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Pius IX

Pius IX


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Published by Simon Apablaza
An overview to the polemical pontificate of Pope Pius IX, his answers to the risorgimento and how he was considered dull by some but great by many.
An overview to the polemical pontificate of Pope Pius IX, his answers to the risorgimento and how he was considered dull by some but great by many.

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Published by: Simon Apablaza on Jan 08, 2009
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Simón Apablaza

Pius IX was “one of the most remarkable men to occupy the chair of Peter”1. -Bokenkotter What did Bokenkotter mean by that statement? Pius IX’s pontificate was definitely one of the most polemical ones. There were people against his pontificate and all he signified, and people completely devoted to him. In fact, during his papacy on the one hand, the Church lost all its temporal powers, but on the other, it gained an immense moral authority. Not only that, but the first Vatican council, called by him, declared the Dogma of papal infallibility. To overview the papacy of Pius IX, we will divide this work into three headings: the first is the Pope’s attitude to the Risorgimento, that is, the movement for the unification of Italy. The second is his attitude towards liberals generally, and lastly his promotion of ultramontanism.2

The problems that Pius IX was to face, were growing during the Papacy of Gregory XVI. In his Papacy, a confederation of countries (Autocratic Austria, liberal France, Czarist Russia, bureaucratic Prussia and ‘amphibious England’) met in Rome. On the eve of 21st of May, 1831, they issued a memorial that was to inaugurate a new era of better government. They all were to share the wardship of the Church.3 The memorandum outlined reforms in almost everything and provided for popular election and a predominant lay participation in the Papal government. Pope Gregory agreed to introduce reforms, but refused to abandon his rights of sovereignty.4 In 1846 Pius IX became Pope. He started the Papacy resolved to make every concession to material progress, popular liberties, and participation of the laity in the
1 2

Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, (New York: Image Books, 1979), 330. Alec Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution, 1789 to the Present Day (London: Penguin Books, 1990) 147. 3 One can be quite certain that the intentions of such Catholic, Protestant, and Greek alliances could not be altruistic, nor could they be united on religious purposes. 4 Raymond Corrigan, The Church and the Nineteenth Century (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1948), 50-1.


Simón Apablaza government. However, every time he made a move, he had to be so careful not to cross the line between progress and change, or between the healthy and the perilous.5 Two years after Pius IX became Pope, his parliament declared war on Austria, trying to ally with the Risorgimento, (the Italian movement of liberation and unification of Italy). The Pope however could not declare war against Catholic Austria. The decision became unpopular and rage swept the streets of Rome, with riots and demonstrations; the Pope’s prime minister was murdered and revolution erupted. The Pope managed to flee to Gaeta, and the revolutionaries set up a republic in Rome and declared the temporal power of the Pope ended.6 The Pope appealed for help to the Catholic powers, but only France sent a small army on April 29, 1849. They drove the troops of Garibaldi out of Rome and the political government in Rome was restored on July 14; the Pope then came back from his exile.7 Consequently, the question about the position of Pius IX with regard to the Risorgimento runs into the larger question of the Pope’s position against liberalism in general, that is, to all the ideas that came to Europe from the French revolution.

After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Church grew in strength and vitality, as well as in number and missions. The religious orders were strengthened, Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus and they helped to reorganize the Church in Europe and in the mission fields and the intellectuals turned away form the scepticism and rationalism of the Eighteen Century enlightenment. The word liberalism has many shades in its meaning. In the nineteen-century, basically denominated all those people that were in favour of constitutional and


Bokenkotter thinks that the grants of the Pope Pius IX, were produced only because he was yielding to the political pressures of the moment. See Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 314. 6 With this, all the dreams cherished by many nationalists that hoped for a federated Italy headed by the Pope, were utterly shattered. It is hard however, to even think that the Pope could collaborate with the extremist Italian liberals like Mazzini and Garibaldi, because their religion positions were irreconcilable. see Kenneth Latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, ( New York: The Paternoster Press, 1970) 267- 268. 7 Donald Attwater, A Dictionary of the Popes (London: Burns and Oates, 1939), 303-4.


Simón Apablaza representative governments, religious toleration, separation of Church and state, and in liberty all around, press, associations, education, etc.8 It is an old cliché to say that before 1848 Pius IX was liberal and after he became authoritative. Pius IX was a man dealing with a difficult time, a time of lies, deceit, and revolution. We can make a distinction between reforms and revolution: reforms are made within a system they want to improve, Revolution instead, is made outside a system and aims to destroy it. Revolution takes on a mask of reforms because if it shows it true nihilistic, ideological, and destructive essence, it would lose its consensus. Pius IX lived this time of reforms and revolution in the Papal States.9 Christianity and Liberalism were seen to be in opposition and Christians and liberals took opposite sides. They became more and more hostile towards one another and the battle between clericalism and anti-clericalism added to this. Pius IX’s pontificate was not at all easy and he suffered in fulfilling his mission to  serve to the Gospel.  Alec Vidler, a modern historian, criticised Pius IX saying that “he failed to read the signs of times”, and that “a wise Pope would have set himself prudently to educate the Church into an understanding of its new historical environment…”10. He  was much loved, but also hated and slandered. He was said to be guilty not only of being authoritative, but also of laying down the foundations for a monolithic and centralizing concept of the Church and society, especially with the syllabus. Sylabus of errors On the tenth anniversary of the encyclical of the Immaculate Conception, Pius IX issued an encyclical called Cuanta Cura, accompanied by the document Syllabus errorum. This was one of the most controversial documents ever written. It covers a wide range of topics, condemning the errors of the time in eighty points. Pantheism, naturalism, and absolute rationalism and moderate rationalism, were denounced. Indifferentism and latitudinarism followed. It rebuked socialism, communism, secret

8 9

Alec Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution, 148. Carlo Liberati, “Did Pius IX Change radically After 1848?” in L’osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, n. 38 (19 sept, 2001), 9-10. 10 Alec Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution, 150.


Simón Apablaza societies11, Bible societies, and clerico-liberal societies. Then it turned to the errors concerning the Church and its rights, the errors about civil society, of ethics, marriage, and on the power of the Pope. The final paragraph created a big agitation: (it is an error that…) “the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to agree with progress, liberalism, and modern civilisation”12. Many said that the Pope was failing to adjust the Christian faith to the revolutionary world and so, he was piloting the barque of Peter towards shipwreck.13 However, the Pope was firmly guiding this barque towards the same course that it had held across the centuries.14 This last paragraph of the Syllabus, has to be understood with the quotation taken from an allocution made by the Pope, “the Roman Pontiff does not have to reconcile himself with progress and modern civilisation if by the word ‘civilization’ must be understood a system invented on purpose to weaken and perhaps to overthrow, the Church…”15 The Pope had no intention to stir up trouble, but he had the obligation to warn Catholics of the poisons that they were in the atmosphere and that they were breathing. Pius IX was at perpetual war with the thoughts of his time, and because he devoted so much time to erase the fallacious thoughts of his time, it meant that his successor Leo XIII had a effective foundation upon which to erect a solid constructive social philosophy.16

The upswing of the Church in the modern world dates from the time that the Church recovered from the damage done by Napoleon Bonaparte. Many things were done for and in the Church, and the Papacy, which had been weakened since the 17th century, took the lead in them. The fact that the Pope Pius VII resisted so strongly against Napoleon even facing imprisonment, gained the admiration and approval of many

Free-masonry was, and has been, one of the fiercest enemies of the Church, and they were not happy at all with the pontificate of Pius XI. See the article published in the Zenit, (N. of article: ZS99122305) www.zenit.org . 12 Ds § 2980. 13 Alec Vidler attacks Pius IX by saying “The Syllabus is the supreme instance of Pio Nono’s Ineptitude and of his failure to discriminate between true and false in ‘Liberalism’”. See Alec Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution, 152. 14 Kenneth Latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, 275-279. 15 Allocution of Pius IX against Piedmont’s Spoliation of convents and harassing of priests; quoted by Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church ,p. 325. 16 Raymond Corrigan, The Church and the Nineteenth Century, 178.


Simón Apablaza authorities. From this point on, Papal spiritual power began to grow, as well as the trend towards centralization of ecclesial administrative power in Rome, and towards Papal primacy of jurisdiction throughout the Church. While the Risorgimento and nationalistic ideas were undermining the political power of the Church, Pius IX was expanding the authority of his office, extending his administrative control over ecclesial structure and enhancing that structure where it was weak. In Germany for instance, ultramontanism was represented by strong figures. Even in France, the swing to ultramontanism was pronounced. In the same year of the Pope’s flight to Gaete, the restoration of the hierarchy in England was settled. In the 1850s, 60s, 70s, the Pope repeatedly acted to strengthen the Church in Latin America, appointing bishops and creating new dioceses. He founded over 200 new dioceses and vicariates apostolic including Melbourne, Brisbane, Armidale, Ballarat, Sandhurts.17 He negotiated with the Dutch governments; hierarchy was renewed in Netherlands. The growth of the Church in United States of America, Canada, and Australia, mainly through immigration, helped too, to enhance the authority of the Pope. The expansion of missions that was under the direction of Propaganda fidei, and therefore of the Pope, consolidated too the authority of the Pope. In 1848, while in exile in Gaeta, he sent a commission to investigate the question of the Immaculate Conception. The large majority was eager in its reply, and so when the Papal endorsement was made, it was assured of the general support. Hence, on December 8, 1964, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed, on his sole authority, the bull Ineffabilis Deus, The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as doctrine revealed by God and to be believed firmly by the faithful. The fact that in a time like that, the Pope could win the general acceptance in the Church in a matter of such importance, said something about the growing authority of the Pope. 18 The length of his Papacy helped him to tighten control over his bishops, he was able to shape the character of his episcopate by choosing the bishops and keeping contact with them. Finally, the personality of Pius IX was most attractive (as all the saints are). He made himself accessible to all who visited Rome, spending great time giving audiences. This and his sufferings and persecutions gained through him passionate
17 18

See Class notes , p.7. Kenneth Latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, 270-73.


Simón Apablaza affection and devotion to the Pope. In fact, the veneration for the Vicar of Christ started with Pius IX.

Vatican I The First Vatican Council (1869-1870) gave the papacy a firmer grip over the Church.20 It was three hundred years since the last Council took place. Many changes had taken place in Christendom, and many issues needed to be addressed. Where the Syllabus and other pronouncements had only irritated the patient, the Council could bring the ill society to health.21 In April 1870 the Constitution Dei Filius, was issued. Its fame was earned because it stated that there is no conflict between faith and reason. The other document is Ecclesia Christy, which proclaimed the infallibility of the Pope when he defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church. Bokkenkofer sees this declaration as a political necessity: since the French concordat of 1801, priests were receiving a salary from the state, which was gaining influence with priests. Therefore a dogma of papal infallibility was what was needed, because “the liberty of the Church was at stake”.22 The council had to be prorogued on the 20 of October of 1870, because Garibaldi’s troops had entered Rome and it was not safe to continue it. It is paradoxical that two months after the promulgation of infallibility, Garibaldi despoiled the last of the Papal States (Rome). On the one hand the Church had lost all its lands (and with it its temporal power), but on the other, it had gained infallible spiritual authority. The Pope proclaimed himself a prisoner of the Vatican, as did all subsequent popes, where each of them was visited in his apostolic prison by multitudes, year by year. They bore witness to the growing religious influence over the world.23

19 20

Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 329. The council was officially convoked on June 29, 1869, by the bull Aeterni Patris. The solemn opening took part on the 8 December the same year. Nearly 800 bishops attended including many from the Catholic Eastern Churches. 21 Raymond Corrigan, The Church and the Nineteenth Century, 185. 22 Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 338. 23 This custom lasted until 1929.


Simón Apablaza

The papacy of Pius IX was one of the most controversial ones. He strengthened the papacy as no Pope had done before, in a very hostile time, originating with the French Revolution. Pope Pius IX knitted the Church together under Rome, convoked the Vatican council which declared the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope. On the other hand, the Church lost all his temporal powers. He lost all the land that was its heritage. The Papal States were taken away by United Italy, and amalgamated into it, making Italy as it stands today. Pius IX was “one of the most remarkable men to occupy the chair of Peter”, because in a time of chaos, he guided the Church as a true pastor, facing the difficulties, not compromising with the pressures of the time. He is remarkable as well because in his actions it can be seen that he put all his hope in God, and in his promise: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it” (Mt 16:18).


Simón Apablaza


Anonimus. Papa Pío IX, la Masonería y el Fin del Poder Temporal de la Iglesia. in the the webpage of the religious order of the “Siervas de los Corazones Traspasados de Jesús y María”: http://www.corazones.org/santos/pio9papa.htm. Attwater, Donald. A Dictionary of the Popes. London: Burns and Oates, 1939. Bokenkotter, Thomas. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. New York: Image Books, 1979. Corrigan, Raymond. The Church and the Nineteenth Century. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1948. Latourette, Kenneth. Christianity in a Revolutionary Age. New York: The Paternoster Press, 1970. Liberati, Carlo. “Did Pius IX Change radically After 1848?” in L’osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, n. 38 (19 sept, 2001). Sale, Giovanni. “Pio IX e le Pressa di Roma” del 20 Settembre 1870, Un Documento Inedito”, in La Civilta Cattolica. 153, 3654 (21 Sep 2002): 455-468. Vidler, Alec. The Church in an Age of Revolution, 1789 to the Present Day. London: Penguin Books, 1990.


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