Who was Pope Pius IX?
In Roman Catholicism, Pius IX (1792 –1878), born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the longest-reigning elected Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, serving from 16 June 1846 until his death, a period of nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal infallibility.
The Pope defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, meaning that Mary was conceived without original sin. Pius IX also granted the Marian title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, a famous Byzantine icon from Crete entrusted to the Redemptorist priests.
In addition to this, Pius IX was also the last Pope to rule as the Sovereign of the Papal States, which fell completely to Italian nationalist armies by 1870 and were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. After this, he styled himself as the first "Prisoner of the Vatican". He was beatified in 2000.
Europe, including the Italian peninsula, was in the midst of considerable political ferment when the bishop of Spoleto, Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, was elected pope. He took the name Pius, after his generous patron and the long-suffering prisoner of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pius VII.
He had been elected by the faction of cardinals sympathetic to the political liberalization coursing across Europe, and his initial governance of the Papal States gives evidence of his own liberal sympathies: Under his direction various sorts of political prisoners in the Papal States were released and the city of Rome was granted a constitutional framework under guidance of his friend, philosopher-prince Antonio Rosmini-Serbati.
A series of terrorist acts sponsored by Italian liberals and nationalists, which included the assassination of his Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi among others and which forced him briefly to flee Rome in 1848 led to his growing skepticism towards the liberal, nationalist agenda. Through the 1850s and 1860s, Italian nationalists made military gains against the Papal States, which culminated in the seizure of the city of Rome in 1870. Pius IX refused to accept the Law of Guarantees from the nationalists, which would have made the Vatican dependent on Italian financiers for years to come.
His Church policies towards other countries, such as Russia, Germany and France, were not always successful, due in part, to changing secular institutions and internal developments within these countries. However, concordats were concluded with numerous states such as Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Tuscany, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti.
Many contemporary Church historians and journalists question his approaches. His appeal for public worldwide support of the Holy See – Peter's Pence – after he became "The prisoner of the Vatican" is now the main source of income for the Holy See. The money, still collected each year, is today used by the Pope for support of the Roman Curia, the Vatican City State and philanthropic purposes. In his Syllabus of Errors, still highly controversial, Pius IX condemned the heresies of secular society, especially modernis.
He was a Marian Pope, who in his encyclical Ubi Primum described Mary as a Mediatrix of salvation. In 1854, he promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, articulating a long-held Catholic belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. In 1862, he convened 300 bishops to the Vatican for the canonization of Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan.
His most important legacy is the First Vatican Council, which convened in 1869. This Council discussed many issues, especially the dogma of papal infallibility, which Pius was eager to have officially defined by the council; but the council was interrupted as Italian nationalist troops threatened Rome. The council is considered to have contributed to a centralization of the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican. Pius IX, who suffered from epilepsy, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 3 September 2000. His Feast Day is 7 February.
Early life and ministry
Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was born in Senigallia into the noble family of Girolamo dei conti Ferretti, and was educated at the Piarist College in Volterra and in Rome. As a theology student in his hometown Sinigaglia, in 1814 he met Pope Pius VII, who had returned from French captivity. In 1815, he entered the Papal Noble Guard but was soon dismissed after an epileptic seizure.
He threw himself at the feet of Pius VII who elevated him and supported his continued theological studies. The Pope originally insisted that another priest should assist Mastai during Holy Mass, a stipulation that was later rescinded, after the seizure attacks became less frequent.
Mastai was ordained priest in April 1819. He initially worked as the rector of the Tata Giovanni Institute in Rome. Shortly before his death, Pius VII sent him as Auditor to Chile and Peru in 1823 and 1825 to assist the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignore Giovanni Muzi and Monsignore Bradley Kane, in the first mission to post-revolutionary South America.
The mission had the objective to map out the role of the Catholic Church in the newly independent South American republics. He was thus the first pope ever to have been in America. When he returned to Rome, the successor of Pius VII, Pope Leo XII appointed him head of the hospital of San Michele in Rome (1825–1827) and canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata.
Pope Leo XII appointed Father Mastai-Ferretti Archbishop of Spoleto, his own hometown, in 1827 at the age of 35. In 1831, the abortive revolution that had begun in Parma and Modena spread to Spoleto; the Archbishop obtained a general pardon after it was suppressed, gaining him a reputation for being liberal. During an earthquake, he made a reputation as an efficient organizer of relief and great charity.
The following year he was moved to the more prestigious diocese of Imola, was made a cardinal in pectore in 1839, and in 1840 was publicly announced as Cardinal-Priest of Santi Marcellino e Pietro. As in Spoleto, his episcopal priorities were the formation of priests through improved education and charities. He became known for visiting prisoners in jail, and for programs for street children. According to historians, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti was considered a liberal during his episcopate in Spoleto and Imola because he supported administrative changes in the Papal States and sympathized with the nationalist movement in Italy. Some have suggested that while he was a bishop Mastai-Ferretti joined a group called Freemasonry.
The conclave of 1846, following the death of Pope Gregory XVI (1831–46), took place in an unsettled political climate within Italy. Because of this, many foreign Cardinals decided not to attend the conclave. At its start, only 46 out of 62 cardinals were present.
Moreover, the conclave of 1846 was steeped in a factional division between conservatives and liberals. The conservatives supported Luigi Lambruschini, Gregory XVI's Cardinal Secretary of State. Liberals supported two candidates: Pasquale Tommaso Gizzi and the then 54-year-old Mastai-Ferretti. During the first ballot, Mastai-Ferretti received 15 votes, the rest going to Cardinal Lambruschini and Cardinal Gizzi.
Faced with deadlock, liberals and moderates decided to cast their votes for Mastai-Ferretti in a move that contradicted the general mood throughout Europe. By the second day of the conclave, on 16 June 1846, during an evening ballot, Mastai-Ferretti was elected Pope. "He was a glamorous candidate, ardent, emotional with a gift for friendship and a track-record of generosity even towards anti-Clericals and Carbonari. He was a patriot, known to be critical of Gregory XVI "
Because it was night, no formal announcement was given, just the signal of white smoke. Many Catholics had assumed that Gizzi had been elected successor of St. Peter. In fact, celebrations began to take place in his hometown, and his personal staff, following a long-standing tradition, burned his cardinalitial vestments.
On the following morning, the senior Cardinal-Deacon, Tommaso Riario Sforza, announced the election of Mastai-Ferretti before a crowd of faithful Catholics. When Mastai-Ferretti appeared on the balcony, the mood became joyous. Mastai-Ferretti chose the name Pius IX in honor of Pope Pius VII (1800–23), who had encouraged his vocation to the priesthood despite his childhood epilepsy.
However, Mastai-Ferretti, now Pope Pius IX, had little diplomatic and no curial experience, which did cause some controversy. The government of the Empire of Austria as represented by Prince Metternich in its foreign affairs objected to even the possible election of Mastai-Ferretti.
Thus, Cardinal Gaisruck, Archbishop of Milan, was sent to present the Austrian official veto against Mastai-Ferretti. However, Gaisruck arrived too late; the new Pope was already elected. Pius IX was crowned on 21 June 1846.
The election of the liberal Pius IX created much enthusiasm in Europe and elsewhere. Celebrations and ovations were offered in several countries. Although he was not unknown and had done nothing on an administrative level before his election, and although there were no utterances from him, he was soon the most famous and popular person in the world.
For the next twenty months after the election, Pius IX was the most popular man on the Italian peninsula, where the exclamation "Long life to Pius IX!" was often heard.
English Protestants celebrated him as a friend of light and a reformer of Europe towards freedom and progress. He was elected without political influences from outside and in the best years of his life. He was pious, progressive, intellectual, decent, friendly, and open to everybody.
Centralization The end of the Papal States was not the only important event in the long pontificate of Pius. His leadership of the Church contributed to an ever-increasing centralization and consolidation of power in Rome and the papacy.
While his political views and policies were hotly debated, his personal life style was above any criticism; he was considered a model of simplicity and poverty in his every day affairs. More than his predecessors, Pius used the papal pulpit to address the bishops of the world. The First Vatican Council, which he convened to consolidate papal authority further, was considered a milestone not only in his pontificate but also for Church history.
Church rights The Church policies of Pius IX were dominated with a defence of the rights of the Church and the free exercise of religion for Catholics in countries like Russia and the Ottoman Empire, although this defence was only on behalf of Catholics.
He also fought against what he perceived to be anti-Catholic philosophies in countries like Italy, Germany and France. Many of the Pope's subjects wanted to be Italian instead. The soldiers who guarded the Pope from Italians (between 1849 and 1870) were largely French and Austrian. The Pope considered moving to Germany (see below).
After the French loss in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, the Papal States lost its protector and were absorbed by Italy. Germany actively persecuted the Roman Catholic Church for a decade after the war.
Jubilees Pius IX celebrated several jubilees including the 300th anniversary of the Council of Trent, and his own Golden Jubilee in 1868. Pius celebrated the 1,800th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul on 29 June 1867 with 512 bishops, 20,000 priests and 140,000 lay persons in Rome. A large gathering was organized in 1871 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his papacy.
The Italian government in 1870 outlawed many popular pilgrimages. The faithful of Bologna organized a nationwide "spiritual pilgrimage" to the pope and the tombs of the apostles in 1873.
In 1875, Pius declared a Holy Year that was celebrated throughout the Catholic world. On the 50th anniversary of his episcopal consecration, people from all parts of the world came to see the old pontiff from 30 April 1877 to 15 June 1877. He was a bit shy, but he valued initiative within the Church and created several new titles, rewards and orders to elevate those who in his view deserved merit.
Consistories Pius IX created 122 new Cardinals – the limit of the College of Cardinals was 70 – of which 64 were alive at his death. Noteworthy elevations included Vincenzo Pecci, his eventual successor Leo XIII; Nicholas Wiseman of Westminster; Henry Edward Manning; and John McCloskey, the first American ever to be elevated into the College of Cardinals.
Sovereign of the Papal States Pius IX was not only pope, but until 1870, also the Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States. His rule was considered secular, and as such, he was occasionally accorded the title "king." However, whether this was ever a title accepted by the Holy See is unclear.
One of the most fervent contemporary critics of his infallibility dogma, Ignaz von Döllinger, considered the political regime of the pope in the Papal States "as wise, well-intentioned, mild-natured, frugal and open for innovations." Yet there was controversy.
In the period before the 1848 revolution, Pius was a most ardent reformer advised by such innovative thinkers as Rosmini who were able to reconcile the new "free" thinking concerning human rights with the classical natural law tradition of the Church's teaching in political affairs and economic order (social justice teachings). After the revolution however, his political reforms and constitutional improvements were considered minimalist, remaining largely within the framework of the 1850 laws mentioned above.
Reforms in the Papal States As liberal Europe applauded his election, he introduced political reforms on a broad scale. He initiated the construction of railways, and the installation of street lighting throughout Rome. He improved agricultural technology and productivity via farmer education in newly created scientific agricultural institutes. He abolished the requirements for Jews to attend Christian services and sermons and opened the papal charities to the needy of them.
He gave much to charities, living like a pauper. The new pope freed all political prisoners by giving amnesty to revolutionaries, which horrified the conservative monarchies in the Austrian Empire and elsewhere. Within one year of his election, he appointed an assembly of lay people to assist in the governing of the Papal States. His actions were applauded by Protestant statesmen. "He was celebrated in New York, London and Berlin as a model ruler."
Governmental structure The governmental structure of the Papal States reflected the dual spiritual-secular character of the papacy. The secular or laypersons were strongly in the majority with 6,850 persons versus 300 members of the clergy. Nevertheless, the clergy made key decisions and every job applicant had to present a character evaluation from his parish priest to be considered.
Military A unique position was granted to the papal army, at that time consisting almost exclusively of foreigners: the Roman Black Nobility was not willing to serve, and the population resisted military service despite a decent salary structure and the potential for promotion. A main element of the papal army was the Swiss Guard. The number of papal soldiers in 1859 was 15,000.
Education Pius IX was criticized for his educational policies, which were largely a continuation of traditional Catholic education priorities with an accompanying neglect of the natural sciences on the primary and secondary level. Education was not mandatory in the Papal States, a fact which some attributed to the low educational standards in comparison to other countries. Secondary education was largely in private hands or in the control of Catholic institutes and Religious orders.
First Vatican Council
Pius decisively acted on the century-old disagreement between Dominicans and Franciscans regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary, deciding in favor of the Franciscan view. However, this decision, which he formulated as an infallible dogma, raised a question: Can a Pope make such decisions without the bishops?
This foreshadowed one topic of the First Vatican Council, which he later convened for 1869. The Pope did consult the bishops beforehand with his encyclical Ubi Primum (see below), but insisted on having this issue clarified nevertheless.
The Council was to deal with Papal Infallibility, enhancing the role of the papacy and decreasing the role of the bishops. The role of the bishops was to be dealt with at the Council, but it was disbanded because of the imminent attack by Italy against the Papal States. Thus, the major achievements of Pius IX are his Mariology and Vatican I.
Influence Pius IX approved 74 new religious congregations for women alone. In France, Pius created over 200 new dioceses and created new hierarchies in several countries.
Last years and death Pius IX lived long enough to witness the death of his old adversary, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy in January 1878. As soon as he learned about the seriousness of the situation of the king, he absolved him of all excommunications and other ecclesiastical punishments. Pius IX died one month later on 7 February 1878 at 5:40 pm, of epilepsy, which led to a seizure and a sudden heart attack, while saying the rosary with his staff.
Since 1868, the Pope was plagued first by facial erysipelas and then by open sores on his legs. Nevertheless, he insisted on celebrating daily Mass. The extraordinary heat of the summer of 1877 worsened the sores to the effect that he had to be carried. He underwent several painful medical procedures, which he undertook with remarkable patience.
He spent most of his last few weeks in his library, where he received cardinals and held audiences. On 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, his situation improved markedly to the point that he could walk again. By February, he could say Mass again on his own in standing position, enjoying the popular celebration of the 75th anniversary of his first communion.
Bronchitis, a fall to the floor, and rising temperature worsened his situation after 4 February 1878. He continued joking about himself, when the Cardinal Vicar of Rome ordered bell-ringing and non-stop prayers for his recuperation. "Why do you want to stop me from going to heaven?" he asked with a smile. He told his doctor that his time had come.
Pope Pius IX died on 7 February 1878, aged 85, concluding the longest pontificate in papal history, after that of St Peter whom tradition holds had reigned for 37 years. His last words were "Guard the church I loved so well and sacredly," as recorded by the Cardinals kneeling beside his bedside.
His body was originally buried in St. Peter's grotto, but was moved in a night procession on 13 July 1881 to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls. When the cortege approached the Tiber River, a gang of anticlerical Romans threatened to throw the coffin into the river but a contingent of militia arrived.
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