A Short History of the Papacy by dfhrf555fcg


									                     A Short History of the Papacy
                            c. 1760 – 1850

                                       Nigel Cave


The first part of this essay is designed to be a brief résumé of the Papacy and the trends of
intellectual thought directly concerning it before the main period under discussion.
The Council of Trent in the mid sixteenth century has often been condemned for being the
cause of stagnation in the Church, which is obviously ludicrous if one thinks about it. Trent
was the Church’s response to the Protestant reformers of the first half of the century, most
notably to Calvin, who was a far more coherent thinker than Luther (Melancthon was the great
Lutheran organiser and theologian, though undoubtedly Luther provided the original impetus).
Since there was now something specific to reply to, Trent tackled those doctrinal issues in
dispute, amongst other matters debated. It also carried out significant reform. The fact that
there was no Council for another three hundred years is hardly the fault of the Fathers at
Trent (after all, the Lateran Council had only been thirty or so years earlier). However, it is
true that the Council was ended by the connivance of the Popes (worried about a re-
emergence of the Conciliar Movement) and the great Princes. The fact was that the Popes
were pretty helpless about imposing the decrees of the Council; this was very much at the
whim of the secular authorities: for example the reform decrees of Trent were not (almost)
fully adopted in France for almost 150 years after the Council ended.
The reality of religion in Western Europe at the time (and in their colonies) was that the State
was what determined the institutional operation of the Church within its dominions, unless it
happened to be weak – such as in Poland. Catholic rulers had almost as much authority over
the Church as their Protestant counterparts, and this particularly applied to the appointment to
the major benefices, such as bishoprics and abbeys. (Louis XVIth is said to have replied
when a particularly disreputable man was suggested for the Archbishopric of Paris that he
‘ought at least to believe in God’!) The higher reaches of the Church were riddled with
abuses, more the fault of the state (which had the effective authority) than the Church. To this
it could be retorted that the Papacy connived in this arrangement with the series of
Concordats that it signed with secular princes. The great flaw in these treaties was that they
were dependent on being observed by both parties, which they rarely were for more than a
limited period. In addition, almost by definition, they were compromises, and the Papacy was
rarely in a position to do much more than protest when the clauses of a Concordat were not
To oversimplify, the interests of the states and the interest of some clerics in a Conciliar
Church soon provided a range of ‘isms’ that dominate from the middle sixteenth century
through to our own times. The main ones are as follows; be aware that the definitions are
extracted in large measure from the vigorously orthodox Catholic Encyclopeadia by Robert
Brodrick, published in 1976.

This is the common name given to the theory that the state has supremacy over the Church in
ecclesiastical affairs. The name comes from a Swiss writer, Thomas Erastus (1524 – 1583)
who first proposed the theory in Church-State relations. The theory was already a practicality
in parts of Germany and to an extent in Henrician (ie Henry VIII) England, but was now
articulated in philosophical and theological terms. It was of course useful for all rulers who
sought to exercise control over the Church and was an updated version of the secular ruler’s
side of the argument in the Investiture Conflict of the High Middle Ages. Erastus did argue
that officials should consult Church scholars etc, but this was mere decoration. It is worth
noting that whilst the theory was acceptable to Lutheranism (a more coherent expression, in
many ways, of Luther’s view of Church government) it was fiercely opposed by both the
Papacy and Calvin.
The originator of this term was Cornelius Jansen, the Bishop of Ypres. In 1640 his book
Augustinus was published posthumously. Put extremely simply the teachings in it were based
on the denial of man’s ability to resist temptation and the rejection of the doctrine that Christ
died for all men. Innocent X condemned it in 1654. Later the followers of Jansenism practised
austerities and argued that only people with perfect contrition could receive Confession and
Holy Communion. It was a harsh and inflexible teaching which seemed contrary to the
understanding of actual grace and the freedom of the individual. Its most common symbol
was the crucifix with the hands stretched out vertically above the head. The movement was in
particular strong in France and the Netherlands and Germany; and its influence is still evident
in rigoristic moral teachings. It led to some degree to Quietism, which was especially popular
at the court of Louis XIV at the tail end of the seventeenth century. This argued that the
Christian spiritual ideal of perfection lay in the complete passivity of the soul: Let God act. The
minimum of personal action on the part of the individual becomes the ideal of sanctity. The
error lay in the thought that a continuous act of love being made or attained does away with
other acts of virtue. Quietism was condemned by the Pope in 1687. Despite its condemnation,
Jansenism remained a significant force throughout the eighteenth century, particularly in

This term refers to the teachings in a work The Gallican Liberties (1682), and has its origins in
France. Again, it is a more modern version of the secular side of the argument which raged in
the Middle Ages. Essentially Gallicanism was an attack on the Temporal Power of the
Papacy. It sought the supremacy of ecumenical councils over the authority of the Pope; an
independent position for the Gallican churches; and restriction of the Pope’s authority on
matters of faith. It was condemned by Alexander VIII in 1690. It has now become a shorthand
term for any case where a national church claims authority at the expense of the Holy See.

The Enlightenment and the Encyclopaedists
The first term is often expressed in terms of The Age of the Enlightenment. It relates more or
less to the last years of the seventeenth and the bulk of the eighteenth centuries and is also
known as the Age of Reason. Like all movements it is easy to look at the extreme viewpoint,
but these people were often extremely influential. From this viewpoint the intellectual world
placed new emphasis upon humanism (not to be confused with all the modern connotations
of that word). The moral and social sciences had the same exactness as were to be found in
the natural laws of the physical sciences. People then tried to rationalise concerning religion,
ethics and the natural law. This often led to secularism and a mode of thinking that dismissed
revealed religion as outmoded and an obstacle to social development. Thus human reason
was the arbiter of the nature of religion, social sciences and political and economic life. Deism
and atheism became the ‘natural’ course and replaced revelation and Christian concepts.
The Encyclopaedists were a group of intellectuals who wrote articles for the French
Encyclopedie (1751 – 1765); chief among the contributors were Voltaire († 1778), Rousseau
(† 1778) and Diderot († 1784). Whether intended or not, they introduced a trend of infidelity to
the Church and certainly prepared the thinking on irreligion that dominated the French
Revolution. A number denied the divinity of Christ (though Voltaire had a chapel built on his
estate so that he could attend his Easter duties) and some reduced religion to a highly
individualistic concern between the person and God. They denied the teaching of the Church
on Original Sin and praised material progress and scientific method.

This theory appeared in 1763; Febronius was the pen name of a canon lawyer and an
auxiliary bishop in Trier, John von Hontheim. Initially the work argued in favour of the authority
of Bishops in their own diocese, who would only refer to Rome on important matters, and in
any case the Pope would be subject to a General Council. He then extended this Episcopal
authority to the state or ruler. Eventually he was identified and summoned to Rome where he
somewhat reluctantly recanted, but continued to correspond with those who used his theories
in Austria. In the end, and on his deathbed, he reconciled himself to the Church.
This was a compilation of a number of the above theories (in particular Febronianism), which
arrived at the conclusion that the State was supreme in all matters concerning the internal
and external affairs of the Church. The Emperor Joseph I forbade bishops to appeal to Rome,
abolished all legal appeals to the Holy See, removed the authority of the church in, for
example marriage, and suppressed all religious houses which were considered to be socially
useless – ie mainly monastic houses. Some, like the great abbey at Melk, survived by
becoming centres of scholarship. He closed about 700 houses; to be fair, the money he
thereby gained was used, by and large, far more effectively and charitably than by, say,
Henry VIII! He organised a committee to regulate public worship and limited the number of
religious permitted to live in Austria to 3,750 [this did not apply to his kingdoms outside of
Austria, though a similar policy, to varying degrees, was implemented throughout the Empire].
Towards the end of the reign (1790) he attempted to reverse significant elements of this
policy, but it was all too late.

Ultramontanism (Ultramontinism)
This word first came into use in the seventeenth century and the nuances of its meaning have
varied over the decades. It broadly covers the movement within the Church that stresses
papal authority over episcopal jurisdictions. It was the antithesis of the Gallican movement
which would at its extreme set up independent national churches almost entirely independent
of Rome (a possible analogy would be the role of the Queen in the Commonwealth). During
the period under discussion ultramontanism was of particular relevance as the spiritual
authority of the Popes was enhanced and there was a tendency for the Church to be
disestablished. From the middle of the nineteenth century the term came to be associated
with those in favour of Papal Infallibility.

As a general comment, I would point out that the interpretation by people of what these ‘isms’
mean can be rather subjective and the ideal is to read the relevant works yourselves. Bonne

The early eighteenth century Popes

Although some of this might not appear directly relevant, a short survey of the Popes in this
century helps to show how things changed so dramatically in the period 1790 – 1820.
Rosmini’s background was in this earlier phase, although of course he lived through the
transformation: it might be self-evident to us now but was not then, when at one time it looked
a serious possibility that institutional Roman Catholicism might be on the verge of destruction
in the cataclysmic events of the Terror and subsequently.

These eighteenth century Popes are:

       Clement XI, 1700-1721
       Innocent XIII, 1721 – 1724
       Benedict XIII, 1724 – 1730
       Clement XII, 1730 – 1740
       Benedict XIV, 1740 – 1758
       Clement XIII, 1758 – 1769
       Clement XIV, 1769 – 1774

In all the conclaves it is important to remember that France, Spain and the Holy Roman
Emperor effectively exercised vetoes on the election of men of whom they strongly
disapproved. It was a consideration that the College had to bear in mind up to and including
the election of Pius X (when a favoured candidate amongst the Cardinals was effectively
disbarred by the opposition of the Emperor of Austria) less than a hundred years ago: though
the Pope felt strong enough then to abolish this power. Not all the Popes above feature in the
following section.

The long pontificate of Clement XI witnessed the shattering of the political power of the
papacy in many respects: Italy became a battleground once more in the War of the Spanish
Succession, and the Pope was unwillingly forced to make concessions to a range of
monarchs. On the spiritual side he worked hard on relations with the Eastern church; and was
an enlightened ruler. Amongst other areas, he was a pioneer in prison reform, building a new
prison (St Michael’s) which was for young males only, who had separate cells at night and ran
on the novel principle that punishment must be directed towards reformation of the individual.
Benedict XIII, a Dominican, genuinely did not want the job. He was seventy five and had
been a (model) bishop for fifty years and a Cardinal for longer. So far as possible he wanted
to keep the Papacy out of political conflicts, from a perspective of principle rather than
weakness. Unfortunately, his chief advisor, Cardinal Coscia, ‘set a shocking example of
venality and vice’ – something which was obvious to everyone except the rather naive Pope.
Benedict spent hardly anything on himself. In church matters he helped to bring the Melkite
patriarchy back to unity with Rome. Clement XII was only elected after a conclave of four
months during which time the opposition of the Emperor had to be overcome. He was seventy
eight when he was elected; two years later he went blind and after a few months he was also
confined to bed. Yet he was very active: JP II could go on for years! He built a woman’s
prison on similar lines to that of St Michael’s and engaged in considerable public works in
Rome (eg the west front of St John’s Lateran) and spent vast sums from his own patrimony
on, for example, famine relief in Rome in 1735. He had considerable problems with various
princes – for example Philip V of Spain. The Venetian Ambassador was moved to comment:
          There was something unnatural in the sight of all the Catholic sovereigns taking up an
          attitude of hostility towards the court of Rome … they are going fast towards depriving
          the Holy See of all its temporal prerogatives.’
He worked to enrich the Vatican libraries with sources from the Eastern Church, continued the
work of his predecessors with the Greek Orthodox in general and is best remembered for the
spread of the custom of the stations of the cross in churches, fixing the number at fourteen.
Benedict XIV was an outstanding Pope. He was 65 and Archbishop of Bologna; an influential
historian and canonist and left writings that are of importance even today. He is also notable
for a good sense of humour and of the ridiculous, not a particularly common trait amongst any
rulers or politicians. He was an astute political operator, making the most of what was a
generally rather weak position. He earned admiration from all sorts of unlikely sources: the
Sultan of Turkey thought him outstanding. [Neither here nor there, but interesting anyway. In
Istanbul there is a memorial to a later Benedict, the XVth, for his work in safeguarding the
interests of all prisoners of war.] Voltaire rated him intellectually, describing him as Head of
the True Faith. Some years before Benedict’s death, Voltaire wrote his epitaph:
          Lambertini [his name was Prosper Lambertini], the pride of Rome and the father of
          the world, who taught mankind by his writings and honoured it by his virtues.
He dealt with matters in the Orthodox Church and forbade Latin priests to encourage
Orientals to leave their own rite. His encyclical Allatae sunt stated: We desire most intensely
that all should be Catholics but not that all should be Latins. He regularised the canonisation
process and standardised canon law within the dioceses. He officially made St George Patron
of England. He approved new congregations such as the Passionists and Redemptorists,
founded the Vatican Museum and appointed a woman as Professor of Mathematics in
Bologna University, a first by decades over any other European state. Horace Walpole wrote
of him, a man whom neither wit nor power could spoil. The Pontificate of Clement XIII was
very troubled. He was 65 when he came to the throne; a sound administrator and a
conscientious man, combated both the Encyoplaedists and the Gallican bishops in France
and established the Feast of the Sacred Heart. He made the last Stuart (‘Henry IX’), Henry, a
Cardinal. [This latter was a very effective Bishop of Frascati. During the turbulent times
following the French invasions, George III made him a pensioner and George IV erected a
statue to him in Frascati.] He is best remembered for the real problems he faced with secular
rulers over the Jesuits. Just before he died he was faced with demands from Portugal, Spain,
France and Naples for the complete suppression of the SJs; many of the rulers of these
countries had already suppressed them in their own territories, and the Papal States were
awash with literally thousands of Jesuits. A consistory was summoned to deal with the matter,
but the evening before it was due to meet the Pope died from a stroke. The conclave that
followed was long and tortuous, lasting three months and resulted in the election of Clement
XIV. Rulers further bullied him and he faced the threat of schism in France and Spain. Austria
withdrew its support; so he determined on the least of all evils, which was an administrative
suppression – in other words, although the charges against the Jesuits were listed, the Holy
See made no judgement on them. Fortunately for the Jesuits, Catherine the Great of Russia
refused to allow the brief of suppression, and so they maintained a line of continuity in Russia.
Perhaps the one bright point in the reign was the First Roman Catholic Relief Act in England
in 1778; this provoked the Gordon Riots (1780), an orgy of anti-Catholic looting and rioting. In
the face of timid ministers, it was George III who personally ordered the riots to be
suppressed and it was due to this action that Bishop Challenor ordered that prayers be said at
all masses for the Royal Family.

What can be said about these Popes as a group? In general they were righteous men and did
good work for the spiritual life of the Church. In that sense they would have probably had fairly
distinguished pontificates in a period when the temporal power was not at issue. But faced
with the increasing encroachment of secular powers on ‘their’ churches this period shows that
the independence that the Papal States gave to the actions of the Popes was illusory.
Although in many respects the Jesuits had accumulated an excess of power – political, social
(through education), and economic – they were a symbol to these rulers of external
interference in their affairs, of a Papal power in their territories. On top of this was the growing
intellectual power of the Enlightenment, coupled with, for the moment only, rumblings that
would lead to the outbreak of very bloody revolution. With the possible exception of the reign
of Benedict XIVth, spanning the middle decades of the century, none of them were equipped
for the, admittedly very great, challenge. It was largely a case of muddling along and getting
the best compromise possible. All was about to change; at first, seemingly, for a catastrophic

The Pontificates of the Revolution

       Pius VI, 1775 – 1799
       Pius VII, 1800 – 1823

Pius VI only definitely decided to enter the clerical state in middle age. He had been secretary
to Benedict XIV and was a good example of one of the pernicious evils of the Church, as he
was abbot in commendam of Subiaco. [As an irrelevant aside, Richelieu was the last abbot in
commendam of the Sacra.] It took the conclave over four months to elect him Pope. He was a
Pope out of his time – more suited to the Renaissance era than the Revolutionary one,
enjoying (as did the Romans) pomp and circumstance, treating his nephews overly partially,
and adorning the city with new building projects. His also happened to be the longest
Pontificate up to that time.
He faced the reforming zeal of Joseph II in Austria, who dissolved hundreds of religious
houses, prevented Bishops from applying to Rome for faculties and forbade any monies at all
to be sent from his dominions to the Holy See. In 1782 the Pope took the highly unusual
course of travelling outside of Italy and going to Vienna to try and get the Emperor to change
course. Although treated well, he got nowhere. When the Emperor appointed bishops to
vacant Sees in his Italian territories the Pope threatened to excommunicate him; but this
would have led to a schism with the German church. The Pope had to surrender his power to
nominate to Milan and Mantua; a local synod in Pistoia (1786) attempted to introduce both
Jansenism and Josephinism, but the Pope acted swiftly to condemn it.
The French Revolution took Rome by surprise. Pius condemned the Civil Constitution of the
Clergy, protested about the execution of Louis XVI and refused to recognise the Republic [by
this stage he had nothing to lose]. As a consequence of the invasion of Italy by General
Bonaparte (1796-1797), he had to hand over huge sums of money, great quantities of works
of art, disband his army, recognise the Republic, surrender Avignon and give up the territory
between the Po and Rimini. In 1797 there was a rising in Rome against the French and a
general was killed. General Berthier occupied the city and in 1798 the Roman Republic was
proclaimed. Pius pleaded to be allowed to die where he was (he was 81); the reply was that
he could die anywhere. His room was plundered in his presence, his bishop’s ring was torn
from his finger and he was removed that night to Siena and then to the Certosa (Carthusian
house) near Florence. Whilst very ill he was removed across the Alps (there was a threat of
major trouble in Rome by the people acting in his favour; and an Austro-Russian army
invaded Lombardy) and taken to Valence where he died, six weeks later, in August 1799 –
Rosmini was just over two years old.
His funeral was ignominious. The local authorities recorded his death in the register: Jean
Ange Braschi, exercising the profession of pontiff. Pius got the last laugh on them, as
Napoleon, in one of his earliest decrees as First Consul, insisted that he should be reburied
with funeral honours suitable for a man who had occupied one of the highest offices on earth.
The same officials had to turn up on 31 January 1800 in full uniform, wearing black armbands,
provide a suitably magnificent hearse and have the garrison fire a 101 gun salute. In 1802 he
was reburied, finally, in St Peter’s, though his heart remains in Valence. This gesture by
Napoleon was highly significant and a pointer to later events.
Although one can over emphasise the significance of the treatment of Pius VI, when
thousands had been sent arbitrarily to the guillotine, 30,000 priests had been dispossessed,
thousands executed or deliberately starved to death, and where in Arras, for example,
Robespierre had presided over the guillotining of all the inmates of two convents of enclosed
nuns; these actions against the Pope caused a revulsion throughout Europe, Protestant and
Catholic. George III, for example, personally financed the board and lodging of 2,500 French
priests housed in Winchester (the mind boggles at their impact on this quite small Cathedral
city). No Pope had been remotely treated like this since the Middle Ages.
As one might imagine, no-one was falling over themselves to be Pope at the conclave which
was summoned by Cardinal Henry, Duke of York, to meet in Venice. [Interestingly enough,
Rome was governed at that time by another Englishman, Sir John Acton.] Pius VII was
elected after almost four months (the Austrians tried to get ‘their’ man again) of the Conclave
on top of which three months were spent getting the cardinals together. The new Pope was
the Bishop of Imola and sixty years old. He entered Rome to a rapturous reception in July
Napoleon was keen to restore order to the chaos of relations with the Holy See. Attempts to
establish a French church independent of Rome had failed. He realised that both Catholicism
and the Revolution were facts of life and their supporters must learn to live together – at least
in a spirit of coexistence, if not toleration. On the other hand, although wanting religious
peace, he also wanted a church which would serve the State. The people must have a
religion and that religion must be in the hands of the government. This idea was one that ran
as a thread through the dealings between Rome and the Catholic powers in the decades
A Concordat was signed in August 1801 which gave the Church a good deal: a restored
liturgy, the abandonment of the revolutionary cult and the Pope’s rights over the canonical
installation of bishops were recognised. The Church recognised the loss of properties and
controversial arrangements were made about the existing bishops (this element caused long
term problems) and the regularising of the state of the clergy. The clergy were to be salaried
and churches were restored to the clergy, with the State responsible for their external upkeep.
Catholic public worship was to be allowed – so long as it conformed to Government
regulations necessary for public order.
This latter caused problems, especially as Napoleon appended regulations (the Organic
Articles) to the Concordat, a cause of further problems. But the Concordat proved to be
immensely important in severely reducing the attraction of Gallicanism to churchmen and
gave added impetus to ultramontinism. French bishops could hardly turn to support to a public
department of the Government; especially when the ruler did reign by Divine Right. The Pope
also gained the authority to dismiss bishops.
 The Pope agreed to go to Rome to crown Napoleon Emperor in 1804 (Napoleon did the
actual crowning himself); and in 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was formally abolished. He
was not well treated. In the following years and relations deteriorated. The Pope refused to
declare war on Napoleon’s enemies: It is our part to be Aaron, the prophet of God, not Ismael,
whose hand is against every man. In 1808 Rome was again occupied by a French army and
eventually Napoleon annexed the Papal States. In the summer of 1809 Pius excommunicated
Napoleon, who had him seized and removed to Savona, isolated from any of his own
advisers. During the 1812 Russian campaign he was removed to Fontainebleu, again
completely isolated from his advisers. Just before the end, in March 1814, after an
imprisonment of six years, he was set free.
It was perhaps unfortunate that Pius VII had such an effective Secretary of State, who got the
Papal States restored almost in their entirety; though an attempt to have slavery abolished
failed. He restored the Jesuits in 1814. He was a great conservative as a ruler, though he
continued and encouraged the expansion of the Church abroad, most particularly in the
United States.
The reality was, that although matters appeared to have returned to usual, things had
changed irretrievably. Gone were Catholic governments, however awkward they might be, to
be replaced by a number of governments who regarded the Christian religion as a useful tool
for keeping the masses in order.
Leo XII had retired, although only 63, prior to the defeat of Napoleon. He had gone to his
monastery near Florence and was happily engaged in his music and teaching the peasants to
sing plainsong. Prior to this Elysian state of affairs he had been a notably unsuccessful
diplomat. He was brought back to Rome by Pius VII and made Vicar of the City. He implored
not to be elected, telling his fellow cardinals that they ‘were electing a dead man’; and having
elected him he promptly almost died. He was quite unable to deal with the political realities of
his time; and managed to appoint an eighty year old as Secretary of State. His death
fortunately prevented Bishop Baines being given the red hat. In spiritual affairs he was far
more successful; but it was a far from happy pontificate: He was in many ways a prelate of
the Ancien Régime and he contributed by his intransigence to the extinction of the old political

The Popes of significance to Rosmini

Pius VIII, 1829 – 1830
Gregory XVI, 1831 – 1846
Pius IX, 1846 – 1878

The election of Pius VIII was popular. One of his first acts was to force all his relatives to give
up all public office. In his short reign there were important developments in England, he
worked hard for the emancipation of slaves and he had to face more revolutionary activity
(including another coup in France). It was this Pope who told Rosmini to write: Remember
that you must write books and not undertake an active life: you handle logic very well. We
need writers who can make themselves felt. He also encouraged Rosmini to submit his
constitutions, warning him to think small; and from this time Rosmini felt that his life work was
‘integrated into the Church’.
Gregory XVI was elected Pope when everyone knew that real trouble in the papal States was
imminent. He had been a great friend and supporter of Rosmini in the previous pontificate,
and was a distinguished scholar and theologian. Political problems involved French and
Austrian intervention, and although he did carry out fairly extensive reforms, these did not
face the main issues. He had major problems with Russia, the Tsar engaging in a systematic
persecution of Byzantine Catholics in the Ukraine (only now in these days beginning to
unravel, thought the Pope had to appoint a Cardinal in the Ukraine in pectore as recently as
1998) and after a Polish rebellion in 1831 a major persecution of the Latin church followed
In church administration he followed the ingenious expedient of widening the numbers of
Vicars Apostolic in ‘missionary’ territories, thereby extending the authority of Rome, as their
authority came directly from the Holy See. However, a number of dioceses were established
in Australia by the end of his Pontificate (indeed Gentili was a possibility for Tasmania at one
stage). By the time he died he had managed to amass a total of two thousand political
prisoners or exiles or people who been proscribed.
It was to him that Rosmini owed the formal approval of the Institute in 1839, and the Pope
was a reasonably staunch supporter when his writings came under attack from a wing of the
Jesuits. It should be remembered that at this time the Pope had to deal with the
temperamental Lamennais, with his ideas for the role of the Church in a post revolutionary
world: not so impossibly far out from what actually has happened, but quite unimaginable at
the time.
Pius IX was elected within two days of the conclave gathering. His election was probably a
mistake, in the sense that cardinals voted for him whilst they waited to see who else would
emerge. They had got themselves a 54 year old Pontiff. Immediately he set about radical
reform – but not radical enough, and it was within the constraints of the existing political
structures in Italy. These were already under severe pressure, unlikely to survive long the
demands of nationalism and greater democracy. The events of 1848 are fairly well known; the
Pope returned to Rome in 1850 through the support of the French. It is possible that the
situation might not have been lost if Rosmini had remained by his side, for the Republican
regime under Mazzini had not been popular. Instead Pius did two things: he lost interest (or
much of the interest) in matters temporal and turned instead to the more promising field of the
greater Church; and he appointed Antonelli as Secretary of State. Antonelli was to be
Rosmini’s (and subsequent Fathers General) biggest headache. He was the last Cardinal to
be only in minor orders. According to Derek Holmes, he lacked both principles and
intelligence; he could neither learn from the past nor anticipate the future; whilst what he
lacked in political or theological insight, he made up for in his acquisitive instincts and
luxurious living. His illegitimate daughter engaged in extensive lawsuits after his death in 1876
to get her hands on some of the ill-gotten gains, and thereby becoming a great source of
scandalous revelations.
Pius IXth faced real problems beyond the series of events that eventually led to him becoming
the ‘prisoner in the Vatican’. He extended the missionary activity of the Church in China
through vicariates (suppressing two dioceses in the process), re-established the hierarchy in
England and Wales (1850) and established the Beda. On the down side there was extensive
religious persecution in some South American and German states and by the Swiss (the
Jesuits are, I think, still banned from the country), Austria and especially Russia. He of course
summoned Vatican I, brought to a hurried end (though never formally closed) by events in
It goes without saying that Rosmini’s relations with the Pope were difficult. In truth, it is
unlikely that Rosmini’s constitutional ideas would have survived against the forces of
Garibaldi and the younger Cavour. The persecution of his writings in this and subsequent
pontificates became a major preoccupation of the Fathers General for decades.


The period of Rosmini’s life coincided with a fundamental realignment of society – politically,
economically and socially. Born in an era of absolute kings and princes, he died in one where,
though many of these remained, there was a consolidation into great national states and far
greater elements of democracy. Europe, although still the chief focus, was part of a wider
world partnership – the emergence of a strong United States, the opening up of Japan, a
number of new independent states in South America, and the great missionary activities in
Africa and Asia. There was an explosion in population, industrialisation throughout Europe
was well under way, railway networks were transforming all elements of life and the power of
the economy was rooted firmly in heavy industry, with all the advantages and social disasters
that entailed.
The Popes faced these issues whilst hanging on to the distraction of the Papal States; in a
sense, Pius IXth abdicated himself from this responsibility and turned to matters spiritual,
whilst not grasping the nettle (as he almost did in 1860) of losing this particular millstone. The
Church faced continued threats throughout this period. The changes saw off the old problems
of Gallicanism, but created new ones. Concordats signed throughout this century and into the
next may have seemed sound at the time, but were always subject to the whim of the
governments concerned and were rarely worth the paper upon which they were written. They
also faced new problems within the Church as discussions ranged on how the modern
Papacy would operate.
Rosmini was a patriot in a time when this did not coincide with Papal interests. He founded a
Religious Institute which was at odds with the trend of congregations established for a
particular purpose and against the norm of acceptability of many rulers. He was an innovative
philosopher and thinker which led to challenges from entrenched positions well established
within the Vatican. He was a radical thinker in theology and other fields. It was hardly
surprising that he faced such a range of opposition. His gift to the Church was, perhaps, the
way in which he endured all of this – in keeping with his own instructions – and thus,
ultimately, wrong-footed his opponents.

Nigel Cave

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