Whether Gregory XVI ever contemplated the first of
his lineage’s view in this matter is not recorded. Just as important a
question for consideration by this last holder of the title, Pope
Gregory XVI, would have been Gregory I’s claim that any accepting the
title of universal bishop was a forerunner of antichrist.
It is little wonder that later the Roman Catholic
Church invented Limbo as an undefined, but lesser punishment for
deceased unbaptized infants. This was first set forth by the Council of
Lyons in 1274 but had initially been enunciated by the revered
theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274). Even as late as the Council of
Trent (1545—1563) the Dominicans maintained "the severer view that the
Limbus Infantum [Limbo] was a dark subterranean chamber, while
the Franciscans placed it in a region of light above the earth." (Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 1963 edition, vol. 14, p. 129) These were priests
possessed of inventive imaginations.
In adopting the name Gregory, this nineteenth
century pope certainly carried some fearful tradition with the name.
Born in Belluno September 8, 1765, the future Gregory
XVI accepted a Chair of Science and Philosophy in 1787 before
transferring to Rome in 1805. His principles were set out in 1799, at
the time of Pius VI’s imprisonment, in a book entitled The Triumph of
the Holy See and the Church against the Attacks of Innovators. This
was an august title when the state of the Papacy at the time is
considered. It was either a work of prescience or an act of sheer
bravado. In this book Capellari promoted the concept of Papal
infallibility and the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See together with
In a striking manner Gregory XVI prepared the way for
his successor, Pius IX, to declare two long-held views as official Roman
Catholic dogma —the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854) and Papal
Infallibility (1870), for Gregory had strongly promoted both concepts.
Gregory fervently opposed the concept of religious liberty, which Pius
IX was to entrench in his Syllabus of Errors (1864).
Gregory XVI had denounced freedom of conscience and
the press and he expressed his opposition to the separation of church
and state in his Encyclical, Mirari vos, issued August 15, 1832.
In 1805 Capellari had received appointment as Abbot
of the St. Gregorio al Celio Monastery. Perhaps it is that appointment
from which he took his regal name of Gregory. When the French took over
in 1808, Capellari retired to Padua to teach in a monastery. In 1814 he
returned to Rome. He was promoted to Vicar-General of the monastic
Camaldolese order in 1823.
Capellari was given the cardinal’s hat in 1825, when
he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the
Faith. The edicts of this post he carried into his pontificate as he
promoted the spread of Roman Catholicism on other continents. As Gregory
XVI he made the suggestion, novel for his times, that a native clergy,
perhaps even a native episcopy should be developed. But this view was
not forwarded in his lifetime. Nevertheless it was a concept which was
to bear rich fruit in the future.
Gregory was a reactionary in policy and thus provided
fertile soil for rebellion within the Papal States. Eventually he was
compelled to rely upon Austria to quell the insurrection, and in the
process he seriously depleted the Vatican coffers in paying for the
foreign military stationed in the Papal States for seven years. France,
not to be outdone by her rival, seized Ancona during this period. So
reactionary was the pope that he refused to permit the construction of a
railway through his territory and even when a reactionary state like
Austria demanded administrative, judicial and constitutional changes in
the Papal States, Gregory steadfastly refused to meet their demands. He
did not recognize that his grandiose defense of Papal temporal
sovereignty in 1799 and his later continual intransigence in refusing
much-needed reform in the Papacy’s territories, were at odds.
The clock of the Holy See’s temporal authority was
ticking on toward a day, inevitable in its date with destiny, when that
which Gregory asserted as the Vatican’s right would be wrested from its
dominion, perhaps for ever, save for a pittance of 108.7 acres (about 44
hectares) compared with its territory of 16,000.8 square miles at the
time of Gregory’s accession to the papal throne. Thus, even after the
1929 restoration of temporal power, the Vatican’s territory was reduced
to such an extent that it had failed to regain approximately 99.999
percent of the territory Gregory thought it wise to rule autocratically.
Gregory had been elected in an atmosphere once more
of political intrigue. Cardinal Giustiniani had been the favorite but
the Spaniards vetoed him. Gregory had the support both of the Zelanti
and, more importantly, the Austrian strongman, Prince Klemens
Metternich, who desired an absolutist pontiff who would resist what
Metternich described as the "political madness of the age." Such
political intrigue paid deference not to spiritual qualities, but rather
to base political motives. In such an atmosphere could the Roman
Catholic Church realistically expect a pontiff to be elected whose mind
and heart were filled with the Holy Spirit and whose goals were focused
upon the spiritual and the pure faith of Scripture?
As with each of his nineteenth century predecessors,
Gregory, rather than uplifting the pure Word of God based upon
uncorrupted manuscripts, chose to lambaste the diligent efforts,
particularly in the English-speaking world, to spread the Bible
worldwide and to translate it into all the major languages of the earth.
In his 1844 encyclical issued on May 8 entitled Inter praecipuas
machinationes, Gregory denounced the London Bible Society. Such an
encyclical well served a set of dogmata based upon human reasoning, but
it provided no basis for the edification of the faithful.
When he died in 1846, Gregory had certainly brought
concepts such as the theory of Papal infallibility to the forefront of
the Papal agenda. Within a quarter of a century of his death this
concept would be elevated to official dogma required to be believed by
all adherents, placing Papal edicts when pronounced ex cathedra
as unchallengeable, as if the infallible will of God had been revealed.
Such dogma, when accepted, was certainly designed to act as a vice-like
grip upon the minds and consciences of clergy and laity alike.
Yet by his unyielding and unenlightened civil
policies within the states over which he ruled, Gregory further enhanced
the desire for liberation from the clerical yoke which lay heavily upon
the citizens’ natural rights and liberties. In the same year that Pius
IX was to proclaim Papal Infallibility, thus strengthening control over
Roman Catholic faith and practice, the Papal States were wrested from
Papal sovereignty with few tears shed except by the clerical
administrators who had profited much at the expense of the citizenry.