Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Pope Clement XI

Reigned 1700-1721

Click to enlarge

Clement XI, POPE (GIOVANNI FRANCESCO ALBANI); b. at Urbino, July 23, 1649; elected November 23, 1700; d. at Rome March 19, 1721. The Albani (q.v.) were a noble Umbrian family. Under Urban VIII the grandfather of the future pope had held forthirteen years the honorable office of Senator of Rome. An uncle, Annibale Albani, was a distinguished scholar and was Prefect of the Vatican Library. Giavonni Francesco was sent to Rome in his eleventh year to prosecute his studies at the Roman College. He made rapid progress and was known as an author at the age of eighteen, translating from the Greek into elegant Latin. He attracted the notice of the patroness of Roman literati, Queen Christina of Sweden, whc before he became of age enrolled him inher exclusive Accademia. With equal ardor and success he applied himself to the profounder branches, theology and law, and was created doctor of canon and civil law. So brilliant an intellect, joined with stainless morals and piety, secured for him a rapid advancement at the papal court. At the age of twenty-eight he was made a prelate, and governed successively Rieti, Sabina, and Orvieto, everywhere acceptable on account of his reputation for justice and prudence. Recalled to Rome, he was appointed Vicar of St. Peter’s, and on the death of Cardinal Slusio succeeded to the important position of Secretary of Papal Briefs, which he held for thirteen years, and for which his command of classical latinity singularly fitted him. On February 13, 1690, he was created cardinal-deacon and later CardinalPriest of the Title of San Silvestro, and was ordained to the priesthood.

The conclave of 1700 would have terminated speedily with the election of Cardinal Mariscotti, had not the veto of France rendered the choice of that able cardinal impossible. After deliberating for forty-six days, the Sacred College united in selecting Cardinal Albani, whose virtues and ability overbalanced the objection that he was only fifty-one years old. Three days were spent in the effort to overcome his reluctance to accept a dignity the heavy burden of which none knew better than the experienced curialist (Galland in Hist. Jahrbuch, 1882, III, 208 sqq.). The period was critical for Europe and the papacy. During the conclave Charles II, the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs, had died childless, leaving his vast dominions a prey to French and Austrian ambition. His will, making Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, sole heir to the Spanish Empire, was contested by the Emperor Leopold, who claimed Spain for his second son Charles. The late king, before making this will, had consulted Pope Innocent XII, and Cardinal Albani had been one of the three cardinals to whom the pontiff had entrusted the case and who advised him to pronounce secretly in its favor. This was at the time unknown to the emperor, else Austria would have vetoed the election of Albani. The latter was finally persuaded that it was his duty to obey the call from Heaven; on November 30 he was consecrated bishop, and on December 8 solemnly enthroned in the Vatican. The enthusiasm with which his elevation was greeted throughout the world is the best evidence of his worth. Even Protestants received the intelligence with joy and the city of Nuremberg struck a medal in his honor. The sincere Catholic reformers greeted his accession as the death-knell of nepotism; for, though he had many relatives, it was known that he had instigated and written the severe condemnation of that abuse issued by his predecessor. As pontiff, he did not belie his principles. He bestowed the offices of his court upon the most worthy subjects and ordered his brother to keep at a distance and refrain from adopting any new title or interfering in matters of state. In the government of the States of the Church, Clement was a capable administrator. He provided diligently for the needs of his subjects, was extremely charitable to the poor, bettered the condition of the prisons, and secured food for the populace in time of scarcity. He won the good will of artists by prohibiting the exportation of ancient master-pieces, and of scientists by commissioning Bianchini to lay down on the pavement of Sta Maria degli Angioli the meridian of Rome, known as the Clementina.

His capacity for work was prodigious. He slept but little and ate so sparingly that a few pence per day sufficed for his table. Every day he confessed and celebrated Mass. He entered minutely into the details of every measure which came before him, and with his own hand prepared the numerous allocutions, Briefs, and constitutions afterwards collected and published. He also found time to preach his beautiful homilies and was frequently to be seen in the confessional. Though his powerful frame more than once sank under the weight of his labors and cares, he continued to keep rigorously the fasts of the Church, and generally allowed himself but the shortest possible respite from his labors.

In his efforts to establish peace among the Powers of Europe and to uphold the rights of the Church, he met with scant success; for the eighteenth century was eminently the age of selfishness and infidelity. One of his first public acts was to protest against the assumption (1701) by the Elector of Brandenburg of the title of King of Prussia. The pope’s action, though often derided and misinterpreted, was natural enough, not only because the bestowal of royal titles had always been regarded as the privilege of the Holy See, but also because Prussia belonged by ancient right to the ecclesiastico-military institute known as the Teutonic Order. In the troubles excited by the rivalry of France and the Empire for the Spanish succession, Pope Clement resolved to maintain a neutral attitude; but this was found to be impossible. When, therefore, the Bourbon was crowned in Madrid as Philip V, amid the universal acclamations of the Spaniards, the pope acquiesced and acknowledged the validity of his title. This embittered the morose Emperor Leopold, and the relations between Austria and the Holy See became so strained that the pope did not conceal his satisfaction when the French and Bavarian troops began that march on Vienna which ended so disastrously on the field of Blenheim. Marlborough’s victory, followed by Prince Eugene’s successful campaign in Piedmont, placed Italy at the mercy of the Austrians. Leopold died in 1705 and was succeeded by his oldest son Joseph I, a worthy precursor of Joseph II. A contest immediately began on the question known as Jus primarum precum, involving the right of the crown to appoint to vacant benefices. The victorious Austrians, now masters of Northern Italy, invaded the Papal States, took possession of Piacenza and Parma, annexed Comacchio and besieged Ferrara. Clement at first offered a spirited resistance, but, abandoned by all, could not hope for success, and when a strong detachment of Protestant troops under the command of the Prince of Hesse-Cassel reached Bologna, fearing a repetition of the fearful scenes of 1527, he finally gave way (January 15, 1709), acknowledged the Archduke Charles as King of Spain “without detriment to the rights of another”, and promised him the investiture of Naples. Though the Bourbon monarchs had done nothing to aid the pope in his unequal struggle, both Louis and Philip became very indignant and retaliated by every means in their power (see Louis XIV). In the negotiations preceding the Peace of Utrecht (1713) the rights of the pope were studiously neglected; his nuncio was not accorded a hearing; his dominions were parceled out to suit the convenience of either party. Sicily was given to Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, with whom from the first days of his pontificate Clement was i_zvolved in quarrels on the subjects of ecclesiastical immunities and appointments to vacant benefices. The new king now undertook to revive the so-called Monarchia Sicula, an ancient but much-disputed and abused privilege of pontifical origin which practically excluded the pope from any authority over the Church in Sicily. When Clement answered with Bann and interdict, all the clergy, about 3000 in number, who remained loyal to the Holy See were banished the island, and the pope was forced to give them food and shelter. The interdict was not raised till 1718, when Spain regained possession, but the old controversy was repeatedly resumed under the Bourbons. Through the machinations of Cardinal Alberoni, Parma and Piacenza were granted to a Spanish Infante without regard to the papal overlordship. It was some consolation to the much-tried pope that Augustus of Saxony, King of Poland, returned to the Church. Clement labored hard to restore harmony in Poland, but without success. The Turks had taken advantage of the dissensions among the Christians to invade Europe by land and sea. Clement proclaimed a jubilee, sent money and ships to the assistance of the Venetians, and granted a tithe on all benefices to the Emperor Charles VI. When Prince Eugene won the great battle of Temesvdr, which put an end to the Turkish danger, no slight share of the credit was given by the Christian world to the pope and the Holy Rosary. Clement sent the great commander a blessed hat and sword. The fleet which Philip V of Spain had raised at the instigation of the pope, and with subsidies levied on church revenues, was diverted by Alberoni to the conquest of Sardinia; and though Clement showed his indignation by demanding the dismissal of the minister, and beginning a process against him, he had much to do to convince the emperor that he was not privy to the treacherous trans-action. He gave a generous hospitality to the exiled son of James II of England, James Edward Stuart. and helped him to obtain the hand of Clementina, John Sobieski‘s accomplished granddaughter, mother of Charles Edward. Clement’s pastoral vigilance was felt in every corner of the earth. He organized the Church in the Philippine Islands and sent missionaries to every distant spot. He erected Lisbon into a patriarchate, December 7, 1716. He enriched the Vatican Library with the manuscript treasures gathered at the expense of the pope by Joseph Simeon Assemani in his researches throughout Egypt and Syria. In the unfortunate controversy between the Dominican and the Jesuit missionaries in China concerning the permissibility of certain rites and customs, Clement decided in favor of the former. When the Jansenists provoked a new collision with the Church under the leadership of Quesnel, Pope Clement issued his two memorable Constitutions, “Vineam Domini“, July 16, 1705, and “Unigenitus“, September 10, 1713 (see Unigenitus; Vineam Domini; Cornelius Jansen). Clement XI made the feast of the Conception of the B.V. M. a Holy Day of obligation, and canonized Pius V, Andrew of Avellino, Felix of Cantalice, and Catherine of Bologna.

This great and saintly pontiff died appropriately on the feast of St. Joseph, for whom he entertained a particular devotion, and in whose honor he composed the special Office found in the Breviary. His remains rest in St. Peter’s. His official acts, letters, and Briefs, also his homilies, were collected and published by his nephew, Cardinal Annibale Albani


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!