Pope Leo XIII (March 2, 1810 – July 20, 1903), born Count Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, was the 256th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, reigning from 1878 to 1903, succeeding Pope Pius IX. Reigning until the age of 93, he was the oldest pope, and had the third longest pontificate, behind Pius IX and John Paul II. He is known for intellectualism, the development of social teachings with his encyclical Rerum Novarum and his attempts to define the position of the Church to modern thinking.
Born in Carpineto Romano, near Rome, he was the sixth of the seven sons of Count Lodovico Pecci and his wife Anna Prosperi Buzi. From 1810 to 1818 he was at home with his family, "in which religion counted as the highest grace on earth, as through her, salvation can be earned for all eternity". Together with his brother he studied in the Jesuit College in Viterbo, where he stayed until 1824. He enjoyed the Latin language and was known to write his own Latin poems at the age of eleven.
In 1824 he and his brother Giuseppe Pecci were called to Rome where their mother was dying. Pecci Senior wanted his children near him after the loss of his wife, and so they stayed with him in Rome, attending the Jesuit Collegium Romanum. In 1828, Giuseppe entered the Jesuit order, while Vincenzo decided in favour of secular clergy.
He studied at the Academia dei Nobili, mainly diplomacy and law. In 1834 he gave a student presentation, attended by several cardinals, on papal judgements. For his presentation he received awards for academic excellence, and gained the attention of Vatican officials. Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Lambruschini introduced him to Vatican congregations and to Pope Gregory XVI, who appointed Pecci on February 14, 1837, as personal prelate even before he was ordained priest on December 31, 1837, by the Vicar of Rome. He celebrated his first mass together with his priest brother Giuseppe. He received his doctorate in theology in 1836 and doctorates of civil and Canon Law in Rome also.
Shortly thereafter, Gregory XVI appointed Pecci as legate (provincial administrator) to Benevento. The smallest of papal provinces, Benevento included about 20,000 people. The main problems facing Pecci were a decaying local economy, insecurity because of widespread bandits, and pervasive Mafia structures, who often were allied with aristocratic families. Pecci arrested the most powerful aristocrat in Benevento, and his troops captured others, who were either killed or imprisoned by him. With the public order restored, he turned to the economy and a reform of the tax system to stimulate trade with neighbouring provinces.
Upon completion of the tax reforms, Gregory XVI appointed Pecci to be administrator of Spoleto, a province with 100,000, and then Perugia with 200,000 inhabitants. His immediate concern was to prepare the province for a papal visitation in the same year. Pope Gregory visited hospitals and educational institutions for several days, asking for advice and listing questions. The fight against corruption continued in Perugia, where Pecci himself investigated several incidents. When it was claimed that a bakery was selling bread below the prescribed pound weight, he personally went there, had all bread weighed, and confiscated it if below legal weight. The confiscated bread was distributed to the poor.
In Belgium, the school question was then sharply debated between the Catholic majority and the Liberal minority. Pecci encouraged the struggle for Catholic schools, yet he was able to win the good will of the Court, not only of the pious Queen Louise, but also of King Leopold I, strongly Liberal in his views. The new nuncio succeeded in uniting the Catholics.
Pecci developed several activities in support of Catholic charities: He founded homes for homeless boys and girls, and for elderly women. Throughout his dioceses he opened braches of a Bank, Monte de Pieta, which focused on low-income people with low interest loans He created soup-kitchens, which were run by the Capuchins. In the consistory of December 19, 1853, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals, as Cardinal-Priest of S. Crisogono. In light of continuing earth-quakes and floods, he donated all resources for festivities to the victims. Much of the public attention turned on the conflict between the Papal State and Italian nationalist, aiming at its annihilation in favour of a unified Italy. Pecci defended the papacy and its claims. When Italian authorities expropriated convents and monasteries of Catholic orders, turning them into administration or military buildings, Cardinal Pecci protested but acted moderately. When the Italian state took over Catholic schools, Pecci, fearing for his theological seminary, simply added all secular topics from other schools and opened the seminary to nnon-theologians. The new government in addition to the expropriations levied taxes on the Church and issued legislation, according to which all Episcopal or papal utterances are to be approved by the government before their publication.
Pope Pius IX announced an ecumenical council to take place in the Vatican on December 8, 1869, Pecci was likely to be well informed, since his brother Giuseppe had been named by the Pope to be one of the persons to prepare this event. In his last years in Perugia, Pecci several times addressed the role of the Church in modern society. Pecci defined the Church as the mother of material civilization, because the Church upholds human dignity of working people, opposes the excesses of industrialization and developed large scale charities for the needy.
In August 1877, on the death of Cardinal De Angelis, Pope Pius IX appointed him camerlengo, so that he was obliged to reside in Rome. Pope Pius died on February 7, 1878, and during his closing years the Liberal press had often insinuated that the Italian Government should take a hand in the conclave and occupy the Vatican. However the Russo-Turkish War and the sudden death of Victor Emmanuel II (January 9, 1878) distracted the attention of the government. The conclave proceeded as usual, and on the third ballot Cardinal Pecci was elected by forty-four votes out of sixty-one.
Leo XIII was the first Pope of whom a sound recording was made. The recording can be found on a compact disc of Alessandro Moreschi's singing; a recording of his performance of the Ave Maria is available on the web He was also the first Pope to be filmed on the motion picture camera. He was filmed by its inventor, W. K. Dickson, and blessed the camera afterward.
Leo XIII brought normalcy back to the Church after the tumultuous years of Pius IX. Leo's intellectual and diplomatic skills helped regain much of the prestige lost with the fall of the Papal States. He tried to reconcile the Church with the working class, particularly by dealing with the social changes that were sweeping Europe. The new economic order had resulted in the growth of an impoverished working class, with increasing anti-clerical and socialist sympathies. Leo helped reverse this trend.
Under Bismarck, the anti-Catholic kulturkampf in Germany led to massive reprisals against the Church. Under Leo, the anti-Catholic measures subsided. The Centre Party in Germany was largely a Catholic creation and was a positive force for social change. It was encouraged by Leo's support for social welfare legislation and the rights of working people. Leo's forward-looking approach encouraged Catholic Action in other European countries where the social teachings of the Church were incorporated into the agenda of Catholic parties, particularly the Christian Democratic Parties, which became an acceptable alternative to socialist parties. Leo's social teachings were reiterated throughout the 20th century by his successors.
While Leo was no radical in either theology or politics, his papacy did move the Church back to the mainstream of European life. Considered a great diplomat, he managed to improve relations with Russia, Prussia, German France, England and other countries. However, in light of a hostile anti-Catholic climate in Italy, he continued the policies of Pius IX towards Italy, without major modifications. He had to defend the freedom of the Church against Italian persecutions and attacks in the area of education, expropriation and violation of Catholic Churches, legal measures against the Church and brutal attacks, culminating in anticlerical groups attempting to throw the body of the deceased Pope Pius IX into the Tiber river on July 13, 1881. The Pope even considered moving his residence to Trieste or Salzburg, two cities in Austria, an idea which the Austrian monarch Franz Josef I gently rejected.
His favorite poets were Virgil and Dante.
Pope Leo XIII began his pontificate with a friendly letter to Tsar Alexander II, in which he reminded the Russian monarch of the millions of Catholics living in his empire, who would like to be good Russian subjects, provided their dignity is respected. He appealed to the generosity of the Tsar, since Vatican–Russian relations were at a low point. The Tsar replied in an equally friendly manner and promised actions towards equal treatment of all Catholics in the empire. As during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, this turned out to be relative, since most problems were at the local level. As negotiations started, Russian demands for the use of Russian language in Catholic Churches including the Polish and Lithuanian provinces, was unacceptable to the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII threatened to appeal directly to all Catholics in Russia. Some progress was made in the occupation of vacant episcopal sees, but an emotional breakthrough was the Papal encyclical from December 28, 1878, against nihilism and socialism and radicalism, which, was dear to the Russian monarch, who was under constant pressure from nihilist and socialist forces. Repeated assassination attempts against Alexander II gave the Pope opportunity to repeat his warnings, which were read in all Catholic Churches.
After the assassination of Alexander II, the Pope sent a high ranking representative to the coronation of his successor. Alexander III was grateful and asked for all religious forces to unify. He asked the Pope to ensure that his bishops abstain from political agitation. Relations improved further, when Pope Leo XIII, due to Italian considerations, distanced the Vatican from the Rome-Vienna-Berlin alliance and helped to facilitate an rapprochement between Paris and St. Petersburg. Meanwhile the Ruthenians continued to be persecuted and Rome was not able to assist much. Russia began to protest against Church uses by Polish groups for anti-Russian activities, and the Pope found himself in the same dilemma as his predecessor Pius IX. He was personally attacked for sacrificing Polish interest in the language dispute. Russia in turn accused its Catholics of being disloyal citizens, without attacking the Pope himself.
After the succession of Tsar Nicolas II in 1894, Pope Leo XIII was able to reach additional agreements in 1896, which resulted in better conditions for the faithful, numerous specific dispensations and permits, and additional appointments of bishops. However, he was not able to reopen the nunciature in St. Petersburg. His pontificate ended with marked improvements in the atmosphere between the Vatican and Russia.
The United States at many moments in time attracted the attention and admiration of Pope Leo. He confirmed the decrees of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1874), and raised to the cardinalate Archbishop Gibbons of that city in 1886. Leo was not present at Washington on the occasion of the foundation of The Catholic University of America. His role in South America will also be remembered, especially the pontifical benediction extended over Chilean troops on the eve of the Battle of Bold textthe war during the War of the Pacific in January 1881. The Chilean soldiers thus blessed then looted the cities of Chorrillos and Barranco, including the churches, and their Chaplains headed the robbery at the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú, where the soldiers ransacked various items along with much capital, and Chilean Priests coveted rare and ancient editions of the Bible that were stored there . Despite this, one year later Chilean President Domingo Santa Marìa issued the Laicist Laws, which separated the Church from the State, this being considered a slap in the face for the Papacy. Pope Leo is also rememberd for the First Plenary Council of Latin America held at Rome in 1899, and his encyclical of 1888 to the bishops of Brazil on the abolition of slavery.
American newspapers criticized Pope Leo because they claimed that he was attempting to gain control of American public schools. One cartoonist drew Leo as a fox unable to reach grapes that were labeled for American schools; the caption read "Sour grapes!"
The pontificate of Leo XIII was theologically influenced by the Ecumenical Council Vatican One (1869-1870), which had ended only eight years earlier. Leo issued some 46 apostolic letters and encyclicals dealing with central issues in the areas of marriage and family and state and society.
Leo responded by mandating all Catholic Universities to teach Thomism, and, by creating a papal academy for the training of Thomists professors and re-editing the scholarly editions of Thomas Aquinas. Leo was responsible for raising the University of Santo Tomas, Manila which is the oldest existing in Asia into a "Pontifical University". The leadership of this academy he entrusted to Giuseppe Pecci, who aided the creation of similar Thomas Aquinas academies in other places such as Bologna, Freiburg (Switzerland), Paris and Lowden. In 1879 Pecci was appointed as first Prefect of the still existing Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas Pontificia Accademia Di San Tommaso D'Aquino, which Pope Leo founded on October 15, 1879. Leo XIII appointed thirty members, ten each from Rome, Italy and the world, and provided generous financial support to attract scholars from everywhere. The Pope personally supported individual Thomist scholars and applauded numerous text-critical editions of the Doctor Angelicus.
"For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost: and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true." (Providentissimus Deus)
During his pontificate, major conversions continued, in England under the influence of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Efforts to draw the Anglican communities closer to the Catholic Church experienced a set-back when the Vatican announced in 1896, after a historical analysis, that the Apostolic Succession of Anglican Bishops was not completely secured, meaning that some Anglican bishops were not properly ordained. However, Leo managed to improve relations with the Orthodox Church with his open approach.
The 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae declared the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops in Anglican churches (including the Church of England) invalid, while granting recognition to ordinations in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches although they were considered illicit.
Leo XIII is credited with great efforts in the areas of scientific and historical analysis. He opened the Vatican Archives and personally fostered a twenty-volume comprehensive scientific study of the Papacy by Ludwig von Pastor, an Austrian historian. He entrusted the Dominican order with a text critical edition of the collective works of Thomas Aquinas, and furthered the career of noted scholars like Franz Ehrle and John Henry Newman, whom he elevated to the College of Cardinals. He founded the Catholic University of America in 1889.
His 1899 apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae condemned Americanism, an alleged American modernistic view holding that the teachings of the Church must be adapted to American society. Leo condemned the views that Catholic dogmas, which seemed to be contrary to the American experience, should be left out, and that natural virtues are more important than supernatural ones. American bishops led by Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore thanked him and expressed gratitude for setting the record straight. Gibbons, however, pointed out that no Catholic in the United States held those views.
When, at the end of the pontificate of Leo XIII in 1903, the papacy had regained much of its prestige and authority, his theological teachings were given much credit.
The Rosary Pope Leo XIII is the first Pope to fully embrace the concept of Mary as mediatrix. In his rosary encyclicals, he described the Virgin Mary as mediating all graces. In 1883 he wrote that nothing is as salvific and powerful as asking for the support of the Virgin, the mediator of peace with God and of heavenly graces. In his rosary encyclical Octobri Mense, he stated, that Mary is administrator of graces on earth, part of a new salvation order. In Dei Matris he noted, that Mary is mediator because Christ the Lord is also our brother And, in Jucunda Semper, he stated, that the deepest reason, why we look for the protection of Mary through prayer, is most certainly her office as mediator of divine grace. In Augustissimae Virginis, he wrote that calling on Mary is the best way to be heard by God, and to find his grace.
Leo is considered to be one of the most intelligent popes and his teachings are a possible reflection of that: The style is crisp, short but very clear. A centennial after his death, he is often quoted, most recently by Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II, both of whom, however, did not display "the Marian courage and confidence" of Leo XIII in the areas of Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix.
Leo actively employed his papal authority to support the veneration of Mary in places of her apparitions. In 1879, he crowned Our Lady of La Salette. Upon the blessing and opening of the Church of our Lady in Lourdes, he issued an apostolic writing, Parte humanae generi, supporting pilgrimages to Lourdes and other Marian shrines. He declared the Madonna of Monserat to be the patron of Catalonia, and instituted the Feast of the Miraculous Medal in 1894. He condemned heresies about the Immaculate Conception and discussed the relation of Saint Joseph to Mary in an 1889 encyclical.
Leo XIII worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world, though he preferred a cautious view on freedom of thought, stating that "is quite unlawful to demand, defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, of writing or worship, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man" Leo's social teachings are based on the Catholic premise, that God is the Creator of the world and its Ruler. Eternal law commands the natural order to be maintained, and forbids that it be disturbed; men's destiny is far above human things and beyond the earth. Human nature is stained by original sin, and is therefore more disposed to vice than to virtue. He opposed notions of marriage as a commercial contract, divorce, and education without religion, a State without God. He rejected some forms of egalitarianism: "People differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. All men are equal in regard to their common origin and nature, or the last end which each one has to attain, or the rights and duties which are thence derived. Leo XIII predicts that if state authorities do not heed these eternal truths, if they permit "the fear of God and reverence for divine laws being taken away", overthrow of the existing order and of the authorities themselves will occur. Attempts are under way, he claims, by communists, socialists and Freemasons. But, whoever strive against the order which Divine Providence has constituted pay usually the penalty of their pride, and meet with affliction and misery where they rashly hoped to find all things prosperous and in conformity with their desires. Obedience to God is a teaching which supports civil authorities, because Church teaching about the divine origin of authority civil authority, and fosters obedience to it.