BLESSED PIUS IX
by Roberto de Mattei
Trans. John Laughland
(Gracewing, 2004, 240pp, $45.00, ISBN: 978-0-85244-605-5. Available from Freedom Publishing)
When the secular press learned of Pope Pius IX's beatification, it was no surprise there were cries of protest. Ironically, the focus of these was the Mortara affair, an incident in which Pius IX upheld a ban on a Jewish child who had been baptised without his parents' consent from being returned to his natural parents.
While this action seems incredible to modern sensibilities, it was thought appropriate at the time by Church authorities, and the boy himself expressed a wish to be raised a Catholic.
Curiously, the media glossed over some aspects of Pius IX's pontificate that would have given secular humanist elements more reason to ululate, namely his sustained and systematic critique of liberalism embodied in documents such as his Syllabus of Errors.
De Mattei divides his study of the papacy of Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti into two parts.
Part One examines what could be described as his political career for Pius IX was Pope during one of the most turbulent times in history. The author challenges many interpretations, particularly those that see the Pope's relationship with secular powers in negative terms yet view his role as a teacher positively.
De Mattei reminds his readers that authentic historical analysis means that a person or a movement must be interpreted in and understood against the historical background. This basic principle of historical analysis, often neglected by elements of the media in their two dimensional praise or condemnation of the past, is well illustrated in regard to Pius IX, as with the above Mortara affair.
Elected in 1846, Pius IX was initially welcomed by political liberals as more to their way of thinking than his predecessor, Gregory XVI. However, de Mattei argues that the received interpretation that Pius IX was at first open to liberalism, which he later rejected out of hand after the revolution of 1848, his flight from Rome and subsequent restoration, is inadequate.
Instead, the author asserts that Pius rejected liberalism from the start of his pontificate and as the 1849 Risorgimento, or movement to unite Italy, gained pace, he expressed opposition, not only because it would spell loss of the temporal sovereignty of the papacy - which in itself guaranteed the pope the freedom to rule and lead the church free from the coercion of a local secular authority - but also because it wanted to establish a secular state in which the Church had no authority.
Moreover, many of the leading members of the Risorgimento were Freemasons who were bitterly hostile towards the clergy and the Catholic Church in general.
De Mattei also challenges historical interpretations, which seem to have emerged from Risorgimentist propaganda, that the Papal States were backward. He cites evidence of significant developments of infrastructure during Pius IX's rule, and the lack of hunger in the Papal States compared with other areas of Italy, as well as the fact that Pius was generally liked as the temporal ruler.
Part Two explores Pius IX's role as a teacher and de Mattei argues that the teachings he proclaimed synchronised with his political stance. For example, one of the main reasons for his proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception - the belief that Mary "from the first instant of her Conception was preserved Immaculate from all stain of original sin" (p. 175) - was to combat one of the chief teachings of liberalism, namely that human beings are naturally good and capable of perfection through their own means, without recourse to religion.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a reminder that human beings are in need of a redeemer, namely Christ. Similarly, Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors condemned many of the popular beliefs liberalism espoused in relation to religion.
The high point of Pius IX's role as teacher was arguably the First Vatican Council. The council produced two documents: Dei Filius with its dogmatic declarations about revelation and Pastor Aeternus, which defined Papal Infallibility. De Mattei explores the controversy surrounding the formulation of the declaration of Papal Infallibility.
Blessed Pius IX is a thoroughly researched work with extensive footnotes that cite a range of sources, most of which are non-English. Furthermore, the appendices include English translations of the major documents (apart from Dei Filius) of Pius IX's pontificate. While primarily an academic study, Blessed Pius IX is accessible to the general reader.