dutch establishment, the Pope required the new Bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the king. This and other conciliatory gestures brought peace and early rapid growth in the Dutch Church.
What now existed in England and Holland, as it did also in Belgium, France, and Cavour’s Italy, was the concept of a ‘free Church in a free State’. It was far from the Pope’s ideal for a Christian society, as he was soon to make clear in his ‘Syllabus of Errors’, but he had shown himself willing to abandon all pretence to special relations with the State, and by doing so had avoided state interference, particularly the right of government to control ecclesiastical appointments, and the right of government to control the publication of Roman missives. These settlements of the status of the Church in the traditional maritime strongholds of Protestantism by Pope Pius IX, were notable achievements, and should properly be reckoned as among the highest of his practical accomplishments. (to be continued)
Ack 'Pio Nono' by E.E.Y.Hales. Published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, London,1954. 'Pope Pius IX, the Man and the Myth' by Yves Chiron. Published Angelus Press 2005.
Prayer for the beatification of Bishop Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra, Vicar Apostolic of the London District 1758-1781. O God, who didst make thy servant Richard a true and faithful pastor of thy little flock in England, deign to place him among the Blessed in Thy Church, so that we who profit by his word and example, may beg his help in heaven for the return of this land to the ancient faith, and to the fold of the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Slightly frayed around the edges and still trying to pretend that I'm not really as old as that! I thank God for all my blessings, particularly my Catholic faith; my wife a 'pearl of great price'; my children and grandchildren; my friends; our dog Dartmoor; and our good neighbours and spiritual mentors, the F.SS.R community from Papa Stronsay.