The Pope Who Would be King

Reviews

  • Christian Science Monitor, April 17th, 2018

    Pope Francis, the current supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, wields two different kinds of authority, one vast and one miniscule. The vast one is obvious: The Pope is seen as the heir to St. Peter, the spiritual leader of the world's more than 1 billion Catholics. The miniscule one is often something people have to make an effort to remember: The Pope is also the chief executive of a kind of government, the head official of the Holy See, which is quartered in the 110-acre confines of Vatican City in Rome. As pontiff, the Pope is one of the most powerful and influential movers on the world stage. As head of state, he rules a country that could be conquered in 15 minutes by a random day patrol of the Polizia di Stato.

    As David Kertzer points out in his richly rewarding new book The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe, this wasn't always the case. For more than a thousand years, Popes were princes, with armies and vast territories over which they ruled as secular (at times very secular) monarchs. Kertzer, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book The Pope and Mussolini, details in his new study the crucial moment in history when all that happened.  

    That moment was a man: Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti, who was born in 1792 and elected Pope Pius IX in 1846 when his generally disliked predecessor, Gregory XVI, died. He was quickly nicknamed "Pio Nono," and as Kertzer puts it, "He was a man with benevolent instincts and deep faith but woefully limited ability to understand the larger forces that were transforming the world," and as a direct result of that limited ability, "he would be the last of the pope-kings, a dual role central to church doctrine and a pillar of Europe's political order for a thousand years."

    Those forces transforming the world would crest only two years after Pius IX ascended to the throne of Saint Peter. In 1848, a wave of nationalist revolutions swept through the Western world. In Italy, the Risorgimento led by men like Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi was at first encouraged by the new Pope, who granted amnesties for political prisoners and least flirted with the idea of instituting some progressive democratic reforms throughout what was then still very much his terrestrial kingdom. This fits well with the tumultuous times; as Kertzer writes, "After centuries of oppression, the people were at last rising up to assert their rights. The tide of history had changed."

    As The Pope Would Be King makes clear, Pius IX ultimately proved to be just about the last person who could navigate that shifting tide. When his conservative minister Count Pellegrino Rossi was assassinated, Pius felt the ground tilt beneath him ("Rossi had been the government," Kertzer writes. "Now that he was gone, a great void had opened up") and fled into exile, where his moods "lurched between stubborn intransigence born of a feeling of betrayal and an eagerness to regain the affection of his subjects."

    Kertzer tells this story in greater detail and with more infectious energy than it's ever been told in English, and he never loses sight of the crucial larger issues that were at stake when armed mobs stormed the Papal territories. Since its inception, the papacy had always had a dual nature, with one foot in the spiritual world and the other in the temporal world, and Papal authority, being seen as having come directly from the hand of Jesus Christ, had been the keystone of all other ruling authorities. "With the fall of the pope-king," Kertzer writes, "the rationale for people elsewhere to accept their humble places in society as God's will, their leaders as supernaturally sanctioned, could not long survive."

    When the dust settled in 1850 and Pius IX returned to Rome, he was no longer the "simple, sweet, timid, fearful" country priest Victor Hugo had once described him as being, and the papacy itself was vigorously shaking itself into the form it would hold ever since. Pius continued as head of the Church (he died in 1878 as the longest-reigning Pope in history), but Kertzer describes a very different man after the exile and return: "It was only by weaning himself from what he now recognized as his weakness, his great desire to be loved by his people, that he could face the future," readers are told. "He would need to develop a protective shield, to turn not to the people for approval but to God alone."

    He convened the First Vatican Council in 1869 (the subject of John W. O'Malley's superb upcoming book Vatican I), and in 1870 the doctrine of papal infallibility in matters of faith was formalized: What the papacy lost in territory it regained ten times over in spiritual authority. 

    The Pope Who Would Be King tells the very human story of this modern rebirth of the papacy, one of the world's foremost tales of political survival. 

    -Steve Donoghue

  • The Irish Catholic, November 1st, 2018

    Prof. Kertzer’s earlier books have made a mark. The Pope and Mussolini, for instance, described the settlement that lead to the Lateran Treaty and the accommodation made by the Church with Fascist Italy. Kertzer has slowly been rewriting the history of 19th Century Italy, and inevitably in these decades the role of the Vatican and the Pope have had a major place, but one which is not always shown in a favourable light.

    Here he deals with the string of events which began in 1848 that led to the downfall, after 1,000 years, of the papal States in central Italy. That was a year of revolutionary actions all across Europe from Ireland to the marches of Russia. But for the Pope they meant a rising in Rome itself, which evoked in many memories of the French revolution which had cut of the head of an anointed king.

    Pius IX, who on his election had been seen as a liberalising Pope, was shaken; as indeed were others,  such as Ireland’s  Paul Cullen, then head of the Irish College in Rome – to whom the scenes he saw gave him a lifelong aversion to republicans and democrats.

    The Pope fled Rome, not to France or Austria, but to Gaeta, where he was protected by the king of the Two Sicilies, and from where he returned with reluctance. The fate of Rome, the Pope and the papal States lay less in the hands of the Pope than in those of France and Austria, and the Piedmontese intent on uniting Italy, vi et armis.

    The rival ambitions of Austria, France and Piedmont  manipulated the Pope as it best suited them.

    The Pope, for instance, to maintain what the angry people of the papal States  saw as “the rule of the priests”, welcomed the advent of the  hated Austrians. Later again he welcomed the troops of the French Empire, under whom the Vatican Council opened.

    When they were withdrawn at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Rome was left open to the forces of the united Italy;  democracy, Italian style, conquered from the north. The promulgation of Papal Infallibility coincided with the collapse of the thousand year realm of the Papal States. In a very real way it was the end an era, the beginning of a new Europe.

    The years between that event and the passing of Pio Nono in 1878 bring the book to an end. The last part of the book is perhaps a bit rushed, but the book as a whole is written with elegant restraint. Its content, however unwelcome it may still be to some, is based (as the notes reveal) on decades of research in a multitude of printed sources and archives including the once-secret archives of the Vatican.

    The author is in the happy position that he does not need to fill out unfamiliar passages to non-Italians; he can simply refer his many readers to his earlier books for all the detail they might feel the need of.

    Modern day Catholics, considering these events, cannot but feel relieved that the Vatican is no longer burdened with a ramshackle feudal state. Released from such a secular burden the Popes can devote themselves, not to pressing worldly tasks, but to fulfilling their otherworldly purpose. But the Church has not yet managed to cast off the Italian mentality that governs the outlook of too many involved in the Curia. Catholics need to recall again and again that the Church does not belong to the Italians but to the world.

    - Peter Costello

  • The Weekly Standard, May 4th, 2018

    In the waning light of a late November afternoon in Rome, in the year 1848, a man in the simple black garb of a parish priest could be seen leaving a back door of the Quirinal Palace, the papal residence. In front of the palace was an angry mob of 10,000 Romans, many of them armed. Meanwhile, in the pope's prviate quarters, the French ambassador was engaged in a long conversation...with nobody. Alone in the room, he kept talking to convince any eavesdroppers that the pope was still there. For the exiting priest was Pope Pius IX in disguise. 

    He stepped into a waiting carriage, accompanied by a Bavarian count armed with a pistol. Pius was on his way to exile, though only hsi companion, the Bavarian ambassador, knew where--not Marseille, as the French ambassador thought, not Majorca, as the Spanish ambassador hoped, but a small town down the coast called Gaeta, under the rule of the reactionary King Ferdinand II of Naples. He must have felt he was running for his life. A few days earlier a sniper in the crowd outside the Quirinal had shot dead a papal official looking out a window; a few days before that an assassin had slit the throat of the pope's new civilian prime minister. 

    It was a dramatic moment--and a stunning reversal of fortune in just two years. Giovanni Ferretti, an amiable, obscure cardinal, was unexpectedly elected pope in 1846, making him the absolute monarch, as all popes had been for over a thousand years, of a realm that in the 19th century stretched from Rome east to the Adriatic and north to include such cities as Bologna, Ferrara, and Ravenna. 

    The previous pope, Gregory XVI, was a morose, intransigent monk who made sure modern ills like railroads, scientific books, and liberal ideas were kept out of the Papal States. Pius IX--Pio Nono in Italian--seemed the opposite. He was modest, accomodating, and had a gift for mischievous irony. A British envoy found his conversation "easy and unrestrained, sometimes almost playful." "After the dour Pope Gregory," David I. Kertzer remarks in his new book, The Pope Who Would Be King, "Pio Nono was the pope who smiled." 

    He quickly won over an initially suspicious Roman populace. His first official act was to free all political prisoners, followed by tentative reforms, including a constitution, plus railroads and telegraph lines. He soon became a familiar, unpretentious presence in Rome, taking daily walks through the streets, chatting with humble citizens along the way. Cries of "Viva Pio Nono!" were heard from the crowds at his public appearances. 

    The American writer Margaret Fuller, probably the first woman to be anyone's foreign correspondent anywhere, was in Rome for the New York Tribune, and she sensed a basic decency--he had set his heart upon doing something solid for the benefit of man." In a quieter time, that might have been the whole story. 

    But in the revolutionary year of 1848, it was, to modify a Mel Brooks line, not so good to be king. Wherever you stepped inc ontinental Europe, you had to watch out for falling dynasties. The revolutions, each with an elaborate script of its own, most failed in the end, but they changed everything, especially people's minds. 

    And in Rome, as Kertzer makes clear, there was a lot to change one's mind about. The city, with 170,000 residents, was from a modern metropolis. Inside its walls were open fields where shepherds tended their flocks among the ancient ruins. The streets and Baroque churches had taken on a faded and melancholy aura. There were almost no industries except the ecclesiastical one (and the mendicant one: Beggars were notoriously numerous and shameless). And Italy, which hadn't been united under one government since the Roman Empire, was still a mosaic of anachronistic kingdoms and small duchies, with extensive territory, including Venice and Milan, under iron-fisted Austrian rule. 

    Pio Nono found himself ruling three million restive subjects who had no say in how they were ruled. It was a government of the priests, by the priests, and for the priests. Cardinals held the highest positions, living like princes in palatial residences. Parish priests exercised police powers, having the right to enter the rooms of ordinary Romans at any time in search of illicit sex, blasphemy, or banned books and to report offenders to the courts, where all the judges were priests. 

    Stendhal, who loved all things Italian except the church, kept a journal that wittily portrays Rome in 1827-29. In it he writes, "When my young barber tells me about some absurd custom about which he complains, he always adds, 'What do you expect, sir, we are ruled by priests!' "

    And the problem for Pio Nono was that he was a ruling priest just when Romans were wondering if the theocratic arrangements in place since the 8th century needed to last forever. His reforms didn't satisfy anyone--not the scheming cardinals and jesuits who opposed them, not the emerging and tumultuous cafe political clubs that were openly demanding, as censorship broke down, a new representative, perhaps republican, form of government. 

    When Pio Nono refused to order the small papal army to join Italian forces fighting Austrians in the north, he went from acclaimed patriotic hero to reviled traitor almost overnight. The rest of the story, in Kertzer's telling, is not only dramatic but, being Italian, operatic--confusing plot, large cast of passionate, declamatory characters, cloak-and-dagger intrigue, and some satirical and sartorial sacrilege (e.g. prostitiutes parading through Roman streets dressed in priestly garb).

    Despite the initial mob-driven violence, the Roman republic that was proclaimed after the pope's flight was orderly and moderate under the direction of Giuseppe Mazzini, who had returned from exile in London. Garibaldi, the other charismatic hero of Italian unification, arrived to take command of its defense. But, despite the valiant resistance of volunteers from all over Italiy, it was doomed, as the Austrians competed with a French expeditionary force for the dubious distinction of crushing it. 

    The French, tripping over themselves every step of the way, won out, losing most of the principles and honor of their short-lived Second Republic in the process. They restored to precarious and unpopular sovereignty a pope who, during 17 months of exile with the sinister, cynicial Cardinal Antonelli whispering in his ear, had lost all interest in reform. The mess made even Alexis de Tocqueville, briefly the French foreign minister, look bad. 

    And even that resolution postponed the inevitable downfall of the papal realm, soon reduced to Rome itself, by only 11 years. In 1870, French troops left the city, and the new kingdom of Italy took it over as its capital. Pio Nono, his sense of humor long gone, became a symbol of papal obduracy, issuing the famous Syllabus of Errors (one error being any notion that the pope should "reconcile himself to progress, liberalism, and modern civilization"). He also convened the Vatican Council that declared papal infallibility. 

    Kertzer deftly sets the Roman scene and extracts a captivating narrative from the standard 1848 labyrinth of conspiracy, illusion, heroism, and ineptitude. This is a book not only for Italophiles but for anyone interested in the way Europe backed into modernity. Stendhal, who didn't live to see the events it vividly describes, would have relished it. 

    -Lawrence Klepp

  • The New York Review of Books, November 28th, 2018

    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 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 post-Napoleonic 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 Popesexplains, “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 non-expedit (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 dissidiobetween 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.

    -Jonathan Steinberg

  • Catholic Herald, September 14th, 2018

    For a 21st-century English Catholic, stepping into the world described in David Kertzer's new book is to enter a landscape as unfamiliar as it is shocking. Though this work describes events in the mid-19th century, the character of the papacy, which is its subject, seems utterly remote.

    Towards the end of the story of Pius IX's struggle to maintain a theocracy, Kertzer reminds us that in 1864 Pius issued the encyclical Quanta cura. Among other things this stipulated that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, of the press or of religion. Catholics were told they must believe that the pope should be the absolute ruler of a state of his own. Just as well, perhaps, that it wasn't until six years later, in 1870, that Pius cajoled a Vatican Council, the first for 350 years, into endorsing his view that the Church's very survival depended on a proclamation of papal infallibility. Pius's reign seems to mark a decisive battle between the Ancien Regime and the modern world.

    Kertzer is a fine historian who understands the importance of narrative drive and in Pius IX he has a wonderfully dramatic story to tell. It begins in 1846 when the unassuming Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was unexpectedly elected to the papacy. A seemingly benign figure, politically guileless, he was a compromise candidate. The Italy of the day was a patchwork of states but, underneath the surface, a nascent Italian nationalism was emerging.

    At first Pius seemed at ease with the aspirations of the nationalists. By all accounts, the Pope was a mild-mannered and kindly man, but Kertzer says that his undoing was his need to be loved. At first he seemed to encourage the idea that he was in favour of a united Italy. This made him popular in the streets and he basked in the adulation of the Roman crowds. But as 1848 - the Year of Revolutions - dawned, the clamour for constitutional reform grew. Within the papal territories, the pope had always ruled as an absolute monarch; all government positions were filled by churchmen. Italian democrats wanted change and Pius succumbed to their demands, granting a new constitution which brought laymen into government and marked an important step towards the separation of Church and state. But Pius could not satisfy the demands of the democrats who wanted the papacy to become a constitutional monarchy. His understanding was always that the rule of the papacy was ordained by God and therefore inviolable. Though he made a series of concessions, a final compromise proved impossible.

    In November 1848, the man Pius had appointed as head of the government was assassinated. This marked a turning point. From then onwards Pius came to regret his liberal reforms while all around him political agitation and civic chaos grew in volume, culminating in the declaration of a Roman Republic.

    When that happened Pius fled Rome, spirited out of the city disguised as a humble country priest. He ended up in Gaeta, where he reversed his position, condemning all his previous reforms.

    Meanwhile, the political situation in Europe was increasingly uncertain and complex. An unseemly tug-of-war developed between the main Catholic nations - France, Austria, Spain and Portugal - all of whom, for reasons of prestige, wanted Pius under their protection.

    The restoration was a brutal affair. The authorities imprisoned anyone associated with the republic, and the bishop of Marseilles sent Pius two new guillotines which were eagerly put to use. Through these means, Pius regained his throne but it was a short-lived triumph. In 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed under Victor Emmanuel II and, though the pope still reigned in Rome itself, his realm was much reduced.

    One of Kertzer's subsidiary themes is the condition of Rome's Jews. When we first meet them the Jews are confined to an overcrowded ghetto. In his early reformist phase, Pius abolished many of the restrictions placed on them. But, by the end, we find the Jews once more crammed back into the ghetto, their brief period of liberty at an end.

    Given Kertzer's previous writings, I think it's probably fair to infer that he's no fan of the Catholic Church's hierarchy and his sympathies lie with the nationalist reformers. As most Catholics nowadays see nothing controversial about the separation of Church and state, many readers will be on their side too. This reader certainly found himself so.

    But I predict The Pope Who Would Be King is likely to prove controversial with academics who have argued that the hostility of the Roman populace to Pius was due more to intimidation by violent republican radicals than genuine popular feeling.

    As a non-specialist, I am unqualified to judge, but I unhesitatingly recommend this fine book. It prompts many reflections on theocratic rule and the painful journey the Church has had to make in its accommodation with modernity. 

    -Robin Aitken

  • New Yorker, October 6th, 2018

    In June of 1846, a blond, good-looking man approached the balcony of Rome’s Quirinal Palace to introduce himself to the crowd as their new Pope and king. But the Papal States were in trouble. As David I. Kertzer recounts in his latest book, “The Pope Who Would be King,” the new pontiff, Pius IX, hoped to win the hearts of his subjects, but “it would be keeping their love without destroying the church that would prove so difficult.” In 1869, Pius IX declared his word on “faith or morals” to be infallible; the next year, he lost Rome to the Kingdom of Italy.

    We know how this story turns out: Pius IX would be “the last of the pope-kings.” Yet the journey to that moment, through “a time of great uncertainty,” is riveting. It also feels familiar. This summer, I started reading Kertzer’s lively, immersive book—Kertzer won a Pulitzer for his previous book on papal politics—after a series of disclosures about the extent to which the Catholic Church had harmed children worldwide. In 2018, submission to Catholic clerics is, in theory, voluntary; the pontiff no longer presides over a citizenry whose sinners he can direct to the guillotine (as Pius IX liked to do). Yet the power that Catholic clergymen hold over the boys and girls in their parishes is hardly by consent of the governed. The Church of Pope Francis, like that of Pius IX, is under review: Which of its positions—on an all-male clergy, clerical celibacy, birth control, and homosexuality—are essential, and what can, and should, be reformed? How can the Pope preserve the laity without destroying his Church? And, more importantly, how can he keep the Church if he destroys the love of the faithful?

     

    -Elizabeth Barber

  • The Irish Catholic, November 1st, 2018

    Prof. Kertzer’s earlier books have made a mark. The Pope and Mussolini, for instance, described the settlement that lead to the Lateran Treaty and the accommodation made by the Church with Fascist Italy. Kertzer has slowly been rewriting the history of 19th Century Italy, and inevitably in these decades the role of the Vatican and the Pope have had a major place, but one which is not always shown in a favourable light.

    Here he deals with the string of events which began in 1848 that led to the downfall, after 1,000 years, of the papal States in central Italy. That was a year of revolutionary actions all across Europe from Ireland to the marches of Russia. But for the Pope they meant a rising in Rome itself, which evoked in many memories of the French revolution which had cut of the head of an anointed king.

    Pius IX, who on his election had been seen as a liberalising Pope, was shaken; as indeed were others,  such as Ireland’s  Paul Cullen, then head of the Irish College in Rome – to whom the scenes he saw gave him a lifelong aversion to republicans and democrats.

    The Pope fled Rome, not to France or Austria, but to Gaeta, where he was protected by the king of the Two Sicilies, and from where he returned with reluctance. The fate of Rome, the Pope and the papal States lay less in the hands of the Pope than in those of France and Austria, and the Piedmontese intent on uniting Italy, vi et armis.

    The rival ambitions of Austria, France and Piedmont  manipulated the Pope as it best suited them.

    The Pope, for instance, to maintain what the angry people of the papal States  saw as “the rule of the priests”, welcomed the advent of the  hated Austrians. Later again he welcomed the troops of the French Empire, under whom the Vatican Council opened.

    When they were withdrawn at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Rome was left open to the forces of the united Italy;  democracy, Italian style, conquered from the north. The promulgation of Papal Infallibility coincided with the collapse of the thousand year realm of the Papal States. In a very real way it was the end an era, the beginning of a new Europe.

    The years between that event and the passing of Pio Nono in 1878 bring the book to an end. The last part of the book is perhaps a bit rushed, but the book as a whole is written with elegant restraint. Its content, however unwelcome it may still be to some, is based (as the notes reveal) on decades of research in a multitude of printed sources and archives including the once-secret archives of the Vatican.

    The author is in the happy position that he does not need to fill out unfamiliar passages to non-Italians; he can simply refer his many readers to his earlier books for all the detail they might feel the need of.

    Modern day Catholics, considering these events, cannot but feel relieved that the Vatican is no longer burdened with a ramshackle feudal state. Released from such a secular burden the Popes can devote themselves, not to pressing worldly tasks, but to fulfilling their otherworldly purpose. But the Church has not yet managed to cast off the Italian mentality that governs the outlook of too many involved in the Curia. Catholics need to recall again and again that the Church does not belong to the Italians but to the world.

    - Peter Costello

  • The New York Review of Books, November 28th, 2018

    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 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 post-Napoleonic 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 Popesexplains, “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 non-expedit (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 dissidiobetween 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.

    -Jonathan Steinberg

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