Benedict XIII, Pope

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Pontificate: May 29, 1724, to Feb. 21, 1730; b. Pietro Francesco Orsini, Gravina, Feb. 2, 1649; d. Rome. He was the eldest son and heir of the Duke of Gravina. The Orsini family, prominent in Rome for many centuries, had already seen two of its members become popes Celestine III (119198) and Nicholas III (127780). Despite family opposition, Pietro abandoned his splendid inheritance to become Fra Vincenzo Maria of the Order of Preachers (1667). Like Aloysius Gonzaga, whom he later canonized, he gave all his rights of inheritance to his younger brother. Fra Vincenzo Maria proved to be an excellent religious and a dedicated student. He studied philosophy and theology at Naples, Bologna, and Venice. After these studies he taught philosophy at Brescia. But even if he had fled from his family's secular honors, his family saw to it that he received ecclesiastical honors. Clement X made him a cardinal at the age of 23. Three years later he became archbishop of Manfredonia, then of Cesena (1680), and then of Benevento (1686), where he remained for 38 years. In all his dioceses he strove to promote good discipline and morals in his flock. He loved Benevento and was charitable to its people. Living like a Dominican friar, he summoned two provincial councils and wrote three volumes of scholarly and spiritual works.

When elected pope after a conclave of more than two months, he accepted with the greatest reluctance, determined to preserve his monastic lifestyle. Benedict XIII was religiously well qualified for his lofty task, but he proved to have serious deficiencies in practical administration and diplomacy. While he fulminated against the use of wigs by the clergy and devoted himself to liturgical functions, a group of Beneventans made a good thing out of the pope's imprudent favors. The leader of these grafters was Niccolò Coscia, who had been Benedict's chancellor and secretary at Benevento. Coscia, later made a cardinal, had a great appetite for graft, a fact lost on the unworldly pontiff. Benedict XIII proved unsuccessful in his dealings with the powers. Although a great defender of Church rights in theory, he compromised on the monarchia sicula question and gave extensive privileges in ecclesiastical matters to the Court of Turin.

In matters more completely spiritual, Benedict XIII was eminent, taking delight in consecrating churches, administering the sacraments, and offering religious instruction. He took a firm stand against the Jansenists; fostered the progress of religious orders, approving, among others, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools; held a provincial council in Rome in 1725; and canonized many saints, including John of the Cross, the Latin Americans Turibius and Francis Solano, and the youths Stanislaus and Aloysius.

Bibliography: l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (London-St. Louis 193861) 34:98299. a. f. artaud de montor, The Lives and Times of the Popes, 10 v. (New York 191011) 6:230245. Bullarium Romanum (Magnum), ed. h. mainardi and c. cocquelines, 18 folio v. (Rome 173362)v.22. p. mikat, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 2:177. h. hemmer, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 2.1:704705. j. carreyre, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillat et al. (Paris 1912) 8:163164. f. heyer, The Catholic Church from 1648 to 1870 (London 1969). a. d. wright, The Early Modern Papacy: From the Council of Trent to the French Revolution, 15641789 (London 2000).

[j. s. brusher]