Jonathan Stein­berg

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The Pope Who Would Be King: The Ex­ile of Pius IX and the Emer­gence of Mod­ern Eu­rope by David I. Kertzer.

Ran­dom House, 474 pp., $35.00

David Kertzer has writ­ten a num­ber of im­por­tant books on mod­ern Italy, in­clud­ing The Pope and Mus­solini: The Se­cret His­tory of Pius XI and the Rise of Fas­cism in Eu­rope, which won the Pulitzer Prize for bi­og­ra­phy in 2015.* In 1997 he pub­lished The Kid­nap­ping of Edgardo Mor­tara, the first mod­ern ac­count of the ab­duc­tion of a young Jewish boy by Catholic au­thor­i­ties in Bologna in 1858. A Chris­tian maid in the fam­ily had bap­tized the boy be­cause, she claimed, he was ill and might die. Pope Pius IX took him into his care, and he was never re­turned to his par­ents. The case pro­voked an in­ter­na­tional con­tro­versy: lib­er­als and Protes­tants all over Eu­rope and the United States at­tacked the pope as the sym­bol of ev­ery­thing re­ac­tionary and back­ward in the Catholic Church. Edgardo be­came a priest and lived to the age of eighty-eight, a pi­ous and de­voted Catholic who was deeply grate­ful to Pius IX, his spir­i­tual fos­ter fa­ther. By the time Pius IX ap­proved the kid­nap­ping, the daily man­age­ment of pa­pal af­fairs lay with Car­di­nal Gi­a­como An­tonelli, a rig­or­ous re­ac­tionary.

Kertzer’s new book, The Pope Who Would Be King, tells the re­mark­able story of Pius IX’s first four years as pope. With an as­ton­ish­ing rich­ness of ev­i­dence he recre­ates the world of the Ital­ian states and the pa­pacy be­tween 1846 and 1850. These were the years in which Pius IX be­came the re­former pope, the hope of lib­er­als and the poverty-stricken, down­trod­den sub­jects of the Pa­pal States, of mod­er­ate Catholics and Ital­ian pa­tri­ots. The Pa­pal States, which in­cluded most of present-day Lazio, Marche, Um­bria, Ro­magna, and parts of Emilia, were the re­sult of the spread of pa­pal gov­er­nance across a large part of the Ital­ian penin­sula dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages. The popes ruled these ter­ri­to­ries as the in­her­i­tance of cen­turies of late feu­dal con­flict, in which they waged war as worldly princes. By the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury, the Pa­pal States had be­come no­to­ri­ous for back­ward­ness, poor govern­ment, and cor­rup­tion. The un­ex­pected elec­tion in 1846 of a young re­former as pope raised the pos­si­bil­ity that they might be­come the king­dom around which the long-dreamed-of uni­fi­ca­tion of Italy could be achieved. Gio­vanni Maria Mas­tai-Fer­retti, the fu­ture Pius IX, was born on May 13, 1792, in An­cona, the fourth son of a count. Hand­some, charm­ing, and ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent, he rose rapidly in the church hi­er­ar­chy: he was con­se­crated as arch­bishop of Spo­leto in 1827 at the young age of thirty-five and saved his dio­cese from the use of force to sub­due the rev­o­lu­tion of 1830. He sold his own pos­ses­sions to raise money for the poor and used his in­flu­ence to save the life of the young prince Louis-Napoleon Bon­a­parte, later the

*See Alexan­der Stille’s re­view in these pages, April 23, 2015. em­peror of France. His achieve­ments in Spo­leto led to his pro­mo­tion to the bish­opric of Imola and to the rank of car­di­nal. He read the lit­er­a­ture of the Risorg­i­mento (the “resur­gence” of Ital­ian great­ness in the nine­teenth cen­tury, which aimed at uni­fi­ca­tion of the penin­sula) and en­cour­aged Ital­ian na­tion­al­ism. His elec­tion as pope on June 16, 1846, as a mod­er­ate pro­gres­sive was greeted with en­thu­si­asm.

Pius in­tro­duced over­due re­forms in the govern­ment of the Pa­pal States. On July 16, 1846, he de­creed an amnesty for po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, and in 1847 he set up city and state coun­cils. Ev­ery­where he went the Ro­man poor hailed him. “Pio Nono,” as Ital­ians called him, em­bod­ied the dilemma of the mod­er­ate re­former. He wanted to al­low some loos­en­ing of the pope’s au­thor­ity though dis­ap­proved of rule by lay­men and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. But his in­cre­men­tal changes were over­taken by the rad­i­cal events of 1848, which marked the turn­ing point in his pon­tif­i­cate and set the agenda for church– state re­la­tions for decades af­ter­ward. In Jan­uary 1848 a re­volt broke out in Si­cily, which was fol­lowed on Fe­bru­ary 22 by rev­o­lu­tion in Paris and the ab­di­ca­tion of King Louis-Philippe, and then on March 13 by a re­volt in Vi­enna. The Aus­trian chan­cel­lor Kle­mens von Met­ter­nich, the hated sym­bol of re­pres­sion, fled to Eng­land, and the Hun­gar­i­ans re­volted against Aus­trian rule. Ger­many, Aus­tria, Italy, Hun­gary, and the Balkans faced chaos. The peo­ple of Rome, like those of Ber­lin, Vi­enna, Prague, Bu­dapest, Mi­lan, Venice, and the smaller Ger­man states, be­gan to or­ga­nize rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ments for the first time.

The in­sta­bil­ity in the Aus­trian Em­pire threat­ened the bal­ance of power in Eu­rope. The re­ac­tionary postNapoleonic set­tle­ment of 1815 had re­warded the Aus­tri­ans with con­trol over Lom­bardy and Vene­tia, the two rich­est Ital­ian prov­inces and the big­gest source of Aus­trian tax rev­enue. The Aus­trian oc­cu­pa­tion was the hated sym­bol of Ital­ian sub­or­di­na­tion. On March 23, 1848, King Charles Al­bert of Pied­mont-Sar­dinia de­clared war on Aus­tria un­der the slo­gan L’Italia farà da se (“Italy will make it­self”), and the fight for Ital­ian na­tional unity be­gan. In Rome Pius IX faced a real threat to his safety. On Novem­ber 15, 1848, Pele­grino Rossi, his most im­por­tant of­fi­cial, who acted as min­is­ter of in­ter­nal af­fairs in charge of po­lice and min­is­ter of fi­nance, was mur­dered as he en­tered the Palace of the Chan­cellery, where he was to ad­dress the Cham­ber of Deputies, the new and pro­gres­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tive body that Pius IX had cre­ated—and soon re­gret­ted that he had. The guards at the Quiri­nale Palace, the pa­pal res­i­dence in Rome, melted into the an­gry crowds, and the door to the pope’s re­cep­tion room lacked a proper lock.

Kertzer’s pro­logue be­gins at the mo­ment of cri­sis: the pope had de­cided to es­cape from Rome and seek shel­ter with the re­ac­tionary king of Naples, Fer­di­nand II. On the night of Novem­ber 24, 1848, the French am­bas­sador ar­rived at the Quiri­nale. He and the pa­pal stew­ard, Count Benedetto Filip­pani, dressed the pope in a floppy black cleric’s hat and dark glasses, and cov­ered his hair with white pow­der. His haste and dis­guise showed how fright­en­ing the sit­u­a­tion had be­come. “I look like a coun­try priest,” the pope said as he saw him­self in the mir­ror.

Pius IX took refuge in Gaeta in the King­dom of Naples, and in his ab­sence elec­tions were held for a con­stituent assem­bly, which on Fe­bru­ary 9, 1849, abol­ished the pope’s rule over the Pa­pal States and es­tab­lished the Ro­man Repub­lic. The pope ap­pealed to the Great Pow­ers—the Aus­tri­ans, the French, the Neapoli­tans, and the Span­ish—for aid. But they could not agree on what to do, and the French govern­ment de­cided to send troops to pro­tect the pope. Louis-Napoleon Bon­a­parte, who had been elected pres­i­dent of the new French repub­lic, agreed with Aus­tria to a restora­tion of Pius’s rule over the Pa­pal States, and fierce fight­ing for con­trol of Rome broke out be­tween the French army and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces, which were even­tu­ally de­feated. On April 12, 1850, Pius re­turned to his cap­i­tal guarded by French troops. Kertzer con­cludes:

The story told in these pages re­counts the death throes of the popes’ thou­sand-year king­dom .... If the pope him­self could no longer claim to have been di­vinely or­dained to rule his land, how could any other monarch claim such a right?

The pope lost po­lit­i­cal con­trol of the Pa­pal States but did not re­nounce his the­o­log­i­cal claims to them, which were based on his po­si­tion as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of God’s power on earth, not on the pa­pacy’s his­tor­i­cal pos­ses­sion of Ital­ian ter­ri­tory. His claim to di­vine au­thor­ity had two as­pects: “spir­i­tual power,” the power to in­ter­pret the teach­ings of God, and “tem­po­ral power,” the power to give laws to the faith­ful to save them from sin. Both pow­ers have roots in the New Tes­ta­ment, where they ap­pear in all three of the so-called syn­op­tic gospels. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Peter rec­og­nized that Je­sus was the Christ and by that in­sight he be­came the most im­por­tant of the dis­ci­ples. Je­sus de­clared:

“I will give unto thee the keys of the king­dom of heaven: and what­so­ever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and what­so­ever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then charged he his dis­ci­ples that they should tell no man that he was Je­sus the Christ.

The supreme po­si­tion of Peter among the other Apos­tles be­came the ba­sis for the claim that the church was the mys­ti­cal Body of Christ on earth and that Peter and his suc­ces­sors en­joyed pri­macy over other bish­ops. Pope Leo I (440–461) as­serted that the power vested by Saint Peter in the church had, as the Ox­ford Dic­tionary of Popes ex­plains, “been trans­mit­ted to each sub­se­quent bishop of Rome as the Apos­tle’s heir. As such, he as­sumed Peter’s func­tions, full au­thor­ity, and priv­i­leges.” The popes bore the sign of the two keys to rep­re­sent the Spir­i­tual and Tem­po­ral Pow­ers. The Tem­po­ral Power cov­ered all as­pects of Chris­tian life on earth and, by a kind of ex­ten­sion, all the lands that the pope ruled with di­vine au­thor­ity.

Kertzer’s bril­liant treat­ment of the cri­sis in the pa­pacy be­tween 1846 and 1850 reads like a thriller. All the char­ac­ters, from the poor of Rome to the king of Naples, stand out with a vivid­ness that tes­ti­fies to his mastery of prose. At the cen­ter is the tragic dilemma of the new pope who wanted to re­form the govern­ment of his lands, but the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies— Giuseppe Mazz­ini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and the armed cit­i­zenry—had other aims. The bat­tle for Rome and the in­ter­ven­tions of the Great Pow­ers have never been han­dled with such dra­matic in­ten­sity.

Kertzer fol­lows Pius IX’s pon­tif­i­cate to 1850 and gives a short ac­count of his later years, but they de­serve a more thor­ough con­sid­er­a­tion. The pope con­tin­ued to rule over Rome and Lazio even after much of Italy, in­clud­ing most of the Pa­pal States, had been uni­fied un­der Vic­tor Em­manuel II in 1861. In that pe­riod the kind but un­cer­tain pope seems to have been trans­formed. The Catholic Church re­newed its spir­i­tual vigor fol­low­ing its po­lit­i­cal de­feat. Pius adopted the faith­ful Catholic peo­ple as his true church. The lib­er­als and rad­i­cals were a small flock in con­trast to the vast crowds who came to Rome to cel­e­brate the var­i­ous new hol­i­days and cer­e­monies that the pope in­tro­duced. Pil­grim­ages and cults of saints re­ju­ve­nated the church. In the 1850s new Catholic mass or­ga­ni­za­tions re­freshed tra­di­tional piety, and Catholic po­lit­i­cal par­ties emerged in Ger­many, Switzer­land, and France.

Pius IX re­newed the cult of the Vir­gin Mary. In the In­ef­fa­bilis Deus of De­cem­ber 1854, he de­clared that the Blessed Vir­gin Mary “in the first in­stance of her con­cep­tion, by a sin­gu­lar grace and priv­i­lege granted by Almighty God, in view of the mer­its of Je­sus Christ, the Sav­ior of the hu­man race, was pre­served free from all stain of orig­i­nal sin.” The doc­trine of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion was now an ar­ti­cle of faith and was cel­e­brated with large de­vo­tional ex­er­cises and mass gath­er­ings of the faith­ful.

Pius IX be­came the true “suf­fer­ing ser­vant of Christ.” He min­gled with the crowds and blessed them. He be­came in ef­fect the “peo­ple’s pope.” The hum­ble, ap­proach­able priest (with a will of iron) was a beloved fig­ure. He lived sim­ply and dressed humbly but be­hind his mod­esty was a new vi­sion of the Catholic Church, with a dif­fer­ent kind of po­lit­i­cal and spir­i­tual in­flu­ence and a flex­i­ble mod­ern amal­gam of hu­mil­ity and doc­trine.

On June 29, 1868, Pius IX called a Vat­i­can Coun­cil, the first of its kind in the mod­ern era. In Ses­sion IV of July 18, 1870, the First Dog­matic Con­sti­tu­tion on the Church of Christ was pro­mul­gated. Chap­ter 4 was called “On the in­fal­li­ble teach­ing au­thor­ity of the Ro­man pon­tiff.” The re­ac­tion to the new doc­trine was vi­o­lent both in­side and out­side the Ro­man Church. Many Catholics were sim­ply un­able to ac­cept pa­pal in­fal­li­bil­ity as a bind­ing ar­ti­cle of faith. They split from Rome and founded the “Old Catholic Church.” The Old Catholics have more or less dis­ap­peared. (The Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil of 1962–1965 led an­other re­ac­tionary group, the Tri­den­tine Catholics, to split from the church. The Tri­den­tines, who still ex­ist to­day, re­vere the Latin mass and prac­tice very much in the spirit of Pius IX. They have their own sem­i­nar­ies and bish­ops who can or­dain priests.)

In 1870–1871 the Franco-Prus­sian War trans­formed Euro­pean pol­i­tics. When on Septem­ber 2, 1870, the French sur­ren­dered at Sedan and Napoleon III was taken pris­oner, the new French Repub­lic re­turned to its an­ti­cler­i­cal tra­di­tions of 1789. The gar­ri­son of French troops that had re­mained in Rome after 1850 to guard the pope was with­drawn, and on Septem­ber 20, Vic­tor Em­manuel and the Royal Pied­mon­tese Army de­feated pa­pal troops and breached the walls of the city of Rome at Porta Pia. The pa­pacy’s tem­po­ral power was abol­ished by the Ital­ian state, Rome was in­cor­po­rated into Italy, and Pius IX went into ex­ile within the Vat­i­can. Its great gates were closed in mourn­ing. Ro­man no­bles and prelates also closed their main doors in sym­pa­thy.

The cap­i­tal of Italy was moved to Rome, but the govern­ment did not in­ter­fere with the pope’s au­thor­ity within the Vat­i­can walls. On May 13, 1871, the Ital­ian par­lia­ment passed the Law of Guar­an­tees as a ges­ture of good­will. It granted the pope rights sim­i­lar to those of the king of Italy, in­clud­ing the right to send and re­ceive am­bas­sadors, though it did not re­store his con­trol over the Pa­pal States. Pius IX’s re­ac­tion was the en­cycli­cal UBI NOS (On Pon­tif­i­cal States), pro­mul­gated on May 15, 1871, in which he re­jected all re­la­tions with the god­less Ital­ian state. The dis­sidio (dis­pute) poi­soned re­la­tions be­tween Italy and the Vat­i­can for fifty years. In 1874 the pope de­clared it non­ex­pe­dit (not de­sir­able) for de­vout Catholics to take any part in the govern­ment of the King­dom of Italy. In 1877 the de­cree was strength­ened to non-licet; it was now not “al­lowed” for Catholics to serve the blas­phe­mous king­dom in any ca­pac­ity or even to vote in its elec­tions.

On Fe­bru­ary 2, 1878, Pius IX died after the longest pon­tif­i­cate in his­tory. He had not left the Vat­i­can since 1870. Nei­ther did his suc­ces­sors un­til 1929, when the dis­sidio be­tween the popes and the Ital­ian state was re­solved by Mus­solini and Pope Pius XI, who recre­ated the tem­po­ral power in minia­ture, as a tiny sov­er­eign state of 107 acres. Vat­i­can City again be­came an in­de­pen­dent monar­chy, out­side the au­thor­ity of the Repub­lic of Italy, that the pope still rules to­day.

Pope Pius IX

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