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Pope Pius IX

Pope Pius IXAKA Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti

Born: 13-May-1792
Birthplace: Senigallia, Italy
Died: 7-Feb-1878
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, Rome, Italy

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: Italy
Executive summary: Declared himself infallible

Pius IX, Pope from 1846 to 1878, was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti on the 13th of May 1792 at Sinigaglia, the fourth son of Count Jerome and Countess Catherine Vollazi; the family of Mastai was of ancient descent, and the title of count came to it in the 17th century, while later the elder branch, allied by marriage with the Ferretti family, took that name in addition. He spent some time at the College of Piarists in Volaterra, and then proceeded to Rome with the intention of entering the pontifical guard as an officer. In spite of his good connections, he was disappointed in this aim as it became known that he suffered from epilepsy. The malady, however, was surmounted; and in 1819 he was ordained priest. After ministering for some time in his native town, he accompanied Cardinal Muzzi to Chile (1823). On his return he was entrusted by Pope Leo XII with the direction of the Roman hospital of San Michele. In 1830 he received the archbishopric of Spoleto, in 1832 the bishopric of Imola, and in 1840 Pope Gregory XVI created him a cardinal, with the title Santi Pietro e Marecellino.

On the death of Pope Gregory XVI (June 1, 1846) the College of Cardinals met in conclave on the 14th of June. But their deliberations were destined to last but a short while; for, on the 16th of June, Cardinal Mastai Ferretti had already obtained the requisite two-thirds majority, and ascended the papal chair under the title of Pius IX. In his various capacities he had gained much popularity: he had shown himself to be of a kindly disposition and a zealous churchman, and his reputation for piety and tact stood high; he possessed, too, a winning personality and a handsome presence.

The reign of Pius IX began at an extremely critical time. The problem of the government of the Papal States, transmitted to him by his predecessor, stood in urgent need of solution, for the actual conditions were altogether intolerable. The irritation of the populace had risen to such a pitch that it found vent in revolts which could only be quelled by the intervention of foreign powers; and the ferment in the dominions of the Church was accentuated by the fact that the revolutionary spirit was in the ascendant in all the states of Europe. The proclamation of a general amnesty for all political offenders made an excellent impression on the people; and Pius at once instituted preparations for a reform of the administration, the judicature and the financial system. The regulations affecting the censorship were mitigated, and a breath of political liberalism vitalized the whole government. Pius at once acquired the reputation of a reforming pope. But the prestige so gained was not sufficient to calm the people permanently, and two demands were urged with ever increasing energy -- a share in the government and a national Italian policy. The problem of giving the people a due share in the government was one of peculiar difficulty in the papal states. It was not simply a question of adjusting the claims of monarch and subject: it was necessary, at the same time, to oust the clergy -- who, until then, had held all the more important offices in their own hands -- from their dominant position, or at least to limit their privileges. That the clerical character of the administration could not be indefinitely retained was plain enough, it would seem, to any clear-thinking statesman: for, since the restoration of the papal state in 1814, the pernicious effects of this confusion of the spiritual and the secular power could no longer be denied. But Pius IX lacked the courage and perspicacity to draw the inevitable conclusions from these premises; and the higher clergy at Rome were naturally opposed to a policy which, by laicizing the administration, would have deprived them of the power and privileges they had so long enjoyed. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the pope, while making concessions to his people, did so with reservations which, so far from restoring peace, served only to aggravate the turmoil.

By a motu proprio of the 2nd of October 1847 the government of the city of Rome was reorganized and vested in a council of 100 members, not more than four of whom were to be clerics. But the pope reserved to himself the right of nominating the first members, and the new senate was only later to have the right of filling up vacancies by co-optation. The institution of a state council (consulta) was announced on the 19th of April 1847; and on the 14th of October it was called into existence by a motu proprio. It consisted of 24 councillors, who were to be selected by the pope from a list of candidates to be submitted by the provincial assemblies. A cardinal and one other prelate were to be at its head. The consulta was to be divided into four sections, dealing with (1) legislation, (2) finance, (3) internal administration, (4) the army and public works. Matters of importance were, however, to be submitted to the College of Cardinals, after being debated in the consulta. A motu proprio of the 29th of December altered the constitution of the ministerial council. Nine mutually independent ministries were formed, and the principle of the responsibility of the ministers was established: but all the positions were filled by clerics.

The agitation for constitutional government was urgent in the demand for further concessions; but they came too late. On the 12th of February a proclamation of the pope transferred three portfolios to the laity; but the impression produced by the news of the revolution in Paris nullified the effect. At the formation of the Antonelli ministry (March 11), only the three departments of foreign affairs, finance and education, were reserved by the clergy; while the remaining six were entrusted to laymen. On the 14th of March 1848 Pius took the last step, and published a constitution (Fundamental Statute for the Secular Government of the States of the Church). Two chambers were to be formed. The first (alto consiglio) consisted of members nominated for life by the pope; the second, of a hundred elected deputies. The laws adopted by these two chambers had first to undergo the scrutiny of the College of Cardinals, before being submitted to the pope for his assent or rejection. Ecclesiastical, or ecclesiastico-political, affairs were exempted from the jurisdiction of the parliament; which was further required to abstain from the enactment of laws conflicting with the discipline of the Church, and from criticism of the diplomatic and religious relations of the Holy See with foreign powers.

The utility of this constitution was never tested; for the demand for an extension of popular rights was now eclipsed by a still more passionate aspiration towards the national unity of Italy. This nationalist movement at once took head against Austria. On the 18th of March the revolution broke out in Milan, and King Albert of Sardinia undertook the conduct of the war against the emperor. When news of the events at Milan reached Rome the populace was swept away in a whirlwind of enthusiasm: the Austrian embassy was mobbed; the imperial arms, surmounting the main gate of the palace, were torn down; and great troops of volunteers clamored to be led against Austria. Pius was carried away at first on the flood-tide of excitement, and seemed, after his proclamation of the 30th of March, on the point of conferring his blessing upon the war against Austria. But the course of political events during the next few weeks damped his ardor. When, on the 29th of April, in his allocation to the cardinals, he proclaimed the papal neutrality, the Romans received his vacillation as a sign of treachery; and the storm, precluded from discharging its fury on Austria, broke over his head. When the ministry in power resigned office on the 1st of May, the Mamiani administration was formed, only one cleric being included. Mamiani himself, whose writings were on the Index, had little sympathy with the pope, and did all that was possible to complete the secularization of government in the States of the Church. He received his dismissal on the 1st of August, and was followed by Count Fabbri, then by Count de Rossi, who made the last attempt to restore order by a moderate liberal policy. On the 15th of November, as he was about to open the Chambers, he was assassinated on the staircase leading to the hall of session. A state of anarchy ensued. Armed bands gathered before the Quirinal, and attempted to storm it. To avoid further bloodshed the pope was compelled to assent to the formation of a radically democratic ministry under Galetti. The Swiss, who composed the papal guard, were disbanded; and the protection of the pontiff was transferred to the civil militia; in other words, Pius IX was a prisoner. On the evening of the 24th of November he contrived by the aid of the French and Bavarian ambassadors -- the duc d'Harcourt and Count Spaur -- to leave the palace unobserved, in the dress of a common priest, and to reach Gaeta in the Kingdom of Naples. From this refuge he issued a breve on the 27th of November, protesting against the sacrilege practiced on himself, declaring all actions forced upon him null and void, and appointing a commission to carry on the government in his absence. Since the Chamber declined to recognize this step, and the pope was equally resolute in refusing to hold any intercourse with the deputation which it despatched to him, a supreme Giunta was provisionally created by the Chamber on the 11th of December to discharge all the functions assigned to the executive power by the constitution. On the 17th of the same month Pius made a public protest; and, as soon as the elections for a national assembly were announced, he forbade any participation in them, menacing the disobedient with the penalties of the Church (January 1, 1849). The elections, however, were held; and on the 9th of February the constituent assembly decreed, by 142 votes to 23, the erection of a Roman republic. Pius answered by a protest dated the 14th of February. All the ecclesiastical property of the Roman state was now declared to be vested in the republic; convents and religious edifices were requisitioned for secular purposes; benevolent institutions were withdrawn from clerical influence; and church establishments were deprived of the right to realize their possessions. In the beginning of December Pius had already appealed to the European powers for assistance; and on the 7th of February 1849 it was resolved in the Consistory to approach officially France, Austria, Spain and Naples, with a view to their armed intervention. The French Republic, under the presidency of Louis Napoleon, was the first state to throw troops into Italy. On the 24th of April General Oudinot appeared before Civita Vecchia; only to be defeated at first by Giuseppe Garibaldi. But, after receiving reinforcements, he prosecuted the war successfully, and made his entry into Rome on the 3rd of July; while, in the early part of May an Austrian army advanced into the north of the Papal States. On the 14th of July Oudinot proclaimed the restoration of the pontifical dominion; and, three days later, Pius IX issued a manifesto entrusting the government to a commission appointed by himself.

On the 12th of April 1850 Pius returned to Rome, supported by foreign arms, embittered, and hostile henceforward to every form of political liberalism or national sentiment. In Gaeta he had mentally cut himself loose from all ideas of progress, and had thrown himself into the arms of the Jesuits. His subsequent policy was stamped by reaction. Whether it might have been possible to avoid the catastrophe of 1870 is a difficult question. But there can be no question whatever that the policy which Pius now inaugurated, of restoring the old pre-revolutionary conditions, sealed the fate of the temporal dominion of the papacy. He made no attempt to regain the estranged affections of the populace, and took no measures to liberate himself and his subjects from the incubus of the last few years. He even sought to exact vengeance for the events of that period: the state officials, who had compromised themselves, lost their offices; and all grants in aid were forfeited if the recipients were discovered by the secret commissions (consigli di censura) to have taken part in the revolutionary movement. The tribunals extorted declarations on the part of witnesses by flogging, deprivation of food, and like methods of torture. In many cases the death sentence was executed at their instance, though the guilt of the accused was never established. The system of precautionary arrest, as it was termed, rendered it possible for any man to be thrown into prison, without trial and without verdict, simply on the ground that he lay under suspicion of plotting against the government. The priests, who usurped the judicial function, displayed such cruelty on several occasions that officers of the Austrian army were compelled to record a protest. The consequence of these methods was that every victim -- innocent or guilty -- ranked as a martyr in the estimation of his fellow citizens. A subsidiary result was the revival of brigandage, which found a suspicious degree of support among the people. Corruption was rampant among the officials; the police were accused of illicit bargaining with criminals; and nothing but contempt was entertained for the papal army, which was recruited from the dregs of humanity. To this was added a disastrous financial administration, under which the efficiency and credit of the country sank to appalling depths. The system of taxation was calculated with a view to relieving the Church and the clergy, and imposing the main burden upon the laity. In this department the family of Cardinal Antonelli seems to have played a fatal part. The secretary of state was born in humble circumstances: when he died he left a fortune of more than 100,000,000 lire, to which a daughter succeeded in establishing her claim. His brother Felippo was president of the Roman Bank, and his brother Luigi the head of the Annona -- an office created to regulate the import of grain. The pope himself had neither the will nor the power to institute searching financial reforms; possibly, also, he was ignorant of the facts.

The mismanagement which obtained in the papal dominions could not escape the observation of the other powers. As early as the Congress of Paris in 1856 the English ambassador, Lord Clarendon, had directed an annihilating criticism against the government of the pontiff; and a convincing proof of the justice of his verdict was given by Pius himself, in his treatment of the famous Mortara case. A Jewish boy of this name had been torn from his parents in Rome and the rite of baptism performed on him without their knowledge or consent. The pope flatly refused to restore the "Christian" to his Jewish parents, and turned a deaf ear both to the protest of public opinion and the diplomatic representations of France and England. The sequel to this mode of government was that the growing embitterment of the subjects of the Church came to be sympathized with outside the bounds of Italy, and the question whether the secular authority of the papacy could be allowed to continue became a much-debated problem. Even the expression of the doubt was symptomatic. In 1850 appeared an anonymous brochure, Le Pape et le Congrès, composed by Laguerronnière, the friend of Napoleon III, in which it was proposed to ensure the pope "un revenu considérable" and the city of Rome, but to relieve him of a political task to which he was not competent. In 1861 another anonymous pamphlet, Pro Causa Italica ad Episcopos Catholicos, was published in Florence, advocating the ecclesiastico-political program of Cavour; and the pope was horrified when he discovered that it came from the pen of Carlo Passaglia, the professor of dogmatic theology. In spite of all, the national idea gained strength in Italy, and the movement towards unity found powerful champions in King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia and his great statesman Cavour. Free scope was given when the understanding between the two powers protecting the papal state -- France and Austria -- broke down. So soon as Napoleon and Cavour had come to an agreement war ensued, France and Sardinia being ranged against Austria (1859). The result was that Austria lost the greater part of her Italian possessions, while the pope also forfeited two-thirds of his dominions. By the war of 1866, in which Italy fought on the Prussian side, Victor Emmanuel gained Venice in addition; so that the States of the Church now formed the last remaining obstacle to complete national unity. In September 1864, France -- who had been the protector of these states since 1849 -- had concluded a treaty with Victor Emmanuel, undertaking to withdraw her garrison from Rome in two years time; while, on his part, the king agreed to abstain from any attack on the papal dominions, and to guarantee the safety of the pope and the patrimonium Petri. The emperor Napoleon had, in point of fact, recalled his troops in 1866; but in 1867, when Garibaldi crossed the frontiers of the papal state at the head of his volunteers, he declared the treaty violated and again threw his regiments into Rome. Three years later the time came when he could employ his arms more advantageously elsewhere, and after the outbreak of the war with Germany Rome was evacuated. The news that the French Empire had fallen produced an electrical effect in Italy: the Italian parliament called on the king to occupy Rome; on the 8th of September Victor Emmanuel crossed the borders; and on the 20th of September the green-white-and-red of the tricolor floated over the Capitol. The protests of Pius IX remained unheeded, and his attempts to secure another foreign intervention met with no success. On the 2nd of October Victor Emmanuel instituted a plebiscite in Rome and the possessions of the Church to decide the question of annexation. The result of the suffrage was that 153,681 votes were given in favor of union with Italy, and 1507 against the proposed incorporation: that is to say only the direct dependants of the Vatican were opposed to the change. The papal state was now merged in the Kingdom of Italy, which proceeded to define its diplomatic relations with the Holy See by the law of the 13th of May 1871.

In his capacity as head of the Church, Pius IX adhered to the principles of the Ultramontanist party, and contributed materially to the victory of that cause. The political reaction which followed the revolutionary era in most quarters of Europe offered a favorite soil for his efforts; and in several countries he found it possible to regulate the relations between Church and state from the standpoint of the curia. In 1851 he concluded a concordat with Queen Isabella II of Spain, proclaiming Roman Catholicism the sole religion of the Spanish people, to the exclusion of every other creed; and we find the same provision in another concordat with the South American republic of Ecuador (1862). A third concordat, negotiated with the emperor Francis Joseph I of Austria (1855), entrusted the supervision of schools and the censorship of literature to the clergy, recognized the canon law, and repealed all secular legislation conflicting with it. France came into line with the wishes of the pope in every respect, as Napoleon needed clerical support in his political designs. Even in Germany he found no resistance; on the contrary, he was able to secure advantageous compacts from individual states (Hesse, 1854; Württemberg, 1857). In fact, the growing tendency to romanize Catholicism -- to bring it, that is to say, into close connection with Rome, and to a state of dependency on the guidance and instructions of the curia -- made special progress in Germany.

Among the most important acts of Pius IX must be counted his proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, by the bull Ineffabilis Deus, on the 8th of December 1854. In this bull the preservation of Mary from every stain of hereditary sin, in the first moment of her conception, was declared to be a divinely revealed truth, which consequently demanded universal acceptance. By this means a view, which until then had been no more than a pious belief, was elevated into a dogma to be held de fide; though grave doubts on the subject had always been entertained, even in the midst of the Church itself. For the inner life of that Church this solution of the controversy was of great significance, and created a desire for further dogmatic decisions on the Virgin Mary -- her resurrection and ascension. But the procedure of Pius IX proved of far-reaching importance from another point of view. True, he had taken the opinion of the bishops on the subject, and had received the assent of a large majority; nonetheless, the verdict was pronounced by himself alone, not by an ecumenical council. Thus, by arrogating the function formerly exercised by the ecumenical council, he virtually laid claim to the infallibility which had always been regarded as inherent only in the doctrinal pronouncements of such a council: in other words, he availed himself of a privilege not accorded to him until the 18th of July 1870.

Though the Marian dogma of 1854 received, with very few exceptions, an enthusiastic welcome in Roman Catholic circles, another measure of the pope, ten years later, excited a painful sensation even among the orthodox members of the Church. As reigning sovereign of the papal states Pius IX had passed through a "liberal period": as head of the Church, he had never been liable to attacks of liberalism. Nevertheless, his return from exile left its mark on his spiritual administration. For from this period onwards he deliberately and stubbornly set his face against the influence of modernism on ecclesiastical life; showed his displeasure at and distrust of the scientific theology and phirosophy which marked a moderate advance; and, entrenched in the stronghold of medieval ideals, combated the transformations of the new order of society, and the changes in the relationship between Church and State, which obtained in most countries of Europe since the French Revolution. After long and careful consultation, the adverse criticisms which he had expressed on various occasions were published on the 8th of December 1864, together with the encyclical Quanta Cura, under the title Syllabus Complectens Praecipuos Nostrae Aetatis Errores. In this Pius claimed for the Church the control of all culture and all science, and of the whole educational system. He rejected the liberty of faith, conscience and worship enjoyed by other creeds; and bade an easy farewell to the idea of tolerance. He claimed the complete independence of the Church from state control; upheld the necessity of a continuance of the temporal power of the Roman See; and finally, in the last clause, declared that "the pontiff neither can be nor ought to be reconciled with progress, liberalism and modern civilization." The publication of this syllabus created a profound impression: for it declared war on modern society, and committed the papacy to the principles of Utramontanism. But, as any attempt to translate its precepts into practice would entail a disastrous conflict with the existing regime as established by law, Roman Catholic circles have frequently shown a tendency to belittle the significance of the manifesto and to deny that its rules are absolutely binding. But these well-meant explanations, however comprehensible, are refuted by the unequivocal pronouncements of Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII., and many recognized ecclesiastical authorities -- e.g., Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, who described the syllabus as an emanation from the highest doctrinal authority in the Church.

The zenith of Pius's pontificate was attained on the 18th of July 1870 when the Vatican council proclaimed the infallibility of the pope and the universality of his episcopate, thus elevating him to a pinnacle which none of his predecessors had reached and at the same time fulfilling his dearest wish. That, personally, he laid great stress on the acceptance of the dogma, was a fact which he did not attempt to conceal during the long preliminary deliberations of the council; and his attitude was a not inconsiderable factor in determining its final resolutions. But the loss of the papal states, immediately afterwards, was a blow from which he never recovered. Whenever he brought himself to speak of the subject -- and it was not rarely -- he repeated his protest in the bitterest terms, and, to the end of his days, refused to be reconciled with the "sacrilegious" King of Italy. When, in Germany, the situation created by the Vatican council led to the outbreak of the Kulturkampf, Pius IX failed to display the tact peculiar to his successor. For, in the encyclical Quod Numquan (February 5, 1875), he took the rash step of declaring invalid the Prussian laws regulating the relationship between Church and state -- the only result being that the feud was still further embittered.

In these later years the dark days of his "captivity" were amply compensated by the proofs of reverence displayed by Roman Catholic Christianity, which accorded him magnificent ovations as his period of jubilee began to fall due. The twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate was celebrated with great splendor on the 16th of June 1871; for he was the first pope who had thus reached the traditional "years of Peter." In 1872 his 80th birthday gave occasion for new demonstrations; and 1875 was a so-called "year of Jubilee." Finally, in 1877, the fifty years of his priesthood were completed: an event which brought him innumerable expressions of loyalty and led to a great manifestation of devotion to the Holy See from all the Roman Catholic world. On the 7th of February 1878 Pius IX died. His successor was Pope Leo XIII.


The Duc de Gramont informs me that the Pope did not receive General de Goyon well and used hard and unjust language in his presence about the present policy of the Emperor Napoleon, so much so that Cardinal Antonelli made a sort of apology and explained to the French Ambassador that the Pope who had suffered formerly from epilepsy, when threatened with an attack of that disease could not be held responsible for all he said; that the approaching symptoms of the attack were visible in the eyes and hands, and that when he, Cardinal Antonelli, perceived them he avoided many subjects in conversation with His Holiness, which he knew by a long experience were liable to hasten the crisis.
-- Papal dispatch #133, 22 September 1860

Father: Gerolamo Ferretti
Mother: Caterina Solazzi

    High School: Piarist College, Volterra, Italy

    Roman Catholic Pope 16-Jun-1846 to 7-Feb-1878
    Roman Catholic Cardinal 1840
    Risk Factors: Epilepsy, Sciatica


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