Benedict XIV, Pope (1675-1758)

views updated

Benedict XIV, Pope (1675-1758)

Pope Benedict XIV, born Prospero Lambertini of a noble Italian family, is credited with making the first modern objective "scientific" studies of the paranormal in Italy. Lambertini became one of the best educated people of his day, attaining doctorates in both law and theology. Ordained to the priesthood, he became bishop, cardinal (1728), then archbishop of Bologna (1731). From 1702 to 1722 he served as the "devil's advocate" in a series of cases of people proposed for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. Among the issues the Church investigated in that process were alleged miraculous occurrences credited to the candidate proposed for sainthood.

Lambertini quickly gained a reputation as one who admitted the possibility of miracles but took a very skeptical view of reports of paranormal phenomena. He refused to regard as a "miracle" any event that could result from natural phenomena. He made independent studies of luminous phenomena, nonconventional healings, and extrasensory perception (ESP ). He came to see ESP as a natural phenomenon neither spiritually nor diabolically based. He capped his career with the publication of a four-volume work, De Canonization Santorum (1734-38), which had a marked effect upon the thinking of the Church on miracles in a still very superstitious age.

Lambertini was elected to the papal chair in 1740. He gained a reputation as an educated and witty leader and earned the approbation of Voltaire, who dedicated one of his plays to him.


Haynes, R. Philosopher King: The Humanist Pope Benedict XIV. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1970.