Benedict XIV, Pope
BENEDICT XIV, POPE
Pontificate: Aug. 17, 1740, to May 3, 1758; b. Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, Bologna, March 31, 1675. He
came of a noble Bolognese family. After an early education from tutors, he was sent to the Collegium Clementinum in Rome, where he studied for four years. In 1694 he received the doctorate in theology and law from the University of Rome.
He began his public career as an assistant lawyer in Rome during the pontificate of innocent xii. Among the eleven offices he held under clement xi and innocent xiii, the first two were of special significance. In 1701 Clement appointed him consistorial advocate for two canonizations and in 1708, Promoter of the Faith. In the latter office he had charge of all canonizations until 1727. Seeing the need for a record of such work, he wrote De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, (On the Beatification and Canonization of the Servants of God) which is still an important book.
In 1724, when nearly 50, he was ordained a priest. In 1728 Benedict XIII created him a cardinal, having appointed him archbishop of Ancona in 1727. Four years later Clement XII transferred him to Bologna as archbishop. In both archdioceses he showed zeal and devotion. He sought to improve the spiritual state of his people, for example, by visiting even remote villages and later checking to see that the proposed changes had been made. He held synods and from that experience published another important book, De synodo diocesana (The Diocesan Synod), in 1748.
When elected pope in one of the longest conclaves since the Middle Ages, he chose the name Benedict in honor of Benedict XIII, who had named him to the college of cardinals. He faced the aggressive monarchs who sent armies through the Papal States in the War of Austrian Succession, but he could only protest this violation of neutrality and distribute alms to his suffering people. During preceding pontificates rulers had also sought to gain supremacy over the Church in their kingdoms, but Benedict acted quickly regarding this problem. Before 1740 ended he had begun new negotiations with the kings of Savoy, Naples, and Spain. Because of his willingness to make concessions concordats were signed with Savoy and Naples in 1741. The negotiations with Spain proved more difficult. Finally the concordat was signed in 1753, with Benedict making concessions for which he has been criticized. However, a complete rupture, which he feared, would have hampered the spiritual work of the Church. Furthermore, only reluctantly did he make new cardinals on the basis of foreign pressure. Ranke praised Benedict's ability to understand how much he must concede and how much he must retain without weakening the papacy. This was particularly clear in his diplomatic handling of the crisis between the French bishops and the parliaments over the refusal of Sacraments to persons suspected of jansenism. When the government asked him to send instructions to the bishops in an encyclical rather than a bull, he complied in 1756.
In the Papal States he sought to reform the Administration. He improved living conditions by having granaries built in all villages and towns, roads repaired, and necessary commodities exported without fees. A great deal was done to preserve historic objects and buildings: statues were purchased for the Capitoline Museum and a picture gallery added; a Museum of Christian Antiquities was established in the Vatican Palace; and both major and minor churches in Rome and other cities were restored. According to Montesquieu he was "the scholars' pope." He founded four academies where papers were read about the Church and Roman history, purchased manuscripts and books for the Vatican Library, and improved the University of Rome. At his suggestion new editions and books were published. Meanwhile, he replenished the treasure of Sixtus V in the Castel Sant' Angelo.
Above all he was a good pastor. Unlike his predecessor or his successor, Benedict did not succumb to nepotism. By instructions and by example he showed his great interest in the spiritual life. Two months after his election he established a congregation to select worthy bishops and a month later, another congregation to answer bishops' questions. His briefs to bishops emphasized their duties: the training of priests, visiting of parishes, and promoting of missions and other religious exercises. The bulls of 1742 and 1744 suppressed the pagan chinese and malabar rites used by natives who had been converted to Christianity; thus a long controversy was ended. A bull in 1745 answered arguments about usury; one in 1746 pertained to the residence of bishops in their dioceses; another in 1748, to mixed marriages. He set an example for spiritual growth by his simple living, humility, and charitable attitude toward others.
No pope before him left so full a written record about himself. There are extant 760 personal letters to Cardinal Tencin in France and many others to Italian friends. The letters reveal his sarcasm and humor, about which so much has been written, but the letters also show his good characteristics. There is no discrepancy between his own statements about his duties and the judgments of men who had seen his work, such as Charles de Brosses of France and Francesco Venier, the Venetian ambassador.
Bibliography: Opera, ed. j. silvester, 17 v. (Prato, Italy 1839–47). l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (London-St. Louis 1938–61) 35–36 l. von ranke, The History of the Popes During the Last Four Centuries, tr. mrs. foster, ed. g. r. dennis, 3 v. v.23. f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 154. p. mikat, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:177178. j. carreyre, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillat et al. (Paris 1912–) 8:164167. t. bertone, Il governo della Chiesa nel pensiero di Benedetto XIV (Rome 1978). r. haynes, Philosopher King: The Humanist Pope Benedict XIV (London 1970). s. borsi, ed. Roma di Benedetto XIV (Rome 1993). m. cecchelli, Bendetto XIV (Cento 1982).
[m. l. shay]