Pope Pius IX

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Pius IX
Name Giovanni Maria
Papacy began June 16, 1846
Papacy ended February 7, 1878
Predecessor Gregory XVI
Successor Leo XIII
Born May 13, 1792
Place of birth Senigallia, Italy
Died February 7, 1878
Place of death Apostolic Palace, The Vatican

Blessed Pope Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti (May 13, 1792February 7, 1878), was pope for a record pontificate (not counting the Apostle St. Peter) of over 31 years, from June 16, 1846 until his death.


Early life and ministry

Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti was born in Senigallia, Italy into the noble family of Girolamo dei conti Ferretti, and was educated at the Piarist College in Volterra and in Rome. He attempted to join the Noble Guard but was turned down due to his epilepsy. He instead studied theology at the Roman Seminary. He was ordained in April 1819. He worked initially as the rector of the Tata Giovanni Institute in Rome before being sent to Chile and Peru in 18231825, to assist the Apostolic Nuncio, Mons. Giovanni Muzi, in the first mission to post-revolutionary South America [1]. He returned to become head of the hospital of San Michele in Rome (1825-1827) and canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata. Father Mastai-Ferretti was made Archbishop of Spoleto in 1827, at the age of 35. In 1831 the abortive revolution that had begun in Parma and Modena spread to Spoleto; the Archbishop obtained a general pardon after it was suppressed, gaining him a reputation for being liberal. The following year he was moved to the more prestigious diocese of Imola, was made a cardinal in pectore in 1839, and in 1840 was publicly announced as Cardinal Priest of Santi Pietro e Marcellino. According to historians, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti was considered a liberal during his episcopate in Spoleto and Imola because he supported administrative changes in the Papal States and sympathized with the nationalist movement in Italy.

Papal election

Styles of
Pope Pius IX
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Blessed

The conclave of 1846, following the death of Pope Gregory XVI, was one which took place during an unsettled political climate in Italy. Because of this, many foreign cardinals decided not to attend the conclave. At its start, only 46 out of 62 cardinals were present.

Moreover, the conclave of 1846 was steeped in a factional division between conservatives and liberals. The conservatives supported Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini, Gregory XVI's secretary of state. Liberals supported two candidates: Cardinal Gizzi and the 54 year-old Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti. During the first ballot, Mastai-Ferreti received 15 votes, the rest going to Cardinal Lambruschini and Cardinal Gizzi. Many thought that if Lambruschini was not elected, Gizzi would surely be selected.

Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX

Because the conclave was deadlocked, liberals and moderates decided to cast their votes for Mastai-Ferreti — a move that was certainly contrary to the general mood throughout Europe. By the second day of the conclave, on 16 June 1846, during an evening ballot, Mastai-Ferreti was elected Pope, having received a majority of 36 votes, while Lambruschini received only ten; Gizzi received no votes. Because it was night, no formal annoucement was given, just the signal of white smoke. Many Catholics had assumed that Gizzi had been elected successor of St. Peter. In fact, celebrations began to take place in his home town, and his personal staff, following a long standing tradition, burned his cardinalatial vestments.

Arms of Pius IX
Arms of Pius IX

On the following morning, the senior Cardinal-Deacon annouced the election of Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti before what had to be a shocked crowd of faithful Catholics. Of course, when Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti appeared on the balcony, the mood became joyous. Mastai-Ferreti chose the name Pius IX in honor of Pope Pius VII, who had encouraged Mastai-Ferreti's vocation to the priesthood despite his childhood epilepsy.

However, Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti, now Pope Pius IX, had little diplomatic and no curial experience, which did cause some controversy. In fact, the government of the Empire of Austria as represented by Prince Metternich in its foreign affairs objected to even the possible election of Cardinal Mastai-Ferreti. Thus, Cardinal Gaisruck, Archbishop of Milan was sent to present the official veto of Mastai-Ferreti. However, Cardinal Gaisruck arrived too late — the new pope was already elected.

Pope Pius IX was crowned on 21 June 1846, and chose Cardinal Gizzi as his secretary of state. Liberal Europe applauded his election. He was not all that liberal especially since he denied equal rights to the Jews.

Pius IX's papacy

Liberalism and conservatism

Title page to El Syllabus, in Spanish.
Title page to El Syllabus, in Spanish.

As a liberal and, somewhat aware of the political pressures within the Papal States, his first act was to announce a general amnesty for political prisoners. His nature was kind-hearted and generous so he did not consider the potential implications of the amnesty — his concessions only provoked greater demands; radical Roman groups sought constitutional government and war with Austria. He was not such a radical, and in an encyclical of November 1846 he denounced secret societies (such as Circolo Romano), the Bible associations, false philosophy, communism, and the press.

His Syllabus of Errors issued in 1864 as an appendix to his encyclical Quanta Cura condemned as heresy 80 propositions, many on political topics, and firmly established his pontificate as the enemy of secularism, rationalism, and modernism in all its forms.

Treatment of Jews

Pius IX weakened laws that required Jews to live in specified neighborhoods, and repealed laws that forbade them to practice certain professions, and that required them to listen to sermons four times per year aimed at their conversion. Judaism and Catholicism were the only religions allowed by law (Protestant worship was allowed to visiting foreigners, but strictly forbidden to Italians). But the testimony of a Jew against a Christian remained inadmissible in courts of law, a tax levied only on Jews supported schools for converts from Judaism to Catholicism, and Jews continued in various other respects to be discriminated against by law.

In 1858, in a highly publicized case, a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, was taken from his parents by the police of the Papal States. It had been reported that he had been baptized by a Christian servant girl of the family while he was ill because she feared he would die and go to hell, otherwise. At this time, the law did not permit Christians to be raised by Jews, even their own parents. Pius steadfastly refused calls from numerous heads of state including Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary and Emperor Napoleon III of France to return the child to his parents.

The end of the Papal States

Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX

By early 1848, public disorder had forced Pius to concede a lay ministry and a constitution, although he held fast against war with Austria (April). Public disorder grew, with repeated riots; the Prime Minister was murdered (November 15) and the Pope was denounced and trapped by a mob in the Quirinal. Pius escaped in disguise to Gaeta on November 24, leaving Rome to the radicals and the mob. A Roman Republic was declared in February 1849. When General Oudinot's expeditionary force made its direct attack in April 1849, and the Constituent Assembly in Rome passed a resolution of protest (May 7, 1849), Louis Napoleon encouraged him and assured him of reinforcements from France. The Pope appealed for support, and Louis Napoleon— who had engaged in a liberal insurrection in the states of the church himself in 1831— now sent troops that crushed the republic (June 29), although Pius did not return to Rome until April 1850. The French troops remained in Rome to protect the status quo until the end of 1866 (see September Convention), while the Risorgimento united the remainder of Italy, leaving the block of the Papal States in the center.

Although Pius had lost his liberal tastes, the rule of Pius was still beset with temporal problems. The revolutionaries were still there, and the Papal States were coming under increased pressure from anti-papal nationalists – notably Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont. The Pope was obliged to rely on French and Austrian soldiers to maintain order and protect his territories. Napoleon III and Cavour (Premier to Victor Emmanuel) agreed to war on Austria. Following the Battle of Magenta (July 4, 1859) the Austrian forces withdrew from the Papal States, precipitating their loss. Revolutionaries in Romagna called upon Piedmont for annexation. In February 1860, Victor Emmanuel demanded Umbria and the Marches; when his demand was refused, he took them by force. After defeating the papal army on September 18 at Castelfidardo, and on September 30 at Ancona, Victor Emmanuel took all the Papal territories except Rome. In September 1870, he seized Rome as well, making it the capital of a new united Italy. He granted Pius the Law of Guarantees (May 15, 1871) which gave the pope the rights of a sovereign, including the right to send and receive ambassadors, 3.25 m lira a year, and extraterritoriality to the papal palaces in Rome. Pius never officially accepted this offer, retaining his claim to all the conquered territory. Although he was not forbidden or prevented from travelling as he wished, he called himself a prisoner in the Vatican. See also September Convention.

With the end of the Papal States, Pope Pius IX was the last pope to hold temporal powers.

Church and spirituality

Blessed Pius IX
Blessed Pius IX

Outside the loss of territory in Italy the rights of the Church were reduced across Europe, with Piedmont leading the way (Pius condemned them repeatedly, in allocutions in 1850, 1852, 1853 and 1855). The Church was reduced in the German states due to the power of Protestantism; in 1873 a Kulturkampf was started in Prussia and elsewhere against the Church. The situation was even worse for the Church in Switzerland, Poland and Russia, while in the New World the Pope denounced Colombia (1852) and Mexico (1861) for their anti-Church legislation. However the Pope did manage to secure satisfactory concordats with Spain, Austria, Portugal and a number of Caribbean and South American states. Further, he re-established the Church in England (1850) and the Netherlands (1853).

In spiritual matters Pius was much more vigorous. His December 1864 encyclical Quanta cura condemned seventy errors (Syllabus errorum), including many of the important intellectual ideas of the century such as rationalism, socialism, communism, and freedom of religion. In 1854 he became one of the few popes to issue a statement considered infallible when he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He also organised the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) which defined the dogma of Papal infallibility.

Pius moreover, beatified 13 individuals, 1 in 1847 and 1861, and 11 in 1867: Blessed Margaret Colonna (1847), Saint John Leonardi (1861), Blessed John Baptist Machado (1867), Blessed John Baptist Zola (1867), Blessed John Kinsaco (1867), Blessed John Yano (1867), Blessed John Foyamon (1867), Blessed John Maki (1867), Blessed John Cochumbuco (1867), Blessed John Xoun (1867), Blessed John Ivanango (1867), Blessed John Montajana (1867), and Blessed Thomas Tsugi (1867). Pius also canonized four others: Saint John of Cologne (1867), Saint John of Osterwick (1867), Saint John Soan de Goto (1867), and Saint Nicholas Pieck (1867).

For all his achievements, he was considered a conservative by the standards of the time, and he was often lampooned by reference to the Italian version of his name (Pio Nono) — as Pio No No.

Death and beatification

Blessed Pope Pius IX.
Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Pius IX died on 7 February 1878 from natural causes. His body was originally buried in St. Peter's grotto, but was moved 13 July 1881 to the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. The event was almost upstaged when a mob tried to seize the body and throw it into the Tiber River. Although revered by Catholics in general, Pius was never popular with the people of Rome or with the educated classes.

The process for his beatification was begun on February 11, 1907, and recommenced three times. Pope John Paul II declared him venerable on July 6, 1985, and beatified him on September 3, 2000. This latter ceremony also included the beatification of Pope John XXIII.

The beatification of Pius IX is a subject of controversy in light of some of his actions during his time as Pope, and lingering questions concerning his mental well-being in the last years of his reign. Some Jews and Catholics have expressed concern that if Pius IX were to be declared a saint, it would seriously hamper Catholic-Jewish relations.


Pius IX had the longest reign in the history of the post-apostolic papacy, celebrating his silver jubilee in 1871. Despite his own wishes, Pius's pontificate also marks the beginning of the modern papacy, which was freed of its temporal sovereignty during his reign. From this point on, the papacy became and continues to become more and more a spiritual, and less a temporal, authority.

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Preceded by:
Gregory XVI
Succeeded by:
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