See biography by W. H. Peters (1959).
Pope Benedict XV (Latin: Benedictus PP. XV), (Benedetto XV), (November 21, 1854 – January 22, 1922), born Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, reigned as Pope from September 3, 1914 to January 22, 1922, succeeding Pope Pius X (1903–14). His pontificate was largely overshadowed by World War One and its political, social and humanitarian consequences in Europe.
Between 1846 and 1903, the Church experienced its two longest pontificates in history at that time. Together Pius IX and Leo XIII ruled for fifty-seven years. In 1914, the Cardinals choose Della Chiesa at the age of sixty, indicating their desire for another long-lasting pontificate at the outbreak of World War One, which he labelled “the suicide of civilized Europe”. The war and its consequences were the main focus of Della Chiesa. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives. German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace” as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau regarded the Vatican initiative as anti-French. Having failed with diplomatic initiatives, the Pope focused on humanitarian efforts to lessen the impacts of the war, such as attending prisoners of war, the exchange of wounded soldiers and food deliveries to needy populations in Europe. After the war, he repaired the difficult relations with France, which re-established relations with the Vatican in 1921. During his pontificate, relations with Italy improved as well, as the Pope now permitted Catholic politicians led by Don Luigi Sturzo to participate in national Italian politics. Benedict issued in 1917 the first ever Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, the creation of which he had prepared with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli during the pontificate of Pius X. The new Canon law is considered to have stimulated religious life and activities throughout the Church He named Pietro Gasparri to be his Cardinal Secretary of State and personally consecrated Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli on May 13, 1917 as Archbishop on the very day of the Marian apparitions in Fatima. World War One caused great damage to Catholic missions throughout the world. Benedict revitalized these activities, asking in Maximum Illud for Catholics throughout the world to participate. His last concern was the emerging persecution of the Church in the Soviet Union and the famine there after the revolution. Benedict was an ardent mariologist, devoted to Marian veneration and open to new perspectives of Roman Catholic Mariology. He supported the mediatrix theology and authorized the Feast of Mary Mediator of all Graces. After less than seven years in office, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922. With his diplomatic skills and his openness towards the modern world, "he gained respect for himself and the papacy"
Giacomo della Chiesa was born at Pegli, a suburb of Genoa, Italy, the son of Marchese Giuseppe della Chiesa and his wife Marchesa Giovanna Migliorati. His wish to become a priest was rejected early on by his father who insisted on a legal career for his son. At the age of twenty-one he acquired a doctorate in Law on August 2, 1875. He had attended the University of Genoa, which after the unification of Italy, was largely dominated by anti-Catholic and anti-clerical politics. With his doctorate in Law and at legal age, he again asked his father for permission to study for the priesthood, which was now reluctantly granted. He insisted however, that his son conduct his theological studies in Rome not in Genoa, in order that he not end up as a village priest or provincial Monsignore
Della Chiesa entered the Collegio Capranica and was there in Rome when, in 1878, Pope Pius IX died and was followed by Pope Leo XIII. The new pope received the students of the Capranica in private audience only a few days after his investiture. Shortly thereafter, Della Chiesa was ordained a priest by Cardinal Patrizzi on December 21, 1878. From 1878 until 1883 he studied at the Papal Academy Pontificia Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici in Rome. It was there, on every Thursday, that students were required to defend a research paper, to which Cardinals and high members of the Roman Curia were invited. Cardinal Mariano Rampolla took note of him and furthered his entry in the diplomatic service of the Vatican in 1882, where he was employed by Mariano Cardinal Rampolla as a secretary and soon to be posted to Madrid. When Rampolla subsequently was appointed Cardinal Secretary of State, Della Chiesa followed him. During these years Della Chiesa helped negotiate the resolution of a dispute between Germany and Spain over the Caroline Islands as well as organising relief during a cholera epidemic. Still, his ambitious mother, Marchesa Della Chiesa, is said to have been discontent with the career of her son, cornering Rampolla with the words, that in her opinion, Giacomo was not properly recognized in the Vatican. Rampolla allegedly replied, Signora, your son will take only a few steps, but they will be gigantic ones. When Rampolla left his post with the election of Pope Pius X, and was succeeded by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, Della Chiesa was retained in his post.
But Della Chiesa's association with Rampolla, the architect of Pope Leo XIII's (1878–1903) foreign policy, made his position in the Secretariat of State under the new pontificate somewhat uncomfortable. Italian papers announced that on 15 April 1907, the papal nuncio Aristide Rinaldini in Madrid would be replaced by Della Chiesa, who had worked there before. Pius X chuckling over the journalist’s knowledge, commented, unfortunately, the paper forgot to mention whom I nominated as the next Archbishop of Bologna. In the presence of his family, the Diplomatic corps, numerous bishops and cardinals, and his friend Rampolla, on December 18, 1907, he received the episcopal consecration from Pope St. Pius X himself. The Pope donated his own Episcopal ring and crosier to the new bishop and spent much time with the Della Chiesa family on the following day. On February 23, 1907, Della Chiesa took possession of his new dioceses, which included 700 000 persons, 750 priests, as well as nineteen male and seventy-eight female religious institutes. In the Episcopal seminar, some twenty-five teachers educated 120 students, preparing for the priesthood.
As bishop he visited all parishes, making a special effort to see the smaller ones in the mountains, which could only be accessed by horse. Della Chiesa always saw preaching as the main obligation of a bishop. He usually gave two or more sermons a day during his visitations. His emphasis was on cleanliness inside all churches and chapels and on saving money wherever possible: Let us save to give to the poor A meeting of all priests in a Synod had to be postponed at the wish of the Vatican in light of ongoing changes in the Canon Law. Numerous churches were built or restored. Della Chiesa personally originated a major reform of the educational orientation of the seminary, adding more science courses and classic education to the curriculum. He organized pilgrimages to Marian shrines in Loreto and Lourdes at the fiftieth anniversary of the apparition. The unexpected death of his friend, supporter and mentor Rampolla on December 13, , was a major blow to Giacomo Della Chiesa, who was one of the beneficiaries of his will.
It was Roman custom that the Archbishop of Bologna would be created in one of the coming consistories. In Bologna this was surely expected of Della Chiesa as well, since, in previous years, either Cardinals were named as archbishops, or archbishops as Cardinals soon thereafter. Pius X did not follow this tradition and left Della Chiesa waiting for almost seven years. When a delegation from Bologna visited him, to ask for Della Chiesa's promotion to the College of Cardinals, he jokingly replied by making fun of his own family name Sarto(meaning Tailor): Sorry, but a Sarto has not been found yet, to make the Cardinal's robe. Some suspected, that Pius X or persons close to him did not want to have two Rampolla's in the College of Cardinals. His friend Mariano Rampolla died December 13, 1913. On May 25, 1914 Della Chiesa was created a cardinal, becoming Cardinal Priest of the titulus Ss. Quattuor Coronatorum, which before him was occupied by cardinal Pietro Respighi. When after the consistory in Rome, the new cardinal tried to return to Bologna, an unrelated socialist, anti-monarchic and anti-Catholic uprising began to take place in Central Italy, accompanied by a general strike, the looting and destruction of churches, telephone connections, railway buildings and a proclamation of a secular republic. In Bologna itself, citizens and the Catholic Church opposed such developments successfully. The Socialists overwhelmingly won the following regional elections with great majorities.
As World War One approached, the question was hotly discussed in Italy as to which side to be on. Officially, Italy was still in an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. However, an integral part of Austria was Tirol, which was mostly German. The Southern part of which, the province of Trento was exclusively Italian speaking. The clergy of Bologna was not totally free from nationalistic fervor either. Therefore in his capacity as Archbishop, on the outbreak of World War I, Della Chiesa made a speech on the Church's position and duties, emphasising the need for neutrality, promoting peace and the easing of suffering.
The conclave opened at the end of August 1914. The war would clearly be the dominant issue of the new pontificate, so the cardinals' priority was to choose a man with great diplomatic experience. Thus on September 3, 1914 Della Chiesa, despite having been a Cardinal only three months, was elected Pope, taking the name of Benedict XV.
Due to the enduring Roman Question, after the announcement of his election by the Cardinal Protodeacon the new Pope, following in the footsteps of his two predecessors, did not appear at the balcony of St. Peter's basilica to grant the urbi et orbi blessing. Benedict XV was crowned at the Sistine Chapel on September 6, 1914, and, also as a form of protest due to the Roman Question, there was no ceremony for the formal possession of the cathedral of St. John Lateran.
Benedict XV's pontificate was dominated by World War I, which he termed "the suicide of Europe", and its turbulent aftermath. Benedict's first encyclical extended a heartfelt plea for an end to hostilities. His early call for a Christmas truce in 1914 was ignored.
The war and its consequences were the main focus of Della Chiesa. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives.
The national antagonisms between the warring parties were accentuated by religious differences before the war, with France, Italy and Belgium being largely Catholic. Vatican relations with Great Britain were good, while neither Prussia nor Imperial Germany had any official relations with the Vatican. In Protestant circles of Germany the notion was popular that the Roman Catholic Pope was neutral on paper only, strongly favouring the Allies instead. Benedict was said to have prompted Austria-Hungary to go to war, in order to weaken the German war machine. Allegedly, the Papal Nuncio in Paris said in a meeting of the Institut Catholique, to fight against France is to fight against God; the Pope was said to have exclaimed to be sorry not to be a Frenchman; The Belgian Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier , known as a brave patriot during German occupation but also famous for his anti-German propaganda, was to have been elevated by Benedict XV, who allegedly praised the Treaty of Versailles, which humiliated the Germans This view was rejected by the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri, who wrote on March 4, 1916 that the Holy See is completely impartial and does not favour the Allied side. This was even more important, so Gasparri noted, after the diplomatic representatives of Germany and Austria-Hungary to the Vatican were expelled from Rome by Italian authorities. However in light of all this, German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace” as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau regarded the Vatican initiative as anti-French. Benedict made many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate peace, but these pleas for a negotiated peace made him unpopular, even in Catholic countries like Italy, among many supporters of the war who were determined to accept nothing less than total victory. His best known intervention was the seven-point Papal Peace proposal of August 1917, demanding a cessation of all hostilities, a reduction of armaments, guaranteed freedom of the seas, and international arbitration. Only Woodrow Wilson responded directly, stating that a declaration of peace was premature; in Europe each side saw him as biased in favour of the other and were unwilling to accept the terms he proposed. Still, although unsuccessful, his diplomatic efforts during the war are attributed to an increase of papal prestige and served as a model in the 20th century: to the peace efforts of Pius XII before and during World War Two, the policies of Paul VI during the Vietnam War and the position of John Paul II before and during the War in Iraq.
He succeeded in 1915 in reaching an agreement by which the warring parties promised not to let POW’s work on Sundays and Holidays. Several individuals on both sides were spared the death penalty after his intervention. Hostages were exchanged and corpses repatriated The Pope founded the Opera dei Prigionieri to assist in distributing information on prisoners. By the end of the war, some 600 000 items of correspondence were processed. Almost a third of it concerned missing persons. Some 40.000 people had asked for help in the repatriation of sick POW’s and 50.000 letters were sent from families to their loved ones who were POW’s.
Both during and after the war, Benedict was primarily concerned about the fate of the children, about which he even issued an encyclical. In 1916 he appealed to the people and clergy of the United States to help him feed the starving children in German-occupied Belgium. His aid to children was not limited to Belgium but extended to children in Lithuania, Poland, Lebanon, Montenegro, Syria and Russia. Benedict was particularly appalled at the new military invention of aerial warfare and protested several times against it to no avail.
In May and June 1915, the Ottoman Empire waged a campaign against the Armenian Christian minorities, which by some contemporary accounts looked like genocide or even a holocaust in Anatolia. The Vatican attempted to get Germany and Austria-Hungary involved in protesting to its Turkish ally. The Pope himself sent a personal letter to the Sultan, who was also Caliph of Islam. It had no success “as over a million Armenians died, either killed outright by the Turks, or as a result of maltreatment or from starvation.
At the time however, the anti-Vatican resentment, combined with Italian diplomatic moves to isolate the Vatican in light of the unresolved Roman Question, contributed to the exclusion of the Vatican from the Paris Peace conference of 1919 (although it was also part of a historical pattern of political and diplomatic marginalization of the papacy after the loss of the papal states). Despite this, he wrote an encyclical pleading for international reconciliation, Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherrimum There is a statue in Saint Peter's Basilica of the Pontiff absorbed in prayer, kneeling on a tomb which commemorates a fallen soldier of the war, which he described as a "useless massacre".
After the war, Benedict focused the Vatican's activities on overcoming famine and misery in Europe and establishing contacts and relations with the many new states which were created as a consequence of the demise of Imperial Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Large food shipments and information about, and contacts with, prisoners of war were to be the first steps for a better understanding of the papacy in Europe.
Regarding the Versailles Peace Conference, the Vatican was of the opinion, that the economic conditions imposed on Germany were too harsh, threatening the European economic stability as a whole. Pietro Gasparri was of the opinion, that the peace conditions and the humiliation of the Germans would likely result in another war, as soon as Germany would be militarily in a position to start one. The Vatican also rejected the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, seeing in this step an inevitable and eventual strengthening of Germany. The Vatican also had great reservations about the creation of small successor states which, in the view of Gasparri, were not viable economically and therefore condemned to economic misery. Benedict rejected the League of Nations as a secular organisation that was not built on Christian values. On the other hand, he also condemned European nationalism that was rampant in the 1920s and asked for European Unification in his 1920 encyclical Pacem Dei Munus.
The Pope was also disturbed by the Communist revolution in Russia. The Pope reacted with horror to the strongly anti-religious policies adopted by Lenin's government and the bloodshed and widespread famine which occurred during the subsequent Russian Civil War. He undertook the greatest efforts trying to help the victims of the Russian famine, raising five million (what currency?) in 1921 alone. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, concerns were raised in the Vatican about the safety and future of the Catholics in the Holy Land.
In the post-war period Benedict was involved in developing the Church administration to deal with the new international system that had emerged. The papacy was faced with the emergence of numerous new states such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Czecheslovakia, Finland, and others. Germany, France, Italy and Austria were impoverished from the war. In addition, the traditional social and cultural European order was threatened by right-wing nationalism and fascism and left-wing socialism and communism, all of which potentially threatened the existence and freedom of the Church. To deal with these and related issues, Benedict engaged in what he knew best, a large scale diplomatic offensive to secure the rights of the faithful in all countries.
Leo XIII already had agreed to the participation of Catholics in local but not national politics. Relations with Italy improved as well under Benedict XV, who de facto reversed the stiff anti-Italian policy of his predecessors by allowing Catholics to participate in national elections as well. This led to a surgence of the Partito Populare Italiano under Luigi Sturzo. Anti-Catholic politicians were gradually replaced by persons who were neutral or even sympathetic to the Catholic Church. The King of Italy himself gave signals of his desire for better relations, when for example, he sent personal condolences to the Pontiff on the death of his brother. The working conditions for Vatican staff greatly improved and feelers were extended on both sides to solve the Roman Question. Benedict XV strongly supported a solution and seemed to have had a fairly pragmatic view of the political and social situation in Italy at this time. Thus, while numerous traditional Catholics opposed voting rights for women, the Pope was in favour, arguing that, unlike the feminist protagonists, most women would vote conservative and thus support traditional Catholic positions.
The end of the war brought about the revolutionary development, which Benedict XV had foreseen in his first encyclical. With the Russian Revolution, the Vatican was faced with a new, so far unknown, situation. An ideology and government which rejected not only the Catholic Church but religion as a whole. “The Pope, the Tsar, Metternich, French radicals and German police, are united against communism said Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels The Historical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences wrote, that the “reactionary policies of the Vatican” were an outgrowth of fear of socialism and hate of communism. This fear turned the Vatican into an ally of capitalism. The Catholic Church is seen to have been in a 1000 year alliance with feudalism, just defeated in Russia. In the words of Friedrich Engels, “the Church blessed the feudal order with the gloriole of divine blessings. Her hierarchy was ordered according to feudal principles. She is one of the greatest feudal exploiters."
The Communists took their time to get into Church issues, which were not a priority. Lenin "did not want to put the religious question at the forefront, because it does not belong there at all. They did not repeal the Tsarist decrees guaranteeing religious freedom. They even permitted the restoration of the Orthodox Patriarchate, which had been dormant for over 150 years. But with time, a persecution of the Churches, including the Catholic Church, began and intensified. All religion, "the opiate of the masses" was considered hostile to communism, but most of the revolutionary violence was oriented against the Russian Orthodox Church. The new regime began to interfere in spheres, so far reserved for the Church, by legalizing divorce, and issuing civil marriage certificates. Bloody repression of civilians, carried out under the auspices of the Polish Comrade Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, led to public protest. The Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow issued a solemn anathema against the Communists "for their frightful and bestial murder of people entirely innocent, even people lying sick in bed, in ruthless cruelty, in full daylight without any trial and in defiance of all justice and legality". The Soviets responded by taking away most Church properties and by nationalizing all Church schools. The Patriarch was arrested. Most monasteries were suppressed, and "counter-revolutionary" religious were executed. During the winter of 1918-1919, some "twenty bishops were murdered together with thousands of priests and religious". Some hope developed among the United Orthodox in the Ukraine and Armenia, but many of the representatives there disappeared or were jailed in the following years. Several Orthodox bishops from Omsk and Simbirsk wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XV, as the Father of all Christianity, describing the murder of priests, the destruction of their churches and other persecutions in their areas.
The relations with Russia changed drastically for a second reason. The Baltic states and Poland gained their independence from Russia after World War One, thus enabling a relatively free Church life in those former Russian countries. Estonia was the first country to look for Vatican ties. On 11 April 1919, Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri informed the Estonian authorities, that the Vatican would agree to have diplomatic relations. A concordat was agreed upon in principle a year later in June 1920. It was signed on 30 May 1922. It guaranteed freedom for the Catholic Church, established archdioceses, liberated clergy from military service, allowed the creation of seminaries and catholic schools and enshrined church property rights and immunity. The Archbishop swore alliance to Estonia.
Relations with Catholic Lithuania were slightly more complicated because of the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a city and archiepiscopal seat, which Lithuania claimed as as its own. Polish forces had occupied Vilnius and committed acts of brutality in its Catholic seminary there. This generated several protests by Lithuania to the Holy See. Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)
Before all other heads of State, Pope Benedict XV in October 1918 congratulated the Polish people on their independence. In a public letter to Archbishop Kakowski of Warsaw, he remembered their loyalty and the many efforts of the Holy See to assist them. He expressed his hopes that Poland would again take its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation. In March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti as papal nuncio who was already in Warsaw as his representative. He repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting against Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy. During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, he asked for worldwide public prayers for Poland. Nuncio Ratti was the only foreign diplomat to stay in the Polish capital. On 11 June 1921, he wrote to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again for peaceful coexistence with neighbouring peoples, stating that “love of country has its limits in justice and obligations” He sent nuncio Ratti to Silesia to act against potential political agitations of the Catholic clergy.
Ratti, a scholar, intended to work for Poland and build bridges to the Soviet Union, hoping even, to shed his blood for Russia. Pope Benedict XV needed him as a diplomat and not as a martyr and forbade any trip into the USSR even though he was the official papal delegate to Russia. However, he continued his contacts with Russia. This did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. He was asked to go. “While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure, after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned” by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to a Polish nuncio supervising elections, and Poles were upset because he curtailed agitating clergy. On 20 November, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti's expulsion climaxed in Warsaw. Two years later, Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI, shaping Vatican policies towards Poland with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli for the following thirty-six years. (1922-1958)
Pope Benedict was an ardent mariologist, devoted to Marian veneration and open new theological perspectives. He personally addressed in numerous letters the pilgrims at Marian sanctuaries. He named Mary, the Patron of Bavaria and permitted in Mexico the Feast of the IC of Guadaloupe. To underline his support for the mediatrix theology, he authorized the Feast of Mary Mediator of all Graces. He condemned the misuse of Marian statues and pictures, dressed in priestly robes, which he outlawed April 4, 1916.
During World War One, Benedict placed the world under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic) and added the invocation Mary Queen of Peace to the Litany of Loreto. He promoted Marian veneration throughout the world by elevating twenty well known Marian shrines such as Ettal Abbey in Bavaria into Basilica Minor's. He also promoted Marian devotions in the month of May in the spirit of Grignon de Montfort The dogmatic constitution on the Church issued by the Second Vatican Council quotes the Marian theology of Benedict XV.
In his encyclical on Ephraim the Syrian he depicts Ephraim as a model of Marian devotion to our mother who uniquely was predestined by God. Pope Benedict did not issue a Marian encyclical but addressed the issue of Co-Redemptrix in his Apostolic Letter, Inter Soldalica, issued March 22, 1918.
His Apostolic Exhortations include Ubi Primum (September 8, 1914), Allorché fummo chiamati (July 28, 1915) and Dès le début (August 1, 1917) The bullss of Benedict XV include Incruentum Altaris (August 10, 1915), Providentissima Mater (May 27, 1917) Sedis huius (May 14, 1919), and Divina disponente (May 16, 1920). Benedict XV issued nine Breves during his pontificate.Divinum Praeceptum (December 1915), Romanorum Pontificum (February 1916), Cum Catholicae Ecclesiae (April 1916), Cum Biblia Sacra (August 1916), Cum Centesimus (October 1916), Centesimo Hodie (October 1916), Quod Ioannes (April 1917), In Africam quisnam (June 1920), and, Quod nobis in condendo (September 1920)
In light of the senseless slaughter, the Pope pleads for "peace on earth to men of good will" (Luke ii. 14), insisting that there are other ways and means whereby violated rights can be rectified.
The origin of the evil is a neglect of the precepts and practices of Christian wisdom, particularly a lack of love and compassion. Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring among men the Kingdom of Peace, "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another "This is my commandment that you love one another" Materialism, nationalism, racism and class warfare are the characteristics of the age instead, so Benedict XV:
The Pope noted that true, peace has not yet arrived but the Armistice has suspended the slaughter and devastation by land, sea and air. It is now the obligation of all Catholics on all sides to invoke Divine assistance for all who take part in the peace conference. The delegates who are to meet to define peace need all the support they can get for their search of a lasting peace.
The Pope underlined the necessity of proper preparation for the work in foreign cultures and the need to acquire language skills before going there. He requests a continued striving for personal sanctity and praises the selfless work of female religious in the missions. Mission is not only for missionaries, all Catholics must participate, through their Apostolate of Prayer, by supporting vocations, and by helping financially The encyclical concludes by pointing out several organizations which organize and supervise mission activities within the Catholic Church
In physical appearance, Benedict XV was a slight man (the smallest of the three cassocks which had been prepared for whoever the new Pope might be in 1914 was still a good deal too big for him). As a result, he became known as "Il Piccolito" or "The Little Man" He was renowned for his generosity, answering all pleas for help from poor Roman families with large cash gifts from his private revenues. When he was short on money, those who would be admitted to an audience would often be instructed by prelates not to mention their financial woes, as Benedict would inevitably feel bad that he could not help the needy. He also depleted the Vatican's official revenues with large-scale charitable expenditure during World War I. On his death, the Vatican Treasury had been depleted to the equivalent in lire of U.S.$19,000. (Reference: Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror, HarperCollins, 2007, p.70).
Benedict XV was a careful innovator by Vatican standards. He was known to carefully consider all novelties before he ordered their implementation, but then insisting on them to the fullest. He rejected clinging to the past for the past’s sake with the words, let us live in the present and not in history. His relation to secular Italian powers was reserved but positive, avoiding conflict and tacitly supporting the Royal Family of Italy. Yet, like Pius IX and Leo XIII, he also protested against interventions s of State authorities in internal Church affairs. Della Chiesa and later Pope Benedict was not a man of letters. He did not publish educational or devotional books. His encyclicals are pragmatic and down-to earth but intelligent and at times far-sighted. His inn faith allowed him to be above the battles of the Great War, when almost everybody else was taking sides. But not unlike Pius XII during World War Two, his neutrality was doubted by all sides then and even now.
Benedict XV personally had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He added the title 'Queen of Peace' to her Litany, and gave his support to an understanding of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces (by approving a Mass and office under this title for the dioceses of Belgium) and affirmed that "together with Christ she redeemed the human race" by her immolation of Christ as his sorrowful mother (in his apostolic letter Inter sodalicia).
Benedict XV fell ill with pneumonia in early January 1922. He succumbed to pneumonia on January 22, 1922.
Possibly the least remembered pope of the twentieth century, Benedict XV is nevertheless an unsung hero for his valiant efforts to end World War I. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the significance of his long-ago predecessor's commitment to peace by taking the same name. Benedict XV was unique in his humane approach in the world of 1914–1918, which starkly contrasts with that of the other great monarchs and leaders of the time. His worth is reflected in the tribute engraved at the foot of the statue that the Turks, a non-Catholic, non-Christian people, erected of him in Istanbul: "The great Pope of the world tragedy...the benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion." This monument stands in the courtyard of the St. Esprit Cathedral.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger showed his own admiration for Benedict XV following his election to the Papacy on April 19, 2005. The election of a new Pope is often accompanied by conjecture over his choice of papal name; it is widely believed that a Pope chooses the name of a predecessor whose teachings and legacy he wishes to continue. Ratzinger's choice of "Benedict" was seen as a signal that Benedict XV's views on humanitarian diplomacy, and his stance against relativism and modernism, would be emulated during the reign of the new Pope.
During his first General Audience in St. Peter's Square on April 27, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to Benedict XV when explaining his choice: "Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples."