Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Pope Pius IX Elected in 1846

Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai Ferretti became Pope Pius IX on June 16, 1846, succeeding Pope Gregory XVI. His reign as pope would last 32 years; his rule over the Papal States 24. To say that he is a controversial pope is to make an understatement. Pope St. John Paul II beatified Pope Pius IX on September 3, 2000:

In the context of the Jubilee Year, it is with deep joy that I have declared blessed two Popes, Pius IX and John XXIII, and three other servants of the Gospel in the ministry and the consecrated life: Archbishop Tommaso Reggio of Genoa, the diocesan priest William Joseph Chaminade and the Benedictine monk Columba Marmion.

Five different personalities, each with his own features and his own mission, all linked by a longing for holiness. It is precisely their holiness that we recognize today: holiness that is a profound and transforming relationship with God, built up and lived in the daily effort to fulfil his will. Holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in him.

Of Pope Pius IX, Pope John Paul II said:

Listening to the words of the Gospel acclamation: "Lord, lead me on a straight road", our thoughts naturally turn to the human and religious life of Pope Pius IX, Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti. Amid the turbulent events of his time, he was an example of unconditional fidelity to the immutable deposit of revealed truths. Faithful to the duties of his ministry in every circumstance, he always knew how to give absolute primacy to God and to spiritual values. His lengthy pontificate was not at all easy and he had much to suffer in fulfilling his mission of service to the Gospel. He was much loved, but also hated and slandered.

However, it was precisely in these conflicts that the light of his virtues shone most brightly: these prolonged sufferings tempered his trust in divine Providence, whose sovereign lordship over human events he never doubted. This was the source of Pius IX's deep serenity, even amid the misunderstandings and attacks of so many hostile people. He liked to say to those close to him: "In human affairs we must be content to do the best we can and then abandon ourselves to Providence, which will heal our human faults and shortcomings".

Sustained by this deep conviction, he called the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, which clarified with magisterial authority certain questions disputed at the time, and confirmed the harmony of faith and reason. During his moments of trial Pius IX found support in Mary, to whom he was very devoted. In proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he reminded everyone that in the storms of human life the light of Christ shines brightly in the Blessed Virgin and is more powerful than sin and death.

Please note that he became pope seven months after John Henry Newman became a Catholic. After Newman studied for the Catholic priesthood and was ordained in Rome, Pope Pius IX approved his founding of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. On August 22, 1850, Pius IX conferred an honorary doctorate degree on Newman before he became the Rector the Catholic University of Ireland, another foundation Pope Pius IX approved so Catholics in Ireland would have a college to attend.

But Newman and Pius IX also had their difficulties. There are some websites that descry the canonization of Newman (a canonization approved by the current pope) because they think Newman did not respect the authority of the pope highly enough. I'm sure you see the contradiction there.

The website organized by the Oratories in England on the occasion of Newman's canonization dedicated a page to Newman's thoughts about the papacy and papal authority:

In 1852 Newman was appointed Rector of the newly-founded Catholic University in Dublin. Pope Pius IX had forbidden Irish Catholics to attend new ‘mixed’, i.e. secular, colleges which the British government were setting up. Instead, a Catholic university should be founded. Newman knew that it would be a tough job to get the new university off the ground, as nearly half the Irish Catholic bishops didn’t support it. In public lectures he answered those who doubted its practicality by saying it would succeed because the Pope had decreed it and the papacy had a perpetual wisdom down the ages. It was a brave argument to make, but in the ensuing years, Newman came to realise that he himself actually knew more about the situation in Ireland than the Pope did. When he later published his lectures as The Idea of a University he revised the passages in which he had lauded the papacy’s perpetual wisdom.

During the 1860’s there was a growing pressure by the ‘Ultramontane’ party within the Church to have the doctrine of Papal Infallibility officially declared. Newman believed in the doctrine - he had demonstrated it in action in early church history - but it was now being pushed in an extreme form to cover everything that a pope said. A leading Ultramontane proclaimed that he wanted an infallible statement with his copy of the Times at breakfast every morning. In this atmosphere, Newman thought it would be inopportune for a definition to be made.

The Vatican Council of 1870 did define the doctrine but in very precise terms. Administrative or political decisions were not covered. Nevertheless, the Ultramontane party claimed that they were. Many ordinary Catholics were troubled . . .

Then Dr. Andrew Nash describes Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk which I think I covered in this blog pretty well. Nash concludes:

Newman’s journey to a balanced understanding of papal authority remains helpful for Catholics today. His canonisation gives us a good opportunity to explain this much misunderstood doctrine to others.

Image Credit (Public Domain) Pope Pius IX in 1846

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