History of the Church: Later Modern Times - Notre Dame

The Papacy Triumphant in Captivity

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I. From 1815 to 1846

Rome, the ancient mistress of the world, has been for close upon two thousand years the head and centre of Christendom. Yet, during all those centuries, the powers of the world have ceaselessly striven to drive the Vicar of Christ from his earthly stronghold and to cast him out a wanderer among the nations. Untaught by the lessons of history, Kings and Emperors have renewed the attempt in vain, learning only when too late that he who strikes against that rock shall perish. The seventy years of exile at Avignon may well have seemed interminable to the Church of the Middle Ages; the Church of the early twentieth century need not despair of seeing the end of a worse captivity. We have now to review the chronological sequence of events which led to the loss of independence by the Holy See.

Revolutionary France having, in 1798, seized the Pope's temporal possessions, forced Pius VI. to undertake a journey which terminated in his death at Valence, on the Rhone. His successor, Pius VII., spent a great part of his long pontificate under the power of Napoleon, enduring at Savona and Fontainebleau the bitterness of imprisonment and exile. When retribution fell upon the persecutor, the Church enjoyed a brief period of triumph, too quickly hailed as the dawn of a millennium of religious peace and progress.

At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, the representatives of the European Powers conceived the project of forming a "Holy Alliance" for the purpose of cementing general union and brotherhood among Kings. But, strange as it may seem, the Sovereign Pontiff declined to join the association. England also held aloof. The explanation of this abstention lay in the fact that an alliance between men of totally different religious views, or of no definite views at all, could be but chimerical. Each potentate had at heart his own interests rather than those of religion, and this was soon proved by the conduct of the members. The "Holy Alliance" became associated with despotism and tyranny in the minds of the people, and discredit was cast upon religion in general. This was a sufficient basis for the secret societies to work upon. They put forward liberal and philanthropic zeal for the well-being of humanity as the remedy for antiquated beliefs and bondage to Church and State. Rome, which had repudiated the "Holy Alliance," was, nevertheless, assailed as the chief instigator of opposition to the liberties of the people.

Napoleon had swooped down like an eagle upon his victim in the broad light of day. Not so these new enemies of the Papacy. They burrowed like moles in darkness, seeking to reach their ends by winding and treacherous paths. Europe was, as it were, honeycombed at this period by the secret society of the Carbonari, the members of which had set themselves the task of undermining the foundations of governments and subverting the existing order of nations and States. Their emblems—the wolf and the lamb—typified the savage power of rulers on the one hand, and the helplessness of peoples on the other. Their avowed object was to destroy the wolf and to restore the lamb to freedom. The ramifications of the Carbonari enabled their leaders to work simultaneously in all the countries of Southern Europe. Hence the widespread revolutions of 1820, 1830, and 1848. It was, for a considerable time, impossible for them to make any advance in the Papal States. The long absence of Pius VII., and his triumphant return, had drawn his people round him; and his popularity was strengthened and secured by his personal charm, and by his mild, beneficent rule. Until his death, in 1823, he enjoyed among his loyal and affectionate subjects the reward of his long and patient endurance of unparalleled trials.

St Alponsus de Liguori


Even outside the Papal States, Italy was not left defenceless. The Fathers of the Institute of Charity, founded by Rosmini in 1828, took up the task of teaching, and exercised an influence analogous to that of the Christian Brothers in France. But besides this, they devoted themselves to the work of giving missions, after the example of the Passionists, whose founder, St. Paul of the Cross, was one of the great glories of the eighteenth century. Their labours spread beyond Italy, but they were surpassed in extent and influence by those of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer, founded in 1749 by St. Alphonsus Liguori. This great Saint and Doctor of the Church was particularly anxious that the Redemptorists should give themselves entirely to the work of preaching missions and retreats in the most neglected and abandoned places. The sect et societies met no greater foe than the zeal of the great Redemptorist missionaries, who won back to God multitudes of misguided men.

The short reigns of Leo XII. and Pius VIII. passed in comparative calm, though both these Popes found it necessary to utter serious warnings of impending troubles. The growing indifference in matters of religion was the result of the new gospel preached by infidel societies multiplying on all sides. One of the most daring conspirators of the Carbonari took advantage of the unrest preceding the European revolution of 1830 to found an organization called "Young Italy." This was Mazzini, a Genoese of good birth and education, whose imagination had been fired by the idea of delivering his country from the yoke of the Austrians, and uniting it under one government in the form of a republic rather than of a monarchy.

It will be remembered that the Congress of Vienna had reinstated the Pope in all his former possessions, with the exception of Avignon, at the same time that it acknowledged and confirmed his undoubted right of sovereignty. The violent supporters of a united Italy plotted to overthrow the pontifical government while the conclave was sitting in 1829 for the election of the new Pope on the death of Pius VIII. The conspiracy was discovered, and the election of Gregory XVI. was greeted with acclamation by the mass of the Roman people, whose loyalty had not yet been seriously affected by the secret societies. For his connection with this and other plots, Mazzini was arrested and thrown into prison, but he obtained a pardon in 1831 on condition that he should leave the country. He withdrew to Marseilles, where he was joined by many of his followers, and he continued to spread his doctrines in the inflammatory journal, Young Italy, of which he became the editor.

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But whatever might be the enmity of infidels towards the Church, the population of Italy was mainly Catholic, and entirely devoted to the Holy See. The aims and methods of Mazzini were alien to the minds of the more moderate of his countrymen, and many of them turned their hopes towards a national confederation under the presidency of the Pope. Since 1815, a large portion of the peninsula, including Lombardy, Tuscany, and the Venetian territory, with the cities of Modena, Parma, and Lucca, had been held by the Austrians. The severity of their rule added not a little to their unpopularity as foreigners, and all Italians were agreed that a strong effort should be made to shake off the yoke, if need be, by force of arms. Trusting to this general sentiment, Mazzini returned to Italy, and in 1833 took upon himself the responsibility of what he called an "Invasion" of Savoy. The object of this wild raid was to coerce Charles Albert, King of Savoy, to make war upon Austria. The utter defeat of "Young Italy" was followed by the renewed exile of Mazzini, who took refuge in Switzerland for two years, and then in England, whence, up to the year 1848, he continued to send forth revolutionary documents of all kinds.

II. Pontificate of Pius IX. (1846–1878)

The death of Gregory XVI. occurred in June, 1846, and, after an unusually short conclave, Pius IX. was elected in his stead. The unanimity of the Cardinals was a proof of his popularity, and of his recognised capacity for the fulfillment of his difficult task. Perhaps no previous Pope was ever so personally near and dear to the hearts of the millions of his children; nor did any ever gain so rapid, even if transitory, an ascendancy over the prejudices and antipathies of the opposite camp. The praises of Pio Nono were sung by enemies as well as by friends, while the world fondly imagined that the traditional and conservative procedure of Rome would now be reversed and forgotten.

We have elsewhere alluded to the endeavours made by Pius IX. to conciliate the irreconcilable liberals of Italy. His failure was due to his incomplete knowledge of the forces ranged against him, or rather to the incredible means taken by the secret societies to wreck all his projects. Emissaries of the red republican type, under the orders of Mazzini, insinuated themselves under various disguises into Rome, and, mingling with the lower classes of the people, fomented the revolutionary spirit. Then, issuing forth followed by hundreds of misguided enthusiasts, they raised day after day new cries for concessions of the most extravagant kinds. When it was fully evident that a strong hand was needed to repress such demonstrations, and Pius IX. had named Count Rossi as his Minister, all went well for a time. Order was restored in the city, and the revolutionists no longer dared to raise their cries of revolt. But the daggers of assassins put an end to Rossi's life in the midst of his firm and vigilant administration. The revolution burst into flame, and the streets of Rome were filled with a disorderly mob. Mazzini and "Young Italy "were threatening the Quirinal, and the shadow of captivity hovered once more over the Eternal City.

Deserted by his soldiers, and in hourly danger of assassination, Pius IX. at length determined to seek safety in flight. Through the good offices of the French, Spanish, and Bavarian Ambassadors, he was enabled to leave the Quirinal secretly, and to make his escape to the Neapolitan territory, where he took refuge in the nearest town, the small port of Gaeta. The little fortress was at once transformed into a brilliant court, where Ambassadors from all countries thronged to offer respectful sympathy to the illustrious exile. The King of Naples came with the royal family and, prostrate at the feet of His Holiness, welcomed him as their guest. "At the very hour of his fall," said the London Times, "Pius IX. is more entirely and essentially Pope and Head of the Church than many of his predecessors amidst all the splendours of the Lateran. "

Meanwhile, unhappy Rome became a den of thieves and the haunt of all wickedness. But Catholic Europe could not look on idly at such profanation. France nobly cast aside all selfish interests and sprang to the rescue of the Holy Father. Whatever may have been the motives of Louis Napoleon, then President of the Republic, in sending an army to Rome, it was the old chivalry of Frenchmen that won the victory and restored the Pontiff to his throne. French troops under General Oudinot landed at Civita Vecchia without meeting any opposition, and, encouraged by success, pressed on to the capital, expecting to effect an easy entrance. But another enemy had just appeared; Garibaldi had united his forces to those of Mazzini.

This soldier of fortune had been from his youth closely connected with secret societies, and by his versatility had made himself useful to them in many ways, by land and sea, in both the Old and the New World. Having returned from South America in 1847, he offered his services to Pius IX.; but, not meeting with a cordial response, he turned to the Princes of Italy. All declined the responsibility of hiring so dangerous a mercenary, so that Garibaldi was thrown back upon brigandage. An army of men similar in character to himself soon gathered round him, and when the favourable moment came, he presented himself at the head of his band to the self-elected republican Government of Rome. Mazzini gladly availed himself of their services.

Met by this unlooked-for resistance, the French were for the moment repulsed, though it was certain that their scientific methods of warfare would finally win. From June 1 to June 29, 1849, the improvised garrison of the city held out, and then Garibaldi, with three thousand followers, stole away, carrying with them considerable booty. Mazzini also provided for his own safety by flight. The wretched inhabitants, left to their own resources, were only too glad to accept humbly the merciful terms offered to them by the French in the name of the Holy Father. By the spring of 1850 they had put the city into order, and were ready to receive their Sovereign with due honour.

"On the afternoon of April 12, surrounded by Ambassadors and Princes, Cardinals, priests, and people, Pius IX. re-entered the capital of the Christian world. As the banner of St. Peter spread out its silken folds in the clear Italian sky, the voice of a hundred and one cannon echoed to the Sabine Hills the glad tidings of the return to Rome of its rightful Prince. And when the sun went down, the Capitol, St. Peter's, the Pincian Hill, the banks of the Tiber, the palaces, the streets, and the great squares, shone in all the brilliancy of artificial light; for from the cathedral to the lowliest cottage, Rome, in her delirium of joy, had crowned herself with fire." Such was the description of that memorable event given by a contemporary writer, inspired by the enthusiasm of the time.

Pius IX. proceeded with the work of the Church, restoring the English Hierarchy in 1851, proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and sending forth encyclicals to guide the nations in the perilous paths of modern times. Revolution was, meanwhile, still seething round him, and the secret societies were threatening his destruction and that of Rome. A man had risen in Piedmont whose dream in life was "to make the Eternal City, on which rested twenty-five centuries of glory, the splendid capital of the Italian kingdom."

The house of Savoy had with difficulty held possession of Piedmont and Sardinia until Victor Emmanuel II. placed the reins of government in the hands of his astute Minister, Count Cavour. The task of expelling the Austrians and, with Piedmont as a basis, creating a free, united Italy was a dream for the realization of which Cavour strained every nerve. Had he, in this, respected the Papal States, venerable and glorious in their antiquity beyond any monarchy in the world, he would have honoured his country and won the esteem of Catholics in every age and nation. But the goal of his patriotic ambition was Rome, and even honour must be sacrificed to attain it. He found an ally in Napoleon III., who, while affecting to champion the Pope, played into the hands of Cavour for the sake of adding Savoy and Nice to the French Empire. Relying on France, Piedmont engaged in a war against Austria in 1854. Victor Emmanuel gained a decisive victory at Magenta on June 4, and three days later entered Milan in triumph. The revolution spread rapidly through the northern territories; the Austrians were again defeated at Solferino, and by the treaty of Villafranca, on July 9, they consented to evacuate Italy. Napoleon, however, to the intense vexation of Cavour, had on his own account guaranteed Venetia to Austria.

Meanwhile the King of Naples had been struggling with a revolution which was eventually to drive him from his throne. Mazzini and Garibaldi were open partisans of the revolted Sicilians and Neapolitans, and they were secretly favoured by Cavour, who had determined that Naples should form part of the new kingdom he had undertaken to construct. It was evident that, if the revolutionists succeeded in gaining possession of the Neapolitan territory, the Papal States would lie open to an invasion.

In this extremity Pius IX. sent an invitation to the veteran French General, Lamoriciere, offering him the command of his little army. The hero was rejoiced to place his sword at the disposal of the Holy Father, though he entertained but little hope of being successful. The news spread throughout the Catholic world that help was needed, and in every country there was a renewal of the enthusiasm which once inspired the cry, "God wills it!" A noble company of Catholic gentlemen of all nations gathered under the banner of Lamoriciere, and adopted the name of the French troops who had served under him in Algeria. As Papal "Zouaves" they proved by their heroic valour that chivalry was not extinct, but that it lived on in the Catholic Church, where it had originated. Their presence in the Papal States was an excuse to Cavour for an attack upon the "foreigners," as he chose to call them. On September 18, 1860, Castelfidardo was the scene of deeds worthy of the ancient Crusaders. But, in spite of the bravery of his Zouaves, Lamoriciere was obliged to fall back with great loss upon Ancona, and there, after a final display of valour, to capitulate. In less than a month the whole of the Papal States had fallen into the hands of the Piedmontese, with the exception of the narrow strip of territory along the coast, known as the Patrimony of St. Peter. Naples was added to Italy in November of the same year, and in 1866 Venetia was recovered from the Austrians. Cavour's "United Italy "now only needed Rome to be complete.

France kept up a semblance of protection until 1870, when Napoleon withdrew his troops from Rome under pretext of the necessity arising from the war with Prussia. This was the signal for the advance of the Italian "patriots." The Papal army, including a remnant of heroic Zouave volunteers, entrenched itself behind the ramparts with a courage only restrained by the positive command of the Pope from shedding the last drop of their blood in defence of the good cause. Early in the morning of September 20 the cannonade began. The walls of the Eternal City were not proof against the guns of the nineteenth century, so that by to a.m. a large breach was made. This was the signal agreed upon by Pius IX. for hoisting the white flag of surrender. The Italian troops took possession of the city, and the Pope was deprived of his remaining temporal possessions, retaining only the palace of the Vatican, with its adjoining gardens. Catholic Europe looked on in amazement at the incredible injustice of the proceedings, and at the still more incredible indifference of Christian governments to the engagements made in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. Victor Emmanuel had the audacity to set up a royal residence in the Quirinal, and Garibaldi, henceforth a writer of low-class novels, took a seat in the Italian Parliament.

Pius IX. lived for eight years a prisoner in his own palace; but never was imprisonment more glorious. The deep and steadfast affection and loyalty of the entire Catholic world was poured out to him in letters, and addresses, and pilgrimages. Never had any Pontiff in the most prosperous days of the Papacy so strong a hold upon the universal Church. So great was the enthusiasm for the captive that it might almost be said that Victor Emmanuel had so far over-reached himself as to provide the Pope with a world-wide empire in return for a petty corner of Italy. Nevertheless, the glaring inconsistency of the House of Savoy in erecting its paltry throne by the side of the immortal "Throne of the Fisherman," and at the same time making over to France the ancestral territory from which it derives its name, remains one of the wonders of the twentieth as it was of the nineteenth century. "What is happening to-day," said Pius IX., "is but a trial "—a long and bitter trial indeed, but one that assuredly will have an end.

On August 23, 1871, the pontificate of Pius IX. "saw the years of Peter," amid the joyful congratulations of a sympathizing world. The celebration of the golden jubilee of his episcopate in June, 1877, was another triumph. Early in 1878 he died, full of years and honours, in spite of all the efforts of his enemies. He had been preceded to the grave by both Napoleon III. and Victor Emmanuel, neither of whom had reaped much comfort or glory from their betrayal of the Vicar of Christ.

III. Pontificate of Leo XIII. (1878–1903)

While the enemies of the Church were considering what should be done to take advantage of this crisis, the Conclave had assembled in the Vatican and elected Cardinal Joachim Pecci, Bishop of Perugia, who took the name of Leo, and immediately installed himself as a prisoner in the Vatican before the eyes of the whole world. He had already distinguished himself as a diplomatist, and his whole reign was to be passed in active negotiations which had for their object the peace and union of Christian peoples. A subtle humour was perceptible in his first official relation with the occupant of the second throne in Rome. The announcement of the new Pope's accession was addressed to the "King of Sardinia," at Turin, and, as His Majesty was not to be found in his own capital, there was naturally some delay in its delivery. Leo XIII. also protested seriously and most vigorously against the Italian occupation, but no attention was paid to his complaints.

However deaf King Humbert might be to the voice of the captive Pontiff, the rest of the world lent a willing ear to his tactful suggestions with regard to harmonious settlements in cases of disputes between rival nations. Spain and Germany were prevented from going to war in 1885, when Bismarck appealed to the Pope to act as arbitrator. This friendly action on the part of Bismarck was practically the termination of his persecution of Catholicity, which, since the year 1870, he had carried on under the name of "Kulturkampf." The encyclicals of Leo XIII. were of universal application, being addressed to reason and justice as well as to faith. He was the acknowledged exponent of his age, both in politics and in religion, a fact which was proved by his advice to the French Catholics to rally loyally round the existing Government, even though its principles might not be their own. The almost monotonous life of the prisoner of the Vatican presents an extraordinary contrast to the eventful careers of his immediate predecessors, with their Vicissitudes of flight and return, disaster and triumph. Yet though Leo never passed beyond his prison walls, his heart and intellect reached out to the ends of the earth, and took a share in every event which affected the welfare of his world-wide family and flock of faithful Catholics.

In a retrospect of the pontificate of Leo XIII, Mgr. Moyes writes as follows: "We make no attempt to summarize the endless activities of a ruler who founded some two hundred and fifty bishoprics, signed over twenty Concordats, and touched on every question as it arose, from agrarian troubles in Ireland to the religious needs of Japan; from "Christian Democracy" to "Americanism"; from the slave-trade in Africa to the establishment of diplomatic relations at St. Petersburg. The perplexed and ever more grievous condition of the Church in France would demand a volume to itself. The Temporal Power, though no longer in existence, has determined a whole series of vicissitudes in European politics. Every country has claimed attention from this great ruler, whose strength appeared to be as inexhaustible as his vigilance was unsleeping."

Leo XIII., like his predecessor, reached and surpassed the years of Peter. He celebrated the golden jubilee of his episcopate ten years before his death, which occurred on July 20, 1903. In his captivity the Papacy was more than ever triumphant. The glorious record of his pontificate will remain emblazoned on the pages of history, growing ever brighter as time rolls on, while the names of the enemies of the Church sink into deeper and darker oblivion. Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, and the House of Savoy, shall fade from the memories of men, but the glory of their captives shall live for eternity.

IV. Pontificate of Pius X. (1903– )

With the life of the "Prisoner of the Vatican" the history of the Church in the early twentieth century became more and more identified as the years went on. Of Pius X. it has been well said that in him the Church obtained what she most needed at the moment, "a chief Pastor as simple, as frank, and as transparently honest as St. Peter himself"; and withal, we may add, as strong, as firm, and as indefectibly faithful as the rock on which the Church is built.

The programme of the new Pontiff, as announced in his first encyclical, was a wholly spiritual one. In St. Paul's words, he expressed his wish and his will "to re-establish all things in Christ "; and having once put his hand to that great task, he never looked back. It was soon realized that wherever an abuse or a trace of negligence existed, a motu proprio  might be expected to set it right.

As ignorance of Divine things is the cause of the widespread unbelief and spiritual indifference of these latter times, the remedy lies evidently in the diffusion of religious knowledge. Not only by decrees, but by his own personal example, did Pius X. testify his sense of the importance of instructing children, and the Christian people generally, in the truths of faith. But, for the proper instruction of the people, a learned and zealous clergy is indispensable, and with this object in view the Pope turned his attention to the seminaries, making salutary regulations for the education of those called to the priesthood.

Closely connected with ecclesiastical training was the codification of Canon Law, rendering its study more simple and its application more practical through the new arrangement of the Roman Curia. In this relation, again, the revision of the text of Holy Scripture and the reform of sacred music, together with many other changes and improvements, benefited alike the clergy and the laity.

By degrees the whole hierarchical organization was examined and brought into vigorous working order, so that, from the youngest cleric upwards to the Pope himself, the utmost harmony of action prevailed. Rules were laid down for the election of future Popes; the work of the Sacred College of Cardinals was redistributed; new Archbishoprics and dioceses were created; the relations of Propaganda with missionary countries were regulated; nothing, in short, was left undone which could lead to the better performance of God's work on earth.

Every year of the twentieth century sees an international Eucharistic Congress, each more brilliant and impressive than the last. Devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, thus publicly manifested, is supplemented by the observance of the decrees of Pius X. on frequent and daily communion and the early communion of children.

The social problems of the age had been placed in a clear light by the famous encyclicals of Leo XIII. Without departing in anything from the principles therein laid down, Pius X. continued the work of forming the Catholic conscience on all points relating to labour. Nor did he allow the ardour of those who acted by his advice to lead them too far on the way of reform. Hence, when in France the young and eager battalions of the "Sillon" had, through zeal for the good cause, found themselves in danger of being drawn into the ranks of the enemy, the Father of Christendom raised a warning hand. The docile troops, under their noble leader, fell back in good order, and, ranging themselves as the Sovereign Pontiff directed under the guidance of their bishops, continued to fight bravely for the Church and for France.

In France, as later in Portugal, the separation of Church and State was conducted, on the Catholic side, with the utmost dignity and prudence. The remarkable harmony of action on the part of the French bishops was due to their unquestioning obedience to the voice of the Holy See. By this means the people were preserved from the pitfalls and snares prepared by the anti-clerical party in power, and a wonderful reaction in favour of religion was set on foot.

The ancient errors concealed under the name of "Modernism," so aptly called by Pius X. "the synthesis of all the heresies," met the same fate as their predecessors. "It must needs be," says our Lord, "that scandals come; but, nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." Looking back upon the history of the Church, we see the many-headed hydra of heresy ever ready to strike, yet never allowed to inflict a mortal blow. The old enemy grows ever older and more feeble; the Church of Christ is for ever renewing her immortal youth.

We may fitly close this brief survey of the reign of Pius X. by a passing reference to the jubilee and festivities in honour of the sixteenth centenary of the victory of Constantine the Great at the Milvian Bridge in 313.

[Illustration] from Church - Later Modern Times by Notre Dame