Pope Pius VII

Dafato Team | Jun 23, 2022

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Pope Pius VII was the 251st pope of the Catholic Church. Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti (in religion, Father Gregorio) was born on August 14, 1742 in Cesena (Romagna) and died on August 20, 1823 in Rome. A Benedictine monk, he was first prior of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, one of the four major basilicas in the world, all located in Rome. He was consecrated bishop for the Diocese of Tivoli in 1782, then transferred to Imola and created cardinal in 1785. He was elected Supreme Pontiff on March 14, 1800, and took the name of Pius VII.

Second to last child of Count Scipione Chiaramonti (1698-1750) and Giovanna Coronata Ghini (1713-1777), daughter of the Marquis Barnaba Eufrasio Ghini, a deeply religious woman who ended her life in the Carmelite convent of Fano and whom her son took as a model throughout his life, especially during the most painful moments of his pontificate, he belonged to a family of old nobility of French descent, undoubtedly that of Clermont-Tonnerre, a friend of the Braschi family (the family of which Pius VI was a member). His family was noble, but rather poor.

Like his brothers, he first attended the Collegio dei Nobili in Ravenna, but at his own request he was admitted at the age of 14 (October 2, 1756) as a novice to the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena. He was under the direction of Dom Gregorio Caldarera. Two years later (August 20, 1758), he took the habit under the name of Dom Gregorio. Until 1763, he studied at the Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua where he was suspected of Jansenism by the Venetian Inquisition. His brilliant intellectual qualities led his superiors to send him to the Pontifical College of St. Anselm in Rome, adjacent to the urban residence of the Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which had been opened to receive the most promising students of the Benedictine Congregation of Monte Cassino.

On September 21, 1765, he was ordained a priest and soon after received his doctorate in theology. From 1766 he taught at the Abbey of San Giovanni in Parma, a duchy open to new ideas. A lover of culture and concerned with giving a modern education, close to the social and scientific realities of his time, he subscribed to Diderot's Encyclopedia and showed himself curious about the ideas of Locke and Condillac, then tutor of the crown prince, the infant Don Ferdinand, and whose Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge he translated.

In 1772 he was awarded the academic rank of "lector", by which the Benedictine order empowered him to teach theology and canon law. From 1772 to 1781, he was at St. Anselm College, this time as professor of theology and librarian. He was then appointed titular abbot of the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte, of which he had been an oblate during his childhood.

The young monk Chiaramonti felt the need for a profound renewal of his order, especially in the area of formation. On the one hand, he wished to return to the original inspiration of monastic life and, on the other, to modernize the teaching programs so as to bring the young monks into more direct contact with concrete and current realities.

In 1773, he became confessor to Cardinal Angelo Braschi, who became Pope Pius VI in 1775, and who held him in high esteem. In 1782, Cardinal Braschi appointed him prior of the Roman abbey of Saint Paul Outside the Walls where he seems to have been welcomed as an intruder by the other monks who were jealous of their right to elect their prior and who, it seems, even tried to poison him. Jean Cohen writes:

"It is said that they tried to poison their rival with a cup of chocolate. Chiaramonti, having tasted it, could not finish it because it seemed to him to have an unpleasant taste. A lai brother, especially attached to his service, drank it, and suddenly seized with the most violent pains, he survived only 24 hours to this fatal meal ". One can doubt the authenticity of this anecdote.

There is no doubt, however, that Chiaramonti's appointment to the Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls was not well received by the other religious. Pius VI was aware of this and, in order to strengthen his authority, he entrusted him with the responsibility of the diocese of Tivoli. On December 16, 1782, he was consecrated bishop in the cathedral of San Lorenzo.

Three years later, when he was only 42 years old, he was created a cardinal during the consistory of February 14, 1785 and received the insignia on June 27. He became bishop-cardinal of Imola.

In June 1796, his diocese of Imola was invaded by the French troops of Augereau. Recalled to Rome in 1797, he joined the camp of the moderates and supported, to the great displeasure of the conservatives, the establishment of the negotiations leading to the treaty of Tolentino. In a letter addressed to the inhabitants of his diocese, he asks them to submit, "in the present circumstances of change of government (...) to the authority of the victorious general in chief of the French army." With a beautiful audacity he even affirms, in his homily of Christmas 1797, that there is no opposition between Catholicism and democracy:

He interceded personally with General Augereau to convince him to spare the inhabitants of Lugo, who had shown little sensitivity to his peaceful advice. This moderate policy avoided many misfortunes for the diocese of Imola, but did not prevent the rest of the Catholic Church from continuing to experience dramatic moments.

With the news of the death of the general Duphot, killed involuntarily by the pontifical Gendarmerie in Rome, whereas he made there activism provocative to the service of the French Directory, to give him a pretext of intervention in the pontifical States, the Directory orders, on January 11, 1798, the occupation of Rome. Gaspard Monge leaves on February 6 for the Eternal City. The revolution, excited in underhand, bursts there on February 15, and the "Roman Republic" proclaimed "by the people" (meeting of the partisans to the Campo Vaccino (it)).

Pope Pius VI was first forced by the French Republic to renounce his temporal power and to limit himself to his spiritual prerogatives. But after many vexations, one forces him to leave Rome. Pius VI, who was 80 years old, was removed from the Quirinal during the night of February 19 to 20, 1798. After the dismissal of Masséna, Gaspard Monge made all the appointments (except for the finances).

Taken to Siena and then to the Carthusian monastery in Florence (in June 1798), Pius VI was taken prisoner by French troops. His deportation continued successively to Bologna, Parma, Turin, then Briançon, Grenoble, and finally Valence (France).

Despite the upheavals in France at the time, the octogenarian pope nevertheless received many touching signs of respect, compassion and communion in the faith from the crowds in the French cities and countryside along his route between Briançon and Valence, well deserving of the traditional title of "Common Father of the Faithful.

The one who was nicknamed il Papa bello, imposing and seductive at the beginning of his pontificate, affable and cultured, was now an old man who had been broken by trials, almost impotent. He was imprisoned in Valencia by the Directory of the French Revolution and died there, exhausted from tribulations, on August 29, 1799 in his 82nd year. Some thought that with the death of the Pope-prisoner the "Papacy" as an institution would come to an end. However, the pope had left canonical instructions for the conclave that would follow his death.

The Papal States, symbol of the temporal power of the Pope, an institution that had lasted for more than a thousand years (donation of Pepin), were replaced by the Roman Republic under the pressure of the French revolutionaries, before being simply annexed by Napoleon I, whose son would bear the title of "King of Rome.

The difficult conclave of 1800

In this situation, where Rome was occupied by French troops and the pope no longer had his temporal power, the cardinals were in a delicate position. They were obliged to hold the conclave in Venice, then under Austrian control, and it was the last one to date to be held outside Rome. They were responding to two orders of Pius VI (January 17, 1797 and November 13, 1798) concerning the measures to be taken after his death. Fearing that the papacy would be abolished, he stipulated that the conclave should be convened by the dean of the College of Cardinals and held in the city with the largest number of cardinals in its population.

The Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore (located on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore) was chosen. The city of Venice, as well as other cities in northern Italy, was under the rule of the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor Francis II, who agreed to cover the costs of the conclave. Chiaramonti almost didn't take part in it: as he had spent all his income relieving the poor of his diocese, he didn't have enough money to pay for the trip. One of his friends lent him a thousand ecus.

The conclave began three months after the death of the pope, on November 30, 1799. The cardinals were unable to decide between the three favorite candidates until March 1800. Thirty-four cardinals had been present from the beginning (the lowest number between 1513 and the present). A thirty-fifth would soon join them: Franziskus von Paula Herzan von Harras, who was also the representative of the Germanic Roman Emperor and who would twice use his right of veto.

Ercole Consalvi was unanimously chosen as secretary of the conclave. He was to become a key figure in the election of the new pope. Carlo Bellisomi was the favorite and had many supporters, but the Austrian cardinals preferred Mattei and used their veto power. The conclave then decided on a third possible candidate: Cardinal Hyacinth-Sigismund Gerdil, but he too fell victim to the Austrian veto.

As the conclave entered its third month, Cardinal Maury, who had been neutral from the beginning, suggested the name of Chiaramonti, who made it known that he was not a candidate at all (and who again appealed to his friend, this time to provide for his food and lodging expenses). It was on the insistence of Ercole Consalvi that he finally accepted and was elected on March 14, 1800 after 104 days of conclave and 197 days after the death of Pius VI (the longest vacant seat between 1415 and today). He took the name of Pius VII as a tribute to his predecessor, nicknamed the "martyr pope". Immediately after his return to Rome, he appointed Consalvi cardinal and pro-secretary of state (August 11, 1800). For 23 years, despite all the setbacks, Consalvi remained faithful to the one he had had elected and it was he who assisted Pius VII during his last moments, on August 20, 1823.

Austria took note of the election without any enthusiasm (since its candidate had not been elected after all) and - as an act of bad temper - refused to allow the new pope to be crowned in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. Consequently, the pope declined the invitation of Emperor Francis I and refused to go to Vienna. He was crowned on March 21, 1800 in a small chapel adjoining the monastery of San Giorgio. As the pontifical vestments and insignia had remained in Rome, it was the noble women of Venice who made a papier-mâché tiara which they decorated with their own jewels and which served for the coronation.

The restoration of the Papal States

At the battle of Marengo, on June 14, 1800, France wrested Northern Italy from Austria. The new pope, still in Venice, suddenly found himself under French authority. This was no stranger to Napoleon, who had described his 1797 Christmas speech in Imola as "Jacobin". Bonaparte decided to recognize the new pope and to restore the Papal States within the limits of the treaty of Tolentino.

Pius VII thus joined Rome where the population welcomed him warmly on July 3, 1800. Fearing new conflicts, he decreed that in the future the Papal States would remain neutral towards Napoleonic Italy in the North and the Kingdom of Naples in the South.

Pius VII found his capital deeply destabilized by the revolutionary wars. He asked Cardinal Consalvi, his Secretary of State, to work on the restoration of Rome and the modernization of the administrative structures of the Papal States. He surrounded himself with reform-minded prelates and began by granting amnesty to supporters of the French. He formed four cardinal congregations to examine the reform of the state.

Their work was summarized in the bull Post diuturnas of October 30, 1800: the institutions of Pius VI were put back in place but reformed. Thus, lay officials entered the pontifical administration, especially in the annum and the army. A brief established freedom of trade in foodstuffs. In 1801, a monetary reform attempted to limit inflation. It was followed by a fiscal reform, which melted 32 taxes and duties into a personal and real size, the dativa. Pius VII had the Pontine marshes drained in order to enlarge the area of cultivable land and had wool and cotton mills established to provide work for the poor. These reforms met with resistance from the Sacred College and the bishops. Despite the creation of the noble guard, the Roman nobility remained dissatisfied. When Consalvi had to leave his post in 1806 (it was he himself who, convinced that he had become an obstacle to negotiations with France, suggested to Pius VII that he be replaced), his bold policy had been forgotten.

On July 15, France officially recognized Catholicism as the religion of the majority of its citizens (but not as a state religion). Through the Concordat of 1801, the Church received a status of freedom linked to the Gallican Constitution of the Clergy. The concordat also recognized the states of the Church and restored what had been confiscated or sold during their occupation. Under the terms of the 1801 agreement and at the request of the French head of state, the Sovereign Pontiff deposed all French bishops who had been appointed under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. It was the end of the principles of the Gallican Church, and the implicit recognition of the primacy of the Pope's jurisdiction. Some refractory bishops and priests, of Gallican spirit, refused to submit and founded the Little Church. In 1803, the Restoration of the Papal States was formalized by the Treaty of Lunéville.

Facing Napoleon (1804 - 1814)

The pope ratified the concordat with a bull of August 14, 1801, appointed five French cardinals, wrote to the holders of the French bishoprics to resign their sees, sent as legate a latere the cardinal Giovanni Battista Caprara in charge of re-establishing the cult in France, and obtained, by order of the First Consul, the restitution of the old duchy of Benevento and of Pontecorvo.

By ratifying the Concordat on August 15, 1801, Pope Pius VII set out to normalize relations between the Holy See and the First French Republic. Nevertheless, the unilateral promulgation of the 77 organic articles on April 18, 1802, tended to make the Church of France a national Church, as little dependent on Rome as possible, and subject to civil power. These articles stipulate, among other things, that "popes cannot depose sovereigns nor release their subjects from their obligation of fidelity, that the decisions of ecumenical councils take precedence over pontifical decisions, that the pope must respect national practices, and that he has no infallibility. Thus Gallicanism was partly restored but the Holy Father could not accept the subordination of the Church of France to the State. The Minister of Cults had to give his consent to the publication of bulls and councils. The meeting of diocesan synods and the creation of seminaries were also subject to his approval. Finally, the clergy became a body of civil servants, the priests servants of their parish, salaried by the State.

In an attempt to obtain the repeal of the organic articles, Pius VII agreed, against the advice of his Roman Curia, to come and crown Napoleon Bonaparte emperor of the French at Notre-Dame de Paris on December 2, 1804, but he returned to Rome without having obtained his wish. These "organic articles" were never accepted by the Catholic Church.

Already tense following the affair of the "organic articles" the relations between the Church and the First Empire deteriorated still more when the pope refused to pronounce the divorce between Jerome Bonaparte and Elizabeth Patterson in 1805. The Emperor resumed his expansionist policy, taking control of Ancona, Pontecorvo, Benevento and Naples after the battle of Austerlitz, making his brother Joseph Bonaparte the new King of Naples.

Kidnapping of the Pope - His captivity in Savona, then in Fontainebleau

The hostility rises a notch between the emperor and the pope. The Emperor wanted to include the Papal States in his continental alliance directed against England: "Your Holiness is sovereign of Rome, but I am the Emperor; all my enemies must be his", he wrote to the Pope on February 13, 1806. But the Sovereign Pontiff refused to adhere to the continental blockade, considering that his office of universal pastor imposed neutrality. The imperial repression is not made wait and goes crescendo: the States of the Church are soon reduced to the heritage of Saint Peter (1806-1808). Pius VII was forced to dismiss Cardinal Ercole Consalvi as Secretary of State, Rome was occupied militarily (Pius VII responded, on June 10, 1809, with a bull of excommunication Quum memoranda in which he castigated the "thieves of the patrimony of Peter, usurpers, wrongdoers, advisors, executors", which brought him new rigors.

During the night of July 5 to 6, the general Étienne Radet, helped by a thousand men, gendarmes, conscripts or soldiers of the civic guard of Rome, made apply ladders to the palace of the Quirinal, where the pope was held locked up. The windows and the interior doors having been forced, he arrives, followed by his men until the room which immediately precedes the bedroom of the pope. This one is opened to him by order of His Holiness, who had risen to the noise and dressed hastily in his city clothes.

He was having supper: two dishes of fish made up the whole service. After having listened to him, the pope answered him only with these words: "Sir, a sovereign who needs only one ecu a day to live is not a man who is easily intimidated." Radet, with his head uncovered, very humbly reiterated his request that the pontiff join Napoleon, and the pope impassively replied: "Non possumus, non debemus, non volumus" ("We cannot, We must not, We will not").

On his formal refusal to give up the temporal sovereignty of the States of the Church, the general Radet kidnapped the Pope from the palace of the Quirinal, giving him the arm, as well as the cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, secretary of State. Faced with the force, the Pope left the palace quietly, surrounded by a multitude of soldiers presenting him with weapons. He was made to board a carriage escorted by gendarmes and was taken, prisoner, to the Carthusian monastery in Florence, then to Alexandria and Grenoble. He was then taken to Savona, where he was kept as a real prisoner of state until June 1812. His "jailer", Antoine Brignole-Sale, prefect of Montenotte, a Genoese aristocrat from a large family, to whom the Pontiff paid a great deal of attention, fulfilled his task by obtaining both the praise of the Emperor and the friendship of the Pope, who nicknamed him "my good jailer". Pius VII visited him after the end of the Napoleonic epic in his sumptuous villa Brignole-Sale (it) of Voltri. Not wanting to become a simple "high civil servant of the French State", the pope refused to touch the 2 millions of incomes that assured him the decree by which Rome was annexed to the Empire, protested again against the coup de force of Napoleon and will constantly refuse to give the canonical institution to the bishops named by the emperor, what will complicate all the imperial religious policy. In Savona, he ordered the destruction of his Fisherman's ring, so that no usurper of the apostolic power would use it in a sacrilegious way. And indeed, Napoleon soon demanded this pontifical ring, which was sent to him sheared and broken in two. This will be the only occasion in 2,000 years when the Fisherman's ring will have been destroyed during the lifetime of the reigning pope.

In the meantime, Napoleon, having called in Paris thirteen cardinals to attend his marriage with Marie-Louise of Austria and having been refused, he signed the order of their exile and assigned them separate residences. Deeply irritated to obtain nothing from the pope for the ecclesiastical affairs, he resigned himself to do without him by convening in Paris a national council (1811), forbidding to Pius VII to communicate with the bishops of the Empire, threatening him of a deposition and sending to him in Savone, to wrest from him an adhesion to the acts of this council, a deputation of bishops, which he received with a great severity and which could not obtain anything from him.

In 1812, before leaving for his disastrous campaign in Russia, Napoleon had Pius VII secretly transferred to Fontainebleau. On June 12, 1812, Dr. Balthazard Claraz saved the life of Pope Pius VII, who had just received extreme unction in the hospice of the Mont-Cenis pass during his transfer from Savona to Fontainebleau.

On June 20, 1812, Pope Pius VII arrived at Fontainebleau Castle. Doctor Claraz assisted the Holy Father during the first two months of his captivity, as a surgeon. The pontiff remained in the castle during the nineteen months of his deportation. From June 20, 1812 to January 23, 1814, the Holy Father never left his apartment. During these long months, Pius VII called Napoleon "my dear son", and he added: "a son who was a little stubborn, but a son nonetheless", which totally disconcerted the Emperor.

Defeated by Napoleon's obstinacy and the obsession of certain cardinals, the unfortunate pontiff consented, against his will, to sign, on January 25, 1813, the "Concordat of Fontainebleau" (1813), by which he abdicated his temporal sovereignty, part of his spiritual authority, and consented to come and reside in France (Napoleon had planned to install the residence of the pope in the Ile de la Cité, in Paris). However, supported by the cardinals Consalvi and Pacca, Pius VII quickly pulls himself together, in the throes of his tormented conscience, and formally and solemnly retracts shortly after, on March 24, 1813, his signature on this "concordat", which he had given under psychological duress. The pope, who immediately recovered his peace of conscience, was immediately treated, once again, as a prisoner of state. Napoleon then undertook direct contacts with his prisoner, alternating flattery and the most odious threats (he even let himself go once, taken by anger, to shake the impassive pontiff by seizing the buttons of his white cassock). For any answer, the pontiff, always very observant, who discerned perfectly the game of his adversary, that he knew more and more in the grip of the European military events, was satisfied to murmur only this sentence that was going to become mythical: "Commediante... Tragediante..." ("Comedian... Tragediante..."). ("Comedian... Tragedian...").

On January 19, 1814, Napoleon, forced by his increasingly difficult political situation in Europe, returned his States to the Pope. On January 23, Pius VII left the castle of Fontainebleau, and the freed cardinals, some of whom were still exiled in various French cities until the fall of the empire. Pius VII crossed France, where crowds of people from the cities and the countryside flocked to kneel at the edge of his path. After a brief stay in Savona, after having stopped in Nice, then in Bologna, he returned triumphantly to Rome on May 24, 1814, where the young Romans unhitched the horses of his carriage and carried him and his carriage on their shoulders to St. Peter's basilica. Pius VII hastened to restore the faithful Cardinal Consalvi to his duties as Secretary of State, which he had had to abandon in 1806 under pressure from Napoleon. Free of his actions, he quickly re-established the Society of Jesus (31 July 1814). His attitude of great dignity and peaceful and determined resistance to the most powerful monarch in Europe earned him immense prestige among the nations of all Europe, including the Protestants and the Russian Orthodox. It is this attitude that Ingres glorifies in his painting Pope Pius VII in the Sistine Chapel, kept in Washington.

However, he had to leave the city once again, to take refuge in Viterbo and then in Genoa, when Murat, king of Naples, invaded the Papal States during the Hundred Days campaign. Pius VII returned to the Quirinal Palace on June 22, 1815. He was the last Pope, before John Paul II, to set foot on French soil.

After the defeat of Napoleon, the Papal States recovered the works that France had stolen from him. Pius VII then took the initiative to create the Etruscan, Egyptian and Chiaramonti museums, which are part of the Vatican Museums.

In 1773, the Society of Jesus had been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV by the brief Dominus ac Redemptor of July 21, 1773, promulgated on August 16.

The Pope's decision was carried out in the traditionally Catholic countries, but in others, mainly Prussia and Russia, the brief was not promulgated, the rulers being opposed to it, not so much out of religious concern as out of a desire not to deprive themselves of the modern education given by the Jesuits in the colleges located on their territory. At the beginning of the 19th century the political situation in Europe had changed completely. Numerous requests reached Pope Pius VI, and later Pius VII, asking for the restoration of the Society of Jesus.

On March 7, 1801 - shortly after his election - Pope Pius VII issued the brief Catholicæ fidei, approving the existence of the Society of Jesus in Russia and appointing the "temporary vicar", Franciszek Kareu, as "Superior General of the Society of Jesus" in Russia. This was the first step towards the restoration of the religious order.

Thirteen years later, finally free of his movements and decisions, Pius VII signed the bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum restoring the Society of Jesus universally (31 July 1814).

Signed on the feast of St. Ignatius, the Bull was promulgated on August 7, 1814. On this occasion, Pius VII celebrated Mass at the altar of St. Ignatius in the Church of the Gesù in Rome, which is located above the tomb of the holy founder of the Jesuits. He then read the bull that re-established order throughout the world and personally embraced a hundred ex-Jesuits, survivors of the old Society. At the same time, he confirmed Tadeusz Brzozowski, superior in Russia, as "Superior General of the Society of Jesus".

Fight against slavery

Returned to Rome in 1814, the pope, with the help of cardinal Consalvi, renewed diplomatic relations with all the European nations. He maintained an ongoing correspondence with the European heads of state. One of his concerns was the abolition of slavery. He who had lived five years of deprivation of freedom and various humiliations became particularly sensitive to this issue.

In a letter of September 20, 1814, to the King of France, he wrote: "In order to be well situated in the sense of moral obligations, the religious conscience urges us to do so; it is indeed it that condemns and reproves this ignoble trade by which the Negroes, not as men, but simply as living things, are taken, bought, sold, and squeezed to death by very hard work for a life that is already miserable."

In the same letter, he forbids "all ecclesiastics or laymen to dare to support as permissible this trade in Negroes, under any pretext or color whatsoever."

He was invited to the Congress of Vienna in February 1815, where he was represented by Cardinal Consalvi, who helped to obtain that all the powers commit themselves to join their efforts to obtain "the complete and definitive abolition of a trade so odious and highly reprobated by the laws of religion and the laws of nature."

He wrote several letters on this subject to the kings of Spain, Portugal and Brazil, without being listened to. Thus, in 1823, he wrote to the King of Portugal: "The Pope regrets that this trade in blacks, which he believed to have ceased, is still practiced in certain regions and even more cruelly. He implores and begs the King of Portugal to use all his authority and wisdom to extirpate this unholy and abominable shame. His immediate successors were less active in this area; it was not until 1839 and Gregory XVI that such a firm condemnation of the trade in blacks was again pronounced.

Relations with the Jews

After his entry into the Papal States, Napoleon had, in 1797, abolished the ghettos of Italy, abolished the wearing of the distinctive yellow hat or the armband with the Star of David which the Jews were required to wear, and had given them the right to move and live wherever they wished in order to bring them to the level of equal citizens. But as soon as he was restored to power in 1814, Pius VII, convinced that this was a means of conversion, hastened to re-establish the ghettos and discrimination, to impose the wearing of the star armband for Jews, and went further in this direction than the Holy Alliance had done at the Congress of Vienna.

After the fall of Napoleon, the Pope re-established diplomatic relations with all the sovereigns of Europe and personally taught forgiveness. As the historian Marc Nadaux writes:

"Various sovereigns soon visited the Pope in Rome: the Emperor of Austria in 1819, the King of Naples in 1821, the King of Prussia in 1822. This gave Pius VII the status of an interlocutor with the European powers of the restoration. The pontiff in his great leniency even granted hospitality to the Bonaparte family, to "Madame Mère", mother of the Emperor in exile, to his brothers Lucien and Louis as well as to his uncle, Cardinal Fesch. He also intervened with the English authorities so that the conditions of Napoleon's captivity would be more lenient. Pius VII soon sent him a chaplain, Father Vignali.

The last sentence of his letter to the English government, from which he asked for clemency, is worth quoting: "He can no longer be a danger to anyone. We would not want him to become a source of remorse.

On October 6, 1822, a papal bull restored 30 dioceses in France. It was after long negotiations with the government of Louis XVIII that Pius VII accepted to restore 30 of the dioceses suppressed during the Civil Constitution of the Clergy during the French Revolution.

As for the internal politics of the Papal States, from his return to Rome (1814) to 1823, Pius VII remained faithful to the French-inspired liberal reforms he had initiated in the years 1800 to 1809. He abolished the privileges of the nobility in the papal cities, promulgated a new civil and penal code, reorganized education and reorganized finances.

At the same time, he concluded concordats with France, Bavaria and Sardinia (1817), Prussia (1821) and Hanover (1823).

Theological and doctrinal action

Very busy with the political issues of a turbulent time, Pius VII was not very active in the doctrinal field. He is, so to speak, not very decisive from the theological point of view in the history of the Church, although he was the first Pope to ratify, implicitly, a form of separation between Church and State, which constitutes a major politico-religious break in the history of Catholicism in its post-Constantinian phase, a major phase from the 4th century to the present day.

On May 15, 1800, just after his election, he sent an encyclical letter to the Catholic faithful throughout the world, Diu Satis, which called for a return to the living values of the Gospel.

In the liturgical field, in 1801 Pius VII granted an apostolic indulgence to the praises in reparation for blasphemy, recited by Catholics during the blessing of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1814, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15) was universalized. In addition, he instituted a solemn feast in honor of the "Helping Virgin" under the title of Our Lady Help of Christians, which he set for perpetuity on May 24, the anniversary of her happy return to the city of Rome. Pius VII beatified Francis De Geronimo in 1806, another gesture in favor of the Jesuits, and canonized Angela Merici (1807) and Francis Caracciolo (1807). A new beatification in 1821: that of Peregrino of Falerone.

In his encyclical Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo (en) (September 13, 1821) he condemned Freemasonry as well as the Carbonarism movement, a secret society with liberal claims.

He reorganized the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which would play a crucial role in the Church's missionary efforts in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1822, he ordered the Holy Office to grant his imprimatur to the works of Canon Settele in which Copernicus' theories were presented as an achievement of physics and no longer as a hypothesis.

The question of the Eucharistic epiclesis in the Melkite Church

However, doctrinally speaking, we must recall a very vigorous intervention by Pope Pius VII concerning the Eucharistic epiclesis, as it was defined and practiced in the Melkite-Catholic Church of Antioch. This pope, so gentle and peaceful in temperament, watched over the integrity of Catholic dogma with an eagle eye in all circumstances, in spite of all the worries and political storms he had to face on the front outside the Church.

In an apostolic brief, entitled Adorabile Eucharistiae, of May 8, 1822, the pope does not hesitate to call to order the patriarch and the bishops of the Melkite-Catholic Church, and he will be immediately obeyed, on a doctrinal drift which had been gradually insidiously introduced into their Divine Liturgy, in particular in the Eucharistic prayer, where it was considered that it is only the Eucharistic epiclesis which really operates the mystery of Transubstantiation (the species of bread and wine really becoming the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, whereas, according to the strict Catholic doctrine, Transubstantiation is operated by the words of Christ alone, repeated, during the Consecration, by the officiating priest in persona Christi, namely: (Take and eat, this is my body . .. Take and drink of it, all of you, this is my blood poured out for the multitude ...). The pope sees in this an insidious slide towards a doctrine considered schismatic in force in the churches called Orthodox, separated from Rome.

In the Apostolic Brief of May 8, 1822, Pius VII wrote to the entire Melkite-Catholic Church of Antioch:

... A great cause of pain and fear has been caused by those who spread this new opinion, held by the schismatics, which teaches that the form by which this life-giving Sacrament is accomplished does not consist in the words of Jesus Christ alone, which the priests, both Latin and Greek, use at the time of the Consecration, but that, in order for the Consecration to be perfect and consummated, it is necessary that this formula of prayer be added, which in our case precedes the words mentioned, but which in your liturgy follows them... (...) In virtue of holy obedience, We prescribe, and We order, that they no longer have the audacity to hold the opinion that, for this admirable conversion of all the substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of all the substance of the wine into the substance of his Blood, it is necessary, in addition to the words of Christ, that this formula of ecclesiastical prayer, which we have already mentioned, also be recited.

Pius VII established several dioceses in a new nation: the United States. Following the diocese of Baltimore, the very first Catholic diocese in the United States, erected in 1795 by Pius VI, the dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown were created in 1808. Pius VII added the dioceses of Charleston and Richmond in 1821, and Cincinnati in 1821.

He re-established his residence in the Quirinal Palace, the civil residence of the popes at the time, as opposed to the Vatican Palace, where he also stayed, as did all his successors until Pius IX.

Cultural and educational action

A highly cultured man, Pius VII distinguished himself by his constant concern to beautify Rome and safeguard its past.

In 1802, he authorized the archaeological excavations of the port of Ostia. This brought to light a set of remarkable ruins: access road lined with tombs, streets, thermopolium, stores, thermal baths, palestra, barracks of the guards, theater, forum, basilica, curia, markets, sanctuaries, capitoline temple. He also undertook excavations around the lake Trajan.

In Rome, in 1807, he undertook major works of support, construction of brick walls and buttresses to save the Colosseum, which was in danger of ruin. He had the surroundings of the Arch of Constantine landscaped and the fountain of Monte-Cavallo built. The Piazza del Popolo was redesigned and the obelisk of Mount Pincius was erected.

Under the reign of Pius VII, Rome became the meeting place of major artists whose artistic creation he supported. We must mention the Venetian Canova, the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen (very open-minded since he was a Protestant), the Austrian Führich (en) and the Germans Overbeck, Pforr, Schadow and Cornelius.

Pius VII enriches the Vatican Library with numerous manuscripts and printed volumes. The English, Scottish and German colleges were reopened and new chairs were created at the Gregorian University.

He also had new rooms built in the Vatican Museum and had the so-called "Braccio Nuovo" section inaugurated in 1822 and later named "Chiaramonti Museum" in honor of its instigator. This museum houses Roman statues and copies of ancient Greek statues; the floor is covered with mosaics.

It was also Pius VII who had the yellow and white flag adopted, which is still the flag of the Holy See today.

Weakened by old age, Pius VII was moving with increasing difficulty. On July 6, 1823, the Pope, who was about to turn 81, took his usual slow walk in the inner gardens of the Quirinal Palace. On the evening of the 6th (14 years to the day after his abduction by General Radet and the French army), Pius VII, who had been left alone in his office for the time being, despite the recommendations to the contrary of the Secretary of State Cardinal Consalvi, wanted to get up from his chair and lean on his work table. A cord had been fixed to the wall behind him, which he grasped to stand up; but his weakened hand reached the cord poorly and it slipped from his fingers. The pope lost his balance and fell heavily on the tile floor, breaking the neck of his left femur. When he cried out, the secret clerks and prelates rushed in from the adjacent rooms. Pius VII went to bed, never to get up again. On the morning of July 7, the news having spread during the night, the Roman people rushed to the square of Montecavallo (Quirinal Square) and did not cease to watch under the windows of the Pontiff.

The King of France, Louis XVIII, had a special mechanical bed sent from Paris to Rome to relieve the suffering of the Pontiff. To the grieving Cardinal Bertazzoli, who pestered him to accept the services of this or that doctor recommended to him, the Pope made this piquant reply, with his perpetual calm: Andate, Signor Cardinale... Voi siete pio, ma veramente un pio seccatore. (Come on, Signor Cardinal... You are pious, but really a pious shaver.) On August 19, his condition worsened and he spoke only Latin words in a low voice, a sign that he was constantly in prayer. During the night, losing consciousness at times, he often murmured these last words: Savona!... Savona!... Fontainebleau!..., the names of the towns where he had been deported for five years far from Rome and where he had suffered a lot. On August 20, at five o'clock in the morning, having just entered his 82nd year, Pius VII, watched over by his faithful Secretary of State Cardinal Consalvi, died, after a reign of 23 years, five months and six days, mourned by the Roman people who accompanied him throughout his peaceful agony.

The pope was immediately embalmed and his entrails were taken to the church of Saints Vincent and Anastasius of Trevi, the parish of the Quirinal where the hearts and viscera of 23 popes, from Sixtus V to Leo XIII, rest in marble urns. The fisherman's ring was broken (for the second time) and the mortal remains of Pius VII were exposed in the Quirinal Palace, dressed in solemn pontifical vestments. A dense and saddened crowd soon covered the Piazza di Monte-Cavallo to pay their last respects. The next day, August 22, the body was transported to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican accompanied by a huge crowd.

The funeral of the Pope lasted nine days, according to the custom of the Church of Rome (hence the expression Novendiali (it)). On the ninth day, the lead coffin was sealed. At the Pope's feet a purse was placed containing the medals and coins minted during his reign; the lead coffin was enclosed in an oak coffin that was temporarily placed in the Vatican crypt, where his predecessor Pius VI had been buried.

The funerary monument, by Thorvaldsen

In his will, Cardinal Consalvi, Pius VII's Secretary of State, stipulated that all the gifts he had received from foreign monarchs during his long diplomatic career were to be sold, and that the proceeds were to be used to finish the facades of several churches in Rome, to give some gifts to his servants, to relieve the poor of the city, and to erect in St. Peter's Basilica a funerary monument to his master and friend, Pope Pius VII. Cardinal Consalvi died in 1824, a few months after the late pope.

It was made according to his wishes. In one of the left transepts of St. Peter's Basilica, the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen drew up plans for a monument to Pius VII, depicting the pope with a serious face, surrounded by two allegorical figures in a pensive and saddened attitude: Strength and Wisdom, surrounded by the geniuses of History and Time. The mortal remains of Pius VII were transferred there in 1825. The funerary monument of Pius VII is the only work of art in St. Peter's Basilica that was created by a non-Catholic artist (Thorvaldsen was a Protestant).

The successor of Pius VII was Pope Leo XII.

In the face of global history, Pius VII and his predecessor Pius VI (who together totaled 47 years of reign) found themselves at the hinge between the Old Regime and the emergence of a new, industrial world, marked by nationalism, aspirations for democracy and pluralism of thought. It was the end of the struggle between the Pope and the Emperor, initiated in the Middle Ages, and it was the Emperor (the civil power) who, in spite of the resistance of the pontiffs of the 19th century, imposed himself. In 1870, Rome became the capital of the new kingdom of Italy and, having taken refuge in the Vatican, the Pope considered himself a prisoner. In 1929, the Lateran Accords limited the Pope's temporal power to Vatican City, which gave him the freedom to exercise his spiritual power. Most Western states in the 20th century would formalize religious freedom and the pre-eminence of civil law over religious law in their constitutions. The Catholic Church became an institution among others, even if it was dominant and in the majority in many countries, and its teaching had to convince rather than impose itself among other philosophical and religious options that structured urban societies at all levels that were mixed and plural.

It is by his person that Pius VII marked his time and that he still attracts attention today.

By his profoundly peaceful character. As a bishop, he did everything to avoid revolts against the invader and all the violence that would have accompanied it. When General Radet came to arrest him, he asked if no blood had been shed, then, reassured, he followed him. At no time during his captivity did he incite the Catholics to violent resistance and he never lost his absolute neutrality in the armed conflicts of his time. Once he returned to Rome in 1814, with the help of Ercole Consalvi, he developed an intense diplomatic activity aimed at encouraging peaceful coexistence between European states and religions.

By his humility. During the conclave of 1800, Pius VII resisted for a long time the choice of the cardinals to elect him pope. Later, during his captivity in Fontainebleau, the Benedictine monk that he had always remained insists on washing his white cassock himself and mending the buttons. During his numerous transfers during his deportation, he agreed to put on the black robe of the Benedictine monks that his jailers wanted to impose on him, because it was a question for them of transporting the Pope in a total incognito, so that people, seeing him perhaps go up or come down from the car, would not recognize him by his white cassock and his red monk's coat; In the mind of the Pope, who remained a Benedictine at heart, putting on the black habit of a simple monk posed no problem, and he simply replied: "Sta bene" ("It is well, let it be so"). One of the soldiers in charge of guarding him during his captivity in Savona wrote on January 10, 1810: "I, who was the enemy of priests, must confess the truth, because I am obliged to. Since the Pope has been relegated here, in this episcopal palace, and kept in sight, not only by us but also inside the house, I can tell you that this holy man is the model of humanity, the model of moderation and of all the social virtues, that he makes himself loved by all, that he softens the strongest spirits and makes friends of those who are the most implacable enemies. The Pope spends almost all his time in prayer, often prostrate and face down. And the time that remains to him, he occupies himself with writing or giving audiences".

Except for his immoderate consumption of snuff, one can only find praise for him in the mouths of his enemies.

By his integrity. Contrary to the nepotistic habits of many of his predecessors, Pius VII was always careful not to favor members of his family in any way. To his brother Gregory, he granted only a pension of 150 ecus per month and to his orphan nephew, he granted only a microscopic property in Caesarea.

By its intellectual dimension. The humble Pius VII was in reality a brilliant intellectual with a wide range of interests. A polyglot (Italian, French, English, Latin), a remarkable translator (of Condillac's works in particular) and an excellent writer (many letters testify to this), Pius VII devoted many years of his life to reading, studying (he was librarian for nine years at the San Anselmo College) and teaching (at the Abbey of San Giovanni in Parma, at the San Anselmo College and at the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte). His private library (preserved in the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Caesarea) is amazing. More than 5,000 works including medieval Codexes (59), works of history, archaeology, numismatics, political economy and science. As Jean Leflon, who had access to this library, writes, "he was also a man of learning by taste, with a marked predilection for the sciences, as evidenced by his papal library preserved at the Malatestian of Caesene, where works devoted to them abound. We know that he subscribed to the Encyclopaedia of Sciences and Arts. In theology, in philosophy, Dom Gregorio used positive methods; he even dared to patronize Condillac's method

In fact, it is at all levels, even personal, that Pius VII is at the hinge of History and his whole person is a living paradox. When one examines his library, one can hardly guess that it belongs to a religious man, all the more so since several books in it are in fact on the Index... And one can imagine even less that this curious and progressive man will become for 23 years the head of a Church whose freedom, teaching, traditions and temporal power he will defend tooth and nail.

By his political action. By re-establishing the Jesuits, Pius VII rehabilitated an intellectual and progressive order. It seems that his signature of the concordat was not a way to bend to Napoleon, but that it corresponded to his deep convictions. By fighting slavery, he was a century ahead of his time and did not make only friends among other European monarchs. By establishing freedom of trade in Rome, by opening the Curia to lay collaborators (1800-1806), by establishing diplomatic relations with Russia, England, the United States, and non-Catholic countries, by reorganizing schools in the Papal States and by abolishing feudalism, Pius VII was resolutely a pope of progress inspired by the Enlightenment.

Through his cultural action. As a Benedictine monk and prior, Dom Gregorio tried to renew the monastic ideal of his order and worked to modernize teaching. Once he became pope, he worked to highlight the ancient past of Rome (archaeological excavations in the port of Ostia, restoration of the Colosseum) and to beautify the city (around the Arch of Constantine, the fountain of Monte Cavallo, the Piazza del Popolo, the obelisk on Mount Pincius). He created a museum dedicated to antiquity, created or reopened schools and considerably enriched the Vatican Library. He also invited many artists to Rome, regardless of their origin or religion (many of them were Protestants), which, given the times and his position, shows a great openness of mind.

For his humanity and goodness. He was devoid of personal ambition, a faithful friend (of Cardinals Pacca and Consalvi in particular), sober (he confessed to living on one ecu a day), pious, gentle (he never raised his voice), discreet, modest, generous (he spent all his income as a bishop to relieve the poor of his diocese), firm to the point of risking his life to defend his convictions (his resistance to Napoleon is exemplary in this respect), Pius VII also shines by his greatness of soul (he took in all the Bonaparte family in Rome and insisted that the captivity of the deposed Emperor be softened) It is probably better to leave the word on this subject to Napoleon Bonaparte, his main adversary who, in his Memoirs of St. Helena, wrote these astonishing words:

"He is truly a good, gentle and brave man. He is a lamb, a true good man, whom I esteem, whom I love very much and who, for his part, gives me back a little, I am sure..."

On March 12, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the opening of the process for the beatification of Pius VII. He has already received the canonical title of Servant of God, following a papal decree officially recognizing the heroic nature of his virtues (Cf. Servant of God).


  1. Pope Pius VII
  2. Pie VII

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