Pius IX, Pope, Bl.
PIUS IX, POPE, BL.
Pontificate, June 16, 1846, to Feb. 7, 1878; b. Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, Senigallia (Ancona), Italy, May 13, 1792.
Prepapal Career. Born into a family of the lower nobility with moderate reform tendencies, the future pope studied (1802–09) in Volterra at the college run by the Piarists until he suffered an epileptic attack. His health restored, he studied theology at the Roman College, which was not yet fully reorganized after the French occupation, and was ordained (April 10, 1819). Initiated into Ignatian spirituality by the saintly Cardinal Carlo Odescalchi, for a short time he thought of joining the Jesuits. He spent his first priestly years at the Roman orphanage of Tata Giovanni. Then as auditor he accompanied (1823–25) Msgr. Giovanni Muzi, apostolic delegate to Chile and Peru, where his interest in the missions was roused. After returning to Italy, he refused to continue a diplomatic career and took charge of the Roman hospice of San Michele. As archbishop of Spoleto (1827–32) he confronted the revolutionary troubles of 1831 mildly yet firmly. Transferred to Imola (1832) and made cardinal (1840), he guided the diocese zealously until 1846 and was well regarded in liberal circles for his administrative qualities, good will, and avoidance of party spirit. It has been claimed by some that he was won over to the national and liberal program of gioberti and Balbo by his friend Giuseppe Pasolini, but matters were not that clear-cut. Undoubtedly he disapproved the reactionary policies of gregory xvi and his secretary of state, Cardinal lambruschini, as well as their police regime in the states of the church. As early as 1845 he outlined administrative reforms (for the text, see A. Serafini, Pio IX, 1:1397–1406); but this program aimed to correct abuses rather than to modify structures. It did not envision political reforms or the introduction of a parliamentary regime, for lay participation in the government of the States of the Church seemed to him incompatible with the religious character of papal rule. Apparently he always regarded the program of neo-guelfism as chimerical and believed that a pope, as spiritual head of the faithful throughout the world, should not act as president of a federated Italian state. Yet the highly emotional Mastai Ferretti sympathized with Italian national aspirations, nourished by the Romantic movement, to shake off the official and officious yoke of Austria that weighed on the various states of the peninsula.
After Gregory XVI's death, the mounting agitation of Italian patriots and liberals stirred a group of cardinals led by bernetti to support, in opposition to Lambruschini, favorite of the reactionary Austrophiles, a cardinal disposed to make some concessions to the spirit of the times and a native of the States of the Church, and thereby to appear more independent of foreign influences. Since they erroneously regarded Gizzi as too advanced in his ideas, they upheld Mastai Ferretti, who on the first ballot received 15 votes to Lambruschini's 17 and emerged as pope the next day (June 16, 1846). He took the name Pius IX in remembrance of Pius VII, who had aided him in his youth. Pius IX's pontificate was long, eventful, and significant.
Conservatism of Pius IX. The new pope was an enlightened conservative. Some regarded him as a liberal, and for a while his actions seemed to justify them, because he signed an amnesty decree (July 17); named as secretary of state Cardinal Gizzi; chose as counselor Msgr. Giovanni Corboli-Bussi (1813–50), a young prelate open to new ideas; showed favor to Father venturadi raulica, an eloquent disciple of lamennais; and granted some ardently desired reforms, although this concession lacked a comprehensive plan. These limited gestures sufficed then to release mass enthusiasm. Heedless of the fact that the encyclical Qui pluribus (Nov. 9, 1846)s renewed Gregory XVI's condemnations of liberalism's fundamental principles, many saw in Pius IX, as Ozanam did, "the envoy sent by God to conclude the great business of the 19th century, the alliance of religion and liberty." All liberal Europe applauded the pope. For some months papal prestige attained its zenith, especially since Rome reached an agreement with the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the reestablishment of the Latin Patriarchate of jerusalem (October 1847); Rome also signed a relatively favorable concordat with Russia after negotiating since 1845. Enthusiasm was highest in Italy, where all manifestations against the Hapsburg and other reactionary regimes were accompanied with the cry "Viva Pio Nono!"
The myth of the liberal pope soon exploded. Despite concessions won by those who exploited Pius IX's yearning for popularity, it gradually became clear that the pope would refuse, in the name of the spiritual independence of the Holy See, to transform the States of the Church into a constitutional government and that he would never agree to participate actively in a war for Italian independence against Austria, because this would be incompatible with his role as common father of all the faithful, as he noted in his allocution of April 29, 1848. An economic depression and Pius IX's lack of political competence precipitated a crisis. After the assassination of the papal prime minister rossi by the radicals, the pope fled the uprising and took refuge in Gaeta in the kingdom of Naples (Nov. 24, 1848). Soon afterward Mazzini and his followers proclaimed the Roman Republic; but Pius IX, supported by European diplomacy and a French expeditionary force, reentered Rome (April 12, 1850). The papal regime, restored in an atmosphere of passionate resentment, justified Carboli-Bussi's designation of it as "reactionary and maladroit."
More important than the retrograde character of this political restoration was the changed mentality evident in Pius IX, whose preoccupation with religious reaction dominated and conditioned his ideas on political reaction. As often happened, he continued to allow his illusions to deceive him; and his entourage lost no opportunity to revive in his impressionable soul memories of the bloody Roman revolution. Apart from psychological considerations, the pope's theoretical conviction was reinforced, and so was his habitual distrust of principles whose dangerous results were becoming evident. Henceforth he was more firmly persuaded than ever that an intimate connection existed between the principles of the french revolution and the destruction of traditional values in the social, moral, and religious order. In this experience lay the seed of the entire Syllabus of Errors.
End of Temporal Power. The government of the States of the Church, directed by Cardinal antonelli,
secretary of state (1848–76), put into effect administrative improvements too little noted by 19th-century historians; but the educated classes were exasperated by a regime that accorded no political liberty to its citizens. It was not difficult for Cavour to exploit this situation to hasten Italian unification. After the annexation of Romagna (March 1860) and of the Marches after the battle of Castelfidardo (September 1860), French military aid permitted the retention of Rome and its environs for another decade by the pope, who did not cease protesting and demanding the restitution "pure and simple" of the "stolen" provinces. To realists who tried to persuade him that sooner or later he must negotiate, Pius IX opposed a mystical confidence in divine providence, nourished by the conviction that the political convulsions in which he was implicated were only an episode in the great battle between God and Satan, in which Satan's defeat was inevitable. The conflict of liberal and anticlerical Italy against the papal temporal power seemed to the pope a war of religion, in which resistance to what he described more and more freely as "the Revolution" was no longer a question of the equilibrium of diplomatic or military forces, but a matter for prayer. Although he was merciless in his judgment of the concrete manner in which Italy realized its unification under the lead of anticlerical Piedmont, Pius IX was never disinterested in the national cause; and to the astonishment of many of his counselors, he had to restrain himself from manifesting publicly his union of mind with certain aspirations of the heroes of the risorgimento. Italian troops took advantage of the Franco-Prussian War, occupied Rome (Sept. 20, 1870), and ended the papal temporal power. Pius IX, who regarded himself less as a dethroned sovereign than as the custodian of a property for which he was responsible to all Catholics, refused to bow to the fait accompli. After refusing to accept the Law of guarantees, proposed by Italy, he considered himself a prisoner in the Vatican.
Varied Activities. The roman question and the bitter politicoreligious conflicts with Italy that resulted from the official world's incomprehension of the Holy See's preoccupations by no means absorbed all Pius IX's energies. The essential part of his pontificate was on another plane, i.e., the internal guidance of the Church. He concluded concordats with Russia (1847), Spain (1851), Austria (1855), and several Latin American states. Further, he promoted Catholic reinvigoration in Germany, where the kulturkampf highlighted the new vitality of this Church, so weak only a half-century previously. He reestablished the hierarchy in England (1850) and in the Netherlands (1853), and erected 206 new dioceses and vicariates apostolic, notably in the U.S. and in British colonies. Under Vatican impulse missionary work expanded vigorously throughout the world.
Increased Centralization. Centralization of authority progressed continually and was one of the most striking phenomena of Pius IX's pontificate. It eliminated the remaining ecclesiastical particularism in various nations. This growth of Roman influence caused regrets among those who had known the advantages of pluralism; and it even aroused somewhat violent reactions in the Eastern Churches united with Rome, which did not acquiesce in the reduced autonomy of their bishops decreed in the bull Reversurus (1867). On the whole, this trend was beneficial in countries where the Church was weakened by the regalian traditions of the ancien régime. Diverse means were used after 1850 to accelerate this evolution, but the victory of ultramontanism over the last centers of resistance by gallicanism or febronianism has rightly been termed "the triumph of a man as much as that of a doctrine." In good part the explanation lies in the immense prestige, far surpassing that of any predecessors, that Pius IX enjoyed for more than a quarter-century among the Catholic masses and that manifested itself on the occasion of the pope's various anniversary jubilees: 50th as a priest (1869), 25th as pope (1871), 50th as bishop (1877). This prestige rested partly on the attractive personality of the pontiff, who multiplied personal contacts during innumerable private and group audiences, and partly on sympathy for his repeated misfortunes, such as the exile to Gaeta, the Piedmontese aggression, and the occupation of Rome, which led some to venerate him as a true martyr. In large segments of the Catholic world, above all in France, a true devotion to the pope resulted. This was a very important new phenomenon in Church history, which explains the facility with which the mass of the clergy and faithful rallied to the doctrine, obscured for centuries, of personal papal infallibility (see papacy).
The triumph of this movement toward closer and closer direction of the entire Church from Rome disquieted governments, which took it ill to see the local clergies freed from their control. The Kulturkampf in Germany, the rupture of the concordat in Austria, and numerous difficulties in Latin America are evidence of the vigorous reaction in some states, especially after 1870.
Shortcomings. Democratic opinion did not pardon Pius IX for his reversal of policy in 1848, and reproached him for the support supplied everywhere by the Church after 1848 to conservative parties, and especially for the repeated anathemas against modern liberties. Pius IX was maladroitly counseled by his advisers and failed to discriminate with the lucidity of leo xiii between rationalist liberalism and indifferentism, and the legitimate elements in Catholic liberalism, combined as they sometimes were with imprudences. As a result the pope proved unable to adapt the Church to the profound political and social evolution that kept intensifying from midcentury. On the contrary, as he advanced in years he tended more and more to identify the Church's misfortunes with the forms of government inspired by liberal principles, without taking into account the danger of so insistently presenting political realities as associated with the triumph of an anti-Christian philosophy. At Pius IX's death the Catholic Church, though strengthened within, appeared isolated in a hostile world, the more so since he did not succeed in imparting on the scientific level the impulse needed to react efficaciously against the progress of rationalism and positivism and to adapt certain traditional theological positions to contemporary intellectual movements, notably the progress of natural and historic sciences.
Doctrinal Accomplishments. Despite this grave lacuna, which caused Catholic teaching to lose precious time, Pius IX played an important doctrinal role. He issued warnings or condemnations against ontologism and traditionalism; against the teachings of certain philosophers and theologians, notably Anton gÜnther and frohschammer; and against the tendencies of the school of dÖllinger (Tuas libenter, Dec. 21, 1863). These measures favored the restoration of neoscholasticism. Pius IX also published numerous encyclicals and allocutions, which constitute a much more complete and systematic ensemble than Gregory XVI's, although they lack Leo XIII's originality. The pope also took frequent occasion to recall the principles that should guide the restoration of society, particularly in the encyclical quanta cura and the accompanying syllabus of errors, both of which were the objects of passionate discussions. In addition Pius IX solemnly defined the immaculate conception (Dec. 8, 1854), which promoted a flowering of Marian devotion. Above all he convoked vatican council i (1869–70), important for its definition of papal primacy and infallibility, on which most contemporary attention concentrated, and also for its constitution De fide catholica, which was characteristic of Pius IX's positive contribution and marked a strong effort to eliminate the last traces of the naturalistic deism of the enlightenment and to refocus Catholic thought on the fundamental data of revelation.
Spiritual Achievements. This vast doctrinal effort had its counterpart in Pius IX's parallel effort to deepen the clergy's spiritual life and to stimulate the devotion of the faithful. The greatest of the many changes in the Church during his pontificate was the deepening spiritual quality of average Catholic life. Among the many factors contributing to this development, the pope's personal role was important, because he appeared to all as an exemplar of piety, and still more because he consecrated a good part of his efforts to activate and sometimes to hasten the evolution that followed the great revolutionary crisis. Precisely because he believed the success of this work permitted no concession to modern ideas, he always maintained an intransigent attitude, often without nuances.
Conclusion. Pius IX during his lifetime was exalted as a saint and criticized as a vain autocrat and unintelligent puppet maneuvered by obtuse reactionaries. A threefold disadvantage always impeded him. From his childhood malady he retained an excessive emotionalism, which explains his propensity to heed the most recent advice; yet when duty required, he could be unyielding in the face of difficulties. Second, like most Italian ecclesiastics of his generation, he had made only superficial studies, and he had scarcely an idea of modern scientific methods. As a result he did not always take into account the complexities of questions and the relativity of some theses. He was not, however, deficient in intellectual interests or in finesse; hence he grasped concrete situations with good sense when they were accurately presented. Unfortunately, his entourage constituted his third disadvantage; for if the men in his confidence were generally pious and zealous, they also tended to be quixotic or intransigent, theorists without practical viewpoints. Apart from these limitations Pius IX possessed numerous good qualities and merits. Notable were his touching simplicity, his great goodness, his serene courage in adversity, his lively practical intelligence, and his fervor that aroused the admiration of all who saw him at prayer and corresponded with his intimate sentiments. Still more remarkable were his pastoral virtues, his care to act always as a priest, and even under the torment of the Roman question to comport himself not as a sovereign defending his throne, but as a man of the Church cognizant of his responsibility before God for the defense of Christian values menaced by the rise of laicism, rationalism, and impiety. His admirers soon after his death introduced his cause for beatification. He was declared venerable in 1985, and was beatified by John Paul II, along with Pope John XXIII, on Sept. 3, 2000.
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