Pope Leo XIII

Dafato Team | Jun 3, 2023

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Pope Leo XIII (Carpineto Romano, March 2, 1810 - Rome, July 20, 1903) was the 256th Bishop of Rome and pope of the Catholic Church from February 20, 1878 until his death.

He is remembered in the history of the popes of the modern era as a pontiff who considered that the Church's tasks included pastoral activity in the sociopolitical field. If with him there was no promulgation of further dogmas after that of papal infallibility solemnly proclaimed by the First Vatican Council, he is nevertheless remembered as the pope of encyclicals: he wrote no less than 86 of them, with the aim of overcoming the isolation in which the Holy See had found itself after the loss of temporal power with the Unification of Italy.

His most famous encyclical was Rerum Novarum, with which a turning point was achieved in the Catholic Church, which was now ready to face the challenges of modernity as an international spiritual leader. In this sense he was correctly given the name "workers' pope" and "social pope": in fact he wrote the first explicitly social encyclical in the history of the Catholic Church and thus formulated the foundations of the modern social doctrine of the Church.

In his works on behalf of the Church he was aided by his brother Joseph, who was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Leo XIII himself in 1879. Leo XIII is also known for being the first pope in a thousand years of history not to exercise temporal power because it was prevented by the recent Italian occupation, which was destined to last for sixty years.

Unusual fact in the chronicle of pontificates, the episode of his mystical vision foretelling a near future, dramatic especially for the Catholic Church, which had a certain influence on his theological thinking and probably on his following ministerial inspiration.

Childhood and education

Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci was born on March 2, 1810, in Palazzo Pecci in Carpineto Romano (which at that time was part of the First French Empire) to Domenico Lodovico Pecci (1767-1836) and Anna Francesca Prosperi Buzi (1772-1824). He was the sixth son of seven siblings, Carlo (1793-1879), Anna Maria (1798-1870), Caterina (1800-1867), Giovanni Battista (1802-1881), Giuseppe (1804-1890), and Fernando (1813-1830). Two of his brothers distinguished themselves and became well-known personalities: the family's fifth-born son, Giuseppe Pecci, was elevated to the cardinal's purple by his own brother Vincenzo Pecci, who became Leo XIII, during the consistory of May 12, 1879, while Count Giovanni Battista Pecci acted as godfather at the priestly ordination of St. Antonino Fantosati in 1865, precisely in Carpineto Romano.

The Pecci family belonged to the toga nobility. His father was a war commissioner and colonel. Already in his youth Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci distinguished himself as a gifted boy with a particular predilection for the study of Latin, and he was initiated into studies under the guidance of tutors in his father's house.

In 1818, the young Pecci, together with his brother Joseph, entered the Jesuit college in Viterbo and remained there for six years, achieving excellent results; in July 1824 Vincenzo Pecci donned the ecclesiastical habit; a few weeks later, on August 5, his mother died: it was then that his father Domenico wanted his sons, after the loss of his wife, to stay with him in Rome. From 1824 to 1832, he studied theology at the Collegium Romanum, where in 1830 he was appointed assistant master. In 1828, at the age of 18, Vincent Joachim made his profession of faith, entering the secular clergy, while his brother Joseph entered the Jesuit order. In late 1832 he enrolled at La Sapienza University, devoting himself to the study of canon and civil law, and in 1835 he obtained a degree "in utroque iure."

Priestly ministry

Training for papal diplomatic and administrative service at the Accademia dei Nobili in Rome occupied Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci from 1832 to 1837, when he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Carlo Odescalchi of Ferrara. He celebrated his first mass in the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, assisted by his brother Joseph, who had recently entered the Society of Jesus. As early as 1838 Pope Gregory XVI sent him as papal delegate to Benevento, a city belonging to the Papal States. The young Pecci, despite some initial naiveté, managed to show good qualities as an administrator in his brief experience in Benevento. On June 8, 1841, Gregory XVI appointed him apostolic delegate to Spoleto, where he remained only a month, since, the see of Perugia having become vacant, he became apostolic delegate to the Umbrian capital on July 12. In his new Perugian seat he busied himself more with reorganizing the administration of justice and the municipal administration, also dealing with the provincial road system, building the new and wide road that allowed people to go up to the city. Inaugurated on the occasion of Gregory XVI's visit to Perugia on September 25, 1841, the new road took the name Gregoriana.

Episcopal ministry and diplomatic mission in Belgium

In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI appointed him titular archbishop of Damiata; he received episcopal consecration in the church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna by the imposition of hands of Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini on Feb. 19, 1843. In December 1842, Secretary of State Luigi Lambruschini entrusted him with the post of apostolic nuncio to Belgium, replacing Monsignor Raffaele Fornari, who had previously been appointed apostolic nuncio to France; the diplomatic experience in Belgium left Monsignor Pecci with a particular fondness for the French-speaking world, whose press he read regularly. However, his support for the Belgian episcopate, which was in conflict with the government over youth education, caused him to be asked by King Leopold I to leave the Holy See, which of course had to be accepted. On January 19, 1846, he was appointed archbishop ad personam of Perugia due to the death of Monsignor Carlo Filesio Cittadini, bishop of Perugia.

Archbishop of Perugia

Just in the days in which Monsignor Pecci's transition from the Belgian nunciature to the leadership of the Perugian Church took place, Pope Gregory XVI died and the long papacy of Pius IX began; a pontificate destined to create not a few headaches for Monsignor Pecci, who, especially with Cardinal Secretary of State Giacomo Antonelli, never managed to establish a relationship of genuine cooperation. In the Umbrian city Pecci remained from 1846 to 1877, that is, for more than 30 years, despite the fact that he was appointed cardinal during that period.

During these years, despite difficult relations with the new Italian state, he built more than fifty churches (called Leonine churches) and other buildings in the diocesan territory. Monsignor Pecci had to deal with unpleasant situations in his diocese, where environments hostile to the Church were beginning to form; in fact, Masonic nuclei, liberal groups favorable to the constitutional regime and national unification, Mazzinian and anticlerical associations began to spring up. He avoided resorting to harsh and repressive attitudes and adopted a pastoral action mainly aimed at operating on a religious level, avoiding measuring himself on the political field; he wanted to respond to the religious needs of the faithful and wanted to prepare a clergy capable of facing the various tasks that social and political changes dictated. In an address on Sept. 11, 1853, he did not hide the presence in his diocese of "indifferentism in religious things and spiritual interests," of "disregard for feast days," of "nausea and infrequency to the Sacraments," of "licentiousness of living and immorality".To remedy these problems, in his view, an adequately prepared clergy was needed.

From the earliest years of his episcopate at the Umbrian capital, Monsignor Pecci had particularly at heart the problems of the culture of the clergy, judging it necessary to provide not only religious, but also scientific, historical and philosophical formation for the presbyters of the diocese. He had a special dedication to the seminary, in fact he revised the curricula, inspired also by the experience he gained as apostolic nuncio to Belgium. In order to enlarge the seminary's rooms, he also deprived himself of part of the episcope and personally followed the daily life of the seminarians. In 1866 he also published an instruction on the conduct of the clergy in the present times, in which priests were urged to "a hard, meditated and assiduous study."

In addition to paying special attention to the education of the presbytery and the pastoral care of the faithful, he had to cope with some administrative situations; in particular, he had to stand up to the inefficiency and corruption of which the many papal delegates who took turns in those years in the administration of the city were protagonists: eight delegates alternated in only fourteen years, most of whom, if one does not take into account the future Cardinals Consolini and Randi, were incapable of managing the administration of Perugia with moral integrity and rectitude. The bishop of Perugia had to contend with "a series of papal delegates one more than the other of very short intellect, suspicious of everything and everyone, careless in the extreme of the bishop and his notices." Monsignor Pecci directed to Cardinal Secretary of State Antonelli bitter letters of complaint about the administrative failings of the Perugian diocese. However, the ineffective papal administration ended up consolidating, especially in the Umbrian capital, liberal and Masonic currents, and adherence to the national cause and the politics of Piedmont. In June 1859, all these components ended up converging, in violent and bloody fighting, known as the "massacres of Perugia. "On June 14, liberal groups, which were supported by a large part of Perugia's student population, rose up against the papal authorities, giving rise to a provisional government that remained in office for only a week, as the papal troops, reorganized, recaptured the city on June 20 after violent clashes. Bishop Pecci, while not hiding his satisfaction with the return of the papal government to Perugia, did not fail to lament the severity of some of the measures taken, especially about the decision to close the University in order to punish students who participated in the insurrection. He tried in vain to obtain a more lenient attitude from Rome, taking into account that the cause of the insurrection was also to be found in the city's poor administration. The papal government was destined to be short-lived in Perugia; in fact, on September 14, 1860, the Piedmontese army, led by General Fanti, conquered the city of Perugia, and the plebiscite of November 4 pronounced in favor of its annexation to the Kingdom of Savoy.


He was created cardinal by Pius IX in the consistory of December 19, 1853.

Regarding the national question, Cardinal Pecci never showed any particular sympathy for the patriotic instances present in many sectors of the Italian Church. He believed that temporal power was a necessary requirement to allow the Church the free exercise of its spiritual function. In his pastoral of Feb. 12, 1860, entitled "The Temporal Dominion of the Holy See," he strongly disapproved of the idea of wanting to make "the High Priest of the Catholic Church the subject of an earthly power." In October 1860, when Minister Marco Minghetti invited the bishops of the Kingdom to express their adherence to the new political regime, Cardinal Pecci wanted to address, on behalf of the entire Umbrian episcopate, a letter to Pope Pius IX to reaffirm the need for the Catholic Church to exercise temporal power. He also wrote several letters to Victor Emmanuel II strongly protesting the introduction in the new provinces of Umbria of civil marriage and the expulsion of the Camaldolese hermits of Montecorona. Nevertheless, these protests were never posed in particularly harsh tones and his behavior was never provocative or immoderate, but rather balanced and moderate, so much so that when Victor Emmanuel visited Perugia on January 30, 1869, Cardinal Pecci wished to send him a letter in which he affirmed that "he would not have hesitated to pay reverent homage without delay" to the person of the king, had not "the present conditions and connections between Church and Government" and "his faltering health" held him back. He did not fail, however, to express his "profound reverence" to the sovereign.

It was said of Monsignor Pecci that he was a man of "unquestionable valor, great strength of will and rare severity in the exercise of his functions," adding that he was "one of those priests who should be esteemed and admired, a man of great political vision and even greater science." After all, Monsignor Pecci had never failed to take autonomous positions towards some aspects of Pope Pius IX's policies. In particular, he judged the adherence in 1848 to the Italian cause to be inappropriate and the subsequent disengagement equally untimely. He did not manifest his full conviction about the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Concerning the Syllabus he had argued, in tune with the bishop of Orléans, Monsignor Dupanloup, that the various propositions of the document could be interpreted correctly only if placed in their historical context. Finally, at the First Vatican Council, he took a balancing position between the ultramontane currents and the group of anti-infallibilists. While recognizing and voting for papal infallibility, he believed it was necessary to accord greater dignity and authority to the episcopal body.

After about 30 years in the diocese of Perugia, he matured the need to move. On Oct. 3, 1874, he wrote to Cardinal Prospero Caterini, prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Council (now converted into the Congregation for the Clergy), "Seeing my faltering health deteriorate more and more each day, I also feel my strength failing to support the burden of this vast diocese which at best I have served for about thirty years." He manifested a desire to obtain a suburbicarian see, which would alleviate his weaknesses. Cardinal Pecci had to wait a few more years before his wish was granted. On April 22, 1877, writing to Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni, appointed as the new secretary of state after Cardinal Antonelli's death on November 3, 1876, he asked that the pontiff have "some consideration" for his person "after thirty-two years of episcopal exercise" and "twenty-four in the Sacred College." He desired a "less troublesome position and a less harsh climate especially in the winter months" and asked to be transferred to Rome, while still retaining the leadership of the diocese, which was entrusted to an auxiliary bishop. Cardinal Simeoni's response was encouraging: at the suggestion of Cardinal Pecci himself, his provicar general Monsignor Laurenzi was appointed to lead the Perugian Church as auxiliary bishop. On June 4, 1877, Pope Pius IX authorized him to reside in Rome and on Sept. 21 of the same year appointed him chamberlain of Holy Roman Church.

The conclave of 1878

When Pius IX died on Feb. 7, 1878, European diplomacy did not fail to exert significant pressure on the College of Cardinals in order to steer it toward a moderate choice, which was supposed to dilute the intransigent attitudes that had marked the last years of Pius IX's pontificate. From the very first vote at the conclave, which opened on February 18, a clear bias in favor of Cardinal Pecci emerged. His candidacy was supported mainly by Cardinal Bartolini, Cardinal Manning and the Archbishop of Louvain, Cardinal Dechamps. The French, Spanish and Austro-Hungarian governments imposed significant vetoes on Cardinal Bilio's candidacy. In particular, French Foreign Minister Waddington did not fail, through the Bishop of Orléans, Monsignor Dupanloup, to support the candidacy of Cardinal Pecci.

Cardinal Pecci was elected supreme pontiff, the first after the end of the millennial temporal power of the popes, on February 20, 1878, after a conclave of only two days, on the third ballot, with forty-four votes in favor.

His failing health portended a transitional pontificate. Instead, it would prove to be even the third longest at the time (the second being that of Pius IX, pontiff who reigned from 1846 to 1878, and also considering that of St. Peter) and, only in 2004, was surpassed by that of Pope John Paul II.

The choice of the name Leo (in homage to Pope Leo XII, whom he greatly admired in his youth) was an early sign that the new pontiff intended to pursue a change in the approach to the papacy from his predecessor.

The coronation of Leo XIII took place in the Sistine Chapel on March 3, 1878.

Diplomatic activity

The pontificate of Leo XIII was part of an era of progressive secularization of society. This circumstance led to a series of tensions between the Holy See and the various governments. Pope Leo XIII was able to mediate between instances related to modernity and the intransigent position taken by his predecessor Pope Pius IX. In Italy, however, he continued the firm opposition to the Kingdom of Italy, maintaining the Non expedit and thus preventing Italian Catholics from participating in elections and, in general, in the political life of the state.

Following the proposal of an international committee composed of leading figures, representative of European cultural and political circles, the initiative of erecting a monument to Giordano Bruno in Rome was planned. Reacting to the clear opposition of the Holy See, demonstrations in favor of the monument were organized by Roman students in January 1888, which were repressed by the police with clashes and arrests, eventually leading to the closure of the University of Rome. Following elections for the renewal of the Rome City Council in June 1888, the liberals won a majority due to their support toward the initiative, and in December the new council granted the space in Campo de' Fiori for the erection of the monument, also gaining the approval of head of government Francesco Crispi. Leo XIII, renouncing to leave Rome, as he had actually threatened, remained all day fasting and in recollection before the statue of St. Peter.

Then on June 30, 1889, he delivered a solemn allocution condemning and protesting the outrage he claimed to have suffered, denouncing the "all-out fight against the Catholic religion" by a modern world hostile to the Church and God. As for Bruno, the papal allocution fully confirmed the legitimacy of the condemnation and burning: "he did not possess relevant scientific knowledge" while he had had "extravagances of weakness and corruption." The June 9, 1889 celebration appeared to be a European event: sentiments in favor of scientific freedom and against religious obscurantism were expressed in a massive demonstration. The official speaker, Giovanni Bovio, said that the pope suffered more from the celebrations of that day than from the loss of the Church State.

In 1896 he sent an apostolic brief of appreciation and support to the International Anti-Masonic Congress in Trent.

In Germany, with a series of concessions to Bismarck Leo XIII was able - opposing even the German Catholic Party, the Zentrumspartei - to put an end to the Kulturkampf. In France as well - arousing the discontent of the more conservative Catholic sectors there as well - he invited Catholics to rapprochement with the Third Republic, despite the fact that the latter, governed by increasingly radical and anticlerical majorities, launched a program of progressive secularization of institutions, starting with the school sector. This development resulted, in 1905, after the death of Leo XIII, in the separation of church and state.

More successful was the pontiff's policy in open disputes with Switzerland and Latin American countries. There was early contact with the United States of America and Russia, and relations with the United Kingdom and Spain improved as well. The pope's international stature - while not reaching the level of political involvement and influence that Leo XIII aimed for - also increased thanks to the mediation he carried out both in the Caroline Islands conflict and for the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Pastoral Activities

He addressed the problem of the role of Catholics in modern states in his encyclical Immortale Dei of 1885 and denied the conflict between science and religion in Aeterni Patris of 1879. His encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891, is considered the foundational text of modern Christian social doctrine. Rerum Novarum deals with the problem of the rights and duties of capital and labor, attempting to mediate between positions of socialist and revolutionary orientation and those proper to capitalist-leaning economic liberalism, inaugurating a reflection on the problems of labor in the modern world later taken up and deepened in 1931 by Pope Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno, Pope John XXIII's 1961 Mater et Magistra, Pope Paul VI's 1967 Populorum Progressio and, more recently (1991), Pope John Paul II's Centesimus Annus. The pontiff stands for inter-class collaboration:

He was particularly active on the teaching side, founding institutes of philosophy and universities run by religious and laymen. He opened himself to the university laity, thanks to the numerous academies present at the time, particularly in Siena, where the scolarca president Girolamo Benvoglienti operated, and in Lucca. It was the recommendations of bishops Filippo Sardi (August 3, 1789 - March 8, 1826) and Joseph II De Nobili (July 3, 1826 - March 29, 1836) that enabled the work of the academics coadjutors of the encyclical of modernity, namely Rerum Novarum, the philomati of Lucca, headed by Luigi Fornaciari. Among the universities, mention should be made of the Catholic universities that, in various cities (Louvain, Washington), worked for the proliferation of philosophy, theology and art. Leo XIII also opened part of the Vatican Secret Archives to scholars.

Also important was his encouragement of a number of causes for beatification and canonization; for example, it was he who canonized Clare of Montefalco and ordered, on December 19, 1878, the reopening of the process of canonization of Camilla da Varano, i.e., the Blessed Baptist, a process that, moreover, would only come to a conclusion in October 2010 at the hands of Pope Benedict XVI.

Mystical visions

In 1884 Leo XIII had a mystical vision that greatly impressed him. On the morning of October 13, during a celebration in the Pauline Chapel, he assumed an attitude out of the ordinary: he seemed suddenly immobilized for a few minutes, after which, with a rehearsed appearance, he promptly returned to his study. Those present feared he had fallen ill, but shortly afterwards he summoned the head of the Congregation of Rites and entrusting him with the manuscript of a prayer he had just completed, he commanded him to include it in the Roman Ritual. The prayer is an elaborate invocation to Archangel Michael in defense against some impending action of the Devil "...Michael archangele, defende nos in proelio, contra nequitias et insidias diaboli esto praesidium..." The oration that remained in the common liturgy was later removed by the innovative provisions of the Second Vatican Council.

The mystery of what happened that day was unveiled by Cardinal Pietro Boetto, who received confidences of it from Leo XIII's personal confessor and Cardinal Giovan Battista Nasalli Rocca. This public account occurred only in 1946. In summary, the pope had narrated the scene of a terrifying outpouring of demons from the cracked surface of the earth, who after so many procured disasters reached the threshold of St. Peter's Basilica, almost causing its collapse, but to stop their evil enterprise descended the Archangel Michael who easily defeated the infernal host; he had then heard supernatural voices that foreshadowed the fulfillment of the threat within a time period equivalent to some other pontificate. The danger would come both from the Russian nation and from an aggression against the Church, for the purpose of testing its faith and hold, operated by Satan to whom God granted a century of freedom of action.

Although this type of vision is unusual in the ecclesiastical chronicle of pontificates, the episode, attested by reliable sources and with the consequence of a scripture for liturgical purposes (the above-mentioned prayer), is in tune with an apocalyptic religious breath that hovered at the time, albeit fostered by declared Marian apparitions, and which cannot be excluded from having emotionally involved the then pope. In fact, already at the beginning of his ministry, he seems to have received an alleged letter from Bernadette Soubirous, the seer of Lourdes, inducing disturbing premonitions. That missive was found among the Vatican archives in 1997 by French prelate A. La Grande. Doubts persist about its authenticity, but it is still likely that the pope received it.

The bearing of the mystical experience Leo XIII had on purely religious pastoral care is certain, since for his related "...exorcistic prayer..." he prescribed recitation on his knees at the end of every Mass and in every church community in the world. The weight of this on his following extra-liturgical inspiration is conceivable, as the following year he began to manifest a more sympathetic concern for the newly unified Italian state and for the economic-social conditions of the humblest working categories. In short, after 1884 a new impulse of his pontificate is discerned, and some consider that eschatological vision one of its springs.

Private life in the pontificate

Even after passing the age of ninety, Leo XIII assiduously continued the study of the Latin language, which he mastered with competence and elegance, as evidenced by the acknowledged literary merit of classicist imprint of his encyclicals. Also in Latin he used to write lyrics, essentially in couplets: not infrequently, seized by insomnia, he would get out of bed at night to stand at his desk (taking care not to make any noise so as not to wake up the trusted footman Pio Centra who slept in the antechamber) and write the verses he had formed in his mind.

Pope Pecci was also an avid Dantean, boasting an accurate and timely mnemonic knowledge of the Divine Comedy, and an assiduous reader of newspapers and magazines, especially from the Francophone area (a habit acquired during his tenure as nuncio to Belgium).

His lifestyle was one of simplicity and frugality: as reported by sources inside the Vatican, the pontiff slept only a few hours a night (also accomplices of the aforementioned insomnia), got up before 6 a.m. and-after a brief religious service in the private chapel-went straight to work. He was then used to take long walks in the Vatican Gardens and in his free time he would bird at a roccolo he had had planted at his specific request, a legacy of his youthful passion for hunting; when, however, he succeeded in getting birds trapped in nets, he would gently release them, pet them and then let them fly away. He did the same with the turtle doves that were offered to him by the faithful as a symbol at beatification and canonization functions.

For a long time he refused to use stoves or heaters in his apartments, keeping only the traditional ciociaro brazier in the middle of the bedroom. Probably the low domestic room temperature on the coldest days was among the contributing causes of some of the colds he contracted, which the public mistakenly believed to be symptoms of more serious illnesses. It was only in the last years of his life, yielding to the insistence of archiatrician Dr. Giuseppe Lapponi, that Pope Pecci agreed to equip his residences with modern heating systems (and to sleep a few hours longer).

The pontiff was also a park of food and drink: according to sources of the time, his nutritional regimen was based on coffee, cow's and goat's milk (the latter milked from sheep donated to him by fellow citizens of Carpineto Romano), a few cups of restricted broth, many egg yolks beaten with a little marsala, little fruit, a chicken breast in the morning and a half-breast in the evening. He accompanied his meals daily with two fingers of Bordeaux wine specially supplied to him by a convent in Burgundy.

Among his few vices were snuff, which he consumed only privately and never in the presence of strangers (although sometimes a few grains of powder fell on his white cassock, suggesting a habit) and Mariani wine, of which he was a convinced drinker: judging its effects particularly healthy and invigorating, he granted the manufacturer the use of his likeness as a testimonial for posters and advertisements. The passion for this drink, at the time considered as a medicine (and later taken off the market when people became aware of the risks associated with coca-based preparations), was also shared internationally by several other celebrities: among its consumers were another pope (Pius X), various monarchs, politicians and nobles (from the Tsar of Russia to the Prince of Wales, passing through U.S. President William McKinley) and a thousand other public figures (such as Sarah Bernhardt, J. J. Thomson, Émile Zola and the author of the Pontifical Anthem Charles Gounod).

Even in old age his memory remained extraordinarily lucid: in fact, he remembered all the smallest incidents of his youthful life and adolescence, as well as the most varied readings he had done both recently and in the more distant past. He also used to converse assiduously with people older than him in order to learn about their habits of life in order to conform to them.

Difficulties of movement related to old age gradually obliged him to use a walking stick to ambulate; however, when he caught sight of a person from a distance who was a stranger to the pontifical family, he made every effort to walk without the help of the stick, passing it casually from one hand to the other.

Between 1896 and 1903 he also became the first Roman pontiff to be filmed and audiorecorded. In the former, in front of Vittorio Calcina's camera, he gave the first "media" blessing in the history of the Holy See; in the latter, a few months before his death on February 5, 1903, his voice was recorded on a phonograph cylinder (Bettini Phonogramme-B mx 1-D) as he recited the Hail Mary in Latin and the formula of apostolic blessing.

Pope Pecci's remarkable longevity turned out to be surprising for the time: at the time of his election he had in fact appeared old, tired and sickly, particularly because of the tremor in his hand caused by a badly done bloodletting. Leo XIII himself, mocking his own infirmity, had closely confided to his collaborators that he foresaw a short duration of his ministry (with subsequent need to set up a new conclave within a tight time frame). When it became evident, however, that such a prediction would not come to pass, a joke of the opposite sign spread in the papal household:


After a very long agony, Leo XIII died on July 20, 1903 at 4 p.m., after 25 years, 5 months and 5 days of pontificate.

La Domenica del Corriere of July 26, 1903 wrote:

Leo XIII was buried in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

The conclave following his death was shorter than commonly expected: it began on the evening of July 31, 1903, and ended on August 4. Among the 62 cardinals convened, there were two tendencies: to continue the policy of the late pontiff (with the one who had been next to the pope as secretary of state, Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro), or to change course. And surprisingly (also due to outside influences) Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, Patriarch of Venice, who would take the name Pius X, was elected.

He held the record for the longest-serving pontiff in history for 117 years, having died at the age of 93 (excluding the case of Pope Agathon, who traditionally died at 106). That record was later surpassed in 2020 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI; nevertheless, he still remains the oldest deceased pontiff in office, as Joseph Ratzinger has relinquished the Petrine ministry.

Pope Leo XIII during his pontificate created 147 cardinals during 27 separate consistories.

Pope Leo XIII wrote many encyclicals in his long pontificate. The official Vatican website lists as many as 86 of them.

Some of the major encyclicals:

With today's sensibility, one cannot speak of a right of God, except in a very analogical sense: human rights are recognized and protected by law because they can be violated and challenged, but in the case of God one cannot say that at all. Leo XIII still suffers from a different approach, in which society is in relation to God. Leo XIII's Gelasian idea attempts to transcend-unsuccessfully-the now total division between church and state. By now it will be necessary to accept what has happened, trying to ensure the mutual freedom of the two parties.

In Libertas, the separation of church and state is seen as unacceptable because the whole of society must be considered as religious as the individual man (extension of God's rights to society) and, moreover, because religion must be seen as a common good of society.

Leo XIII begins to distinguish about freedom of conscience. The positive concept is "doing whatever one likes." The negative one lies in not being hindered to choose one's religion within a secular state: this freedom can be tolerated based on the distinction between thesis and hypothesis. It is not in accordance with truth and justice to give everyone religious freedom, but this is tolerated because of the serious times ahead and because of the protection of the common good.

The episcopal genealogy is:

Apostolic succession is:

Honors of the Holy See

The pope is sovereign of the pontifical orders of the Holy See while the Grand Magistry of individual honors may be maintained directly by the pontiff or granted to a trusted person, usually a cardinal.


  1. Pope Leo XIII
  2. Papa Leone XIII
  3. ^ Portrait from the archives of the United States Library of Congress
  4. ^ James Martin Miller (1908). "The life of Pope Leo XIII: containing a full and authentic account of the illustrious pontiff's life and work", su archive.org.
  5. ^ LEONE XIII, papa di Francesco Malgeri - Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 64 (2005), su treccani.it.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g LEONE XIII di Francesco Malgeri - Enciclopedia dei Papi (2000), su treccani.it.
  7. (en) Don Gifford, Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, University of California Press, 1982, 106 p. (ISBN 978-0-520-04610-8, lire en ligne)
  8. a b «A look at the oldest popes of history, including Francis» (em inglês). Aleteia. 16 de dezembro de 2021
  9. Kühne 1880, p. 7.
  10. Kühne 1880, p. 12.
  11. Kühne 1880, p. 20.
  12. Kühne 1880, p. 23.

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