Blessed Pius IX: That Was Then. This is Now. The Evils of Then Seem the Norms of Now

Some years back, a young self-proclaimed “liberal” deacon—schooled at Louvain—spoke of Pope Pius IX. “Pius IX”, said our deacon, “began as a liberal but when things did not go his way he opposed anything modern. He was so power-hungry that he declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception primarily to feed his ego. His intolerance of dissent proved he was not called ‘Pio NO-NO’ for nothing.” He also suggested Pius IX was insane and recommended Hasler’s book How the Pope Became Infallible to get “the truth about Pius IX”. After reading the book’s introduction by Hans Küng, and Hasler’s own introduction to the second edition where he angrily complains about the negative assessment his book and Küng received from the Vatican, and finding the book is a favorite atheistic and anti-Catholic website source, I decided to research the transition of Pius IX from “liberal” to one who “opposed anything modern”.

Blessed Pius IX, born John Mary Mastai Ferretti in 1792, was the son an Italian nobleman whose uncle was a bishop in Rome. He was ordained in 1819, became a bishop in 1827, a cardinal in 1839, and pope in 1846. This paper will document categories of the Pope’s life and events up to the Syllabus of Errors in 1864. Pius IX will be referred to as “John Mary” prior to his papal election and “Pio Nono” afterwards, which is Italian for “Pius IX”.

The Pope of Prayer
In the separation of Church and State that continues today, spiritual matters are often ignored. Pio Nono’s reputation as the “Pope of Prayer” was a way of life and important influence to all. He was dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Mother.[i] As Archbishop of Spoleto he worked to revive piety amid people whose faith was weakened by revolutionary ideas and secret societies. He started Forty Hour Devotions , preached on the beauty of prayer and spent many hours in prayer while the people were engaged in various revelries. As Cardinal of Imola he established conferences to study Holy Scripture even presiding over them himself. His top priority was always the spiritual wellbeing of his people and in addition to his known piety, his personal acts of charity also showed true Christian spirit. He regularly spent holy hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament serving as an example to the people.[ii]

As Pope, he began his days with a long meditation, the offering of Mass, the hearing of a second Mass in Thanksgiving and daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament often for hours on end. When once criticized he rebuked his accuser stating “the poor Pope has the greatest need to spend time with Our Lord.”[iii] His spiritual triumphs and crosses were always accompanied by prayer, meditation, Mass, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When he escaped from Rome to Gaeta he had on his person the Blessed Sacrament[iv] and upon his return to Rome publically adored the Blessed Sacrament. He visited chapels incognito to adore the Blessed Sacrament.[v]

Amid perils or exile Pio Nono still cared for Church. He was able to facilitate expansion for the Church in a number of countries, defend Church freedom and help secure Catholic education. “We must train our children for heaven or the world will train them for destruction.”[vi] He improved seminaries and colleges, and revived Scripture studies and Thomistic philosophy that carried on for decades and furthered the already occurring worldwide Catholic revival.[vii]

The Pope Insane and Egotistical
As to insinuations of insanity no sources corroborate the accusation. There were “occasional explosions of wrath” such as when during the Piedmontese occupation of the Papal States an emissary of that government under Cavour came to Rome without approval. Anger under such circumstances is not insanity. Upon Cavour’s untimely death in 1861, while upholding the rules regarding Cavour’s excommunication, Pio Nono publically prayed for his soul, said Mass for that same intention, and stated “how he loved his country that Cavour, that Cavour. That man was truly Italian. God will surely have pardoned him as we pardon him.”[viii]

The faithful had expressed desire for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception since the sixteenth century and with the popularity of the Miraculous Medal established by apparitions of the Blessed Mother in 1830, demands increased. With Pio Nono’s Marian devotion known, requests increased even more. In 1849, Pio Nono’s encyclical Ubi Primum to bishops solicited prayers and opinions on the Immaculate Conception five years before the dogma was declared.[ix] Any accusation that this dogma was to feed his ego is absurd. With almost two-hundred bishops from around the world agreeing the dogma should be declared on the sole authority of the Pope, it was however, an important precedence towards papal infallibility.[x]

The Pope as Liberal orPower-Hungry
In 1809 Napoleon dispossessed Pope Pius VII of his states and took him prisoner. John Mary, then living in Rome at the Quirinal knew of these conflicts and their ramifications. In 1823, he went to Latin American and saw firsthand how the religious spirit was weakened by revolution. During his arrest on this trip he saw the necessity of Papal independence. Chile, Peru, Mexico and Columbia were all recently independent and as a result of liberalism the distressed Church was considered incompatible with the new age of freedom. John Mary returned to Rome with experience gained that was formation for his pontificate.[xi]

Upon becoming Bishop of Spoleto, a diocese in rebellion, he assumed the role of both governor and bishop. He engaged revolutionaries, convinced them of their crimes and to lay down their arms, including the future Napoleon III, and allowed them to leave. He was strongly rebuked by Pope Gregory XVI for this who afterwards told him his actions were in line with the duties of a bishop. He worked to improve social conditions and by 1831 Spoleto was peaceful.[xii]

John Mary was sent to Imola by Gregory XVI, who was convinced that as modern society degrades, demoralizes, and rejects victims, the Church should save and restore them to God.[xiii] Gregory XVI saw nothing good in liberalism calling the railroad a “diabolical machine”. The Papal States were certainly backwards with lack of infrastructure making travel difficult for example.[xiv] In Gregory’s defense he was faced with the same enemies Pio Nono would be faced with, which intertwined good and evil in liberalism, and he reacted as he saw fit.[xv] Yet John Mary was considered a “liberal” bishop. Cardinal Lambruschini, who would be a key advisor to Pio Nono, once said “even the cats in the Mastai household are liberals.” Gregory expected this liberal bishop to use the same religious fervor as succeeded in Spoleto to work in Imola. Imola became a stable diocese with liberal and revolutionary groups losing influence.[xvi]

John Mary felt one could be a Christian liberal without revolution. He subscribed to the methods of a book popular in Italy, Gioberti’s Primacy which argued it erroneous to suppose, as did the revolutionaries, that the rebirth of Italy must come though what Mazzini and others called a “new religious synthesis”, which would supersede Catholicism, or through the equally anti-Catholic Freemasons. Gioberti proposed the glory of Italy was the Papacy and it was to the Papacy that Italy must look to for regeneration. Through the Church Italy had civilized the West. The Pope should lead with the various Italian princes giving the people a voice in the government, but all under the presidency of the Pope with common military and economic resources. John Mary thought so highly of the book he brought a copy of it with him to Rome in 1846, after the death of Gregory XVI. He planned to present the copy as a gift to the new pope. As Pio Nono, John Mary would be able to turn Gioberti’s ideas into reality.[xvii]

Pio Nono had liberal and conservative papal advisors including his old critic Cardinal Lambruschini proving he was open to both sides of arguments.[xviii] He began to carry out Gioberti’s program, by broadening the government, extending freedom to the press, and promoting scientific advancements. He granted amnesty to imprisoned revolutionaries to the distress of ally governments and conservative advisors. Many of those given their freedom would betray the Pope by resuming the activities of the past revolution of 1831.[xix]

Liberal leaders welcomed the pope and his reputation grew[xx] being hailed his first year as an enlightened leader in England and America.[xxi] The pope planned to liberalize the government, build roads and railroads, improve utilities and peacefully unify Italy. But liberal organizations and freemasonic sects such as the Carbonari, led by Mazzini and Garibaldi envisioned and laid plans for the destruction of the Church. Organizing chaotic demonstrations at every Pio Nono appearance, followers of Mazzini used the Pope’s popularity to increase their influence.[xxii] These sects sought humanity without religion or papacy and waged a subtle, indirect war on the Church. Persuading priests to subscribe to these principles with no direct attack on Catholicism they would corrupt her from within by subverting her believers and if possible, some day, hoped to delude a Pope himself into furthering their aims. Members included Napoleon and Louis Bonaparte, Garibaldi and almost all those who later became prominent in the more radical side of the Italian Risorgimento.[xxiii]

The Pope was wise to these covert efforts. His very first encyclical warned of the tactics and organizations who sought to reduce and even eliminate the Church; this to the rage of the revolutionaries who knew they would be unable to use the Pope as planned. It did not take long for those opposed to Pio Nono’s type of liberalism to turn against him. In addition, King Albert of Piedmont in Northern Italy waited to take advantage of any turmoil for his own plans to rule Italy. Piedmontese enticement of the Papal troops to defy the orders of Pio Nono and fight against the Austrians and the subsequent discipline by Pio Nono was when the revolutionaries openly condemned Pio Nono and called him “enemy of his country.”[xxiv] The sincere attempts by Pio Nono to modernize the government were lost in the revolutionary fever of the times. King Albert of Piedmont was using Garibaldi and Mazzini to bring about chaos in Italy with plans to step in and impose order, taking over Italy.[xxv]

In 1847 press censors were established in an attempt to stop the literature and slander attacking the Church. At this point a layman, Count Rossi was appointed by the Pope as his chief  minister. Rossi began to counteract the Revolutionaries in effective manners. The Revolutionaries, under orders from Mazzini, assassinated Rossi in November 1848 tilting the power back to the Revolutionaries. Threats against the Pope caused him to flee Rome to Gaeta.[xxvi] Without the Pope in their custody to be used as a puppet and scapegoat, the Revolutionaries were held more accountable for the state of Italy. Religious sacrilege and assassinations became common, taxes were greatly increased, and contrary opinions were violently silenced. Religious orders and ecclesiastical corporations were declared illegal.[xxvii]

Mazzini’s arrival in Rome usurped the leadership of the Pope. Churches were confiscated and converted to other uses. Religious orders were abolished. Religious art was destroyed and relics profaned. Priests were executed.[xxviii] Priests were to join Religion of the People. Debauchery, ant-Catholic demonstrations and defilement of the Blessed Sacrament took place. These atrocities proved to Pio Nono the Papacy cannot be under secular rule.[xxix]

The great powers of Europe did not support the revolutionary government but rather the Pope in Gaeta. Louis Napoleon of France, who Pio Nono rescued years before, took measures to restore Pio Nono to Rome by military intervention which initially failed resulting in the murder of priests in Rome. A subsequent French blockage caused revolutionary leaders to flee Rome after seven months of violent power. Napoleon attempted to interfere in the Papal government which the Pope resisted seeing his temporal power an aid to his spiritual power. The Pope returned to Rome in 1850 and, in Christian fashion, granted a second amnesty.[xxx]

In 1854, Piedmont and the anti-Catholic Risorgimento enacted the “Law of Convents” abolishing contemplative religious orders and two-thirds of the religious in Northern Italy. This was proof to Pio Nono that Piedmont was a pending future threat.[xxxi]

The French ambassador to Rome issued a report praising the Papal States in 1856. This came at a time when false reports were being spread criticizing Rome and when Napoleon was looking for an excuse to interfere in Italy on behalf of Piedmont. This unwanted positive and public report cost the ambassador his job. The Pope definitely improved the infrastructure and living conditions of the people of Rome with orphanages, prisons, mental asylums, old age homes, and hospitals all superior to that of other European governments.[xxxii] In 1857 Pio Nono toured Italy where improvements were visible along with reduced taxes. The Pope enjoyed popularity but was worried about the ideologies of Italian leaders who were enamored by the parliamentary freedom of England and France which put them at odds with Pio Nono. Behind the scenes Cavour, Mazzini and Garibaldi were working towards ending the freedom of the Church and abolishing contemplative religious orders. In this tour of Italy Pio Nono saw atheism, Communism, naturalism, and materialism infecting the country. These were the real enemies Pio Nono had always hated.[xxxiii]

Cavour was the chief minister of Piedmont in 1858, under King Victor Emmanuel who took over when his father Albert abdicated the throne. Cavour, who was fashioned in the spirit of anti-Catholic French revolution ideologies, met with Napoleon in 1858. Cavour also manipulated Mazzini and Garibaldi to his purposes. Cavour and Napoleon planned war against Austria both having designs to gain power and control over Italy in the aftermath. Subsequently, through staged disorders in the Papal States and supported by the liberal press in France and England the stage was set for Piedmont to invade the Papal States to “secure peace.” The French government was conveniently unavailable to support Rome as was promised.[xxxiv]

In 1861 Cavour approached Pio Nono with a proposed settlement offering safety for the Papacy in exchange for relinquishing the Papal States which were already under Piedmont control for the past year. Pio Nono refused this offer as past behavior indicated more treachery to come. Piedmont passed laws against the Church, abused the Church through the press, abolished the contemplative life, arrested and persecuted priests and bishops, and looted Churches. They could not be trusted who had previously driven Pio Nono from Rome to Gaeta, threatened his life, and planned his assassination. Cavour’s death in May of 1861, along with Napoleon’s need for the support of French Catholics who expected him to protect Rome, slowed the turmoil.[xxxv]

At the 1862 canonization of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki, bishops present from around the world affirmed the supreme doctrinal authority and papal infallibility of the Pope in relation to his condemnation of some principal errors of the time including denial of the divine origin of the Church, encroachments of civil power, pantheism and rationalism.[xxxvi] In 1863 Garibaldi called the Papacy a cancer. In December 1866, France withdrew her troops from Rome as part of Napoleon’s plotting with Piedmont’s King Victor. In 1867 Garibaldi invaded the Papal States resulting in a return of French troops and Pio Nono grants another amnesty.[xxxvii]

The Syllabus of Errors – December 1864
Pio Nono’s liberalism was really an example of Christian charity that had no tolerance for Catholic removal from secular life. From his first encyclical he called attention to the war against Catholicism, warned of secret societies, warned of being led away under pretexts of human progress, religious indifference, warned against perverse theories of education, bad books and periodicals which deprave men and banish religious influence.

The aftermath of the loss of the Papal States of Romagna, Umbria, and the Marches was most religious orders disbanded. Five thousand monks and nuns lost their rights before the law. Church property was confiscated. Anticlericalism was rampant in Italian newspapers, flyers, and on the mouth of new government officials. King Victor Emmanuel wrote respectful correspondence to Pio Nono but acted differently.  English, French, and American liberals told the world the Papal States were badly ruled and in need of reform when actually the young, poor, aged, and insane where much better treated.[xxxviii]

Pio Nono wanted to condemn errors in an introduction to the Immaculate Conception dogmatic proclamation and beginning with his very first encyclical had done so and continued to do so formally throughout his papacy. Over 30 condemnations of false doctrines threatening religious truth, family, marriage, and the rights of the Church and state in society were made between 1842 and 1864 in the forms of encyclicals, briefs, allocutions, and papal letters. The Syllabus refers to conditions not only in Italy but in Austria, Germany, France, Columbia, Mexico, Spain, Peru, and Switzerland as well. Pio Nono took up the battle began by Pope Clement XII against false ideas of the “enlightenment” not only in the unbelieving world but within the Church itself as Catholics gave up the practice of their faith for liberal ideologies. Cardinals, bishops and priests were involved in nationalism and progress that exalted civil power and the destruction of religious life.[xxxix]

The Syllabus showed Pio Nono was not once a liberal and then not a liberal. His policies were the same though his methods changed. The problem was, and is, that “Liberalism” intertwines good with evil and it can be hard to tell them apart. As Bokenkotter states there is a “distinction between the philosophy of liberalism and the political and social techniques it made use of.”[xl] Pio Nono had seen firsthand hypocrisy, atheism, Communism, naturalism, and indifferentism while many bishops around the world had not. In scoffing at ethics and religion, and in trying to abolish both by word and law, the nineteenth century prepared the way for increased evil in the twentieth century. The Pope attacks those who attempt to withdraw society from Church influence, those who attack the family via Communism and socialism, those who persecute Church members, especially the clergy and religious orders, those who try to make the Church submit to civil authority and those who deny the rights of the Church in society. The Syllabus lists eighty errors condemned by Pio Nono over twenty years.[xli]

The Syllabus was attacked as condemning all liberalism of thought and freedom of opinion and sealed secular opinion of Pio Nono as now “anti-liberal.” Freemasons around the world supported campaigns of this misrepresentation of the Syllabus. Pio Nono reacted by stating “The war against religion is being waged with ‘poisoned-tipped weapons’. And the war is not really over. We have perfect confidence that the Church will triumph in the end. God permits this persecution in order to weed out the good from the wicked . . . Preach . . . announce the word of God with zeal and charity . . . fight unbelief and irreligion with all your might . . . it is not the heresy of Luther or Calvin that gains ground. It is the denial of faith and the contempt for all belief that the evil men desire to spread.[xlii] In support of Pio Nono a foreign visitor in attempting to console him said “Whatever the storms and massive waves, the bark of Peter can never be overwhelmed, can never be sunk.” “What about the crew?” was Pio Nono response?[xliii]

We are the crew.  This battle wages on.  Separation of Church and State is not always good.  Pio Nono’s age was only the beginning. May Blessed Pio Nono protect us in our age. Amen.


Bokenkotter, Thomas. Concise History of the Catholic Church(Doubleday, 1977)

Hales, E.E.Y. Pio Nono A Study of European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century(P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1954)

Hasler, August Bernhard. How the Pope Became Infallible Pius IX and the Powers of Persuasion (Dobuleday, 1981)

Hughs, Phillip. The Church in Crisis(Burns & Oates, 1961)

Laux, John. Church History(Tan Books, 1930)

Screck, Alan. The Compact History of the Catholic Church(Servant Books, 1987)

Shea, John Gilmary. The Life of Pope Pius IX(Thomas Kelly, 1878)

Thornton, Francis Beauchesne. Cross Upon Cross The Life of Pope Pius IX (Benzzinger Brothers, 19555)

[i] Hales 33

[ii] Hales 33
Shea44, 50-53
Thornton 51,60

[iii] Thornton 82

[iv] Hales 94

[v] Thornton 136-143

[vi] Shea 119-120,179

[vii] Hughes 295
Thornton 157

[viii] Hales 222-227

[ix] Hales 146-149

[x] Shea 216 – 217

[xi] Shea27-41
Thornton 36-45

[xii] Thornton 49-56

[xiii] Shea49

[xiv] Thornton 64-65

[xv] Hales 25-27

[xvi] Thro 57-63

[xvii] Hales 36-37

[xviii] Thornton 79

[xix] Thornton 90

[xx] Hales 49,50

[xxi] Thornton 93

[xxii] Thornton 93

[xxiii] Hales 23-24

[xxiv] Thornton 92-108

[xxv] Thornton 105

[xxvi] Thornton 96-112

[xxvii] Thornton 125-126

[xxviii] Hales 120-125

[xxix] Hales 137

[xxx] Thornton 127-130

[xxxi] Hales 178-182

[xxxii] Thornton 154-157

[xxxiii] Thornton 172

[xxxiv] Thornton 174-178

[xxxv] Thornton 180-181

[xxxvi] Shea268

[xxxvii] Shea296-301

[xxxviii] Thornton 185

[xxxix] Thornton 186

[xl] Bokenkotter 301

[xli] Thornton 187-188

[xlii] Thornton 189-190

[xliii] Thornton 195

2 responses to “Blessed Pius IX: That Was Then. This is Now. The Evils of Then Seem the Norms of Now

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