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Pope Pius IX

Reigned 1846-78

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Pius IX (GIOVANNI MARIA MASTAI-FERRETTI), POPE from 1846-78, b. at Sinigaglia, May 13, 1792; d. in Rome, February 7, 1878. After receiving his classical education at the Piarist College in Volterra from 1802-09 he went to Rome to study philosophy and theology, but left there in 1810 on account of political disturbances. He returned in 1814 and, in deference to his father’s wish, asked to be admitted to the pope’s Noble Guard. Being subject to epileptic fits, he was refused admission and, following the desire of his mother and his own inclination, he studied theology at the Roman Seminary, 1814-18. Meanwhile his malady had ceased and he was ordained priest, April 10, 1819. Pius VII appointed him spiritual director of the orphan asylum, popularly known as “Tata Giovanni”, in Rome, and in 1823 sent him, as auditor of the Apostolic delegate, Msgr. Muzi, to Chili in South America. Upon his return in 1825 he was made canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata and director of the large hospital of San Michele by Leo XII. The same pope created him Archbishop of Spoleto, May 21, 1827. In 1831 when 4000 Italian revolutionists fled before the Austrian army and threatened to throw themselves upon Spoleto, the archbishop persuaded them to lay down their arms and disband, induced the Austrian commander to pardon them for their treason, and gave them sufficient money to reach their homes. On February 17, 1832, Gregory XVI transferred him to the more important Diocese of Imola and, December 14, 1840, created him cardinal priest with the titular church of Santi Pietro e Marcellino, after having reserved him in petto since December 23, 1839. He retained the Diocese of Imola until his elevation to the papacy. His great charity and amiability had made him beloved by the people, while his friendship with some of the revolutionists had gained for him the name of liberal.

On June 14, 1846, two weeks after the death of Gregory XVI, fifty cardinals assembled in the Quirinal for the conclave. They were divided into two factions, the conservatives, who favored a continuance of absolutism in the temporal government of the Church, and the liberals, who were desirous of moderate political reforms. At the fourth scrutiny, June 16, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, the liberal candidate, received three votes beyond the required majority. Cardinal Archbishop Gaysruck of Milan had arrived too late to make use of the right of exclusion against his election, given him by the Austrian Government. The new pope accepted the tiara with reluctance and in memory of Pius VII, his former benefactor, took the name of Pius IX. His coronation took place in the Basilica of St. Peter on June 21. His election was greeted with joy, for his charity towards the poor, his kindheartedness, and his wit had made him very popular.

“Young Italy” was clamoring for greater political freedom. The unyielding attitude of Gregory XVI and his secretary of state, Cardinal Lambruschini, had brought the papal states to the verge of a revolution. The new pope was in favor of a political reform. His first great political act was the granting of a general amnesty to political exiles and prisoners on July 16, 1846. This act was hailed with enthusiasm by the people, but many prudent men had reasonable fears of the results. Some extreme reactionaries denounced the pope as in league with the Freemasons and the Carbonari. It did not occur to the kindly nature of Pius IX that many of the pardoned political offenders would use their liberty to further their revolutionary ideas. That he was not in accord with the radical ideas of the times he c l early demonstrated by his Encyclical of November 9, 1846, in which he laments the oppression of Catholic interests, intrigues Crypt of S. Lorenzo, Rome against the Holy See, machinations of secret societies, sectarian bitterness, the Bible associations, indifferentism, false philosophy, communism, and the licentious press. He was, however, willing to grant such political reforms as he deemed expedient to the welfare of the people and compatible with the papal sovereignty. On April 19, 1847, he announced his intention to establish an advisory council (Consulta di Stato), composed of laymen from the various provinces of the papal territory. This was followed by the establishment of a civic guard (Guardia Civica), July 5, and a cabinet council, December 29. But the more concessions the pope made, the greater and more insistent became the demands. Secret clubs of Rome, especially the “Circolo Romano”, under the direction of Ciceruacchio, fanaticized the mob with their radicalism and were the real rulers of Rome. They spurred the people on to be satisfied with nothing but a constitutional government, an entire laicization of the ministry, and a declaration of war against hated and reactionary Austria.

On February 8, 1848, a street riot extorted the promise of a lay ministry from the pope and on March 14 he saw himself obliged to grant a constitution, but in his allocution of April 29 he solemnly proclaimed that, as the Father of Christendom, he could never declare war against Catholic Austria. Riot followed riot, the pope was denounced as a traitor to his country, his prime minister Rossi was stabbed to death while ascending the steps of the Cancelleria, whither he had gone to open the parliament, and on the following day the pope himself was besieged in the Quirinal. Palma, a papal prelate, who was standing at a window, was shot, and the pope was forced to promise a democratic ministry. With the assistance of the Bavarian ambassador, Count Spaur, and the French ambassador, Duc d’Harcourt, Pius IX escaped from the Quirinal in disguise, November 24, and fled to Gaeta where he was joined by many of the cardinals. Meanwhile Rome was ruled by traitors and adventurers who abolished the temporal power of the pope, February 9, 1849, and under the name of a democratic republic terrorized the people and committed untold outrages. The pope appealed to France, Austria, Spain, and Naples. On June 29 French troops under General Oudinot restored order in his territory. On April 12, 1850, Pius IX returned to Rome, no longer a political liberalist. Cardinal Antonelli, his secretary of state, exerted a paramount political influence until his death on November 6, 1876. The temporal reign of Pius IX, up to the seizure of the last of his temporal possessions in 1870, was one continuous struggle, on the one hand against the intrigues of the revolutionaries, on the other against the Piedmontese ruler Victor Emmanuel, his crafty premier Cavor, and other antipapal statesmen who aimed at a united Italy, with Rome as its capital, and the Piedmontese ruler as its king. The political difficulties of the pope were still further increased by the double dealing of Napoleon III, and the necessity of relying on French and Austrian troops for the maintenance of order in Rome and the papal legations in the north.

When Pius IX visited his provinces in the summer of 1857 he received everywhere a warm and loyal reception. But the doom of his temporal power was sealed, when a year later Cavor and Napoleon III met at Plombieres, concerting plans for a combined war against Austria and the subsequent territorial extension of the Sardinian Kingdom. They sent their agents into various cities of the Papal States to propagate the idea of a politically united Italy. The defeat of Austria at Magenta on July 4, 1859, and the subsequent withdrawal of the Austrian troops from the papal legations, inaugurated the dissolution of the Papal States. The insurrection in some of the cities of the Romagna was put forth as a plea for annexing this province to Piedmont in September, 1859. On February 6, 1860, Victor Emmanuel demanded the annexation of Umbria and the Marches and, when Pius IX resisted this unjust demand, made ready to annex them by force. After defeating the papal army at Castelfidardo on September 18, and at Ancona on September 30, he deprived the pope of all his possessions with the exception of Rome and the immediate vicinity. Finally on September 20, 1870, he completed the spoliation of the pa-pal possessions by seizing Rome and making it the capital of United Italy. The so-called Law of Guarantees, of May 15, 1871, which accorded the pope the rights of a sovereign, an annual remuneration of 3 1/4 million lire ($650,000), and exterritoriality to a few papal palaces in Rome, was never accepted by Pius IX or his successors. (See States of the Church; Rome; Law of Guarantees.)

The loss of his temporal power was only one of the many trials that filled the long pontificate of Pius IX. There was scarcely a country, Catholic or Protestant, where the rights of the Church were not infringed upon. In Piedmont the Concordat of 1841 was set aside, the tithes were abolished, education was laicized, monasteries were suppressed, church property was confiscated, religious orders were expelled, and the bishops who opposed this anti-ecclesiastical legislation were imprisoned or banished. In vain did Pius IX protest against such outrages in his allocutions of 1850, 1852, 1853, and finally in 1855 by publishing to the world the numerous injustices which the Piedmontese government had committed against the Church and her representatives. In Wurtemberg he succeeded in concluding a concordat with the Government, but, owing to the opposition of the Protestant estates, it never became a law and was revoked by a royal rescript on June 13, 1861. The same occurred in the Grand Duchy of Baden where the Concordat of 1859 was abolished on April 7, 1860. Equally hostile to the Church was the policy of Prussia and other German states, where the anti-ecclesiastical legislations reached their height during the notorious Kulturkampf (q.v.), inaugurated in 1873. The violent out-rages committed in Switzerland against the bishops and the remaining clergy were solemnly denounced by Pius IX in his encyclical letter of November 21, 1873, and, as a result, the papal internuncio was expelled from Switzerland in January, 1874. The concordat which Pius IX had concluded with Russia in 1847 remained a dead letter, horrible cruelties were committed against the Catholic clergy and laity after the Polish insurrection of 1863, and all relations with Rome were broken in 1866. The anti-ecclesiastical legislation in Colombia was denounced in his allocution of September 27,1852, and again, together with that of Mexico, on September 30, 1861. With Austria a concordat, very favorable to the Church, was concluded on August 18, 1855 (“Conventiones de rebus eccl. inter s. sedem et civilem potestatem”, Mainz, 1870, 310-318). But the Protestant agitation against the concordat was so strong, that in contravention to it the emperor reluctantly ratified marriage and school laws, March 25, 1868. In 1870 the concordat was abolished by the Austrian Government, and in 1874 laws were enacted, which placed all but the inner management of ecclesiastical affairs in the hands of the Government. With Spain Pius IX concluded a satisfactory concordat on March 16, 1851 (Nussi, 281-297; “Acta Pii IX”, I, 293-341). It was supplemented by various articles on November 25, 1859 (Nussi, 341-5). Other satisfactory concordats concluded by Pius IX were those with: Portugal in 1857 (Nussi, 318-21); Costa Rica, and Guatemala, October 7, 1852 (Ib., 297-310); Nicaragua, November 2, 1861(Ib., 361-7); San Salvador, and Honduras, April 22, 1862 (Ib., 367-72; 349); Haiti, March 28, 1860 (Ib., 346-8); Venezuela, July 26, 1862 (Ib., 356-61); Ecuador, September 26, 1862 (Ib., 349-56). (See Concordat : Summary of Principal Concordats.)

His greatest achievements are of a purely ecclesiastical and religious character. It is astounding how fearlessly he fought, in the midst of many and severe trials, against the false liberalism which threatened to destroy the very essence of faith and religion. In his Encyclical “Quanta Cura” of December 8, 1864, he condemned sixteen propositions touching on errors of the age. This Encyclical was accompanied by the famous “Syllabus errorum”, a table of eighty previously censured propositions bearing on pantheism, naturalism, rationalism, indifferentism, socialism, communism, freemasonry, and the various kinds of religious liberalism. Though misunderstandings and malice combined in representing the Syllabus as a veritable embodiment of religious narrow-mindedness and cringing servility to papal authority, it has done an inestimable service to the Church and to society at large by unmasking the false liberalism which had begun to insinuate its subtle poison into the very marrow of Catholicism. Previously, on January 8, 1857, he had condemned the philosophico-theological writings of Gunther (q.v.), and on many occasions advocated a return to the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas. Through his whole life he was very devout to the Blessed Virgin. As early as 1849, when he was an exile at Gaeta, he issued letters to the bishops of the Church, asking their views on the subject of the Immaculate Conception (q.v.), and on December 8, 1854, in the presence of more than 200 bishops, he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin as a dogma of the Church. He also fostered the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and on September 23, 1856, extended this feast to the whole world with the rite of a double major. At his instance the Catholic world was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 16, 1875. He also promoted the inner life of the Church by many important liturgical regulations, by various monastic reforms, and especially by an unprecedented number of beatifications and canonizations. On June 29, 1869, he issued the Bull “Aeterni Patris” (q.v.), convoking the Vatican Council which he opened in the presence of 700 bishops on December 8, 1869. During its fourth solemn session, on July 18, 1870, the papal Infallibility (q.v.) was made a dogma of the Church. (See Vatican Council.)

The healthy and extensive growth of the Church during his pontificate was chiefly due to his unselfishness. He appointed to important ecclesiastical positions only such men as were famous both for piety and learning. Among the great cardinals created by him were: Wiseman and Manning for England; Cullen for Ireland; McCloskey for the United States; Diepenbrock, Geissel, Reisach, and Ledochowski for Germany; Rauscher and Franzelin for Austria; Mathieu, Donnet, Gousset, and Pitra for France. On September 29, 1850, he reestablished the Catholic hierarchy in England by erecting the Archdiocese of Westminster with the twelve suffragan Sees of Beverley, Birmingham, Clifton, Hexham, Liverpool, Newport and Menevia, Northampton, Nottingham, Plymouth, Salford, Shrewsbury, and Southwark. The widespread commotion which this act caused among English fanatics, and which was fomented by Prime Minister Russell and the London “Times”, temporarily threatened to result in an open persecution of Catholics (see England). On March 4, 1853, he restored the Catholic hierarchy in Holland by erecting the Archdiocese of Utrecht and the four suffragan Sees of Haarlem, Boisle-Duc, Roermond, and Breda (see Holland).

In the United States of America he erected the Dioceses of: Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Galveston in 1847; Monterey, Savannah, St. Paul, Wheeling, Santa Fe, and Nesqually (Seattle) in 1850; Burlington, Covington, Erie, Natchitoches, Brooklyn, Newark, and Quincy (Alton) in 1853; Portland (Maine) in 1855; Fort Wayne, Sault Sainte Marie (Marquette) in 1857; Columbus, Grass Valley (Sacramento), Green Bay, Harrisburg, La Crosse, Rochester, Scranton, St. Joseph, Wilmington in 1868; Springfield and St. Augustine in 1870; Providence and Ogdensburg in 1872; San Antonio in 1874; Peoria in 1875; Leavenworth in 1877; the Vicariates Apostolic of the Indian Territory and Nebraska in 1851; Northern Michigan in 1853; Florida in 1857; North Carolina, Idaho, and Colorado in 1868; Arizona in 1869; Brownsville in Texas and Northern Minnesota in 1874. He encouraged the convening of provincial and diocesan synods in various countries, and established at Rome the Latin American College in 1853, and the College of the United States of America, at his own private expense, in 1859. His was the longest pontificate in the history of the papacy. In 1871 he celebrated his twenty-fifth, in 1876 his thirtieth, anniversary as pope, and in 1877 his golden episcopal jubilee. His tomb is in the church of San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The so-called diocesan process of his beatification was begun on February 11, 1907.


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