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Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792-1878)

Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792-1878) The longest-reigning pope, who played an important part in 19th century Italian and European developments, shaping the character of the Catholic church and the papacy prior to Vatican II, was born into a family of the lower nobility in Senigallia. His studies at the College of Volterre in Tuscany were interrupted by an attack of epilepsy, and were later resumed at the Roman College. He was ordained in 1819. His first assignment as a priest was at the Roman orphanage of Tata Giovanni, where he remained until 1823. From 1823 to 1825 he took part in a papal mission to Chile and Peru, and upon his return to Rome served as the director of the hospice of San Michele. Archbishop of Spoleto from 1827 to 1832, he became bishop of Imola in 1832, and was made a cardinal by Gregory XVI in 1840. During the conclave of 1846 he was elected to succeed Gregory, assuming the name Pius in honor of Pius VII, who also had been bishop of Imola.

Pius IX, who appreciated the need for reform, was immediately perceived as the patriotic po pe prophesied by Gioberti in his Primato morale e civile deoli Italiani (1843). He confirmed this opinion by appointing Cardinal Gizzi, considered a leading liberal, as his secretary of state, and his July 16 amnesty of political prisoners, which won the heart of most Italians. A new press law in 1846 permitted the publication of liberal and national sentiments, and in 1847 Pius announced the formation of a consultative chamber or consulta to advise him on administrative and political matters. In June 1847 he instituted a council of ministers that was permitted to discuss the most important questions of state. Although Pius hesitated granting a civic guard, which would place arms in the hands of the people, he relented at the end of 1847, leading Cardinal Gizzi to resign.

In January 1848, when Rome received word that Ferdinand II of Naples, in response to a revolutionary outburst, had granted his people a constitution, Pius was petitioned to do the same. On March 10, the pope, hoping to prevent a similar upheaval in the Papal States, announced the formation of a liberal ministry presided over by Cardinal Antonelli. Four days later the Roman constitution was published, creating two deliberate councils for the formation of law. To safeguard the position of the church, the councils were prohibited from discussing the diplomatic-religious relations of the Holy See or limiting its rights.

Shortly after the constitution of the Papal States was made public, Rom e received word of the revolution in Vienna, the flight of Metternich, the revolution against the Habsburg control in Milan and Venice and the opening of a war of national liberation, spearheaded by Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia. Pius was called upon to join the crusade against Austria, but hesitated, fearing a German schism. In his allocution of April 29, 1848, he announced that as common father of all Catholics, he could not prevent his subjects from entering the conflict as volunteers. The reaction to the Pope's pacific policy, which was contrary to that of his constitutional ministry, provoked unrest, and in mid-November 1848 a revolution in Rome. The imposition of a radical, anti-Austrian ministry led Pius to flee his capital for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the evening of November 24 and subsequently call for the intervention of the Catholic powers to crush the Roman Republic formed early in 1849.

Although Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli orchestrated the Pope's successful flight fro m Rome and the diplomacy that led to the Papal restoration, he executed but did not initiate the anti-national, illiberal police pursued by Rome after 1849. This policy was inspired by Pius. The events of 1848 turned the pope against the constitutionalism and led him to question his earlier reformism. Subconsciously he deemed his pre-revolutionary flirtation with liberalism partly responsible for the revolutionary outbreak of 1848 in Italy, and warned of the grave consequences risked by ecclesiastics who sought the approval of the masses. The pontiff admitted that initially he was deceived by the agitation that called for reform and legitimate change. But having provided all the concessions he should have granted, he found himself confronted with demonstrations and demands for more. The cycle came to an end, Pius explained, when the revolutionaries wanted him to play the part of an aggressor; he refused, and was forced to flee from his state. During his exile, after long prayer he had come to see the basic incompatibility between constitutionalism and the governance of the church. The reformist pope of 1846-1848 turned into the conservative of the second restoration.

Following his return to Rome in 1850, Pius IX, who had abandoned liberalism and resisted secularization, refused to negotiate on the issue of the temporal power, which he deemed essential for the preservation of the church. Offended by what he perceived as an anticlerical campaign on the part of the Turin government, he refused to negotiate with the Piedmontese, and after 1861, would not recognize the Kingdom of Italy. A priest first and a prince second, Pius left diplomatic and political affairs following the restoration in the hands of his secretary of state, Antonelli, as he focussed on ecclesiastical matters. Pius reestablished the hierarchy in England in 1850 and that in the Netherlands in 1853, while his devotion to Mary led him to favor the proclamation of the immaculate conception (December 8, 1854). In April 1855 Pius Antonelli and more than 100 seminarians escaped injury when the floor in the Convent of Sant' Agnese collapsed. Pius was convinced that this miraculous event was due to the intervention of the holy mother. To show his gratitude, in 1857 the pope visited her shrine at Loreto.

Determined to safeguard the church against the war he believed was being waged against religion, Pius favored neoscholasticism and centralization. In 1864 he issued the encyclical Quanta cura to which was appended the "syllabus of errors" which denounced the notion that the temporal power should be abolished, while condemning liberalism, nationalism and the separation of church and state. The pope's counteroffensive was continued by the calling of the Vatican Council, which culminated in the declaration of papal infallibility, July 18, 1870.

Frank J. Coppa


Coppa, Frank J. "Pessimism and Traditionalism in the Personality and Policies of Pio Nono," Journal of Italian History, II (Autumn, 1979), 209-217.

Coppa, Frank J. Pope Pius IX: Crusader in a Secular Age. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.

Demarco, Domenico. Pio IX e la rivoluzione romana del 1848. Modena: Societa Tipografica Modenese, 1947.

Hales, E.E.Y. Pio Nono: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century. Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1954.

Martina, Giacomo. Pio IX (1846-1850) and Pio IX (1851-1866). Rome: Universitą Gregoriana Editrice, 1974, 1986.

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