Pius VII

Technorati Tags:
Question from Anon on 5/19/2008:

Dear Mr. Bunson,

I hear the Pope had a mass in honor of Pius VII. What was significant about this pope?

Thank you.
Answer by Matthew Bunson on 5/25/2008:

In my view, Pius VII was one of the greatest popes. Born Luigi Barnaba Chiaramonti to noble parents in Cesena, in Emilia, Italy, he entered the Benedictine order at the age of fourteen. Renowned for his intelligence and goodness, he earned the favor of a friend of the family, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi who was elected in 1775 Pope Pius VI. Shortly after, he was named by the new pope an abbot and then Bishop of Tivoli in 1782, Bishop of Imola three years later, and then a Cardinal in February 1785.

From the very start of his pontificate in 1800, Pope Pius VII was very much aware that the central crisis facing the Church was Napoleon. To assist him, the pope appointed the genuinely brilliant statesman Ercole Consalvi (1757-1824) as his cardinal secretary of state. The two embarked upon a careful policy of finding a balance with the French dictator that prevented the destruction of the temporal and spiritual authority of the papacy but that also held out room for future resistance to Napoleon’s long-range ambition: complete domination of the Church.

Napoleon’s plans to control the Church were made apparent when Cardinal Consalvi negotiated the Concordat of 1801, which the French leader promptly violated by adding to it the Organic Articles (1802), tightening his hold over the French Church. Over the next years, the French general and emperor (from 1804) grew increasingly angry with the neutrality of the pope. In early 1806, the pope through Consalvi wrote that no pope should become involved in wars between states. In reply, Napoleon declared boldly, “I am Charlemagne, the sword of the Church, and their [the clergy’s] emperor.”

Matters reached the point that in 1808 Napoleon occupied Rome, arrested many of the Cardinals, and finally imprisoned the pope within the Quirinal Palace in Rome. When the pope excommunicated him, the emperor seized the pope and made him a prisoner from 1809 until 1814. In February 1810, Napoleon officially attached the Papal States to the French Empire as a free imperial city, and the Bishop of Rome was promised an annual income of two million francs (less than some of the empire’s bureaucrats). Future popes were also to acknowledge the virtual independence of the so-called Gallican Church as laid out in the old discredited Gallican Articles of 1682. Only now, the “Gallican Church” was synonymous with the French Empire, meaning most of Europe under Napoleon’s control.

Pope Pius was freed only as the emperor fell from power. The pope made a triumphant return to Rome. Later, as Napoleon sat in exile on the Island of St. Helena and at a time when the relatives of Napoleon Bonaparte were pariahs everywhere, Pius VII issued an invitation to Napoleon’s mother and sisters to reside under his protection in the Papal States.

Through the determined holiness, fortitude, and prudence of Pius VII, the Church survived the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and the would be Master of Europe came in the end to lament, “Alexander the great declared himself the son of Jupiter. And in my time I have met a priest more powerful than I.”

Readers who would like to learn more about the complex relationship between Napoleon and Pius VII might read my upcoming article on this very topic in This Rock Magazine, available at Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com).

No comments:

Post a Comment