Pageant of the Popes, by John Farrow, , at sacred-texts.com
The eighteenth century had arrived and eight popes were to make their entrances and their exits during its crowded span, this hundred years which saw such formidable opponents of the papacy as the philosophers Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, the statesmen Duc de Choiseul and the Marquis Pombal, the sovereigns Louis XV of France
Innocent XII. Reigned 1691 to 1700.
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Pope Innocent XII
Browning's Pope: "Simple, sagacious, mild, yet resolute." (The Ring and the Book) See pages 295-6.
and Joseph II of Austria. It was the hundred years which was to be rent by the bitter miseries of the French Revolution, which was to witness the fantastic successes of Napoleon Bonaparte, and which, as it ebbed, was to provide the depressing drama of a pope imprisoned and his properties garrisoned by alien troops. It was a century when the rights of the Holy See were entirely ignored by the nations and the protests of the popes were received with contempt, their praise with indifference.
The successor of Innocent XII was the handsome clever Giovanni Francesco Albani who became Clement XI on November 23, 1700, and who held the tiara for twenty-one years, the longest reign since the twelfth century. He was young for a pope, being in his early fifties; but he looked even younger, perhaps because he wore no beard, an oddity which astonished and often shocked visitors to Rome. He owned an enviable reputation for charity and piety and his work as Secretary of Briefs had been marked by diligence and brilliance. When he came to the throne there was no lessening of ideals or slackening of energy. Yet his reign cannot be considered successful. It seemed as though no barricade could be erected, no scheme devised in one man's time to stem the rushing stream of event and movement, the mad current of history. Tranquillity and order Pope Clement XI managed to preserve in the Papal States and this was no mean feat in itself, but the general turmoil of Europe and in particular the war of the Spanish Succession made activities outside his boundaries precarious and fruitless. Neutrality was impractical, nor would it be permitted or even believed by either side; and seeing no reason to change the policy of his predecessor he chose to maintain amicable relations with France, a path which automatically brought to him the ill-will of the Emperor and the Imperial allies.
A very dangerous ill-will this was, for the armies of Marlborough and the Prince Eugene were heaping a series of bloody disasters upon the French who could do little to help the Pope, even when Italy was invaded. A terrible price was paid for French sympathies and heavy blows at the political prestige of the papacy were struck from all sides with bewildering rapidity. Hopes for unity among the Catholic nations, always the dream of a pope, were woefully shattered when the Emperor made alliance with that stronghold of Protestantism, the Kingdom of Prussia. The Papal protests were ignored and they were ignored again when the Imperial banners were unfurled over Milan and Naples. A constant flow of humiliation and trouble enveloped the Curia with sorrow. In Sicily a triumphant usurper persecuted the clergy. The papal nuncio was driven from Madrid. And the French Ambassador left Rome contemptuously, declaring that it was no longer the seat of the Church. Yet the City itself seemed untouched by disorder or panic and in fact grew richer by the addition of new academies and works of art. The missions were not neglected, the intricate business of the Congregations continued on, and the Pope found time to deal with the Jansenists who once again were disturbing France. So great was the controversy this time that the French king razed the walls of Port Royal, an abbey which housed many of the movement's most fanatical adherents who satisfied their vows and their consciences by paying but an outward obedience to past edicts. In his first bull, Vineam Domini, the Pope declared that this form of "respectful silence" was not enough; his second, Unigenitus, was a severe condemnation of their theology. These measures were sufficient to halt the movement and although traces lingered on for some time within the Church most
of the extremists went into schism and found refuge in Holland.
The reign of the next pope, Innocent XIII, did not last three years and little glory was brought to the papacy by the Cardinal Michele Angelo Conti, a scion of one of the great Roman families. One of his first actions was to make the wily and unprincipled French statesman, the Abbé Dubois, a member of the Sacred College; and this deed plainly indicated the trend of his sympathies and provided foundation for the accusations which declared him to be governed by French influence. The dwindling respect for the papal office became the more sharply accentuated in his time when, because of the machinations of the Emperor, Don Carlos of Spain was made heir to the childless Prince Francesco Farnese, ruler of the Grand Duchy of Parma and Piacenza. The Duchy was a fief of the Holy See but the Pope's protests were overridden and the Imperial will was triumphant. The raising of the notoriously vocationless Dubois to the purple brought criticism and troubles in abundance to Innocent XIII but his successor, Benedict XIII, was to give the honor to a far worse creature, a villain whose crimes clouded the Holy See with grief and shame.
The conclave which elected this pope had been divided into three parties, the Imperial, the French, and those cardinals who fought for the Italian interest. The last were successful and in the final scrutiny the majority of the ballots were for the Cardinal Pietro Francesco Orsini. He was an Orsini but he had no wish to be pope and earnestly tried to avoid the distinction. He was seventy-five years old and for five decades had worn the purple with honor and humility. All his life he had lived like a monk and as Pope he made no change in a worthy routine. Perhaps it was a mistake; for the long hours
spent lingering over his rosary or meditating in the peaceful shadows of his chapel left him with small time for the grander duties. He heard confessions in St. Peter's, he visited and comforted the sick, and as the appearance of the Roman clergy affronted his monastic standards he took measures to enforce somberness in clerical attire. But the really important problems and decisions were left to the judgment of his friend and adviser, Nicholas Coscia, who was given the Red Hat along with the complete confidence and trust of his benefactor. Coscia had also been a monk but neither Carmelite vows nor discipline prevented him from being a hypocritical rogue of the first rank. Once secure in high position he proceeded to loot the papal treasury and revenues with speed and efficiency. His avarice and treachery were perceptible to all except his patron, and when after six years the regime was ended by the death of Benedict it was to the Coscia palace that the mobs rushed with cries of vengeance and threats of burning.
The right of veto was invoked freely by the Imperial representative at the following conclave and it was not until four months had passed that the Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini was presented to the world as Pope Clement XII. He was a Florentine, a friend of the Medici, and born of a family which had given many sons, including the illustrious St. Andrew Corsini, to the service of the Church. A suspicion of compromise could well fall upon those who had chosen him, for he was nearly eighty years old and soon was to be completely bedridden and blind too. Yet the surprising fact is that his policies and decisions were not devoid of a certain vigor and initiative. Coscia had been given asylum in Naples by the Emperor's Viceroy, but Clement was unyielding in his insistence that the unworthy cardinal should be returned to Rome
and justice. Eventually this was done and the villain was imprisoned and made to disgorge what could be found of his ill-gotten wealth. Because of his dishonesty and bad management the papal treasury had become woefully bare and the new pope was forced to replenish it from his private fortune, an act that he was able to do without great hardship or regret for his family was enormously rich and he had been long celebrated for the grand scale of his charities. Amongst the recipients of his special patronage were the Marionite Catholics, for he had always been an eager student of the Eastern rites; indeed all Catholics holding the faith in remote places attracted his concern and prayers. Not always could he send advice or assistance for this was a time when the ships of Protestant England, with prize-hungry crews eagerly sniffing the horizons, were prowling the oceans and severing communication with the colonies of the countries she happened to be warring against. Many missions across the seas were thus deprived of guidance and help, but there was little the pope could do: for the steady deprivation of temporal power continued on in his reign and he had as little success in his dealings with the kings as had his immediate predecessors.
The Papal territories were invaded periodically during the interminable operations of the nations at war and the noise of guns and the clash of steel against steel were heard again in Naples and Sicily as Charles of Bourbon disputed the Imperial claims and took possession by force of arms. The Pope's advice was ignored and it was ignored again when he offered to adjust the disagreement between Genoa and Corsica. Rejection of the papal guidance brought no prosperity or great success to the Catholic governments or princes and in fact their power was decreasing while the importance of the Protestant nations
was mounting steadily. But no lesson was learned and the old quarrels and presumptions continued. In Spain the voice of a woman was suddenly lifted to challenge the papal authority. It was that of the Queen Elizabeth, whose Farnese blood and an unfortunate propensity for meddling in clerical affairs gave her the eloquence to convince her husband, Philip V, that he should make the episcopal appointments and control the benefices of Spain. She also demanded that canonical investiture to the Archbishopric of Toledo should be given her third son who was not yet nine years old.
It was this Clement who in his bull In Eminenti was the first pope to frown upon Freemasonry, a papal condemnation not always understood by non-Catholics in Great Britain and North America: for the Masonry they know, mild and charitable in activity but nevertheless a secret society, does not, like the brand often practiced in Europe, exist to carry on questionable political activities or to attack both civil and ecclesiastical authority. Up to this reign the devotion of the Way of the Cross, a meditation upon the tragic procession to Calvary, was only to be witnessed in the churches of the Franciscans who had adopted the practice some time in the fourteenth century; but Clement's encouragement and wish spread the custom and today all Catholic churches are equipped with fourteen Stations of the Cross, either in the form of wooden crosses, pictures, groups of statuary or other constructions of art, depicting the sorrowful last journey of Christ on earth.
Clement XII died at the age of eighty-eight but the Sacred College was slow in assembling and nearly three months passed before a conclave was mustered. Three more wearisome months dragged by and despair mounted as each fresh count of the ballots failed to produce a majority.
[paragraph continues] After one of these disappointments the Archbishop of Bologna, the Cardinal Prospero Lambertini was heard to say: "If you want a saint choose Gatti, if a statesman Aldobrandini, if a plain honest man then take me." The words had been spoken in jest but they were taken seriously and it is well they were: for their author as Benedict XIV made an illustrious pope. His own words, "a plain honest man," were hardly an adequate description of his values. He was honest but he was also the most famous ecclesiastical scholar of his time and his talents had not been confined to the library or harnessed to academic obscurity. A long apprenticeship in the Roman courts and congregations had sharpened his wits and then had come the pastoral responsibilities of the mitre, first at Ancona and then at Bologna, where fittingly enough, for it was his native city, his reputation as an administrator gathered fame and commendation. He was a tremendously popular man both before and after his election and if his pontificate brought no temporal restoration at least a greater respect was earned for his office and the conclusion of his reign found the Holy See enjoying extraordinarily amicable relations with most of the governments, both Catholic and Protestant. His charm and ability conquered bigotry and opposition and in England the usually acrid pen of Horace Walpole reported that here was "a man whom neither wit nor power could spoil." Even Voltaire whose superb prose usually mocked the priesthood was impressed; and he paid tribute and showed his admiration by dedicating his tragedy Mahomet to the pontiff whom he described as being "the pride of Rome and father of the world, who taught mankind by his writings and honored it by his virtues." Voltaire's martial friend, Frederick the Great, succumbed to the prevailing mood and saluted the pontiff in his correspondence; and
the Sultan of Turkey likewise expressed admiration in high terms. Such compliments made some of the cardinals draw long faces and they were gloomy too when Benedict made concessions to the Catholic nations with what indeed seemed a very prodigal hand. The King of Portugal was granted certain privileges of episcopal nomination and allowed to call himself the most Faithful King. The King of Sardinia became the Vicar of the Holy See and he too was given the right of nomination, and similar concessions delighted the ruler of Spain.
The policies of Benedict were certainly most conciliatory yet they were not weak. He well understood the weaknesses and dangers of his temporal position and so realized the futility of stern decrees or unreasonable demands. Shortly after his election he remarked: "The pope gives orders, the cardinals do not obey, and the people do as they like." There was no force to back his decisions nor did he seem to need force: it was by moderation and good will that his ends were achieved. By such graceful means the loyalty of Eastern Catholics to the Holy See was strengthened, and rebuke went to overzealous Roman ecclesiastics who had proselytized too vigorously on behalf of their own rite. "We desire most intensely," he declared, "that all should be Catholics but not that all should be Latins." He ordered that no changes should be made in the ancient Eastern practices, including the right of their clergy to marry before ordination.
Tolerance truly marked his every activity. The extreme Jansenists, the campaigning Protestants, the cynical atheists, were not the targets of his rage but were benefited by his understanding and gentleness, and those officials who were in charge of the Index of Prohibited Books were instructed to be less severe. When there was need he spoke with strength and authority, and the decree of the
preceding pope which condemned Freemasonry was endorsed with a vigorous clarity. Without hesitation two books written by his admirer Voltaire were forbidden to the faithful. Like many of his predecessors Benedict XIV was aware of the dangers of a financial system which utilized usury and a grave and paternal warning was delivered against the evil. But the advice again fell on unheeding ears. Indeed the system was too far developed, the banker too necessary a figure in the affairs of men and nations, for any one man to effect a change at this stage. He had better success with the problem, growing large in his reign, of marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics and his rulings, with but a few changes, form the law on the subject as it stands today. He was a prolific author and his great theological and historical works have survived the test of time. He was always cheerful and his court sparkled with epigram and humor. The bright mood stayed with him even when death, a very painful death, approached. He died in his eighty-third year, cheerful in spirit to the end, and for once the satirists and scandal-mongers common to the time were silent. So much so that an amazed observer recorded: "Marvel of marvels! The people speak no evil of the dead Pope!"
Sixty-two days later the world was informed that the Cardinal Carlos Rezzonico had become Pope Clement XIII. He was sixty-five years old and was born of a noble Venetian family. His election marked a triumph for the Italian faction. The noisy Romans were delighted and the ranks of a less boisterous group, the Jesuits, were stirred with a great hope for the new Clement was their friend and the time had come when the followers of St. Ignatius sorely needed a protector. The work of the Order had been a too aggressive and too successful thing in a human world to escape hostility and resistance; and the
elements against them at this time, the too absolute pretensions of the sovereigns, the free thinking brand of philosophy as expounded by such capable men as Rousseau and Voltaire, and the bitter enmity of Jansenist sympathizers, made, when united, a formidable foe indeed. The amiable genius of Benedict XIV had stayed the storm but he was now dead and the attack began.
It was easy to bring the rulers to action. Regalism had reached its pinnacle but the great princes and in particular the Bourbons were becoming fretful and suspicious of an intangible something that was in the air. They did not recognize or understand the elements that were making for the terrible and significant tragedy of the French Revolution but they were conscious that unseen and dangerous forces were at work. Their fears and agitations made them susceptible and willing listeners to the most preposterous stories; and at every court there was a statesman ready with the mischief, ready to produce victims for the wrath of their royal masters. "When we have destroyed the Jesuits we shall have short work," Voltaire had said and the idea raced and spread to the courts with the spluttering fury of a quick fuse. The Prime Minister of Portugal, the villainous Marquis de Pombal, pointed a finger at the Jesuits and swore he had evidence that they conspired to murder the King. In France the Duc de Choiseul frightened his monarch with a similar tale and the royal nights were made miserable by a softer but more dangerous voice repeating the charges: for the King's Mistress, Madame de Pompadour, was an ally of the duke. The Spanish king, Charles III, was persuaded that Father Ricci, the General of the Society of Jesus, had declared him to be a bastard and thus not entitled to his throne. The rulers of Parma and Malta and Naples were told of odious intentions directed at them and the basest calumnies, a long
calendar of crimes ranging from the weaknesses of the flesh to ghastliest use of dagger and poison, flooded Europe with an organized persistence that was strangely effective. A touch of the mysterious, a hint of the sinister, had always hovered about the activities of these men in unadorned black, these learned and disciplined men who professed to spurn for themselves all wealth and privilege, even the benefices and titles of the Church.
The first blow was struck in Portugal. By royal edict the Society of Jesus was suppressed in both the mother country and the colonies and all property was confiscated. Three of the Fathers were condemned to death and the rest either imprisoned or loaded aboard ships which were despatched to the Papal States. "A present for the Pope," declared the infamous Pombal who was in great humor because of his triumph. In France similar measures were adopted and four thousand Fathers, deprived of their churches and colleges, were banished from the country. The fever spread to Spain and her colonies, where the number of those victimized exceeded six thousand, and the smaller powers of Parma, Naples, and Malta, joined the procession of injustice. But even yet the enemies of the Society were not satisfied. Acting in concert the Ambassadors of France, Spain, and Naples waited upon the Pope and demanded a total suppression of the Order. He refused. French troops then marched upon the papal territories of Avignon and Venaissin and Neapolitan soldiery occupied Benevento, but even more disturbing to the aged pontiff was the frightening threat of schism which the envoys swore would be a fact unless the Jesuits were dissolved. Clement was distressed and frantic but death intervened to solve the problem for him. Before he expired he made a desperate appeal to the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria; but her ministers coldly stated that
interference was impossible since, in their opinion, the affair of the Jesuits did not involve religion but was a temporal matter. Clement XIII died broken hearted and the conclave which followed his death was stormy and ridden with the intrigues of the determined ambassadors.
The policy to be followed by the next pope sharply divided the Sacred College into two parties. Should their choice bow to the will of the nations and so preserve peace and a species of allegiance, or should they elect one who would pursue the stubborn course, the way that would lead to disaster and schism? Passionate speeches were made, subtle arguments were employed, complicated compromises attempted. The right of veto was invoked abundantly. After three months of such conduct a majority was found and it was thus that Lorenzo Ganganelli became Pope Clement XIV. He was a cardinal and a Franciscan of unblemished reputation and he had been a pupil of the Jesuits; yet there is good cause to believe that at the conclave he promised the Spanish representative that if elected he would be agreeable to the Bourbon wishes. The transaction is supposed to have been put in writing and signed by the future pope but extensive searches have failed to produce such a document. Great pomp and ceremony surrounded his coronation but underlying the pageantry there was the nervous ache of suspense and worry for the Jesuits who could not but feel that a bargain had been made and that the doom of the Order was assured. No sooner was Clement enthroned than the Spanish and French Ambassadors pressed forward and arrogantly demanded immediate action. They were disappointed if they expected abject and quick obedience: for by every device of conciliation and procrastination at his disposal the pontiff tried to dispose of the
problem without actual compliance to the drastic demands.
For four harassed years he avoided positive decision by pleas and the showering of honors and the granting of concessions; but finally, after the threat of schism was again made, the inglorious day arrived when he was forced to issue the cruel Brief of Suppression, Dominus ac Redemptor noster. The charges against the Society were repeated in the brief but it is significant that no judgment was passed. "Impelled by the duty of restoring harmony in the church," the pope said, "convinced that the Society of Jesus can no longer fulfil the purposes for which it was founded and moved by other reasons of prudence and governmental policy which we keep to ourselves, we abolish and annul the Society of Jesus, with its offices, houses and institutions." With a splendid exhibition of obedience the twenty-two thousand members of the Society bowed to the will of the pope, and their General, Father Ricci, submitted to imprisonment in the Castle of Saint Angelo without trouble or any show of rancor or revolt. But two monarchs, the Protestant Frederick II of Prussia and one who professed the Greek Orthodox faith, Catherine II of the Russias, received the Edict with indignation and protest and both proclaimed that it would have no force within their domains.
The Jesuits were vanquished. Or so thought their delighted enemies, who celebrated their victory with wild and self congratulatory enthusiasm. The Jesuits were gone and Avignon and the rest of the occupied papal properties were returned to the Holy See. But no happiness came to ease the hours of Clement XIV. He had probably acted with all sincerity but he seemed conscious that he had made a grievous mistake and a great melancholy and misery descended upon him and stayed with him until he
died, fourteen months after the issuance of the ignoble Brief.
Four months marked by conclave activities of the usual sorry kind went by and then the Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Braschi, who enjoyed the support of the French interests, was elected as Pope Pius VI. He was not yet sixty and he was so strikingly handsome that the Romans called him Il Papa bello. His tastes and ways of life fitted the golden days of the Renaissance rather than his own anxious days. Indeed the Renaissance tradition provided the pattern for his ambitions and standards. A great palace was erected to house a nephew whom he enriched and married to an heiress, and another nephew was given the purple and the means to wear it with princely dignity. He desired to be a patron of the arts in the grand manner and he wished his name to be remembered in the Roman story because of splendid buildings and because of such great projects as the draining of the Pontine marshes which in their swampy condition were a perpetual menace to the health of the city. But his attention was soon drawn from such schemes because it was rapidly becoming evident that the conciliatory policies of the late pope had ushered in an even greater contempt for the ancient rights of the papacy. And the affair of the Jesuits lingered on. The French and Spanish ambassadors had supported Pius at his election but the astute Pombal of Portugal had suspected him of harboring sympathies for the Society and the suspicion proved correct; for when a commission in Rome after extensive investigation acquitted the Fathers and pronounced the accusations against them to be groundless, Pius permitted their schools and institutions to continue in Prussia and Russia where, under the protection of friendly rulers, continuity was assured the great Order. But he did not repeal the harsh brief because he was a
realist and thought that as yet reinstatement was impossible in those countries where the ruling cliques held such a violent antipathy to the Society. Therefore justice was postponed and as the pontiff gloomily meditated over this matter a new storm broke, this time in Austria.
Maria Theresa had been dead for about three years and her son, Joseph II, was now the Emperor. He was a man who determinedly and aggressively believed that the sovereign head of a State should be an absolute ruler in all things, and this exalted idea naturally meant conflict with the Holy See. So once again there was to be a repetition of the old story, the unfortunate and familiar story of a presumptuous prince attempting to exercise temporal authority over spiritual affairs and ecclesiastical properties. What had been called Gallicanism in France now blossomed in full strength in Austria. The Emperor claimed complete jurisdiction over the Church in his territories and ordered the bishops to cease direct communication with Rome. Several hundred religious institutions had their doors closed by Imperial edict and it was forbidden that monies or alms of any kind should be conveyed to the Holy See. Clerics who showed any trace of opposition received prompt and severe punishment and the Imperial interference was so extensive that laws were issued regulating the size and number of candles and images to be used in the churches. The ordinary channels and resources of diplomacy seemed inadequate to the pontiff and he conceived the bold idea of abandoning the usual practice of negotiating through representatives and proceeding to Vienna in person. This he did and there were splendid processions and majestic receptions and great cheering crowds and the complicated etiquette of the Imperial court paid the requisite respect and deference to the handsome pope. But no jubilance gladdened his heart
for he could detect an insolent spark in the eyes of the Prime Minister who bent his knee with little grace, and the Imperial words of salute and greeting were noticeably devoid of enthusiasm or true friendliness. Two Red Hats were left in Vienna but nothing was gained and the disappointed Pius returned to Rome saddened and wiser. Any further or stronger degree of opposition from him would mean schism and this calamity he had no wish to invite. So all he could do was to wait and hope for a better day.
The Imperial measures were too hastily contrived and too stringent and unpopular to be assured of permanence and when Joseph died in 1790, and was succeeded by his brother Leopold II, most of the innovations were abandoned; but not until there had been further anxiety for the Pope. His inability to enforce his authority and his reluctance to risk schism had not escaped the notice of some of the powerful prelates of Germany and Italy who, prompted and encouraged by Imperial intrigues, had proposed to make themselves virtually independent of the Holy See. Their outrageous resolution and plan was expressed in a document known as the Punctation of Ems, and later the Synod of Pistoja professed a similar insubordination; but Pius proved himself capable of dealing with both emergencies and neither movement survived a decade. Far greater troubles were in store for this pontiff but before they came there were two agreeable incidents. The King of Sweden visited Rome whilst travelling incognito and finding much to please and nothing to frighten him gave his consent to the institution of a Vicariate Apostolic in his country. And across the wide waters of the Atlantic, in the second year of this remarkable pontificate, the North American colonies of Great Britain decided to break with the mother country. Several years
Pius VI. Reigned 1775 to 1799.
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Pope Pius VI
He died the prisoner of Napoleon. See pages 310 to 316.
of bitter fighting brought success to the decision and the famous Declaration of Independence was assured the devotion of a great nation and the respect of all peoples. Freedom of worship was the guaranteed privilege of each citizen in the new commonwealth and the Holy See was not slow to commence the hierarchy which since has been blessed by exceptional vigor and success. In 1790 a former Jesuit, John Carroll, born of Irish parentage in Maryland, was consecrated Bishop of Baltimore.
But while these gains were being made, Europe was startled by the sudden violence of a greater and more tragic revolt. The Bastille had been stormed and freedom and equality for all Frenchmen proclaimed. The Terror had begun and events were moving swiftly and bloodily to the monotonous and never ceasing accompaniment of the guillotine's dull thud. The Church had suffered in France because of the absolute pretensions of the Kings, but now she was to share with the monarch the wrath of the mob-inciters, for disorder was incompatible with an unhindered and officiating clergy, and disorder, particularly wild and savage, was the irresistible pace of these mad times. The reasons for the Revolution were understandable enough. Unsuccessful wars had brought the financial condition of the country to a chaotic state and the lot of the majority of the people was terribly wretched and miserable; yet the aristocracy with a limitless apathy had chosen to blind themselves to the surrounding tragedy and to live within their own unnatural circles of fashion and caste. The crime of their stupidity was paid by their blood and sorrow and those who did not die suffered the torments of concealment or the hardships of exile.
The evils and the weaknesses caused by the trends of Gallicanism and Jansenism had made the French Church vulnerable to the attack of those who were possessed by
the wild madness to destroy all the ancient things. There were nobly born bishops whose only qualification for the mitre was the endorsement of the Crown, and fresh in the memory of many a revolutionary were the unreasonable severities which had been taught and practiced by clerics of Jansenist tinge. But the bulk of the serving clergy were neither high born nor given to theological innovations. They were from the people and served the people well; but, as opposers of violence and defenders of order, they too went to the scaffold in crowds. The heads of the King and Queen also fell to the gory baskets and many a revolutionary leader was to meet a similar grim fate before normalcy came to the country again. Policies and decisions changed with dizzy rapidity before the fickle moods of mobs and the whims of opportunists, and it often seemed as though the ceaseless rise and drop of the guillotine's sharp edge would be the only institution of the new régime to enjoy survival and achieve permanence. The Republic's attitude towards religion veered sharply at varying times from the project of a state-controlled non-celibate clergy to plans that called for the complete dechristianization of France. Rupture with the Holy See came at an early stage and Avignon and the district of Comte Venaissin were quickly annexed. Events moved at a torrential speed and there was little the anguished Pope could do but offer his prayers and give hope and hospitality to refugees. All the nations regarded the Republic with repugnance, hostility, and with a mounting fear that the wide conflagration would not be held at the French frontiers. There were councils and alliances and hasty plans were made to hold the flanks.
To the south the armies of Austria and Piedmont gathered on the Lombard Plain and to meet them Paris despatched an Army whose General was young and confident
that he would add his name and exploits to those of Hannibal and Charlemagne. His bold genius was equal to his large confidence and soon the courts of Europe were aghast at the lightning speed with which the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte were accomplished. Austria was vanquished and most of Italy quickly succumbed before the astounding triumphs of the young General. The Pope was forced to pay two indemnities. The first was in the amount of two million francs and some works of art; but the second demand was for thirty million seven hundred thousand francs and car-loads of famous paintings, statues, tapestries, and precious manuscripts. The papal army was disbanded and territories were stripped from the papal sovereignty.
Joseph Bonaparte, brother of the general, was made French Ambassador to Rome and promptly set out to further Republican ideas and sympathy. Victories always kindle a certain admiration and enthusiasm for the victor and now in the city Republicanism became fashionable and popular. The ancient days when Rome had been the model Republic were recalled and lamented by conspirators who rapidly grew in number. There were treasonable speeches and brawls in the streets and when a French General was killed in a skirmish between malcontents and papal guards, Joseph Bonaparte immediately demanded his passports and soon a French army was advancing upon Rome. The Pope gave the order that there should be no resistance or fighting and then retired to his quarters as street orators with much noise and no little absurdity proclaimed the glorious days of the Republic and the Senate to have arrived again. During the darkness of the night two French officers burst in upon the Pope and rudely told him that his temporal power was gone; and to emphasize the humiliation and helplessness
of his position his ring of office was stripped from his finger. Pius VI was now in his eighty-second year and he was ill and tired. Earnestly he pleaded that he should be allowed to die where he had lived but the request was ignored and that same night a strange cavalcade clattered heavily-armed from the city. There was a brief stay at Siena and for a month the place of imprisonment was a monastery near Florence. But even then the dying man was not allowed to restfully. Commands came to take him across the Alps and it was at Valence, some six weeks later on the 29th August 1799, that the captive pontiff breathed his last.
The death of a pope in such humiliating circumstances caused high glee amongst the aggressively anti-religious. At last that thing against which their fury and malice had been directed was vanquished and finished. There would be no more popes, the pontifical story was at an end, the long dynasty of St. Peter had been concluded with the miserable exit of the 248th pope. So it seemed. But elation based on such belief was as short lived as the new Roman Republic, for the fickle fortunes of war sent Napoleon to Egypt, the Austrians and Russians pressed forward again, and the French evacuated Rome shortly after the death of Pius.
In Venice, which was garrisoned by Austrian troops, the cardinals, each with a tale of adventure and peril to relate, congregated to perform their traditional duty. They enjoyed the protection of the Emperor, Francis II, but from him also was suffered a constant interference during the entire session of the conclave. It was a nervous assemblage, this gathering of thirty-five aged and harassed men, all bewildered by the quick events which had changed and which still were changing the world as they knew it, and all acutely conscious of the awful responsibility linked
to their judgment at this critical movement. On their decision might rest the fate of the Church. They knew they should produce a champion and with considerable anguish they realized that a mistake on their part would easily, so easily, bring further ruin to the papacy. Feverish appraisal and an anxious scrutiny went to each of their company but what was seen gave little hope. There were not lacking good men, able and pious, but there was no superman standing above his fellows, no sign of the genius that was urgently needed. Should they accept the candidate of Francis and thus join the destiny of the Church to the fortunes of the Austrian throne? The idea was not attractive but, as the practical ones asked, could an independent pope survive? The French Republic was an active foe of religion and already the world appreciated the fearsome capabilities of the Republican armies.
A note of hysteria and desperation crept into the discussions but one voice remained calm and unafraid, a persuasive and persistent voice, but of the background: for its owner Monsignor Ercole Consalvi was not yet a member of the Sacred College, merely an attending official. He was an exceptionally brilliant young churchman and gradually it was his opinions. which gained the confidence of the assembly. He thought that the Cardinal Barnabo Chiaramonti, able Bishop of Imola and a distinguished member of the Benedictine Order, should be pope and finally the majority of the ballots was given this prelate who became Pius VII.