Pope Clement XIII (1758-69)

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Who was Pope Clement XIII?

Pope Clement XIII was born at Venice, 7 March, 1693; died at Rome, 2 February, 1769. He was educated by the Jesuits at Bologna, took his degrees in law at Padua, and in 1716 was ppointed at Rome referendary of the two departments known as the "Signatura Justitiæ" and the "Signatura Gratiæ". He was made governor of Rieti in 1716, of Fano in 1721, and Auditor of the Rota for Venice in 1725.

In 1737 he was made cardinal-deacon, and in 1743 Bishop of Padua, where he distinguished himself by his zeal for the formation and sanctification of his clergy, to promote which he held a synod in 1746, and published a very remarkable pastoral on the priestly state. His personal life was in keeping with his teaching, and the Jansenist Abbé Clément, a grudging witness, tells us that "he was called the saint (by his people), and was an exemplary man who, notwithstanding the immense revenues of his diocese and his private estate, was always without money owing to the lavishness of his alms-deeds, and would give away even his linen". In 1747 he became cardinal-priest, and on 6 July, 1758, he was elected pope to succeed Benedict XIV. It was with tears that he submitted to the will of the electors, for he gauged well the force and direction of the storm which was gathering on the political horizon.

Regalism and Jansenism were the traditional enemies of the Holy See in its government of the Church, but a still more formidable foe was rising into power and using the other two as its instruments. This was the party of Voltaire and the Encyclopedists, the "Philosophers" as they liked to call themselves. They were men of talent and highly educated, and by means of these gifts had drawn over to themselves many admirers and adherents from among the ruling classes, with the result that by the time of Clement XIII, they had their representatives in power in the Portugese and in all the five Bourbon Courts.

Their enmity was radically against the Christian religion itself, as putting a restraint on their licence of thought and action. In their private correspondence they called it the Infâme (the infamous one), and looked forward to its speedy extinction through the success of their policy; but they felt that in their relations with the public, and especially with the sovereigns, it was necessary to feign some kind of Catholic belief. In planning this war against the Church, they were agreed that the first step must be the destruction of the Jesuits. "When we have destroyed the Jesuits", wrote Voltaire to Helvétius in 1761, "we shall have easy work with the Infâme." And their method was to persuade the sovereigns that the Jesuits were the chief obstacle to their Regalist pretensions, and thereby a danger to the peace of their realms; and to support this view by the diffusion of defamatory literature, likewise by inviting the co-operation of those who, whilst blind to the character of their ulterior ends, stood with them for doctrinal or other reasons in their antipathy to the Society of Jesus. Such was the political situation with which Clement XIII saw himself confronted when he began his pontificate.


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia