All throughout the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages and the rise of the city-states and especially the color, chaos and culture of the Renaissance the legacy of Imperial Rome was ever-present. It spoke clearly to every Italian that they had been and were capable of being so much more than a patchwork collection of feuding city-states and a battleground for foreign powers. This is also proven by the fact that Italian unification was a dream for a great many people long before the Nineteenth Century. During the Renaissance, it was often the Popes who took the lead in trying to reestablish a united Italy under their control. It was the French and the Germans that the “Warrior Pope” Julius II referred to when he fought his wars to drive the “barbarians” out of Italy. Ultimately, he got much farther in realizing his goal than anyone would have thought possible. Later on, Pope Clement VII tried the same thing but with much less success. Even back in the Middle Ages there had been a foreshadowing of these struggles when Pope Alexander III called for Italian unity and formed the Lombard League to thwart the invasion of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
After all, no one would claim that France or Spain or Germany absolutely cannot be unified and must be ruled by outsiders. Are the dialects of Turin, Florence and Naples more alien to each other than Catalan and Castilian, English and Cornish, Welsh or Gaelic, High and Low German? Are the divisions imposed on Italy by foreign invaders more legitimate than the divisions that resulted from the foreign invasion of Spain? There seems to be no equivalent. Most seem to agree that the French were understandably opposed to a large portion of their country being ruled by England and that the Spanish were understandably indignant at being ruled by Moors and yet some seem to think that Italians should have been content to see their homeland being ruled by Spanish, French and German authorities. The divisions in Italy were very old, it is true but the regimes that existed at the time of the Italian Wars for Independence were not so deep-rooted as some seem to think. Certainly none could match the history of the venerable House of Savoy which had been ruling some patch of ground, be it great or small, for many, many centuries longer than most of the other royal houses represented on the Italian peninsula had existed even in their own homelands much less on Italian soil.
First of all, as should be obvious at this point, the total opposition of pontiffs such as Gregory XVI and (belatedly) Pius IX to Italian unification was the innovation. In the past, it was the popes who had often most longed and worked for Italian unification such as with Alexander III and the Lombard League or Clement VII and the League of Cognac along with others. Of course, in those days, while the Papal States may not have had considerably more political power than in the time of Pius IX, the Pope certainly had more prestige and would naturally have been the leader of any sort of Italian confederation. By the 19th Century the political strength of the Catholic Church had been all but eliminated, partly because of the enemies of the Church but also partly by papal policies themselves. On the international stage, even many devoutly Catholic countries had come to view the papacy as being unreliable and all but incapable of impartiality. One of the primary reasons for this was the lack of Italian unification itself. Looking back, it put the political power of the Pope at odds with the power and prestige of the Catholic Church as a whole even if few could look past their own interests to see it that way.
|Pope Alexander III giving a blessed sword|
the Doge of Venice
This was a common theme for practically the whole of history from the time of the fall of the Roman Empire until the reunification of the Italian peninsula, since before the time that Charlemagne clashed with King Desiderius of the Lombards until the Battle of Solferino between Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph and French Emperor Napoleon III the Italians have seen their country serve as the battleground, fought over by those great Catholic powers to dominate them with the Pope usually in the middle of it, supporting one side or the other. There had also been Italian states and rulers that fostered the division, supporting whichever side seemed strongest at the time and which would offer the most to them for their allegiance. Many popes complained about this habit of their countrymen, not that they were not above behaving in a similar fashion but because the small states tended to support whichever side was stronger (often the German Emperor) while the Pope tended to oppose that same side as it would pose the greatest threat to his continued rule over Rome. When Catholics think about this long and ugly succession of wars, the “Investiture Dispute”, the “Italian Wars”, the “Sack of Rome” there must surely be some, even among the most partisan, who can at least understand the wish that Italy had simply been left to the Italians and had all the Catholic powers concentrate on their common enemies rather than fighting each other endlessly for control of the Italian peninsula.
|Opposites who agreed Mazzini would be a disaster|
By the time that Pius IX came to the papal throne Italian unification was probably inevitable. It was going to happen, the only question was which form would it take; a radical republic or a constitutional monarchy? In regards to the Church, there was, early on, also a choice between a secular republic or a monarchy/confederation of monarchies in which the Pope would have a leadership role. This was an idea supported by a fair number of people but which the Pope ultimately opposed, even placing the book which suggested it on the “Index of Forbidden Works”. Papal foreign policy also worked to create an impossible position for the Papal States. Pope Pius IX, a devout and saintly man without question, had an extremely erratic foreign policy that caused Italians who had revered him to come to view him as being under the power of others or else extremely unreliable while at the same time alienating his strongest supporters so that, ultimately, his political power rested solely on the armed force of a regime which staunch Catholic monarchists regarded as illegitimate. So erratic were his policies that it can leave one wondering at times if even he knew which “side” he was ultimately on.
|The "Honest King"|
When he condemned Austria for violating papal territory in Ferrara, issuing a sharp rebuke that forced them to withdraw, he acted in defense of his own political power, which went hand-in-hand with the sovereignty of his estates. To the public, however, it was the patriotic Italian Pope driving away the German “barbarians”. Even the anti-clerical Mazzini was praising him as the most powerful man in Europe. When he granted a constitution to the Papal States it was based on that of the July Monarchy of the “Citizen-King” Louis Philippe in France. His chief ministers were revolutionaries, many of whom had been exiled or imprisoned by his predecessor but which Pius IX had set at liberty and appointed to high office. What was your average layman to think of all this? His most famous prime minister, the murdered Rossi, had supported Napoleon’s general Murat against the Austrians. When Murat was overthrown he went to France and was a supporter of the July Monarchy and came to serve the Pope after the downfall of Louis-Philippe. An earlier prime minister, of the Rovere family, had been exiled for rebellion against Gregory XVI as a revolutionary and who had not returned to Italy even when Pius IX granted an amnesty at his accession because he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Pope. He later worked in the Cavour government in Piedmont-Sardinia for Italian unification under the monarchy. To replace him, Pius IX appointed Count Edoardo Fabbri, another former revolutionary who had been exiled and imprisoned by Gregory XVI.
|The "Angelic Pope"|
“…in Our Allocution of the 29th of last month, We asserted that to declare war would revolt Our paternal heart; and announced Our ardent desire to contribute towards the restoration of peace. Let it not be therefore displeasing to your Majesty that we should address an appeal to your piety and religion, and exhort you with paternal affection to withdraw your arms from a war which can never reconquer for your empire the minds of the Lombards and Venetians; and can only bring with it the fatal series of calamities that always accompany war, and are certainly both repulsive and detestable to yourself.
“…We are confident that the German nation itself, being honestly proud of its own nationality, will not engage its honor in an attempt to shed the blood of this Italian nation; but will rather engage it in nobly recognizing her as a sister - for both are Our daughters and very dear to Us; let each of them be content to live within her own borders by honorable agreement and beneath the blessing of the Lord.”So, here again was Pope Pius IX speaking of an Italian nation and asking Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph to withdraw his forces from Italy so that Italian-speaking and German-speaking Catholics might live peacefully in their own countries. They are words which illustrate the holiness and goodwill of the Pope as well as his inability to grasp the reality of power politics. The idea that the Austrian Emperor would have ever simply ordered his troops to leave Italian soil and march home, shaking the dust from their boots at the border, out of goodwill and Christian brotherhood is simply absurd. Yet, this same pontiff would later reverse all of that, encouraging Austria to send more troops to occupy even more of Italy (though they did not) and punishing as much as was in his power to punish anyone who backed the idea of an Italian nation. Is it any wonder that at some point many people simply stopped listening?
That is one of the major problems, as I see it, that presents itself to those who say that the opposition of the Pope was necessary in order to maintain the independence of the Church. For one thing, the existence of the Papal States had not proven such a guarantee in the past. This was why popes shifted in their foreign policy constantly between favoring the French and the Germans in turn. It has certainly not been the case since the Lateran agreements. The Papal States have never nor is Vatican City today capable of using force to prevent it being conquered by a foreign power and the Pope today receives income from the Italian state. It was not the state of affairs that existed at the establishment of the Church in Rome or the earliest centuries of the existence of the papal position. Popes were then part of the Roman Empire and all depended on their own moral fortitude to not be the puppets of the Emperor and so most were not, many early popes accepting martyrdom rather than submit to un-Christian or anti-Christian policies. They did the right thing not because they had territory, taxes or an army at their command but because they chose to even if it meant their death if they did not. Of course, Pius IX nor any of his successors had to face such a choice. What they did face was the choice of which state to depend on for their security and freedom. There were not many offers but Pius IX chose to depend on Napoleon III of France. When the French army was withdrawn and Italian troops occupied Rome it was only by the grace of King Victor Emmanuel II that the Pope was left untouched in the Vatican, it having been proven by that time that no other power was able or willing to make war on his behalf. Would there not have been just as much risk of future corruption if the Pope had continued to depend solely on the French rather than the Italians? Given the subsequent course of French history, he may in fact have been much worse off.
As stated before, putting aside all of the details, I also see no reason why Italy should be denied what other peoples have not; to unite together and aspire to greatness. Unlike many others, the Italians have their Roman ancestors to look back to and it seems just as natural to me for them to do so as it would be for any people to look back to their period of greatest power and prestige and wish to emulate it as much as possible. The Germans tried to emulate the Roman example particularly and I can hardly see expecting the Italians to desist from doing the same considering it was their own ancestors that were being looked to. I have also been fortunate to speak to a number of praiseworthy Italian monarchists over the years who are carrying on a most difficult struggle and it pains me that they should be attacked from within as well as without.