Pius VII

Pius VII

Pius VII, 1740-1823, pope (1800-1823), an Italian named Barnaba Chiaramonti, b. Cesena; successor of Pius VI, who had created him cardinal in 1785. He conducted himself ably during the period of the French Revolution, showing sympathy for the social aims of the Revolution. A protracted conclave in 1799-1800 ended with his election. His secretary, Ercole Consalvi, was a guiding force throughout his pontificate. An early event was the Concordat of 1801 with Napoleon, to reestablish the church in France and set up a new hierarchy; much of it was vitiated by Napoleon's Organic Articles, which Pius would not accept. In 1804, Napoleon forced Pius to come to Paris to consecrate him as emperor, only to demean him at the last minute by taking the crown from the pope's hands and crowning himself. Napoleon found Pius intractable when not directly under his influence, and the French eventually took Rome (1808) and the Papal States (1809). Pius excommunicated the assailants of the Holy See, and Napoleon had him taken prisoner and removed to Fontainebleau. The pope was browbeaten into signing a new concordat, which he disavowed after the battle of Leipzig. In 1814, after Napoleon's downfall, Pius returned to Rome in triumph. One of his first acts was to restore the Society of Jesus. The rest of Pius's pontificate was devoted to reestablishing the church in Europe. The Papal States were restored at the Congress of Vienna, and a series of concordats were signed with European powers. At the same time Pius VII's stolidity in the face of humiliation began a revival of personal popularity for the pope that has since characterized Catholicism. Napoleon had treated Pius VII with sneering brutality, yet the pope's treatment of the fallen emperor's family was a model of benevolence: he gave them haven at Rome and interceded with the British to lighten Napoleon's treatment. He was on better terms with Great Britain than any pope had been since the Reformation, and he was keenly interested in the United States and in the Roman Catholic Church there. His patronage of artists was munificent. Leo XII succeeded him.

See E. E. Y. Hales, The Emperor and the Pope (1961).

Pope Pius VII, OSB (August 14, 1740—August 20, 1823), born Count Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, was Pope from March 14, 1800 to August 20, 1823.

Early life

Chiaramonti was born at Cesena, the son of count Scipione Chiaramonti; his mother, Giovanna Chiaramonti, was the daughter of the marquese Ghini and was related to the Braschi family. He joined the Benedictine order in 1756 at the Abbey of S.Maria del Monte of Cesena and changed his first name to Gregorio. He then became a teacher at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome. His career became a series of promotions following the election of a family friend, Giovanni Angelo Braschi, as Pope Pius VI (1775–99). In 1776 Pius VI appointed the 34-year old Barnaba, who had been teaching at the monastery of S. Anselmo in Rome, honorary abbot in commendam of his monastery, to complaints from the brothers. After making him bishop of Tivoli, near Rome, Pius VI made him a cardinal and Bishop of Imola in February 1785.

From the time French forces invaded Italy in 1797, the cardinal cautioned temperance and submission to the Cisalpine Republic. In his Christmas homily that year in 1797 he asserted that there was no opposition between a democratic form of government and being a good Catholic: "Be good catholics and you will be good democrats", said the bishop.

Election as Pope

Following the death of Pius VI, virtually France's prisoner, at Valence in August 1799, the conclave met on November 30, 1799 in the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio, Venice. There were three main candidates, two of whom proved to be unacceptable to the Habsburgs, whose candidate, Alessandro Cardinal Mattei, could not secure sufficient votes. After several months of stalemate, Chiaramonti was elected as a compromise candidate. He was elected Pope Pius VII at Venice on March 21, 1800 in a rather unusual coronation, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara, the original having been seized by the French along with Pius VI. Then an Austrian vessel, the "Bellona" brought him to Pesaro, from where he reached Rome by land.

One of Pius VII's first acts was to appoint Ercole Consalvi, who had acted as secretary to the recent conclave, to the college of cardinals and to the office of secretary of state.

Relationship with Napoleon I

From the beginning of his papacy to the fall of Napoleon I Bonaparte in 1815, Pius VII would be completely involved with France. He and Napoleon would continually be in conflict, often involving the French military leader's wishes for concessions to his demands, while the Pope, although he almost always gave in to Napoleon, wanted only the return of the Papal States, and later on the release of the 13 Black Cardinals along with several exiled or imprisoned clergymen, monks, nuns, priests, his various supporters including his secretaries of state, and his own release from exile.

Napoleon realized the importance of religion as a means to increase obedience and his control over the French people. It was not until the conclave of Cardinals had gathered to elect a new Pope that Napoleon decided to bury Pope Pius VI who had died several weeks earlier, with a gaudy ceremony in an effort to gain the attention of the Catholic church. This eventually led to the Concordat of 1801 negotiated by Ercole Consalvi, the Pope's secretary of state, which re-systemised the linkage between the French church and Rome. However the Concordat also contained the "Organic Articles" which Consalvi had fiercely denied Napoleon, but which the latter had installed regardless.

Against the wish of most of the Curia, Pius VII travelled to Paris for Napoleon's coronation in 1804. Although the Pope and the papacy were promised several luxurious gifts and monetary donations, the Pope had initially refused most of these offers. In the event, Napoleon concurred but did produce a Papal Tiara, which presented as its main jewel one that had previously been confiscated by Napoleon from Pope Pius VI.

The papacy had suffered a major loss of church lands through secularizations in the Holy Roman Empire following the Peace of Lunéville (1801), when a number of German princes had been compensated for their losses by the seizure of ecclesiastical property. Whatever hopes Pius VII may have had with Napoleon, the Papal States were eventually taken by the French around 1808, and when Napoleon subsequently was excommunicated, one of his officers saw an opportunity to gain praise. Although Napoleon had captured Castel Sant'Angelo and intimidated the Pope by pointing cannons at his papal bedroom, he did not instruct one of his most ambitious lieutenants, Lieutenant Radet, to kidnap the Pope. Yet once Pius VII was a prisoner, Napoleon did not offer his release; the Pope would be moved throughout Napoleon's territories, in great sickness at times, though most of his confinement would take place at Savona. Napoleon would send several delegations of his supporters to pressure the Pope into various issues, from giving up his power, to signing a new concordat with France.

The Pope would remain in confinement for over six years, and not return to Rome until May 24, 1814, when Allied forces freed the Pope on a pursuing chase of Napoleonic forces. The Pope in a final remark on the situation, had his secretary compose a letter to the British government asking for better treatment of the exiled emperor at Saint Helena. One of the final lines of the note stated, “He can no longer be a danger to anybody. We would not wish him to become a cause for remorse.”

At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) the Papal States were largely restored. The pope rejoiced. The Jesuits were restored; the Index and the Inquisition were revived. The Roman Jews had to return to the ghetto. Yet he gladly offered a refuge in his capital to the members of the Bonaparte family. Princess Letitia, the deposed emperor's mother, lived there; likewise did his brothers Lucien and Louis and his uncle, Cardinal Fesch.

Relationship with the United States of America

On the United States' suppression of the Muslim Barbary Pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, who kidnapped Christians for ransom and slavery, Pope Pius VII said that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”




  • Pope Pius VII, by Robin Anderson, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 2001. ISBN 0-89555-678-2


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