Pius IX — Part 1
16 June 1846 — 7 February 1878
election Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti chose the name Pius IX.
The deadly Papal wound, inflicted upon Pius VI, was to lead to the
perpetuation of his name in Papal annals for about two centuries. From
the year 1769 when Clement XIV was elected until 1963, a period of 194
years, there was never a time when at least one of two successive popes
did not select the name Pius. It was perhaps an unspoken defiance of the
Papal oblivion sought by Napoleon, an aspiration which would lead to the
near healing of the deadly wound by the Second Vatican Council of
It is not without significance that in the midst of
that most successful council, upon the death of Pope John XXIII,
Cardinal Montini chose to drop the alternative practice of the use of
Pius as the Papal name and chose Paul VI. This incredible sequence
commenced with successive Piuses, VI and VII and concluded also with
successive Piuses, XI and XII; and scattered between these seven popes’
adoption of the name Pius were just two Leos, a Gregory and a Benedict.
In the history of the Papacy there has never been such a predominant use
of a single name over such a short number of pontificates.
Pius IX, the longest ruling pope in history, was
fortunate to be elected. Austria intended to veto his election and
Cardinal Gaysruck, doing the bidding of the emperor of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, arrived at the conclave with his veto, a veto
which almost certainly would have been decisive. But the tardy Austrian
cardinal arrived after the election was completed. Presumably Gaysruck’s
credibility in Milan took a nosedive.
Pius was a pope of decidedly mixed fortunes. Chosen
as an amiable contrast to Gregory XVI, he developed into a stern
conservative. He was aged fifty-four when elected and both age and
severe political setbacks contributed to his altered personality as his
Yet this pope played a massive role in the healing of
the deadly wound, despite his loss of sovereignty over the Papal States,
reducing the Papacy in principle to a religious body without a political
entity, not even the territory of the Vatican as a base. Even worse, his
three major achievements—the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate
Conception of Mary in 1854, his issue of The Syllabus of Errors
(1864) and the convening of the First Vatican Council (1869—1870) which
approved the Dogma of Papal Infallibility—naturally caused consternation
amongst Protestants worldwide and especially in its future
Biblically-prophesied ally, the United States. Even Roman Catholic
states were appalled by the declaration of Papal Infallibility.
Further, the decisive defeat of Roman Catholic France
by Lutheran Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 weakened Papal
influence and denied it French military protection.
Yet it was those very weakening factors which, when
viewed in the long term, were to add unwarranted strength to the Papacy
as it struggled to regain its religio-political health.
Pius lost his liberal instincts very early in his
reign. He, himself, had suffered ill-health as a young man, experiencing
epileptic attacks. This had led him to study theology after the
rejection, on health grounds, of his application to join the Pope’s
Noble Guards. His epilepsy later spontaneously abated.
He commenced his pontificate an immensely popular
pope as he issued an amnesty for political prisoners in the Papal States
and initiated many much-needed reforms, including dismantling the Jewish
Ghetto of Rome. Romans even took the horses from his carriage and pulled
the vehicle themselves, while young women strewed his pathway with
flowers as a token of gratitude.
But only two years into his reign all this altered.
Pius was caught between unrealized expectations of him and the growing
desire for a united Italy. In order for this dream to be achieved, the
northern areas of Italy, ruled by the Habsburgs of Austria, had to be
liberated. Many envisaged Pius as the leader of the Italians who would
expel the Austrians from northern Italy and their fellow Habsburg rulers
from the kingdom of Naples in the south. Pius resiled from these
expected tasks. It was always difficult for a pontiff to take sides in a
conflict between two Roman Catholic nations.
In consequence a republican mob attacked Rome.
On November 15, 1849, Count Pelligrino Rossi, a lay
government minister of the Papal States, famous for his biting
sarcasm, approached the Palazzo della Quirinal in Rome and greeted a
sullen waiting crowd with a contemptuous smile. (John Cornwell,
Hitler’s Pope, p. 10)
That smile was soon lost forever as an enraged
assassin ended his life with one lunge of the dagger into the Count’s
Fearing the mob attack, Pius IX fled to Gaeta in the
kingdom of Naples, disguised as a common priest. He was accompanied by a
legal advisor who was Pope Pius XII’s grandfather, Marcantonio Pacelli.
His self-imposed exile was short-lived as the French
army restored Papal authority in Rome and disbanded the Roman Republic
which had been set up. This experience altered Pius for the remainder of
his life. He became reactionary. Most of his reforms within the Papal
States, including his freeing of Jews from the Roman Ghetto, were
rescinded. In adopting this mode of policy he doomed the Vatican’s
sovereignty over the Papal States, although France stood his friend for
the next two decades, delaying the inevitable.
Even when the republican leader, Count Camillo Benso
di Cavour, premier of Sardinia, successfully ousted Papal control from
some portions of the Papal States, with France distracted by the
Franco-Austrian War of 1859, Pius retained most of the territory under
the patronage of Emperor Louis Napoleon III, until the Prussians
attacked France in 1870. The removal of the French garrison left the
Papacy exposed and Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had advanced the cause of a
united Italy, after the death of di Cavour in 1861, seized the Papal
States and placed them under the rulership of King Victor Emmanuel II,
King of Sardinia and son of the Prince of Piedmont. Victor Emmanuel
became the first monarch of the united nation of Italy.
The total loss of sovereignty left the pope as a
resident of a "foreign" nation, Italy. He adopted a foolish mentality,
declaring himself to be a prisoner of the Vatican, and remained within
the 108.7 acres of what was now Italian territory. For fifty-nine years
his successors pursued a similar course through three subsequent
pontificates. Cut off from every temporal privilege, the Roman Catholic
Church, while never conceding to the loss of its right to direct the
affairs of the nations of the world, had effectively returned to its
position of loss of statehood which had been imposed upon it in 1798
when the deadly wound was inflicted. It was a fearful blow to Papal
dignity and prestige and had serious consequences. While the United
States had severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican three years
earlier for religious reasons, this severance of ties was never likely
to be resumed while it was a church devoid of a state. Indeed anyone,
not cognizant of Biblical prophecy, would have been out of his mind in
the late nineteenth century had he predicted a close alliance in the
future between the Vatican and the United States.
Yet there was one woman, incredibly an American, who,
basing her conclusions entirely on the book of Revelation, did just
that. To many she became a laughingstock; but she was right, as events
of the twenty-first century testify. More of her statements will be
Impotent as the Papacy now appeared to be, Pius dared
to force the dogma of Papal Infallibility upon the Roman Catholic
Church. Such dogma must be believed and taught under pain of
excommunication. "The world would know how supreme he was," wrote John
Cornwall (p. 12). On July 18, 1870, the First Vatican Council voted
overwhelmingly to support such a blasphemous dogma. Pius had completely
ignored the words of the man to whom he claimed to be the successor, the
apostle Peter. Peter, with his fellow apostle, John, had faced the fury
of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which felt that it represented properly
constituted church authority and therefore under pain of punishment must
be obeyed. But Peter, with words that have sounded as a clarion call to
Christians down through the ages, stated the divine dictum,
We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)
This apostle knew nothing of Papal Infallibility.
Most assuredly he dared not make such a presumptuous claim as Pius IX
did. If Pius IX believed himself to be a genuine successor of Peter he
would have done far better to follow the apostle’s humble and divinely
inspired position in such matters.