PIUS IXearly life and career
the reforming pope
the restoration papacy
assessment of pius ix and his pontificate
PIUS IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti; 1792–1878), pope (1846–1878).
Pius IX (in Italian, Pio Nono), the longest reigning pope, was a major protagonist in the ideological struggles of the nineteenth century. He commenced his pontificate as a prince who sought to modernize the Papal State (1846–1848), but following the revolutionary events of 1848 and the restoration of 1849–1850, he reigned as a priest determined to shield the church from the perils of the modern age. Although troubled by civil and religious controversy, he reorganized the papacy and reoriented the church, and had a profound impact in Europe and the world beyond. During his momentous pontificate, Pius IX shaped the character of the Catholic Church prior to the convocation of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), and the role of the papacy to the present. Forging dogmatic unity in the church and strengthening the position of the papacy, he provided some compensation for the collapse of the temporal power.
Pius IX had an impact on the diplomatic as well as the religious issues of the day, influencing the policies of the emperors Francis Joseph of Austria and Napoleon III of France, and of the German Empire under the chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and was especially embroiled in the affairs of the Italian peninsula. The ruler of the Papal States until their disappearance in 1870, and the head of the church from 1846 to 1878, he influenced the Risorgimento, which culminated in the unification of Italy, and the counter-Risorgimento, the bitter papal opposition to the creation of the Italian kingdom. Pius refused to accept the loss of his territory, which was incorporated into the unitary state, and rejected the concessions granted by the Italian government in the Law of Papal Guarantees (13 May 1871), declaring himself a prisoner in the Vatican and refusing to leave its palaces and grounds until his death on 7 February 1878. His intransigent opposition to the Italian kingdom provoked the Roman Question, or dissidio, which troubled relations between the Vatican and Italy until 1929.
Waging war against the secular philosophies of the modern world and the anticlerical policies he perceived they inspired, Pius responded by championing ultramontanism, which exalted the papacy by increasing centralization of authority in Rome. Among other things he defined the Immaculate Conception of Mary as born without original sin (1854); condemned the ideologies of liberalism, naturalism, nationalism, socialism, and communism (1864); and convoked the First Vatican Council (1869–1870) and encouraged it to proclaim papal infallibility (18 July 1870), fostering the structure of the modern, infallible papacy. He refused to bow to the anti-Catholic measures unleashed by Bismarck and his liberal allies in the Kulturkampf in the newly created German Empire and denounced the anticlerical course championed by the Third French Republic, which succeeded the Second Empire. His reach transcended Europe, and he almost became embroiled in the diplomacy of the Civil War in the United States.
Born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti on 13 May 1792, in Senigallia near Ancona, the future pope received his early education from his mother, the former Caterina Solazzi, who was devoted to Mary. In 1803, at the age of eleven, he was sent to Saint Michael's school in Tuscany, but his studies there were interrupted by an attack of epilepsy in October 1809. He resumed his studies at the Roman College at the end of 1815. Determined to enter the priesthood, he was ordained in 1819, despite his malady, by special dispensation of Pius VII (r. 1800–1823), to whom he was devoted. His initial assignment was at the Roman orphanage of "Tata Giovanni," where he remained until 1823. From 1823 to 1825 he formed part of a papal diplomatic mission to Chile and Peru to explore the prospect of Rome's establishing relations with the former Spanish colonies; this made him the first person to become pope to have been to America. Upon his return to Rome, he became the director of the hospice of San Michele (1825–1827). Serving as archbishop of Spoleto from 1827 to 1832, he was appointed bishop of Imola in 1832, and cardinal by Gregory XVI (r. 1831–1846) in 1840. Both at Spoleto and Imola, Mastai-Ferretti was appreciated for his receptivity to some of the ideas of the nineteenth century, including aspects of liberalism and nationalism. On the other hand, he was conservative in his theological outlook, and thus had a wide appeal in the conclave convened following the death of Gregory XVI in 1846. He was elected pope on 16 June 1846, assuming the name Pius in honor of Pius VII, who had supported his ordination.
Upon assuming the tiara, the new pope, recognizing that the papal regime confronted increasing discontent, championed a limited reformism and common-sense measures to prevent the outbreak of revolution. Although not a liberal, and indeed ultra-orthodox in religious matters, Mastai-Ferretti believed that conditions in his state could, and should, be better attuned to the needs of its people, and favored innovations such as the building of railways and the illumination of major avenues in Rome. He had earlier championed technical reforms in his "Thoughts on the Administration of the Papal States," which even invoked a collegiate body to advise and coordinate its administration. Committing himself to administrative, economic, and limited political changes, Pius promised to implement many of the reforms Gregory XVI had rejected when he shelved the Memorandum of 1831, in which France, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia had suggested a degree of modernization to the Rome government.
Following the conservative, often autocratic course of Gregory XVI, Italians responded enthusiastically to Pius IX's limited reformism; some identified him with the pope-liberator prophesied by Vincenzo Gioberti in his Del primato morale e civile degli italiani (1843; On the civil and moral primacy of the Italians). Because he was perceived as a reformer as well as a patriot, Italians approved his appointment of Cardinal Pasquale Gizzi, considered a leading liberal, as his secretary of state, and his amnesty of political prisoners (16 July 1846). The amnesty aroused enthusiasm throughout the peninsula, leading the conservative Klemens von Metternich of Austria to quip that God pardons, but does not grant amnesties. The revised press law of 1846 permitted the publication of liberal and national sentiments and widely disseminated the innovations of the new pope. In 1847 Pius announced the formation of a consulta, or consultative chamber, to advise him on administrative and political matters and instituted a council of ministers, permitted to discuss crucial administrative and political matters. These reforms led to the expectation that more would be forthcoming from the pope, who appeared to support liberal and national aspirations.
Adulation was not universal, as conservatives inside and outside Rome warned of the adverse consequences wrought on church and state by these changes. Pius, meanwhile, was torn between his obligation to protect the church and his desire to please his people. Consequently, he had reservations about creating a civil guard, granting his people a constitution and establishing a political league in Italy—but reconsidered his stance early in 1848, as revolution threatened Italy and Europe. The guard was created, a constitution was drafted for the Papal States, and talks were opened with the other Italian princes for the formation of a political league that transcended the tariff league the pope had originally intended. In March 1848 he announced the formation of the constitutional ministry headed by Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli and published a statuto, or constitution, that created two deliberative councils for the formation of law.
Despite massive demonstrations, Pius refused to secularize his administration, introduce constitutionalism into the church, accord equality to non-Catholics, or to wage war on Catholic Austria. The call for papal participation in a war of national liberation against Austria proved especially troubling, revealing the rift in his dual role as prince and priest. The papal refusal to enter the war, announced in an allocution of 19 April 1848, provoked the assassination of his minister Pellegrino Rossi (15 November 1848), followed by a revolutionary outburst in Rome. This led the pope to flee to Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on 14 November 1848. His flight was followed by the proclamation of a republic in Rome later led by Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Pius IX and Cardinal Antonelli invoked the intervention of France, Austria, Spain, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and these Catholic powers over-turned the Second Roman Republic in 1849, paving the way for the pope's return in 1850. These revolutionary events led Pius to question his reformism as well as constitutionalism. He complained that his efforts to introduce legitimate change had been subverted by calls for inadmissible innovations that threatened his spiritual and temporal power and deplored the fact that his refusal to wage an aggressive war against Catholic Austria had provoked revolution and necessitated his flight. During his exile, he had recognized the incompatibility between constitutionalism and the governance of the church.
Fearing religious incredulity and social dissolution, his restored government abandoned many of the liberal as well as national concessions of the prerevolutionary period. Among other things, Jews in the Papal State were again restricted in their movement, with the pontifical government stipulating that the Israelites should not be permitted to leave their usual residence without a permit from the Holy Office. Thus, the reformist pope of 1846–1848 turned into the conservative of the second restoration and was portrayed by some as the personification of reaction. The Piedmontese complained that he conspired with the Austrians to annul Turin's constitutional regime.
A priest first and a prince second, once back in Rome (1850) a chastened Pius concentrated on church affairs, focusing on the moral life of the rank and file of the clergy. He left much of the political responsibility, if not decisions, to his secretary of state and chief minister, Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli. Pius had previously restored the Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem in 1847, and reestablished the hierarchy in England in 1850 and in the Netherlands in 1853. His devotion to Mary led him to proclaim the Immaculate Conception (the dogma that Mary was free from original sin from the moment of her conception), and he remained convinced that she helped him and others escape injury when the floor of the convent of Sant'Agnese collapsed in April 1855. In gratitude, he visited her shrine at Loreto in 1857. Opposed to the "pernicious secularism of the age" and the "flagrant immorality associated with the modern philosophies," Pius sought solace in scripture and the consolation of religion, fostering centralization and uniformity in liturgical matters, which became the hallmark of his pontificate. Shunning theological innovation, he laid the foundation for neo-Scholasticism in church teaching. To facilitate centralization, Pius encouraged seminarians to study in Rome, founding a French seminary there in 1853. This was followed by the inauguration of the North American College in 1859.
His strong religious fervor often conflicted with political expediency, perhaps most notably in his refusal in 1858 to return the Jewish boy Edgardo Levi Mortara, who had been secretly baptized by a Christian servant in Bologna and seized by papal forces, to his parents. The papal action in the "Mortara affair" outraged public opinion in liberal circles in Europe and America; alienated Napoleon III, who served as protector of the pope; and thus worked to undermine the Papal State, which was condemned as medieval and out of touch with the modern world. His intransigent stance facilitated the seizure of most of his territory or temporal power in 1859–1860, especially following the battle of Castelfidardo (18 September 1860). Following these events, Pius was left only with Rome and its immediate environs, protected by the troops of Napoleon III. When these forces withdrew during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), Pius had to endure the loss of Rome as well. The pope perceived the criticism of his policies and the seizure of his state as integral parts of the broader attack on the church and its principles. He therefore proved unwilling to negotiate on the issue of the temporal power or accept its absorption into a united Italy, considering it essential for the preservation of the pope's spiritual power.
In the decade between his return to Rome, and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy (1861), Pius IX issued numerous condemnations of Count Cavour (Camillo Benso) and his colleagues, who were responsible for Italian unification and the seizure of his state. His encyclical Jamdudum Cernimus of 1861 denounced the modern philosophies and ideologies that the pope believed inspired the Piedmontese aggression. In September 1864 the French and Italians signed the September Convention, by which Napoleon III promised to withdraw his troops from Rome within two years, in return for a pledge from the Italian government to respect and protect the surviving Papal State from outside incursions.
Pius was appalled by the Convention, claiming it left the wolves to guard the sheep. He responded later that year (December 1864) in his encyclical Quanta cura, to which was appended the "Syllabus of Errors," which rejected the notion that the temporal power should be abolished, while denouncing liberalism, socialism, communism, nationalism, secret societies, and the separation of church and state. By his actions, Pius was seen to align the papacy and the church against contemporary developments. The papal counteroffensive was continued by the convocation of the Vatican Council, which, guided by Pius, culminated in the declaration of papal infallibility (18 July 1870), even as the Italians entered Rome (20 September 1870) and made it their capital. Both critics and admirers acknowledge that Pius played an important role in the Council and its proclamation of infallibility. The Powers responded negatively to the proclamation, but it was generally accepted by the Catholic laity, except for the "Old Catholic" minority movement.
Although he was heralded at his accession as a reformer, some claimed that Pius IX closed his pontificate as a reactionary. He was seen to range the church not only against the Risorgimento and Italian unification, but against much of the prevailing culture of the century. Furthermore, his opposition did not prevent Italian unification, and was seen to place the church on a collision course with the modern world. Rejecting the national faith of the age, his conflict with liberalism and nationalism contributed to the Roman Question in Italy and the Kulturkampf in Germany, and troubled relations with the French Republic that followed the collapse of Napoleon III's empire. Nonetheless, the Catholic masses in Europe and abroad admired his courage and tenacity in the face of adversity.
Although he lost his state, the ecclesiastical accomplishments of Pius IX were more substantial. He founded over two hundred new dioceses and erected thirty-three apostolic vicariates along with fifteen prefectures. His proclamation of the Immaculate Conception (8 December 1854) provided encouragement to the strong Marian movement in the nineteenth century, and the development of Marian devotion in the twentieth. His fervor for the missions led him to establish a special seminary for the training of missionary priests under the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and encouraged missionary activity in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Following his death there was talk of Pius IX's beatification (the second step in the process toward sainthood), and his cause was opened in 1955 by Pius XII (r. 1939–1958). He was beatified by John Paul II (r. 1978–2005) in 2000, along with John XXIII (r. 1958–1963).
Atti del sommo pontefice Pio IX, felicemente regnante: Parte seconda che comprende I motu proprii, chirografi editti, notificazioni, ec. Per lo stato pontificio. 2 vols. Rome, 1857.
Blakiston, Noel, ed. The Roman Question: Extracts from the Despatches of Odo Russell from Rome, 1858–1870. London, 1962.
Franciscis, Pasquale de, ed. Discorsi del sommo pontefice Pio IX prounziati in Vaticano ai fedeli di Roma e dell'orbe dal principio della sua prigionia fino al presente. 4 vols. Rome, 1872–1878.
Stock, Leo Francis, ed. Consular Relations between the United States and the Papal States: Instructions and Despatches. Washington, D.C., 1945.
——. United States Ministers to the Papal States: Instructions and Despatches, 1848–1868. Washington, D.C., 1933.
Chadwick, Owen. A History of the Popes, 1830–1914. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1998.
Coppa, Frank J. Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli and Papal Politics in European Affairs. Albany, N.Y., 1990.
——. Pope Pius IX: Crusader in a Secular Age. Boston, 1979.
Hales, Edward E. Y. Pio Nono: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1954.
Martina, Giacomo. Pio IX. 3 vols. Vatican City, 1974, 1986, 1990. The three volumes cover the time periods 1846–1850, 1851–1866, and 1867–1878.
Serafini, Alberto. Pio Nono: Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, dalla giovinezza alla morte nei suoi scritti e discorsi editi e inediti. Vol. 1. Vatican City, 1958.
Frank J. Coppa
PIUS IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792–1878), pope of the Roman Catholic Church (1846–1878). Born on May 13 into a family belonging to the gentry of the Papal States, the future pope had his priestly formation delayed by an epilepsy-like illness. This left him with an excessively impulsive temperament for the rest of his life.
Mastai was ordained at Rome on April 10, 1815, and in an age when most young priests aimed at a successful career in the church, he stood out because of his piety and complete detachment from ecclesiastical honors. Serving as an assistant to the papal delegate to Chile (1823–1825) gave him an opportunity to see not only the difficulties that liberal governments with regalist tendencies could cause the church but also the new dimensions that missionary problems were acquiring. As bishop of Spoleto (1827), then of Imola (1832), in a region largely won over to the liberal and nationalist ideals of the Risorgimento, he won esteem not only for his pastoral zeal and sympathy for Italian patriotic aspirations, but also for his desire to improve the outmoded and repressive regime of the Papal States.
At the death of Gregory XVI, Mastai, a cardinal since 1840, became the preferred candidate of those conservatives who thought it necessary to make some concession to aspirations for a modernization of the administration of the pontifical state. He was elected pope on the second day of the conclave, June 16, 1846.
The first months of Pius IX's pontificate seemed to confirm the reputation of "liberal" that reactionary circles in Rome had pinned on this enlightened conservative. Disillusionment soon set in: first, in the area of internal reforms, because the new pope had no intention of transforming the Papal States into a modern constitutional state, and, second, when he refused to intervene in the war of independence against Austria because he thought such a step would be incompatible with his religious mission as common father of all the faithful. Economic difficulties and the pope's lack of political experience finally precipitated a crisis. The Roman uprisings of 1848–1849, crushed with the help of a French expeditionary force, left Pius IX more convinced than ever that there was an inherent connection between the principles of the French Revolution (1789) and the destruction of traditional social, moral, and religious values.
The reactionary restoration that followed upon the pope's return to Rome after his flight to Gaeta was to play into the hands of Cavour (Camillo Benso), who exploited the discontent of the middle classes and was able in 1860 to annex the greatest part of the Papal States. In 1870, the Italian army took advantage of the Franco-Prussian War to occupy Rome and its environs. Pius IX, who saw himself less as a dethroned ruler than as the owner of a property for which he was responsible to the entire Catholic world, felt he could not accept the unification of Italy and attempted, with little success, to organize Italian Catholic resistance.
Politically inexpert, Pius IX was advised mostly by men who judged affairs with the intransigence of theoreticians lacking any contact with the contemporary mind. He never understood that in the modern world the problem of the Holy See's spiritual independence could no longer be resolved by the anachronistic preservation of a papal political sovereignty. Thereafter, obsessed by what he called the "revolution," he identified himself increasingly with the conservative governments whose support seemed to provide the most effective guarantee for the maintenance and ultimate restoration of the Roman state. Moreover, seeing that the pope's temporal power had been challenged in the name of the liberal conception of the state and of the right of peoples to self-determination, he issued more and more protests against liberalism. The most spectacular of these were the encyclical Quanta cura (1864) and the Syllabus of Errors that accompanied it.
Pius IX was never able to distinguish between, on the one hand, what was of positive value in the confused aspirations of the age for a democratization of public life and was preparing in the long run for a greater spiritualization of the Catholic apostolate and, on the other hand, what represented a compromise with principles alien to the Christian spirit. He saw in liberalism only an ideology that denied the supernatural. He confused democracy with anarchy, and he could not grasp the historical impossibility of claiming for the Roman Catholic Church both protection from the state and the independence from it he valued so highly.
As a result, Pius IX was unable to adapt the Roman Catholic Church to the profound political and social developments of his time. Nor was he able to provide the impulse that Catholic thought needed if it was to respond effectively to the excesses of rationalism and materialistic positivism. By abandoning control of the church's intellectual life to narrow minds that could only condemn new tendencies as incompatible with traditional positions, he lost valuable time. The real roots of the modernist crisis may be traced back to his pontificate.
Central to the pope's zeal was a confused and clumsily expressed perception of the need to remind a society intoxicated by a scientistic conception of progress of the primacy of what theologians call the supernatural order: the biblical vision of humanity and salvation history, which is opposed to an interpretation of history as a progressive emancipation from religious values and to such a great confidence in human potentialities that there is no room for a redeemer. If we are to understand the inflexibility with which Pius IX fought his battle against liberalism, "the error of the century," as he called it, we must see this struggle as the center of his efforts to focus Christian thinking once again on the fundamental data of revelation. In his own mind, the First Vatican Council (1869–1870), which was interrupted by the entry of the Italians into Rome, was to be the crown upon these efforts.
Historians have for a long time judged the pontificate of Pius IX negatively because of his failures in the realm of diplomacy and his fruitless efforts to resist the advance of liberalism. More recently, however, scholars have come to see that matters were more complex and that Pius IX's activities were a notable help in strengthening the Roman Catholic Church in its religious sphere, whatever may be thought of certain debatable tendencies.
Missionary expansion advanced at an increasingly rapid pace on five continents during the thirty-two years of Pius IX's pontificate, and thriving churches were developed in Canada, Australia, and especially the United States as a result of Roman Catholic emigration from Europe, but his personal role in this expansion was secondary. On the other hand, he made an important contribution to the progress of the ultramontane movement, which caused guidance of the universal church to be concentrated increasingly in the pope's hands. This movement, given solemn approbation by Vatican I's definition of the pope's personal infallibility and his primacy of jurisdiction, did not go unresisted by those who saw the advantages of pluralism in the local churches and feared to see the episcopates come under the thumb of the Roman Curia. But Pius IX, whose very real virtues were idealized and who benefited from a special sympathy because of his repeated misfortunes, succeeded in rousing in the Roman Catholic world a real "devotion to the pope" which remarkably facilitated the enthusiastic adhesion of the masses and the lower clergy to the new conception of the pope's role in the church. While Pius IX did all he could to encourage this trend, he did so less from personal ambition or a liking for a theocracy than for essentially pastoral reasons: the movement seemed to him to be both a condition for the restoration of Catholic life wherever government interference in the local churches threatened to smother apostolic zeal and the best means of regrouping all the vital forces of Roman Catholicism for response to the mounting wave of "secularization."
No less important were the largely successful efforts of Pius IX to promote the renewal of the religious orders and congregations, encourage the raising of the spiritual level of the clergy, and improve the quality of ordinary Catholic life. During his pontificate there developed an immense movement of eucharistic devotion, devotion to the Sacred Heart, and Marian devotion (the latter being encouraged by the definition in 1854 of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary). This movement has sometimes been faulted as superficial, but the multiplication of charitable works and pious associations and the immense development of the religious congregations give the lie to this simplistic judgment. Pius IX himself made a large contribution to these developments. First, he was an example of personal piety for the devotional movement. Second, and above all, he applied himself systematically to energizing, and at times even pushing, the development that had begun right after the great revolutionary crisis. It was precisely because he regarded an intransigent attitude as indispensable to this work of Christian restoration that he forced himself, despite his personal preference for conciliation and appeasement, to repeat unceasingly certain principles that he believed formed the basis for a Christian restoration of society.
Pius IX was handicapped by a superficial intellectual formation that often kept him from grasping the complexity of problems. In addition, the mystical confidence this deeply devout man had in Providence and the excessive importance he attached to prophecies and other manifestations of the extraordinary made him too ready to see in the political upheavals in which the church was involved only a new episode in the great conflict between God and Satan. But having said this we must not forget the very real qualities of the man—simplicity, refinement, serenity, and courage in adversity—and of the pastor, whose ruling concern was always to be first and foremost a churchman, responsible before God for the defense of threatened Christian values.
Some of Pius IX's addresses can be found in Abbé Marcone's La parole de Pie IX, 2d ed. (Paris, 1868), and Pasquale de Franciscis's Discorsi del sommo pontifice Pio IX, 4 vols. (Rome, 1873–1882). Some letters are in Pietro Pirri's Pio IX e Vittorio Emanuele II dal loro carteggio privato, 5 vols. (Rome, 1944–1961).
The carefully written work of Carlo Falconi, Il giovane Mastai (Milan, 1981) covers only the first thirty-five years. The naively hagiographical work by Alberto Serafini, Pio Nono (Vatican City, 1958), stops at his election to the papacy. The excellent work by Giacomo Martina, Pio IX, 3 vols. (Rome, 1974–1990), is essential for a good understanding of the pope's personality. On the pontificate, see Joseph Schmidlin's Papstgeschichte der neuesten Zeit, vol. 2 (Munich, 1934) and my Le pontificat de Pie IX, 1846–1878, 2d ed., "Histoire de l'Église," vol. 21 (Paris, 1962). E. E. Y. Hales's Pio IX: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1954) is superficial and focuses chiefly on the political aspects.
Roger Aubert (1987)
Translated from French by Matthew J. O'Connell
Early Years. The individual who would serve as Pope longer than any other man in history was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti in Senigallia, Italy. As a child, he was bright but sickly, subject periodically to epileptic seizures. After receiving a classical education in Volterra, he went to Rome in 1809 to study theology and philosophy but returned home the following year because of political unrest. In 1814 he went back to Rome, where he sought admission to the Pope’s Noble Guard. After authorities declared him physically unfit to serve, however, he entered a Roman seminary to study theology. Ordained in 1819, he was appointed the spiritual director of a Roman orphanage, where he remained until 1823, when he was sent as a church auditor on a mission to South America. After his return to Rome in 1825, he was appointed canon of the Church of Santa Maria and director of the San Michele hospital. In 1827 he was made archbishop of Spoleto. Four years later, when a band of four thousand Italian revolutionaries broke from the Austrian army and threatened Spoleto, Archbishop Mastai-Ferretti intervened, persuading the revolutionaries to disband and convincing the Austrian authorities to pardon the rebels and to provide them with funds to return to their homes. Following this display of leadership and diplomacy, Pope Gregory XVI (reigned 1831-1846) transferred Mastai-Ferretti to the more-important diocese of Imola, and in 1840 Gregory named Mastai-Ferretti a cardinal. In 1846, following Gregory’s death, the cardinals who assembled to elect a new Pope were divided into a conservative faction that favored absolutism in ecclesiastical affairs and a liberal faction that favored moderate political reforms. In a close vote, the liberal leader, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, was elected the new Pope. He took the name Pius IX, and his coronation took place on 21 June 1846.
Administering the Papal States. During the early years of his pontificate, Pius IX established conciliatory policies toward the nationalists, who clamored for the political unification of Italy, though he himself did not support their revolutionary goals. His first major act was to grant amnesty to political exiles and prisoners in the Papal States. Unlike his conservative predecessor, Gregory XVI, Pius IX also announced his willingness to accept moderate political reforms, and in 1847 he established an advisory council of laymen from the various papal provinces in Italy, created a civil guard, and set up a cabinet council. He rejected, however, the more radical ideas of those Italians who demanded constitutional government and a declaration of war against Austria. Pius IX demonstrated his conservative leanings in his encyclical of 9 November 1846, in which he condemned intrigues against the Holy See, the spirit of sectarian bitterness, secret societies, Bible associations, false philosophy, communism, and the licentious press.
The Revolutions of 1848. The radicals were not satisfied with Pius’s moderate reforms, and—as revolutions swept Europe in 1848—street riots forced him to accept a constitutional government for the Papal States, although he still rejected demands for war against Catholic Austria. Later that year, after his prime minister was assassinated, Pius IX and many cardinals fled from Rome to Gaeta in the kingdom of Naples, where he remained in exile until 1850. Then, after French troops restored order in his territory, Pius returned to Rome, by this point an avowed foe of liberalism and reform.
Italian Unity. Ultimately, Pius was unable to withstand the forces of nationalism. In 1860 all the territory of the Papal States except Rome became part of the new kingdom of Italy. Ten years later, after the withdrawal of the protective French troops, Rome became the capital of a completely unified Italy. The success of the Italian nationalists greatly reduced the temporal power of the papacy. The new government passed the Law of Guarantees (1871), granting the pope the rights of a sovereign (such as conducting his own diplomatic negotiations), an annual pension, and authority over the Vatican and a small district around it. Because acknowledging this law was tantamount to giving up claim to political sovereignty over nearly all papal territory, Pius refused to do so. (The papacy finally recognized the law in the Concordat of 1929.) Considering himself a prisoner within the confines of Rome, Pius IX retired to the Vatican, where he remained until his death on 7 February 1878.
Advancing Religious Authority. Although the Roman Catholic Church lost temporal power during the pontificate of Pius IX, under his leadership the papacy significantly advanced its authority in ecclesiastical matters. In 1854 Pius proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which asserts that as the Mother of God, Mary was pure from all sin, including original sin. This proclamation marked the first time a pope defined a dogma without the support of a council. Ten years later Pius IX challenged the liberal currents of the times in an 1864 encyclical that condemned sixteen propositions declared to be dangerous to the faith. Accompanying this encyclical was his well-known Syllabus of Errors, which listed eighty previously censured ideas that Catholics were instructed to reject. Some of the condemned errors included the heresies of pantheism, naturalism, rationalism, and communism. The list also condemned freemasonry, the idea that Protestantism was an acceptable form of Christianity, and liberal innovations such as the separation of Church and State, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, and public schools outside church supervision. In 1870 the Vatican Council called by Pius IX promulgated the dogma that “when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,... he possesses . . . that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.” Although some German, Dutch, and Austrian Catholics rejected this dogma and withdrew from Rome to form the “Old Catholic Church,” this pronouncement of papal infallibility did not provoke violent reactions from state authorities, largely because—with the declining temporal power of the Roman Catholic Church—the papacy was no longer a threat to the sovereigns of nation-states.
Edward Hales, Pio Nona: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (London: Eyre 6c Spottiswoode, 1956).
Samuel William Halperin, Italy and the Vatican at War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939).
Michael Ott, “Pope Pius IX,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 12 (New York: Appleton, 1911).
Pius IX (1792-1878) was pope from 1846 to 1878. He began his reign devoted to liberal ideals but, embittered by the anticlericalism of Italian liberals and by the assault on papal territories by the new kingdom of Italy, became an important foe of progress and change.
Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti on May 13, 1792, at Senigallia, Italy. He became archbishop of Spoleto in 1827 and bishop of Imola in 1832. He was already recognized as a liberal when he was created a cardinal in 1840. On the death of Gregory XVI a conclave divided between progressive and conservative prelates chose, on June 16, 1846, Mastai-Ferretti as pope in preference to the reactionary Luigi Lambruschini.
The new pope began his pontificate—the longest in history—by initiating badly needed reforms. Improvements in financial administration and in the treatment of criminals in the Papal States were followed by an easing of the censorship. The political innovations of 1847 decreed that only the secretary of state had to be a priest and that the council of advisers to the pope and his ministers would be elected officials. A municipal government was established for Rome, part of which was made up of elected representatives. While presiding over these specific liberal changes in his own territories, Pius IX lent encouragement to Italian nationalism.
But that he was always a reformer and never a revolutionary Pius IX quickly proved after the revolutions of 1848. His enforced departure from Rome to Gaeta and the establishment of a Roman Republic cooled his ardor for Italian nationalism. Devoted first and always to the welfare of the Church, he had been willing to support the introduction into it of democratic elements, but he would never agree to the loss of the Pope's temporal power.
When the movement for Italian unity broke out into war in 1859, Pius IV attempted to remain neutral, but he could not keep the papal territories from being dismembered. His refusal to yield any part of these dominions in negotiations with the victorious Piedmontese caused him to lose them all. On Sept. 18, 1860, the Papal States were overrun, and only the presence of French troops protected Rome. The liberal kingdom of Italy was established, and to his dying breath Pius IX remained its bitterest enemy.
As long as the French garrisoned Rome, Pius IX was able to hold his capital, and from it he fired all the spiritual weapons in his arsenal. The famous Syllabus of Errors of 1864, a list of erroneous modernistic statements, specifically repudiated the notion that the Pope would ever ally himself with progress or modern civilization. The Vatican Council on July 18, 1870, made the ancient doctrine of papal infallibility into a dogma of the Church. Pius IX had made it his unremitting task to reimpose on the faithful the Ultramontane authority of the medieval Church.
The French withdrew their troops from Rome in 1870 upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Italian soldiers took the city on September 20 of that year, and in October a plebiscite was held in which an overwhelming majority voted to make Rome a part of the Italian kingdom. Pius IX spent the rest of his life in the Vatican. He refused to negotiate with the new kingdom, whose Parliament unilaterally declared that the Pope still retained his sovereignty and absolute control over the Vatican. He could conduct diplomatic relations with other states and was compensated for the loss of his territories. These arrangements did not placate him, and he died unreconciled on Feb. 7, 1878.
The best study in English of Pius IX is the biography by Edward E. Y. Hales, Pio Nono (1954). See also Hales's The Catholic Church in the Modern World (1958). For a valuable and thorough treatment of the dogma of papal infallibility consult Edward Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council (2 vols., 1930).
Coppa, Frank J., Pope Pius IX, crusader in a secular age, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. □