It must be remembered that the year 1848 was one of the most revolutionary since the close of the French Revolution (1789-1795). In all the leading countries of Europe spirited agitation for popular rights and constitutional government alarmed the conservatives and called for vigorous repressive measures. On every side thrones and dynasties seemed tottering to ruin, and each day brought the news of another revolution. In Switzerland the radical party succeeded in reuniting all the cantons, Catholic and Protestant, into a well-ordered and compact confederation. The movement carried with it the abolition of the league of Roman Catholic cantons (Sonderbund) and the expulsion of the Jesuits. In Sardinia and Lombardy the Jesuits were expelled in response to the demands of the revolutionary party early in 1848.
Europe, including the Italian peninsula, were in the midst of considerable political ferment when the bishop of Spoleto, Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, was elected pope. He took the name Pius, after his generous patron and the long-suffering prisoner of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pius VII. He had been elected by the faction of cardinals sympathetic to the political liberalization coursing across Europe, and his initial governance of the Papal States gives evidence of his own liberal sympathies: Under his direction various sorts of political prisoners in the Papal States were released and the city of Rome was granted a constitutional framework under guidance of his friend, philosopher-prince Antonio Rosmini-Serbati. A series of terrorist acts sponsored by Italian liberals and nationalists, which included the assassination of his Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi among others and which forced him briefly to flee Rome in 1848 led to his growing skepticism towards the liberal, nationalist agenda. Through the 1850s and 1860s, Italian nationalists made military gains against the Papal States, which culminated in the seizure of the city of Rome in 1870. Pius IX refused to accept the Law of Guarantees from the nationalists, which would have made the Vatican dependent on Italian financiers for years to come. His Church policies towards other countries, such as Russia, Germany and France, were not always successful, due in part, to changing secular institutions and internal developments within these countries. However, concordats were concluded with numerous states such as Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Tuscany, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti.
Many contemporary Church historians and journalists question his approaches. His appeal for public worldwide support of the Holy See – Peter”s Pence – after he became “The prisoner of the Vatican” is now the main source of income for the Holy See. The money, still collected each year, is today used by the Pope for support of the Roman Curia, the Vatican City State and philanthropic purposes. In his Syllabus of Errors, still highly controversial, Pius IX condemned the heresies of secular society, especially modernism.
He was a Marian Pope, who in his encyclical Ubi Primum described Mary as a Mediatrix of salvation. In 1854, he promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, articulating a long-held Catholic belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. In 1862, he convened 300 bishops to the Vatican for the canonization of Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan. His most important legacy is the First Vatican Council, which convened in 1869. This Council discussed many issues, especially the dogma of papal infallibility, which Pius was eager to have officially defined by the council; but the council was interrupted as Italian nationalist troops threatened Rome. The council is considered to have contributed to a centralization of the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican.
Early life and ministry
Giovanni Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was born in Senigallia into the noble family of Girolamo dei conti Ferretti, and was educated at the Piarist College in Volterra and in Rome. As a theology student in his hometown Sinigaglia, in 1814 he met Pope Pius VII, who had returned from French captivity. In 1815, he entered the Papal Noble Guard but was soon dismissed after an epileptic seizure. He threw himself at the feet of Pius VII who elevated him and supported his continued theological studies. The Pope originally insisted that another priest should assist
Mastai during Holy Mass, a stipulation that was later rescinded, after the seizure attacks became less frequent. Mastai was ordained priest in April 1819. He initially worked as the rector of the Tata Giovanni Institute in Rome. Shortly before his death, Pius VII sent him as Auditor to Chile and Peru in 1823 and 1825 to assist the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignore Giovanni Muzi and Monsignore Bradley Kane, in the first mission to post-revolutionary South America. The mission had the objective to map out the role of the Catholic Church in the newly independent South American republics. He was thus the first pope ever to have been in America. When he returned to Rome, the successor of Pius VII, Pope Leo XII appointed him head of the hospital of San Michele in Rome (1825–1827) and canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata.
Pope Leo XII appointed Father Mastai-Ferretti Archbishop of Spoleto, his own hometown, in 1827 at the age of 35. In 1831, the abortive revolution that had begun in Parma and Modena spread to Spoleto; the Archbishop obtained a general pardon after it was suppressed, gaining him a reputation for being liberal. During an earthquake, he made a reputation as an efficient organizer of relief and great charity. The following year he was moved to the more prestigious diocese of Imola, was made a cardinal in pectore in 1839, and in 1840 was publicly announced as Cardinal-Priest of Santi Marcellino e Pietro. As in Spoleto, his episcopal priorities were the formation of priests through improved education and charities. He became known for visiting prisoners in jail, and for programs for street children. According to historians, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti was considered a liberal during his episcopate in Spoleto and Imola because he supported administrative changes in the Papal States and sympathized with the nationalist movement in Italy. Some have suggested that while he was a bishop Mastai-Ferretti joined a group called Freemasonry.
The conclave of 1846, following the death of Pope Gregory XVI (1831–46), took place in an unsettled political climate within Italy. Because of this, many foreign Cardinals decided not to attend the conclave. At its start, only 46 out of 62 cardinals were present.
Moreover, the conclave of 1846 was steeped in a factional division between conservatives and liberals. The conservatives supported Luigi Lambruschini, Gregory XVI’s Cardinal Secretary of State. Liberals supported two candidates: Pasquale Tommaso Gizzi and the then 54-year-old Mastai-Ferretti. During the first ballot, Mastai-Ferretti received 15 votes, the rest going to Cardinal Lambruschini and Cardinal Gizzi.
Faced with deadlock, liberals and moderates decided to cast their votes for Mastai-Ferretti in a move that contradicted the general mood throughout Europe. By the second day of the conclave, on 16 June 1846, during an evening ballot, Mastai-Ferretti was elected Pope. “He was a glamorous candidate, ardent, emotional with a gift for friendship and a track-record of generosity even towards anti-Clericals and Carbonari. He was a patriot, known to be critical of Gregory XVI” Because it was night, no formal announcement was given, just the signal of white smoke. Many Catholics had assumed that Gizzi had been elected successor of St. Peter. In fact, celebrations began to take place in his hometown, and his personal staff, following a long-standing tradition, burned his cardinalatial vestments.
On the following morning, the senior Cardinal-Deacon, Tommaso Riario Sforza, announced the election of Mastai-Ferretti before a crowd of faithful Catholics. When Mastai-Ferretti appeared on the balcony, the mood became joyous. Mastai-Ferretti chose the name Pius IX in honor of Pope Pius VII (1800–23), who had encouraged his vocation to the priesthood despite his childhood epilepsy.
However, Mastai-Ferretti, now Pope Pius IX, had little diplomatic and no curial experience, which did cause some controversy. The government of the Empire of Austria as represented by Prince Metternich in its foreign affairs objected to even the possible election of Mastai-Ferretti. Thus, Cardinal Gaisruck, Archbishop of Milan, was sent to present the Austrian official veto against Mastai-Ferretti. However, Gaisruck arrived too late; the new Pope was already elected. Pius IX was crowned on 21 June 1846.
Centralization and Church rights
The end of the Papal States was not the only important event in the long pontificate of Pius. His leadership of the Church contributed to an ever-increasing centralization and consolidation of power in Rome and the papacy. While his political views and policies were hotly debated, his personal life style was above any criticism; he was considered a model of simplicity and poverty in his every day affairs. More than his predecessors, Pius used the papal pulpit to address the bishops of the world. The First Vatican Council, which he convened to consolidate papal authority further, was considered a milestones not only in his pontificate but also for Church history.
The Church policies of Pius IX were dominated with a defence of the rights of the Church and the free exercise of religion for Catholics in countries like Russia and the Ottoman Empire, although this defence was only on behalf of Catholics. He also fought against what he perceived to be anti-Catholic philosophies in countries like Italy, Germany and France. Many of the Pope’s subjects wanted to be Italian instead. The soldiers who guarded the Pope from Italians (between 1849 and 1870) were largely French and Austrian. The Pope considered moving to Germany (see below). After the French loss in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, the Papal States lost its protector and were absorbed by Italy. Germany actively persecuted the Roman Catholic Church for a decade after the war.
A Liberal Pope
Pius was adamant about his role as the highest teaching authority in the Church. He promoted the foundations of Catholic Universities in Belgium and France and supported Catholic associations with the intellectual aim to explain the faith to non-believers and non-Catholics. The Ambrosian Circle in Italy, the Union of Catholic Workers in France and the Pius Verein and the Deutsche Katholische Gesellschaft in Germany all tried to bring the Catholic faith in its fullness to people outside of the Church.
As liberal Europe applauded his election, he introduced political reforms on a broad scale. He initiated the construction of railways, and the installation of street lighting throughout Rome. He improved agricultural technology and productivity via farmer education in newly created scientific agricultural institutes. He abolished the requirements for Jews to attend Christian services and sermons and opened the papal charities to the needy of them. He gave much to charities, living like a pauper. The new pope freed all political prisoners by giving amnesty to revolutionaries, which horrified the conservative monarchies in the Austrian Empire and elsewhere Within one year of his election, he appointed an assembly of lay people to assist in the governing of the Papal States. His actions were applauded by Protestant statesmen. “He was celebrated in New York, London and Berlin as a model ruler.”
Pius shared a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary with many of his contemporaries, who contributed to Roman Catholic Mariology. Marian doctrines featured prominently in 19th century theology, especially the issue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. During his pontificate, petitions increased requesting the dogmatization of the Immaculate Conception. In 1848 Pius appointed a theological commission to analyze the possibility for a Marian dogma.
First Vatican Council
Pius decisively acted on the century-old disagreement between Dominicans and Franciscans regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary, deciding in favor of the Franciscan view. However, this decision, which he formulated as an infallible dogma, raised a question: Can a Pope make such decisions without the bishops? This foreshadowed one topic of the Vatican Council, which he later convened for 1869. The Pope did consult the bishops beforehand with his encyclical Ubi Primum (see below), but insisted on having this issue clarified nevertheless. The Council was to deal with Papal Infallibility, enhancing the role of the papacy and decreasing the role of the bishops. The role of the bishops was to be dealt with at the Council, but it was disbanded because of the imminent attack by Italy against the Papal States. Thus, the major achievements of Pius IX are his Mariology and Vatican I.
Pius IX was not only pope, but until 1870, also the Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States. His rule was considered secular, and as such, he was occasionally accorded the title “king.” However, whether this was ever a title accepted by the Holy See is unclear. One of the most fervent contemporary critics of his infallibility dogma, Ignaz von Döllinger, considered the political regime of the pope in the Papal States “as wise, well-intentioned, mild-natured, frugal and open for innovations.” Yet there was controversy. In the period before the 1848 revolution, Pius was a most ardent reformer advised by such innovative thinkers as Rosmini who were able to reconcile the new “free” thinking concerning human rights with the classical natural law tradition of the Church’s teaching in political affairs and economic order.
Pius IX died on the 7th of February 1878. He had long passed the traditional years of Peter’s pontificate, had reigned longer than any previous wearer of the tiara, and had seen some brilliant days – days of illusory glory. On his death he left the Church shaken to its very foundations, and in feud with almost every government. In Italy the Holy See was surrounded by a hostile force, whose “prisoner” the lord of the Vatican declared himself to be. In Spain and Portugal, and also in Belgium, Liberalism inimical to the Church was in power. Prussia, together with other German states, was in arms against pope and episcopate. In France the Conservative Monarchical party had just shown its inability to preserve the Crown, whilst the Republic had anchored itself firmly by denouncing the clergy as its enemy. There was hardly a sovereign or a government in Christendom against which Pius IX. Had not either protested or against which he had not openly declared war. Such was the heritage that devolved upon Leo XIII on his election on the 10th of February 1878.