Leo XIII, Pope

views updated


Pontificate, Feb. 20, 1878, to July 20, 1903; b. Gioacchino Vincenzo Pecci, Carpineto (Frosinone), central Italy; March 2, 1810.

Prepapal Career. He was the sixth of seven sons of Col. Ludovico Pecci and Anna Prosperi Buzi. His family was noble but by no means wealthy. After his early education at the Jesuit college in Viterbo (181824), he studied at Rome in the Romain College (182432). Admitted in 1832 to the Accademia dei Nobili ecclesiastici, he pursued studies in theology and in civil and Canon Law at the University of the Sapienza (183237). In 1837 he was ordained and was appointed a domestic prelate. In January of 1838, Gregory XVI, who had remarked his courage during the cholera epidemic of the previous year, appointed him apostolic delegate to Benevento in the states of the church. There Msgr. Pecci proved energetic in controlling banditry and the intrigues of the liberals. Transferred to the same function in Perugia (1841), he faced similar problems. By his capable administration and economic improvements, building roads and establishing a savings bank for farmers, he won the affection of the populace.

Consecrated titular archbishop of Damietta, he went to Belgium as nuncio in January of 1843. The most delicate question confronting him was that of education. Pecci supported the bishops and Catholic politicians in opposition to Prime Minister Nothomb, who wished to confer on the government the right of naming members of "University Juries." So discontented was the king at the defeat of this project that he demanded the recall of the nuncio, whose attitude had helped check the entente between moderate liberals and Catholics known as unionism.

Pecci's three years in Brussels were of considerable importance in developing his later outlook as pope. They represented his sole contact with industrial Europe, save for brief sojourns in the Rhineland, London, and Paris. Conditions in Belgium led him to reflect on the situation of Catholics elsewhere who lived under political regimes with liberal institutions.

Quitting Brussels (May 1846) Pecci went to Perugia, where he remained as archbishop until 1878. He showed special interest in clerical formation. Under the auspices of his brother Joseph, a Jesuit and professor at the seminary, he favored the renewal of thomism and established the Academy of St. Thomas in 1859. During the revolutionary events of 185960 he reaffirmed the legitimacy of the papal temporal power and protested firmly but not abusively the religious policy of the Italian government. At vatican council i he voted with the majority, but was not an outstanding member. Cardinal antonelli, secretary of state, believed Pecci's policies hostile to his and kept him from Rome. The archbishop's pastoral letters (187677) on the Church and civilization, emphasizing that the Church must enter the current of modern civilization, drew wide attention. A cardinal from 1853, he became camerlengo in the Roman Curia (Sept. 9,1877) while retaining his see. At the conclave following Pius IX's death, he was papabile as candidate of the moderates. After receiving 19 votes on the first ballot, compared with six given to the next most favored choice, Cardinal bilio, he emerged as pope after the third ballot, with 44 of the 61 votes.

Pontificate. Leo XIII's pontificate, foreseen as a brief transitional one, lasted more than 25 years and came to be ranked among the most significant in recent times because of his numerous teachings, acts of initiative, and

exceptional prestige. Patient, conciliatory, and wise in choosing opportune solutions to problems and then abiding by them, the pontiff displayed a strong will and calm energy in his actions.

In line with Pius IX he favored devotion to the sacred heart. His encyclical Annum Sacrum (May 25, 1899) consecrated the whole human race to the Sacred Heart. Nine encyclicals concerned devotion to the Blessed Virgin mary and to the rosary. The encyclical Auspicato concessum (Sept. 17, 1882) renewed the Franciscan Third Order.

Missions received much attention. Leo's pontificate coincided with the apogee of colonialism. To speed the abolition of African slavery he published two encyclicals, In plurimis (May 5, 1888) to the Brazilian hierarchy, and Catholicae Ecclesiae (Nov. 20, 1890). A concordat (June 23, 1886) restrained the king of Portugal's right of padroado in India solely to Portugese possessions (see patronato real; goa). In the same year the pope established the hierarchy in India. The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith reorganized the missions in China, but the French protectorate over Catholics in China would not permit (1886) the erection of a nunciature in Beijing.

Leo XIII had high hopes of reunion with the Oriental and Slavic Churches. Bishop strossmayer urged the Pontiff to display his interest in them. The encyclical Grande munus (Sept. 30, 1880) recalled the Holy See's approval of the apostolic methods of SS. cyril and methodius. The Eucharistic Congress in Jerusalem (1893) and the apostolic letter Orientalium (Nov. 30, 1894), which dealt with rites questions, reaffirmed hope for reunion, which did not materialize.

A papal commission was appointed (1895) to study anglican orders. The apostolic letter denying their validity (apostolicae curae, Sept. 13, 1896) discouraged prospects for union with anglicanism.

In the intellectual order the encyclical aeternipatris (Aug. 4, 1879) was decisive in importance. Urged by his brother Cardinal Joseph Pecci and by Father liberatore, Leo XIII sought renewal of philosophical thought in the Church on the basis of Thomism and an assurance of sound doctrinal teaching in seminaries. In Thomism he perceived the body of thought that he wished used in opposition to liberalism on the political and social planes. The reorganization of the Roman Academy of St. Thomas (1886), the nomination of mercier to a chair of Thomism at Louvain (1882), the condemnation (1887) of propositions extracted from the works of rosmini-serbati, who had a following in northern Italy, were all part of the program to restore Thomism.

The opening of the vatican archives in 1881 to historians demonstrated concretely Leo XIII's eagerness to promote scholarly research.

The encyclical providentissimus deus (Nov. 18, 1893) explained the paths open to biblical exegesis. The creation (1902) of the pontifical biblical commission marked a stiffer policy, a solicitude for watching over the labors of exegetes at the time modernism was developing.

The organization of society and the relations between church and state called forth the famous encyclicals diuturnum (June 29, 1881), immortale dei (Nov. 1, 1885), libertas (June 20, 1888), and Sapientiae christianae (Jan. 10, 1890), which reaffirmed the condemnations of the principles of liberalism by Gregory XVI and Pius IX. They recalled also the divine origin of authority and the proper union between Church and State, both "perfect" societies. The encyclicals further demonstrated that the Church is not hostile to any form of government. Also they contrasted "legitimate and honest liberty" with "immoderate liberty" that refuses all reference to God and admits the coexistence of diverse cults. Especially did the pope urge Catholics to accept existing institutions in view of the common good, to participate in political life, and to make use of the liberal institutions of the press and the parliamentary systems of government in the interest of the Church.

Social questions were also the topic of papal encyclicals that gained wide attention even from unbelievers. Quod Apostolici muneris (Dec. 28, 1878) condemned socialism. Arcanum (Feb. 10, 1880) defined the Christian concept of the family. rerum novarum (May 15, 1891), published three years after the letter to Cardinal gibbons concerning the knights of labor, was Leo XIII's most important social pronouncement. Directed against socialism and economic liberalism, it drew its inspiration from the Catholic social studies at the Union of Fribourg and imparted a strong impulse to the Christian Social Movement (see social thought, papal).

Christian Democracy arose in Belgium, France, and Italy. The encyclical Graves de communi re (Jan. 18, 1901) accepted the term Christian Democracy, but denied to it all political significance by defining it as "beneficent Christian action in favor of the people."

Leo XIII and States. The policy of the pope and his successive secretaries of state (franchi, nina, jacobini, rampolla) was dominated by the contrast between an intransigent attitude on the roman question and a search for a solution to the conflicts with various governments that had arisen at the close of Pius IX's pontificate.

No sooner was Leo XIII elected than he protested against the situation confronting the pope in Rome. After several attempts at conciliation failed, he despaired of a settlement of the Roman Question by direct negotiations with the Kingdom of Italy. From this point of view the year 1887 and the appointment of Cardinal Rampolla as secretary of state were decisive. Henceforth the pontiff sought in vain to pose the problem on an international plane, placing his hopes in Germany after the kulturkampf subsided, and then in France. For Italian Catholics he maintained the policy of non expedit, requiring abstention from political elections. Italian Catholics developed a civil sense, however, by social action in the Opera dei Congressi.

The Kulturkampf ended in Germany after long negotiations. The Center Party wanted the complete abolition of the May Laws. Leo XIII was content with partial, compromise settlements in 1880 and 1883. Only in 1887 was there formal revision of the May Laws.

In Belgium and France the pope had to withstand a reign of anticlericalism. The Belgian school law (1879) occasioned a conflict that led to the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Vatican in June of 1880. Despite this, Leo XIII invited intransigent Belgian Catholics to accept the constitution of their country. It was in this period that a truly Catholic party was formed whose success at the polls (1884) resulted in the renewal of diplomatic relations.

In France Leo XIII urged moderation on Catholics at the time of the vote on the lay laws. After hopes for a restored monarchy proved vain and Boulangism failed, the pope pressed French Catholics to accept the Third Republic. From the Algiers Toast pronounced by Cardinal lavigerie (Nov. 12, 1890) to the encyclical Au Milieu des sollicitudes (Feb. 16, 1892), he promoted the ralliement. This policy was stalemated, at least for a while, by dissensions among French Catholics, by their attitude on the Dreyfus case and by the new wave of anticlericalism that led to the vote (1901) on the Law of Associations and to the accession of Combes as premier.

Relations were strained with Austria-Hungary, which was particularly defiant of Cardinal Rampolla. Improved Vatican relations with Russia, a condition for reunion with the Orthodox Churches, disturbed the court of Vienna.

Leo XIII on many occasions expressed his favorable sentiments toward the United States. He followed closely the growth of Catholicism there, as he made clear by naming Msgr. satolli as apostolic delegate (1893) and by the encyclical Longinqua (Jan. 6, 1895). Disputes over americanism were ended by the letter testem benevolentiae (Jan. 22, 1899).

Relations with Latin American nations improved. In 1899 an important council met in Rome representing the Church of this area.

Leo XIII envisioned an important role for the papacy in international affairs. On many occasions he recalled the Church's mission as peacemaker and pointed out the costs of an armed peace. His sole success, however, was the Roman mediation (1885) in the dispute between the German empire and Spain over the Caroline Islands. When the Hague Peace Conference met in 1899, the pope was not invited because of the opposition of the Italian government. Thus the Roman Question prevented the papacy from enjoying its sought-after international role.

Papal prestige, symbolized by the white, ascetic silhouette of Leo XIII, considerably increased during his pontificate. Commentaries from the entire world at the time of the pope's death gave proof of this. Despite setbacks, Leo XIII's pontificate planted seeds that were eventually to grow into an abundant harvest.

Bibliography: Sources. Acta Sanctae Sedis, v.1135. (Rome 18781903). Acta Leonis XIII, 24 v. (Rome 18811905). The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII (New York 1903). a. mercati, Raccolta di Concordati (Rome 1954) 1:100191, [72][90]. a. simon, ed., Documents relatifs à la Nonciature de Bruxelles (Brussels 1958); Lettres de Pecci, 184346 (Brussels 1959). m. c. carlen, Dictionary of Papal Pronouncements, 18781957 (New York 1958). Literature. c. t'serclaes, Le Pape Léon XIII, 3 v. (Paris 18941906). d. ferrata, Mémoires (Paris 1922). e. soderini, Il pontificato di Leone XIII, 3 v. (Milan 193233); tr. b. b. carter,v.1 The Pontificate of Leo XIII (London 1934), v.2 Leo XIII, Italy and France (1935), v.3 not tr. g. goyau, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 9.1:334359. j. schmidlin, Papstgeschichte der neuesten Zeit, 18001939 (Munich 193339) v.2. k. s. latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age: A History of Christianity in the 19th and 20th Centuries v.1. h. daniel-rops, L'Église des révolutions: Un Combat pour Dieu, 18701939 (Histoire de l'Église du Christ 6.2; Paris 1963). a. dansette, Religious History of Modern France, tr. j. dingle (New York 1961) v.2. É. lecanuet, L'Église de France sous le Troisième République (Paris 193031) v.24. a. c. jemolo, Church and State in Italy, 18501950, tr. d. moore (Philadephia 1960). f. fonzi, I cattolici e la società italiana dopo l'unità (Rome 1953). f. engel-janosi, Österreich und der Vatikan, 18461918, 2 v. (Graz 195860) v.1. e. winter, Russland und die slawischen Völker in der Diplomatic des Vatikans 18781903 (Berlin 1950). c. crispolti and g. aureli, eds., La politica di Leone XIII da Luigi Galimberti a Mariano Rampolla (Rome 1912). f. mourret, Les Directions politiques, intellectuelles, et sociales de Léon XIII (Paris 1920). a. chih, L'Occident "chrétien" vu par les Chinois vers la fin du XIX e siècle, 18701900 (Paris 1962). r. esposito, Leone XIII e l'oriente christiano (Rome 1960). r. aubert, "Aspects divers du néo-thomisme sous le pontificat de Léon XIII," Aspetti della cultura cattolica nell'età di Leone XIII, ed. g. rossini (Rome 1961) 133227; Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 6:953956. g. pell, Rerum novarum: One Hundred Years Later (Boston 1992). p. furlong and d. curtis, eds., The Church Faces the Modern World: Rerum novarum and its Impact (United Kingdom 1994). m. launay, La papauté à l'aube du XXe siècle: Léon XIII et Pie X (18781914) (Paris 1997).

[j. m. mayeur]