The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
What was the context of Pope Pius VII’s claim? What was the situation of the Church and the teaching that seemed so precarious to his mind?
There were plenty of things to be concerned about. His predecessor of immortal memory, Pius VI, had died in the hands of his captors, the revolutionary army which had come out of France, nine months before. He had been one of the most heroic popes of the modern era but his memory and indeed the memory of this entire era in the history of the Church and the papacy has been almost entirely erased from the Catholic mind, save possibly for a vague notion that “Napoleon once kidnapped the pope.” He did, and that pope was in fact Pius VII, but that happened later and we are getting ahead of ourselves. We must reacquaint ourselves with this period, as it is key to understanding all of the disasters that have struck the Church in our time.
Let’s look at the situation as Pius VII saw it in the spring of 1800. In February, 1798 the aged Pius VI was driven out of Rome by General Berthier, deprived of the papal patrimony and temporarily exiled to Siena; he was finally brought by the Revolutionary army to Valences in the south of France where he expired due to harsh treatment on August 29, 1799 having reigned longer than any pope save Saint Peter up to that time.
At his death Rome was still behind enemy lines and the conclave that met to elect Pius VII was forced to gather in Venice, under the protection the Austrian emperor. Here is how Pius VII himself describes in Diu Satis the waning months of his predecessor’s reign and what produced the situation surrounding the conclave that elected him:
Remember Our fear and suspense when the Cardinals were personally expelled from their sees. Several of them were imprisoned, some hunted for their lives, and many forced to cross the sea in the depths of winter, deprived of their possessions-all of them in want and separated from one another by great distances. Since the enemy occupied the roads, they could not correspond with one another nor were they allowed to go anywhere. It was clear that they could never assemble to assist the Church if any misfortune struck down Pius VI who was daily said to be between life and death.
He then goes on to thank Divine Providence for ameliorating the condition of the Church and to commend Pius VI for the measures he took to secure the election of a successor under those extraordinary circumstances:
Who would have dared at that time, with our affairs assailed and almost destroyed, to hope on the basis of human plans and help for what has actually happened by the special kindness of God? Before he died, Pius VI established the mode of holding the elections of his successors and most of Italy was restored to peace. All arrangements were made for the cardinals to meet in Venice to vote under the protection of Francis, Apostolic King of Hungary, illustrious King of Bohemia, and Emperor-elect of the Romans.
From these events men should realize that all attempts to overthrow the “House of God” are vain. For this is the Church founded on Peter, “Rock,” not merely in name but in truth. Against this “the gates of hell will not prevail” “for it is founded on a rock.” There has never been an enemy of the Christian religion who was not simultaneously at wicked war with the See of Peter, since while this See remained strong the survival of the Christian religion was assured.
So here is the dire situation. An enemy army occupying large parts of Italy including Rome itself. And this enemy was not just a political enemy but, as the Holy Father eloquently states, the revolutionary army that came out of France was an enemy not just of the pope but of the Christian religion. Pope Pius VI was driven from his See and held prisoner by these very enemies. Dire indeed, but the miraculous actions of Divine Providence secured the election of a new pope who would reign until political, though not spiritual and social peace would reign once more in his domain.
So how did things arrive at this point? The next post will go back to a time, half a century before, when things seemed more peaceful and when the nightmare that has gripped the human race for the last 250 years was yet only an idea lurking in the dark heart of the occult lodges.
Please pray three Hail Marys in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.