Litta, a noble Milanese family which gave two distinguished cardinals to the Church.
I. ALFONSO LITTA, Archbishop of Milan, b. in 1608; d. at Rome, August 22, 1679. After filling other important positions, he was appointed governor of the Marches by Innocent X, was made Archbishop of Milan in 1652, and received the purple in 1640. He died shortly after the conclave which elected Innocent XI. He was a learned and charitable man and defended with courage the ecclesiastical immunities against the officers of the King of Spain. His works are enumerated by Argelati in the “Bibliotheca Scriptorum Mediolanensium” (Milan, 1745); his life was written by M. Bardocchi (Bologna, 1691).
II. LORENZO LITTA, b. at Milan, February 25, 1756; d. at Monte Flavio, May 1, 1820. A distinguished litterateur, he played a prominent part in contemporary ecclesiastical history. As a youth he was sent by his parents to the Clementine College in Rome, where he made rapid progress in letters and law. Not long after the completion of his studies he was made prothonotary Apostolic by Pius VI. In 1793 he was consecrated titular Archbishop of Thebes, and sent as nuncio to Poland, where he arrived in March, 1794, shortly before the outbreak of the revolution. Notwithstanding the difficulty of his own position, he used his influence with Kosciuszko on behalf of the Church and churchmen and saved the life of Monsignor Skarzewski, Bishop of Chelm, already condemned to death, though he was not so successful with regard to the Bishop of Wilna and Livonia. In the negotiations for the third partition of Poland, he used his utmost endeavors to have the three States guarantee the preservation of the Church organization and property—guarantees which were disgracefully violated by Catherine II. On the latter’s death Litta was sent on an extraordinary mission to Moscow for the coronation of Paul I, whence he was transferred as ambassador of Pius VI to St. Petersburg, to settle, according to Paul’s wish, the affairs of the Latin and the Uniat Ruthenian church. He secured the erection, or rather restoration, of six dioceses of the Latin Rite and three of the Ruthenian (Polotsk, Lutsk, and Brest). The restoration of the See of Kiev was prevented by the Holy Synod. Church property was only partly restored, though the Government was obliged to establish suitable allowances for the clergy. Litta also induced the metropolitans of Gnesen (Posnania), and Lemberg (Galicia) to renounce their jurisdiction over the dioceses of the Latin Rite in Russian territory, these being transferred to the new metropolis of Mohileff. Through his efforts also the Basilian Order was restored. In April, 1789, he had to leave Russia.
On the death of Pius VI he went to Venice to assist at the conclave. When he returned to Rome he was given an office in the papal treasury which enabled him to eradicate many abuses and introduce a better administration. In 1801 he was created cardinal and was made Prefect of the Congregation of the Index and, later, of Studies. In 1809 he was expelled from Rome with Pius VII and sent to Saintluentin on the Seine. During this exile he translated the Iliad, and wrote a series of letters containing a brilliant refutation of the four Gallican Articles of 1682, then the subject of much discussion. Some of these letters were addressed to Napoleon himself, and were later published anonymously. Returning to Rome with Pius VII, Litta was made Prefect of Propaganda, which, under his administration, soon recovered its former status. In 1814 he became suburbicarian Bishop of Sabina, and in 1818 Cardinal Vicar of Rome. He is buried at Rome in SS. Giovanni e Paolo.