Monday, November 16, 2009

Papal Profile: Pope Pius IX

He was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti in 1792 and took holy orders in 1819 and over the years gained a reputation as being more in-line or sympathetic to the liberal, nationalist trend across Italy. In 1846 he was elected to the See of Peter taking the name of Pius IX. Liberals cheered and conservatives groaned as the new pontiff spoke of "Italy" (which did not then exist), eased up the laws of his predecessors and opened the jails of Rome to free the liberals Gregory XVI had locked up. However, many were looking at him with rose-colored glasses and mistook his recognition of legitimate problems in the Italian states for revolutionary liberalism. They were to soon find out how wrong they were. When many Italians were clamoring for war against Austria Pius IX refused to endorse such an action on the grounds that he could never bless two groups of his own Catholic flock killing each other.

The liberals were quick to turn on the Pope and turn deadly in 1848. The following year Pius IX was forced to flee Rome where a republican government was declared and, from Gaeta, the Pontiff excommunicated the lot of them. The republic was an unpopular, dismal failure with most people refusing to vote in the elections and many of those who did wrote in the Pope's name! Pius IX was restored to his throne by French troops sent at the urging of Empress Eugenie. Once back the Pope moved his primary residence to the Vatican Palace and it made clear to the liberals that there would be no more 'mister nice guy'. He refused all concessions and in a display that his spiritual power remained regardless of his political position as the local monarch at the end of 1854 he proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, on his own authority. In 1864 he issued the famous to some, infamous to others "Syllabus of Errors" which refuted the collective errors of revolutionary liberalism. In 1869 he called the First Vatican Council which is most known for its full definition of papal infallibility.

It should also be remembered, along with all of this, Pius IX, the same man who once famously thundered, "The tradition? I AM the tradition!" was also a very friendly, forgiving and humorous man. When writing a paper about his role in the Risorgimento at university the one thing that surprised me most about Pius IX in reading all about his was how very funny he could be, often at his own expense. He was also always quick to forgive his enemies even if he had just previously condemned them in the strongest terms. The efforts of the liberals to usurp his monarchial position did not end. Campaigns had reduced his realm to the city of Rome itself, protected by the French and when war with Prussia broke out in 1870 these forces were withdrawn and the Italian nationalists were quick to pounce. Pius IX ordered only a symbolic fight be put up and as soon as the walls were breached he ordered his small army of international volunteers to surrender. Rome was occupied and Pius IX isolated himself, refusing to recognize the new government and was known thereafter as the "Prisoner of the Vatican".

However, while he had lost his temporal power (and many thought this would be the death of the Church) his reputation only increased around the world and the prestige of the Pope reached new heights it had never known before. There was something of a Catholic revival around the world during his reign despite the attacks the Church came under at almost every turn. Even in Italy he was widely respected by many who had opposed him and when King Victor Emanuel II was on his deathbed the Pope quickly lifted his excommunication of the monarch that had conquered his state, allowing him the last rites and a Catholic burial. The Pope himself died only about a month later in 1878 while saying his prayers. It is noteworthy that the man who came to the Throne of St Peter cheered by liberals went to his death, and is still to this day, considered one of the greatest enemies of the revolutionary cause and a great champion to conservative Catholic monarchists and many other monarchists in general.

*Addition: H.H. Pope John Paul II began the process for the canonization of Pope Pius IX and he was beaitified in 2000.


  1. I had thought I had posted.

    I'll repeat myself.

    Liberals always turn on you in the end. Liberalism is rooted in selfishness. It is the elevation of personal desires above all else, especially Duty, Honour, and Sacrifice. When the Pop seemed to support them, they used him as a man to an end, and cheered him, when he refused his ascent to their goals, they tore into him mercilessly. THis is why Liberalism is horrific.

  2. Well I'm glad your comment came through -it's spot on. This is why I always shake my head when I see any monarch 'kissing up' to the liberal, revolutionary crowd, because you will never win them over ultimately because their system of selfishness (to use your term) is fundamentally at odds with monarchism. A royal can alienate all of his/her most devoted supporters but will never gain more than a nod of approval from the leftist crowd. No matter how liberal a monarch goes the liberals will never take to the field for him because no monarch can ever go liberal enough unless they renounce royalty and monarchy altogether. In the case of Pius IX, I don't think they paid close enough attention to what he was really saying all those years before he came to the throne. He also made a mistake, I think, in believing (as many good people often do) that all others were as sincere and well-meaning as he was. Later he found out that their idea of compromise was that he should give and they should take -eventually they took it all politically. I imagine that at the moment he was chased out of Rome, Prince Metternich was somewhere thinking "I told you so". I think it also says something that Pius IX forgave his enemies on their death bed whereas when he himself died a leftist gang tried to upset his funeral procession and throw his body in the Tiber. Pretty much sums up the difference in character between the two schools of thought.

  3. Are you going to profile Pius X? He was quite the reactionary. See his "Oath Against Modernism" as an example.

  4. I'm sure I will eventually. The Oath Against Modernism is a fantastic document and if Pope Pius X was a reactionary that is all the more reason to applaud him in my book.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...