Pius VII

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Pope Pius VII (1740-1823) was Pope from 1800-1823. He is best known for negotiating successfully the Concordat of 1801 with Napoleon which normalized the status of the Catholic Church in France after its suppression during the French Revolution. After the fall of Napoleon he normalized relations between the Church and all the major nations of Europe.


Pius was born Luigi Chiaramonti, at Cesena, Italy to a noble family. At sixteen he became a Benedictine; he served as a professor of theology in Parma and Rome. He became a bishop at Tivoli and Ivola, and in 1785 was made a cardinal by the family friend Pope Pius VI.


In 1800 he was elected pope in the conclave of 35 cardinals at Venice, under the sponsorship of the Emperor of Austria. He was a compromise candidate and took the name "Pius VII" at this time.


Working with his talented secretary of state, Ercole Cardinal Consalvi, Pius accepted the initiative of Napoleon Bonaparte, ruler of France, and signed the Concordat of 1801.

The French Government recognized the Catholic religion as the religion of the great majority of Frenchmen. However it was no longer as in former times, the official "religion of the State".

It gave the French government the right to nominate bishops (long a demand of Gallicanism). The bishops were to appoint as parish priests such persons only as were acceptable to the government and who swore an oath of allegiance to the French government. It reorganized the system of bishoprics and parishes throughout France, and provided for seminaries. It did not provide for the return of the vast lands and properties owned by the Church and seized during the French Revolution. Pius called upon French bishops in exile to resign. Thirty-six refused but the resulting schism was of short duration. At the time of the publication of the Concordat (1802) Napoleon published 77 Organic Articles of strong Gallican tendencies which for the most part remained in force along with the Concordat until 1905.

In 1804 Pius VII, hoping for concessions from Napoleon, went to Paris for the coronation of the new emperor. He was, however, allowed only to anoint Napoleon, who did the crowning himself.

Pius stiffened against Napoleon. He refused to annul Jerome Bonaparte's marriage to an American, or Napoleon's marriage to Josephine. When the pope refused to close the ports of the Papal States to British commerce, Napoleon seized territory including the city of Rome itself. Pius VII excommunicated him. In 1809 Napoleon annexed the Papal States to his empire, arrested the pope, and shipped him across the Alps to Savona. Eventually the pope remained a prisoner at Fontainebleau until after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in the Battle of the Nations in 1813.

After Napoleon

After the fall of Napoleon in 1814-15, Pius and Consalvi were able to obtain the complete restoration of the Papal States at the Congress of Vienna. In 1814 Pius restored the Jesuit Order throughout the world. He and Consalvi successfully negotiated agreements (concordats") with most European powers, and reestablished diplomatic relations between the pope as head of the Papal States and most governments. The result was an implicit acknowledgment by Catholic and Protestant rulers alike that the Papacy or Holy See was the effective head of the Catholic Church, and nowhere except in France was there a group of bishops who tried to put into practice conciliar ideas on the organization of the Church.

Further reading

  • Goyau, Georges. "The French Concordat of 1801." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. (1908) online edition
  • Margaret M. O'Dwyer. Papacy in the Age of Napoleon and the Restoration: Pius VII, 1800-23 (1986)
  • Weber, Nicholas. "Pope Pius VII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. (1911). online edition