History of the Catholic Church - J. MacCaffrey

The Papacy in Modern Times

From 1800 to 1846

When Pius VI. died in prison at Valence in 1799 the enemies of the Church hailed his death as an end of the papacy. But their hopes were doomed to disappointment. When Pius VII. (1800–23) was elected at the conclave held at Venice, almost his first work was the negotiation of the concordat by which the Catholic religion was re-established in France. Later on he visited Paris for the coronation of Napoleon' (1804). The good relations between the Pope and the emperor did not last long. In 1808 Napoleon published his famous decree by which the sovereignty of the Pope was abolished, and Pius VII. replied by levelling ex-communication against all those who used violence against the Church. The Pope was arrested in Rome and brought to Savona, from which he was transferred to Fontainebleau. At Savona he was treated very harshly, as, indeed, also at Fontainebleau. The fear that the Pope might fall into the hands of the allies induced Napoleon to set him at liberty, and he returned to Rome amidst the rejoicings of the people in 1814.

The Congress of Vienna restored the States of the Church almost in their entirety, but the revolutionary ideas planted in the minds of the people by the French invaders soon manifested themselves in the secret societies that sprang up, and principally in the party of the Carbonari, founded for the overthrow of both Church and State. Pius VII. made some concessions but not sufficient to satisfy all demands.

He was succeeded by Leo XII. (1823–29), who was an exceedingly austere man, both in his own life and in his rule. He was followed by Pius VIII., who reigned only twenty months. The conclave for the election of a new Pope was held amid the storm of the revolution that swept over Europe in 183o, and in which the Papal States were involved. The result of the conclave was the election of Gregory XVI. (1830–46), who was, throughout his life, the uncompromising opponent of secret societies and of rebellion. This attitude was due in great measure to his own experience in the Papal States which were still very much disturbed, notwithstanding the concessions that had been made by his predecessors and by himself. The old anarchical party represented by the Carbonari lost their hold upon the people, but their place was taken by the Young Italy party, who wished to unite the various Italian states into one strong kingdom. Even some of those who were strong defenders of the temporal sovereignty of the Popes wished also for a united Italy, and they proposed as a compromise, that there should be a federal union of the Italian states, like the union of the Swiss cantons, over which confederation the Pope should be permanent president. Gregory XVI. was unwilling to listen to either party, and he died just as a new rebellion was about to commence, leaving to his successor an exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, task.

From 1846 to the Present Time

Pius IX. (184678) was well received by all parties, and he proceeded immediately to make concessions to the popular demands. A general amnesty was proclaimed; a Council of State was appointed, and finally, in 1848, Pius IX. set an example to most of the rulers of Europe by granting a very liberal constitution.

But the feeling of the Italians was rising rapidly against the Austrians, who held Lombardy and Venice, and when the news came that a revolution had broken out in Venice the people of these provinces rose in revolt. Charles Albert, king of Piedmont, determined to support them. The cry went up on all sides that Pius IX. should send his army to the assistance of his countrymen engaged in a life and death struggle with the foreigner. The Pope was placed in a difficult position. As a patriotic Italian, nobody could doubt on which side his sympathy lay, but as head of the Catholic Church he felt it difficult to draw the sword on a Catholic nation that had not interfered directly with the Papal States. Immediately, a rebellion broke out in Rome; the Pope was forced to make his escape to Gaeta from which he returned after a French army had put down the rebellion in his capital, but the result was that Piedmont had now taken the leading place in Italy, and Italians hailed the ruler of Piedmont as the future king of a united Italy.

It was Cavour, however, the prime minister of Victor Emmanuel, who contributed more than any other individual, to bring about the union of Italy. Owing to his action in assisting the English and French during the Crimean war (1854) he won their sympathy for his own country, and secured a promise of assistance from Napoleon III. in the struggle which he contemplated with Austria. The war broke out in 1859, and by the aid of Napoleon III. and the French troops the Austrians were defeated at Magenta and Solferino. According to the terms of the peace of Villafranca (1859) the Italian states were to be grouped together into a confederation, with the Pope as its permanent president. But the revolutionary party refused to accept such terms; the people in some parts of the Papal States were stirred up to rebellion; a Piedmontese army marched in and defeated Lamorciere, the general of the Pope, at Castelfidardo and took possession of the greater portion of the Papal States.

The Pope still retained Rome, while the supporters of the new kingdom of Italy clamoured that it should be seized and made the capital. But Napoleon interfered to prevent such a move being accomplished. When, however, the Franco-Prussia war broke out (1870) the French troops were recalled from Rome, and the forces of Victor Emmanuel made a hurried march towards the city of the Popes and captured it by storm. The rule of the Pope was overthrown, and Rome was declared to be the capital of Italy. In order to satisfy the Catholic world, a Law of Guarantees, securing to the Pope certain privileges and honours, was passed by the Italian Parliament (1871), but the Pope wisely refused to avail himself of it, and since that time he and his successors have remained shut up in the Vatican It ought to be evident that the Pope, whose subjects are to be found in every part of the world, cannot himself afford to be the subject of any ruler; and if he were to accept the guarantees of the Italian government the same evils would once again afflict the Church as afflicted it at the time of the Avignon captivity. The Popes would be regarded by many Catholics merely as the chaplains of the kings of Italy. With the present state of affairs in Rome no Catholic can be satisfied.

In 1854 Pius IX., with the approval of the bishops of the world, solemnly defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that is to say, he defined that the Blessed Virgin in the first moment of her conception, by a special grace of God, and in consideration of the merits of her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, was preserved free from all taint of original sin. Ten years later he published the Syllabus, which was a collection of the principal errors that were then finding support outside and inside the Church.

But his greatest work was the convocation of the Vatican Council, which was the first general council held since the days of the Council of Trent. From the point of view of the number of bishops present, the Vatican was the largest and most representative council in the history of the Church. The great question that occupied the attention of the Fathers was the question of Papal Infallibility. About the doctrine itself there was very little difference of opinion, but the members of the council were sharply divided as to the wisdom of making it at the time an article of faith. The great majority held that it was necessary to oppose a strong bulwark to the inroads of Rationalism, and that the best bulwark would be the recognition of the infallible authority of the Pope. A minority, however, contended that such a definition, at such a time, would have the effect of driving away many who were in sympathy with Catholicism, and might also lead to a new schism in the Church. The council, however, by 533 votes to two passed the decree (1870). In most parts of the Church the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was received without a murmur of dissent, but in Germany some of the university professors, notably Dellinger of Munich, refused to accept it and were excommunicated. A new sect calling themselves Old Catholics was formed, and owing to the assistance given this body by the governments in Germany and Switzerland, they exercised a very disturbing influence for a few years; but their numbers soon began to fall away, and most of those who remained are now merged in the various Protestant parties.

On the death of Pius IX., Pope Leo XIII. (18781903) was elected as his successor. The new Pope found it impossible to bring about a reconciliation with Italy, but with most of the other countries he succeeded in establishing excellent relations. The war that was carried on against the Church in Germany was brought to an end by an honourable peace, as was also the struggle between the government of Switzerland and the Swiss Catholics. A friendly understanding was arrived at between the Pope and Austria, and even between the Pope and Russia. But despite the efforts of Leo XIII, to put an end to the disturbed state of affairs in France, his policy failed, mainly owing to the opposition of the extremists on both sides. Many Catholics who belonged to the royalist party took offence at the Pope's advice about accepting the Republic (1892), while the enemies of religion would not be satisfied with any concessions that could be made. Possibly, however, it is by his encyclicals, in which he displayed such a wonderfully keen appreciation of modern requirements, that Leo XIII. will be remembered best. Of these the principal were the encyclicals on the labour question, in which he laid down the broad general principles according to which the present struggle between capital and labour might be ended, on the relations between Church and State, on the necessity for rulers maintaining Christian theories of government if they wished to kill the prevailing spirit of revolt, and on ecclesiastical studies, especially Scripture and Philosophy.

On the death of Leo XIII. Cardinal Sarto was elected Pope, and took the title of Pius X. (1903). His motto is, "to renew all things in Christ," and he selected the best means of doing this by recommending strongly the practice of frequent Communion. During his pontificate he asserted the rights of the Church against the French government, and vindicated the freedom of future conclaves against the veto of civil rulers. In opposition to the Modernist Party in the Church who directed their attacks against the most fundamental doctrines, such as the Resurrection of Christ and the establishment of a visible Church, he issued the Syllabus of Errors and the Bull, Pascendi Gregis  (1907), both of which should recommend themselves to every man who professes to be a Christian.