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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Pope Pius VII and Napoleon ----the Last Post

(Continued from the previous post - final instalment)   

Consalvi’s  political achievement at the Congress appeared  to be a great success, but it was not long before deep disillusionment set in, primarily because stable rule in the Legations had become untenable. Historically the Legations had never liked rule from Rome, a dislike rooted in their inaccessibility across the Appenines, in the independent cultural tradition of Bologna, and in their economic interests which were in  the plain of Lombardy rather than southwards. To these factors could now be added some seventeen years separation from the papacy, of union with Lombardy, and of French political, judicial, and administrative institutions. The French had been hard taskmasters, but they had brought into positions of power Italian laymen who had never previously enjoyed any share in the government , and who would  now find it extremely difficult  to hand it back to the clergy. Economically, the Legations were the only profitable part of the Papal States, and without these the remaining territory was  unviable. On a human level, both Pope Pius VI and VII  and their immediate predecessors, came from the area of Cesena, and Pius VII was Bishop of Imola, as was the future Pope Pius IX. Thus, in the first half of the 19th century, the roots of the Papacy as well as the roots of revolutionary liberalism, lay in that fertile region of the valley of the River Po.
                                 Tsar Alexandra 1st

After the Congress, the great powers – the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, together with Tsar Alexandra, sought to secure the blessing of the Pope for the new political arrangement. Although the Church had suffered as a result of liberal revolution, and it was not yet evident in 1815 that the times of disturbance were over, Pope Pius VII guided by Consalvi, refused to commit the papacy to any particular political allegiance, insisting on maintaining strict neutrality. The Congress of Vienna laid the basis for the Congress system, designed by Metternich to extinguish the flames of revolution wherever they might appear, and under the influence of Tsar Alexander, invoking spiritual sanctions in the formation of the Holy Alliance. There seemed a real possibility of a revival of Josephism, and the Papacy preferred to keep its distance.
                                       Cardinal Consalvi

Personally, Consalvi viewed  the Congress system and the Holy Alliance as a clumsy attempt to patch up the political structure of European society, an exercise which he considered bound to fail. He saw it as a futile military system which did not take into account the need to guide men’s minds – which to Consalvi meant the need for censorship. In particular he viewed the freedom of the Press, as established in France by Royal Charter, as:-
                   ‘the most dangerous weapon ever put into the hands of the opponents of religion and the monarchy. The liberty of the Press is no mere passing or limited evil, it will be permanent and will develop, so to speak, with each public crisis and with each social upheaval.  The perils to which it gives rise are palpable and incalculable; its advantages and benefits, will be nullified by criminal influences. …….. without doubt, it is with this hidden power, brought into play the whole time and playing simultaneously on the different passions, that it will be necessary to reckon one day……..anonymity will soon be the arbiter of public conscience, and it will be necessary to bend the brow beneath the pen or beneath the whip of masters without name, from whom our subservience will have earned us our alms.  Some see the peril and smilingly ignore it, others accept it as an experiment; nobody will understand that it amounts to infecting whole populations with a fever unrelenting and timeless.  ……..the struggle between the good and evil principle will never be equally matched. Talent, even genius, cannot triumph in these daily combats in which pens venal and filled with hatred,  take issue with men of goodwill, distorting their characters and behaviour, and putting themselves forward as the sole defenders of the people and of liberty’.
      Paradoxically, and for almost the opposite reason, the English and the continental liberals of the day also condemned the Congress System and the Holy Alliance, seeing in them an instrument for shackling the peoples of Europe, to prevent them  being emancipated by the principles of the French Revolution, viz. liberty, equality, and fraternity.  The later French revolutions of the 19th century would show that both Cardinal Consalvi and Chancellor Metternich were correct in anticipating that  journalism would have a powerful and influential role in promoting public unrest. However the Cardinal’s distinction between the ‘good principle’ and ‘men of bad faith’, would be shown to be as much an over-simplification as the  classification of  Europeans by the revolutionary Mazzini, as either ‘liberals' or ‘ruling classes’.
                          Giuseppe Mazzini - Italian Revolutionary

In the Carlsbad Decrees (1819) and the Congress of Troppau (1820), Metternich introduced strict censorship laws designed to prevent the publication of liberal revolutionary sentiments in the Press. Consalvi approved of this, but when it came to collective military intervention to quash  revolutionary activity, he was not prepared to involve the Papal forces in any way.  He was in fact, attempting to maintain two conflicting policies; first the suppression of the secret societies and revolutionary movements, and second an absolute neutrality for the Papal States; a policy of isolationism which was to be adhered to,  in spite of  any ideological sympathies Rome might have.  It was apparent that this could not prevail for long, for only  when the power of France and that of Austria were finely balanced in Italy, was there any chance at all of Rome retaining her independence. When  revolution struck in her own territories in 1831-2 the Austrians were called in to help, and in 1848 it was the turn of the French. The only hope of safeguarding the frontiers reclaimed at the Congress, lay in the collective security system demanded by Metternich. With only a token army and without proscription- which the Popes would not countenance, the main ‘hope’for the avoidance of war and alliances, was the concept  that it was sacrilegious for lay rulers or revolutionaries to lay hands on papal territory. In spite of  Consalvi’s eloquence, such a concept failed to carry conviction in 19th century Europe.
                          Prince von Metternich - German diplomat

After the Congress, Consalvi sought to gradually reconstruct the Papal system of government, at the same time retaining what was good in  the Napoleonic system. The main aim was for administrative centralization, and secularization in those matters deemed appropriate, particularly with regard to judicial powers which were not to be held by religious legates or delegates, nor to be exercised by priests excepting ecclesiastical courts dealing with the clergy, or matters of canon law. The Consalvi programme was not popular with those who wanted to see the old ways restored, and it did not go far enough in providing opportunities for political power to those  laymen of the Legations who had already tasted  this under French rule. Consalvi did succeed in introducing new measures for regulating the roads and water supplies,  re-organising the institutions of higher education, and setting-up a new code of civil procedure. In Rome he was responsible for the re-assessment of rates so that the better-class properties paid more towards the maintenance of Rome’s roads, fountains and ancient monuments.
       Basilica of St John Lateran - Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome

The social and economic conditions were difficult, with a rapidly increasing population coupled with severe failure of the harvest in 1816, necessitating severe trade restrictions on the export of grain. Subsidies were paid to prevent the savings-banks of the poor from defaulting, and payments continued to be made to mayors of impoverished townships to enable them to help the starving poor. Taxation had to be increased, a necessary but unwelcome step.  Crime proliferated, particularly in the hills and in the Legations, with organised banditry and increasing numbers of revolutionary and secret societies fomenting civil unrest.The oldest and most widespread of these was the 'Carbonari', founded in Naples in the early 19th century, with the avowed aim of bringing about a united Italy free from papal and foreign rule.Inadequate and insufficient military and police, led to the formation of voluntary bands of ‘Sanfedisti’ or ‘Centurions’ as a self-appointed police force – misguidedly encouraged by certain Cardinal legates but responsible to none, and which ultimately attracted violent and unruly men, a law unto themselves. As so often happens in difficult times,God raises men and women of heroic sanctity to proclaim His message to the world. After the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the Church in Austria, Germany, and Poland, was in grave danger of total collapse, with true Catholic preaching scarcely heard. The spirit of Jansenism, in the form of religious rationalism, was rampant; devotion to Our Lady had all but disappeared - particularly with regard to praying the Rosary; and the liturgy in the Mass neglected, with vestments, chants, and settings no longer important. A Redemptorist priest, Fr Clement Mary Hofbauer, succeeded against tremendous odds in founding branches of his Congregation in these countries, with the blessing, encouragement, and practical help of Pope Pius VII and the diplomatic skills of Cardinal Consalvi. Due to the heroic work and sanctity of Fr Hofbauer, now St Clement Mary Hofbauer, and many other good priests and religious, Catholicism was saved and the way paved for true renewal and reunion - 'the German dioceses were reanimated by the living breath of the papacy, out of the ruins of an upheaved world' (Papal History of Later Times - Ludwig von Pastor)

                                 St Clement Mary Hofbauer C.SS.R

A notable cause of public resentment  and increasing unrest, was the harsh punishment meted out in 1816 to those who had cooperated  with the French, regardless of individual circumstances. This was the responsibility of  Cardinal Pacca,  appointed  pro-Secretary of State in the absence of Consalvi who was away in Vienna, and who viewed almost anything connected with the Revolution as diabolic in origin.   This 'hard-line' policy whilst occasionally necessary, was generally not in line with the thinking of Pope Pius VII, nor with that of Consalvi. However the Pope, whilst fearless and forthright in speaking out on  matters of faith and the Church, was always reluctant to interfere in matters of State delegated to others to deal with.   In the long run the fate of the Papal States would be sealed by the fact that the geography, politics, and the climate of opinion were to make it impossible to continue to run an independent theocracy in the centre of the Italian peninsula. 
     On the 14th anniversary of Radet’s attack on the Quirinal, July 6th 1823, the 81 year old Pope fell, whilst alone in his study, and broke his thigh-bone. He was too feeble to survive an operation, and on August 20th he died.  Symbolically, even as the Pope lay dying, the most historic of the city’s great basilicas, Saint Paul’s without the Walls, was going up in flames. A great pontificate had ended. No doubt that Pius VII physically was not the man after the restoration that he had been before, and he became increasingly feeble after a fall in 1817. But since his long struggle with Napoleon he had never ceased to be a legendary figure, and for many years he would be looked upon as ‘the good Pope’

    Marble sculpture of Pope Pius VII by Bertel Thorvaldsen, in the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican

Within a few weeks Cardinal Della Genga, was elected Pope, taking the name of Leo XII, and within a few months, Cardinal Consalvi, the friend and loyal servant of Pope Pius VII, was dead.  

      Considerable mention has been made of the achievements of Consalvi, but it must be remembered  that he was a close friend and loyal servant of Pope Pius VII over many years, and that everything he did was almost certainly either at  the Pope’s request or with his agreement and blessing. The Pope himself is remembered as a builder and beautifier of the city of Rome, as well as a patron of the arts. He was responsible for the return to Rome of many valuable and sacred works of art expropriated by the French and removed to Paris. He was also responsible for undertaking the finding and identifying of the mortal remains of St Francis of Assisi, culminating in the papal decree ‘Assisiensem basilicam’ (1820). Neither did he forget his old adversary Napoleon for whom, in spite of everything, he maintained a genuine concern. The Pope arranged for a chaplain to stay with Napoleon in St Helena, who remained there until the Emperor’s death in May,1821.       
                        Napoleon on his death-bed

During the years of the Emperor’s exile, the Pope used sometimes to meet the Emperor’s mother to whom he had given refuge in Rome. They would talk of ‘the good Emperor’, for whom the Pope through Consalvi, had intervened with the Prince Regent of England and allied Sovereigns, to soften the rigors of his confinement in St Helena. Interestingly, through Consalvi, Pius has written of Napoleon as follows:-     
        ‘The re-establishment of religion in the great kingdom of France, was principally owing after God, to him. The dutiful and courageous initiative of 1801 made Us long forget and forgive subsequent injuries. Savona and Fontainebleu were but actions of a misled mind, aberrations of human ambition, whilst the Concordat was a saving act undertaken in a Christian and heroic spirit.’
Madame Mere Letizia, the Emperor’s mother, wrote thanking the Pontiff:-
    ‘The mother of kings has become the mother of sorrows. The one consolation that remains is the thought of the Holy Father’s having forgotten the past, and remembering only the affection he has shown us all. Under the pontifical government alone have we found support and shelter.Our gratitude is as great as the benefit conferred. His Holiness and Your Eminence are the only ones who have sought to mitigate the sufferings of him whose life is ebbing away on that desert- rock island. I thank you with all my mother’s heart."

                      Napoleon's House of Exile in St Helena

Her brother, Cardinal Fesch, said, “God did not break Napoleon, He humbled him; and in humility lies salvation.”  Napoleon’s exile corresponded almost exactly to the six years he had kept the Pope prisoner in Rome, Savona, and Fontainebleu, only his own captivity was significantly harsher. The roof of his ramshackle residence, infested by rats and bugs, let in rain; his food was not of the right kind and severely rationed; his correspondence was intercepted or withheld. After a time he was not allowed out of the house, then not out of his room, and finally was unable to show himself at the window without being insulted. It is recorded that he attended Mass and availed himself of the Sacrament of Confession, and prior to his death asked for the Last Sacraments. Who can say how much the memory of Pius VII’s goodness, patience and charity in persecution and above all, the Pope’s prayers, contributed in effecting, at the last, a holy death?

Ack.  -- 'Revolution and Papacy' by E.E.Y.Hales (Hanover House 1960)
          --'Pope Pius VII 1800-1823' by Robin Anderson (Tan Books 2001)

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