Pius IX

Pius IX (1792-1878) was pope from 1846 to 1878. He began his reign devoted to liberal ideals but, embittered by the anticlericalism of Italian liberals and by the assault on papal territories by the new kingdom of Italy, became an important foe of progress and change.

Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti on May 13, 1792, at Senigallia, Italy. He became archbishop of Spoleto in 1827 and bishop of Imola in 1832. He was already recognized as a liberal when he was created a cardinal in 1840. On the death of Gregory XVI a conclave divided between progressive and conservative prelates chose, on June 16, 1846, Mastai-Ferretti as pope in preference to the reactionary Luigi Lambruschini.

The new pope began his pontificate—the longest in history—by initiating badly needed reforms. Improvements in financial administration and in the treatment of criminals in the Papal States were followed by an easing of the censorship. The political innovations of 1847 decreed that only the secretary of state had to be a priest and that the council of advisers to the pope and his ministers would be elected officials. A municipal government was established for Rome, part of which was made up of elected representatives. While presiding over these specific liberal changes in his own territories, Pius IX lent encouragement to Italian nationalism.

But that he was always a reformer and never a revolutionary Pius IX quickly proved after the revolutions of 1848. His enforced departure from Rome to Gaeta and the establishment of a Roman Republic cooled his ardor for Italian nationalism. Devoted first and always to the welfare of the Church, he had been willing to support the introduction into it of democratic elements, but he would never agree to the loss of the Pope's temporal power.

When the movement for Italian unity broke out into war in 1859, Pius IV attempted to remain neutral, but he could not keep the papal territories from being dismembered. His refusal to yield any part of these dominions in negotiations with the victorious Piedmontese caused him to lose them all. On Sept. 18, 1860, the Papal States were overrun, and only the presence of French troops protected Rome. The liberal kingdom of Italy was established, and to his dying breath Pius IX remained its bitterest enemy.

As long as the French garrisoned Rome, Pius IX was able to hold his capital, and from it he fired all the spiritual weapons in his arsenal. The famous Syllabus of Errors of 1864, a list of erroneous modernistic statements, specifically repudiated the notion that the Pope would ever ally himself with progress or modern civilization. The Vatican Council on July 18, 1870, made the ancient doctrine of papal infallibility into a dogma of the Church. Pius IX had made it his unremitting task to reimpose on the faithful the Ultramontane authority of the medieval Church.

The French withdrew their troops from Rome in 1870 upon the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Italian soldiers took the city on September 20 of that year, and in October a plebiscite was held in which an overwhelming majority voted to make Rome a part of the Italian kingdom. Pius IX spent the rest of his life in the Vatican. He refused to negotiate with the new kingdom, whose Parliament unilaterally declared that the Pope still retained his sovereignty and absolute control over the Vatican. He could conduct diplomatic relations with other states and was compensated for the loss of his territories. These arrangements did not placate him, and he died unreconciled on Feb. 7, 1878.


Further Reading on Pius IX

The best study in English of Pius IX is the biography by Edward E. Y. Hales, Pio Nono (1954). See also Hales's The Catholic Church in the Modern World (1958). For a valuable and thorough treatment of the dogma of papal infallibility consult Edward Cuthbert Butler, The Vatican Council (2 vols., 1930).

Additional Biography Sources

Coppa, Frank J., Pope Pius IX, crusader in a secular age, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.