Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Pius IX (1792-1878)

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background


Few have embodied their institutions and their times as well as Pope Pius IX. The longest reigning pope in history, Pius led the See of Rome through the turbulent mid to late nineteenth century and in the process presented the Church’s response to the modern world. Pius is known best today as the pontiff who called for the First Vatican Council, which defined the doctrine of papal infallibility but Pio Nono was also the leader who led the Papal State through its first modern reforms. Pius was, if nothing else, a complicated man who did whatever he could for the preservation of his beloved Church. Many have noted the profound changes in his policy and practice over the course of his long pontificate. That Pius evolved as a Pope is without doubt, but the one constant throughout his papacy and his life was his unquestioning devotion to the Church. Even while declaring himself (as Pope) infallible he was a servant of the Church. 

Early Life and Priesthood

Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti the ninth and last child of Count Girolamo Mastai-Ferretti and Caterina Solazzi in 1792. His family was noble but not wealthy and on his father’s side there was a clerical tradition. Young Mastai-Ferretti’s education began under his mother who was devoted to the Virgin Mary. Indeed, all four of her daughters were named after the Mother of Jesus, and her son Giovanni received the name as well (Maria). At 11, his formal education began when he was sent to Saint Michaels School in Tuscany. Scolopi Fathers, who like his mother were devoted to Mary, ran the school and although known as a good school its selection probably had more to do with the cult of the Virgin. Mastai-Ferretti suffered epilepsy (or a similar disorder) and the priests eventually sent him home because they could not take care of him. In 1812, his poor health helped him avoid the military draft. During his early years, Europe was a blaze with war, revolution, and the growing pains of the modern world. Napoleon and Pius VII contended for power over the Papal States and there was almost constant war on the continent. (Coppa 1979, 19-22)

Mastai-Ferretti moved to Rome to live with his uncle Paolino so he could continue his education. He arrived there in the midst of conflict between Napoleon and Pius VII over support for the Empire against England. Eventually the Papal States were annexed by Napoleon and Pius VII promptly excommunicated all those involved at which point the Emperor deported the Pope. Mastai-Ferretti’s earliest surviving autobiographical statements come from 1810 and tell of his profound concern over his tendencies to anger, pride, self-preoccupation, and ambition. He was also concerned to remain chaste and worried about the purity of his thoughts, which prompted him to avoid seeing certain things. What these “things” were is not clear but it is abundantly clear that the young Mastai-Ferretti was immensely concerned with personal purity and morality. (Coppa 1979, 22-25)

A spiritual crisis between November 1815 and February 1816 led eventually to Mastai-Ferretti’s decision to enter the priesthood. He said that his poor health made him “aware” that there is “no happiness in this world” (Coppa 1979, 25). When Pius VII returned from his deportation to Rome, he restored the Jesuits and Mastai-Ferretti volunteered with them as a lay catechist working at the equivalent of an orphanage in the Eternal City. During his work with the Jesuits and in theological education, Mastai-Ferretti continued to suffer seizures and feared that his epilepsy would keep him from the clerical career he had chosen. His dramatic story made it to the ear of Pius VII who was sympathetic of the young man’s plight. After proving himself an able teacher he was admitted to Holy Orders by special permission of Pope Pius VII. Mastai-Ferretti was ordained subdeacon December 1818, deacon March 1819, and priest April 10th 1819 (Holy Saturday) and he celebrated his first mass on Easter Sunday (Coppa 1979, 26).

In 1823, Mastai-Ferretti went with a diplomatic delegation to the Roman Catholic Church in South America. His mother attempted to keep him from going by talking to the cardinal responsible but he went anyway when the Pope sent her a letter and saw him off personally. The mission to South America was largely a failure, as the governments of Chili and Peru were not interested in partnership with Rome (Coppa 1979, 27-29). The trip did however provide the future pope with personal experience of the Church outside of Italy and Mastai-Ferretti became something of an expert on South American affairs for the Vatican.The trip most likely had a positive effect on his decision to include non-European bishops in the proceedings of Vatican I (Coppa 1979, 29-30). The expedition made it impossible for Mastai-Ferretti to ignore that the Roman Church was a world Church. Later Mastai-Ferretti was assigned to direct the hospital of San Michele, an impressive position usually given to a cardinal illustrating the continued favor of the Holy See for Father Mastai-Ferretti. (Coppa 1979, 30-31)

Archbishop, Bishop, & Cardinal

As a reward for his good work at San Michele Mastai-Ferretti was made Archbishop of Umbria by the future Pope Pius VIII in 1827 (Coppa 1979, 31). Mastai-Ferretti inherited a diocese in shambles with laxed clerical discipline and poorly managed offices (Coppa 1979 32). He was well received locally and this was enhanced by political events 1831 (Coppa 1979, 33). Unrest after Pius VIII’s brief reign and two months of an empty papacy led to an attempted revolution that was put down in Rome but the provinces had a stronger revolutionary feeling because corruption there was even more rampant than the capital. To quiet the insurrection Gregory XVI called on assistance from Austria, and with their help, order was restored. Mastai-Ferretti assisted rebels against the Austrian army to spare bloodshed by offering money and safe passage back home. One of them was Prince Louis Napoleon, thus beginning what would be a long and tortured relationship between Napoleon and the future pontiff (Coppa 1979, 33).

As evidence of his continued approval by the Holy See Mastai-Ferretti was made Bishop of Imola in November of 1832. Despite the change from archbishop to bishop in title, the move was a de facto promotion owing to the much larger size of the diocese and the fact that many popes had come from Imola (Coppa 1979, 34-36). Though neither revolutionary nor liberal Mastai-Ferretti was critical of the papal administration. He thought that there should be more connection between the actions of the Vatican and the needs of the people of the Papal States. Mastai-Ferretti was not terribly politically minded and was naturally open to any charitable proposal.

In 1840, Mastai-Ferretti was made a cardinal and both he and his family went into debt to pay the fees associated with admittance to the college (Coppa 1979, 36). In 1846, Pope Gregory died and cardinal Mastai-Ferretti was named one of the ballot counters for the conclave of cardinals who would decide the next pope by two-thirds vote. Earlier biographies made much of the surprising nature of Mastai-Ferretti’s election but Vatican documents reveal that he was considered a contender all along (Coppa 1979, 41-42). The other leading candidates varied according to their disposition toward reforming the Papal States as well as geography (Coppa 1979, 41). It may have been that Mastai-Ferretti was thought to be a compromise choice between the more liberal and more conservative cardinals.

Pius the Ninth: Political Reformer and Religious Conservative

Upon his election to the pontificate, Mastai-Ferretti took the name Pius IX in memory of Pius VII, also a past bishop of Imola and the deciding force in his move to the priesthood. He was well received, but not enthusiastically so by the Romans. To celebrate the occasion of his coronation Pius gave 6,000 scudi to the poor and released debtors from prison (Coppa 1979, 44). Almost immediately he set about reforming the Papal States where the people were on the verge of revolution, railroads were forbidden, there was no equality under the law, and taxes were unequal and unjustly collected. “Intrigue and corruption were rife and the services provided by the state were poor” (Coppa 1979, 45). Censorship was strict, and people had little if any access to legal recourse. On top of these internal problems, the Papal States had few friends in Europe. To smooth out relations Pius ordered an amnesty and released prisoners who he thought had been seduced into insurrection by foreign liberals (Coppa 1979, 45-47). Pius enacted numerous superficial reforms including granting limited freedom of the press and assembly along with the creation of a Consulta of twenty-four counselors who were to play a mostly advisory (they could pass laws with the Pope’s approval) role in government (Heyer 153; Coppa 1999 335).Pius thought that his people would appreciate the reforms and be satisfied. In this Pius greatly underestimated the intensity with which the people of his States longed for membership in the modern liberal world (Coppa 1979, 57-97; Hales 62-72). The Risorgimento (radical Italian nationalist) party among others thought Pius’ reforms were evidence of a liberal pope and it was commonly assumed that he was held back by the curia around him (Coppa 1979, 57-70). This perception was wrong; in fact, the new pope was not at all interested in granting a truly liberal constitution to his people (one of the key liberal demands along with a call for a united Italy). At the center of Pius’ concern over maintaining the temporal authority of the papacy were his convictions that he had a duty to pass on the office as he had received it and that without temporal authority the pope’s ability to exercise true freedom in spiritual matters might be compromised (Coppa 1999, 335).


To explain the complex political issues surrounding Pius’ reign it would be necessary to provide a full history of nineteenth century Europe, which is well beyond the scope of this essay (Livingston and Miller provide excellent overviews). For our purposes, it is enough to note briefly the situation as it interacted with Pius IX and the Church.

In 1848, Sicily revolted against the absolute rule of the Bourbons, northern Italy rose up against Austria, and Italian nationalist sentiments were high throughout the Papal States (Heyer 153). These events put Pius in the difficult position of having to balance his desire to avoid a political stance that might cause a schism with Austria and his practical need to take an interest in the way Italy’s future would be settled. The Pope was surrounded by conflict and international political posturing that he dared not enter into for fear of losing his spiritual authority (Heyer 154). The idea quickly spread throughout the peninsula that if the Pope could not balance his duties as an Italian ruler with those of his role as head of the Church that perhaps he should give up the temporal power (Heyer 154). This issue known as the “Roman Question” was made all the more immediate by the consensus that Rome be the capital of a united Italy.

Tensions came to a head on November 15th 1848 when Pius’ Secretary of State was murdered while entering parliament, and the following day the Pope decided to flee Rome for Naples, eventually ending up in Gaeta where he spent much of his time in exile (Coppa 1979, 71-97). Foreshadowing the eventual fall of the temporal power Pius effectively gave up control of his capital and his States out of fear for his and others safety (he had already been largely abandoned by his staff) and because without political stability he felt his role as pontiff threatened. The supreme tension that he dealt with was between being the universal spiritual leader of the Church and being the sovereign of a particular place. Given his natural tendencies to favor the spiritual and his lack of political shrewdness, he always opted to defend the spiritual authority.

Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian nationalist leader and strong advocate of republican government assumed control in Rome and quickly attempted to bring about the liberal reforms necessary to change the Papal States into a republic. Pius “considered him a false prophet if not an anti-Christ” (Coppa 1979, 97).


During his exile, Pius appointed cardinal Antonelli his new Secretary of State and gave him the unenviable task of restoring the Papal States. Fortunately, in many ways, Antonelli was the politician Pius was not, and he was able to secure the papal territories with the aid of foreign troops (Heyer 154).

The uprisings of 1848-49 were finally crushed by French troops who occupied the Papal States and pushed for liberal democratic reforms. This convinced Pius even more of the evils of the French Revolution and the subsequent “destruction of traditional [read Catholic] social, moral, and religious values” (Aubert 357). After his return to Rome in 1850 “Pius refused to negotiate on the issue of the temporal power, which he deemed essential for the preservation of the church” (Coppa 1999, 335).

During the period of exile, Pius retired more and more from political concerns, leaving them to his Secretary of State. In 1849, he issued the encyclical Ubi primum expressing his desire to define the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In 1850, Pius restored the Catholic hierarchy in England and in 1853 did the same in the Netherlands. Both actions were strongly distrusted and resented as political affronts in Europe, but Pius refused to yield (Coppa 1999, 335; Coppa 1979, 115). His experience of rebellion had made him even more determined not to bend in matters of religion.

As further evidence of Pius’ turn to spiritual matters on December 8th 1854, he issued the bull Ineffabilis Deus defining the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (by supernatural intervention Mary, Jesus’ mother, was herself conceived without the stain of original sin). Ineffabilis Deus also makes explicit the role of Mary as Mediatrix, Conciliatrix, “Queen of heaven and earth”, and one whose advocacy on behalf of believers is always heard by God. Many saw this move as an exercising of papal infallibility, which was not to be defined for many years (Coppa 122). Clearly, Pius was now determined to rule the Church zealously without compromise, which might lead to the dangers of liberalism. He drew the line against reform and the desolation of tradition squarely within his office. The Pope himself would be the rock through which no corruption of the faith would pass.

Pio Nono, Secundo

Given the popular assumption that Pius had been a liberal during his early papacy because of his token reforms, many reacted strongly to the “new pope” of the restoration. Pio Nono, secundo, or Pius the ninth the second he was called as his Secretary removed the reforms of the past and reinstituted stronger censorship and the absolute rule of the Pope. Pius’ heart was indeed hardened, but not as much as his subjects sometimes thought (Coppa 1979, 112-125). He had been motivated in his reforms by a desire to quiet the masses and maintain order. It is doubtful that he ever foresaw a liberal constitutional government in his States. Indeed, as his first encyclical attests his religious and “mixed” (secular/religious) views were squarely anti-liberal from the start (Qui pluribus). Any actual change in Pius can be seen as the result of his realization that the forces of liberalism and Italian nationalism could not be placated by anything short of the relinquishment of the temporal power, which he had always seen as critical to the exercise of spiritual authority.

In order “to safeguard the church, Pius favored neo-Scholasticism and centralization” or Ultramontanism (Coppa 1999, 335; see McCool on 19th century scholasticism esp. 25-27, and 129-144). To these ends in 1864 Pius issued his encyclical Quanta cura with the (in)famous Syllabus of Errors attached.

Again opening with episcopal pleasantries Pius proceeds to call the hierarchy’s attention to the “monstrous portents of opinion which prevail…in this age” (Quanta cura 2). Pius speaks out firmly against the separation of church and state (3, 4), communism and socialism (4), and the subjection of the Church to civil authority (5). He also warns that enemies of the truth use the media to their advantage in an effort to spread their lies (7) and makes a point of lamenting that some have been “excited by the spirit of Satan” and deny Jesus Christ as lord (7). Pius adds with a touch of paranoia that “amid so great a conspiracy against Catholic interests and this Apostolic See…it is necessary to approach with confidence the throne of grace” (9), thus further signaling his move toward the inner spiritual realm and away from the world, which to him seems nearly overrun by evil everywhere.

The attached Syllabus represents a list of 80 errors that Pius or his predecessors had previously condemned, and the reasons for their issue are complicated but predicable. Italian nationalists had annexed large sections of the Papal States by 1860 and it was clear that the Italians wanted Rome for a capital of the Italian State. Napoleon III recommended compromise, which prompted Pius’ resentment of France (Coppa 1979, 139). Pius could see his temporal power being gradually removed and he no longer had the support of the French that he needed to hold back the Italians. Relations between Rome and Italy as well as the rest of Europe suffered severely from the unwillingness of the Powers to come to Pius’ aid and his equal unwillingness to make the compromise that would make political aid possible from outside of Italy.

In 1863 liberals within the Roman Church held congresses at Malines and Münich that advocated the separation of church and state powers as well as the free exercise of scholarship. Pius responded by claiming that the magisterium would absolutely continue to censor unsound teachings and by banning any future congresses (Livingston 331).

True to form, Pio Nono secundo struck back at the perceived offensive against the authority of the Pope by blasting his enemies on spiritual and moral grounds. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in his Syllabus of Errors which condemned among such classics as pantheism, naturalism, and rationalism the more immediately “threatening” errors of socialism, communism, secret societies, Biblical societies, liberal clerical societies, civil society, and church/state relations especially as regards the temporal power of the Pope (Syllabus of Errors in Schaff). The civil powers along with the clergy were shocked by the blunt listing of errors sent forth by the Pope and although his Secretary of State and others tried to smooth things over by explaining away the really difficult portions (those regarding civil power) the damage was done (Coppa 1979, 140-153 esp. 146-7). If it had been difficult for the modern liberal states of Europe to support Rome before the Syllabus, after it was nearly impossible.

The Syllabus also brought to the fore the question of the Pope’s infallibility. Was this statement to be taken as binding dogma for the universal Church? Opinions are mixed on Pius’ intentions in this regard but that the Syllabus divided the Church even more than it already was can hardly be denied (Livingston 332; Coppa 1979, 140-155).

Papal infallibility had been debated in the Church since the Babylonian Captivity and Great Schism of the fourteenth century. Gallicanism (the idea that ecclesial authority rests primarily with local bishops and that political authority rests with the state over the church) and Josephism (Gallicanism’s Austrian incarnation) were strong forces in the Church through the later Middle Ages and into the modern period (Livingston 328-9). As the absolute monarchs of the Nation States grew in power support for the conciliar system (investing power in councils of bishops not just the pope) gained popularity (Livingston 329). At the same time, however there were those within the Church who held that the pope was preeminent in authority and infallible in doctrine (Livingston 329). By the early nineteenth century “forces in support of the Pope’s unique authority and infallibility were to gain the upper hand beyond Rome” in a movement known as Ultramontanism (Livingston 329).

By 1862, Pius had probably decided that an ecumenical council was needed to settle the infallibility question among other things and in 1864, he told a group of cardinals of this desire (Coppa 1979 154). In 1865 a group of three dozen Latin Rite bishops were asked for their opinions on what issues should be addressed by the coming council and June 29 1868 Pius finally fixed the date for the opening of the Vatican Council by his bull Aeterni Patris (Coppa 1979, 155). Aeterni Patris laid out for the council an agenda of saving “the Church and society from threatening calamities” and to “correct…a number of modern errors” as well as to institute ecclesial reforms (Coppa 1979, 157). Anxious to bring all Christian communions under the authority of Rome Pius sent invitations to the Orthodox bishops of the east as well as Protestant leaders, who understandably refused to attend and submit to Catholic authority (Coppa 1979, 157). In a move interpreted by the French to be sympathetic to the separation of church and state the Catholic princes of Europe were not invited to the council (Coppa 1979, 157).

While earlier historians had contended that Pius had little to do with the council once it began documents released for study in 1967 (Coppa 1979, 225) hint at Pius’ prominent hand in the running of the council (Coppa 1979, 156). The Council began on December 8th (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) 1869 as planned with nearly 200 bishops from outside of Europe in attendance proving the profound missionary expansion of the Church since the council of Trent (Livingston 339; Coppa 1979, 154-168).

Two dogmatic constitutions were voted on during the council, De filius on the relationship between faith and reason and the (in)famous Pastor Aeternus on the centrality of the Pope’s authority and his personal infallibility in matters of doctrine (Livingston 339; Documents of Vatican I). De filius reinforced the supernatural view of revelation and the Church that Pius has alluded to in his Syllabus and was passed without a single descenting vote (Livingston 339; Documents of Vatican I). Pastor Aeternus on the other hand had a small but initially vocal opposition, though none of them were allowed to sit on the committee that drafted the schema (Livingston 339). Though debate raged from May through mid-July by July 16th an addition was made to the draft of the words, “and not from the consent of the Church,” which signaled along with Pius’ refusal to meet with anti-infallibilitists the impending definition (Livingston 339-40).

On July 18 when the final vote was taken, only two voted against infallibility, although most of the opposition had already left Rome rather than face the prospects of having voted against dogma (Livingston 340). The final dogmatic constitution claimed that “a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter” (Pastor Aeternus 1.1), that “he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See” (2.2), and that “in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our Lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule, and govern the universal Church” (3.1) to the Popes of Rome. Chapter four of the constitution concerns specifically the infallibility of the pontiff and says that “when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals” (4.9). In an ironic twist of fate, war broke out between France and Prussia the next day and one month later Pius suspended the council as Italian troops stormed Rome following French withdrawal (Livingston 340; Coppa 1979, 169-180).

The debates over the extent of infallibility continued to rage long after bishops had either conformed to the doctrine or been excommunicated. Bishop Joseph Fessler put the meaning of the doctrine of infallibility to paper in 1871. His tract The True and the False Infallibility of the Popes was well received by Pius himself. The reinterpreted dogma limited infallibility to statements made as Pope, on a doctrine of faith or morality, in the form of a dogmatic definition, in accordance with revelation, and must be intended for all believers (Livingston 341). The resulting moderate position seems to have shown the fears of the anti-infalibilists unfounded and the rarity with which the dogma was used served to keep the peace (more or less) until the era of Vatican II.

From 1870 until his death in 1878, Pius bitterly resented his abandonment by the French and refused to recognize the Italian State that enveloped him (see the encyclical Respicientes). He lived out his last days as the most ecclesiastically powerful pontiff ever but without the political influence of the temporal power. In addition to his continued strong feelings against modern liberal errors, Pius condemned Germany’s Kulturkampf (a “clash of cultures” aimed against the Catholic Church). Chancellor Otto von Bismarck felt the authority of his domain threatened by the decrees of the Vatican Council and passed laws suppressing the Jesuits (long thought to be agents of the papacy) and making the Roman clergy subject to the authority of the state (Gallicanism). Despite Pius’ strong resistance, other laws repressing the power of the Roman Catholic Church were enacted and hundreds of priests were imprisoned while many bishops were forced to run. Relations between Germany and the Vatican did not improve until the pontificate of Pius’ successor Leo XIII (Coppa 1979, 181-192; Miller 1997, 237). Pio Nono died in the Vatican where he had declared himself a prisoner in 1870 on February 7th 1878 at the age of 86, having reigned as pope for 32 years, and after some 59 years of service in the priesthood (Coppa 1999, 336).

Pius IX, Beatification, and the Mortara Affair

In 2000, Pope John Paul II announced the beatification of two fellow popes, Pius IX “father of Vatican I” and John XXIII “father or Vatican II.” While the move toward canonizing (declaring him a Saint) the pope seen as responsible for the liberation of Catholicism met with wide acceptance, the move to do the same to Pio Nono has met with profound resentment (Anti-Defamation League 2000; Associated Press 2000). After his return from exile in 1850, Pius began a series of anti-Jewish programs along the same lines as the reversals of other reforms and most infamous of all supported the kidnapping of a Jewish boy Edgardo Mortara who had been secretly baptized by a Catholic servant during an illness. Upon hearing that the boy was a Catholic living with Jews the police were dispatched and in the evening of June 23, 1858 they removed the six year old boy from the only home he had ever known (Kertzer 3-12). He was brought eventually to the “House of Catechumens,” a school for producing Catholics out of the raw materials of Jews, Muslims and others. Shortly after being brought to Rome, the Pope “adopted” the boy who was destined to become a priest (Kertzer 63-73).

International reaction to the “kidnapping” was almost unanimously hostile. Harsh criticism came from England, the United States, and France among others. The case lowered the already irretrievably low opinion of the papacy (particularly in France), especially the temporal power around the world and was taken up as a symbol by the revolutionary forces in Italy that would eventually “liberate” the Papal States (Kertzer 174, 320n4 speaks of the case as the coup de grace of the temporal power). As is often the case, it is easy to think that a dramatic story was responsible for a great revolution. However, the “kidnapping” of Mortara provided an ideal rallying symbol for both sides of the larger conflict over modernism, which was really at play in the loss of the temporal power. Many histories of the Vatican (especially “Catholic” ones designated by Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur), the Papacy, and Italy make no mention of the case at all and this is evidence of the marginalized role played by Jews in the agenda’s of both the revolutionaries and the pro-papists. At the level of ideology or worldview, the case illustrates the clash between the modern, liberal world of personal freedom, individuality, and individual rights, and membership by assent rather than birth or ritual against the medieval (Catholic) world of communal obligation and supernaturalism.

It is worth noting that the scholarship is mixed and clearly partisan in regards to the relationship between Pius and Edgardo Mortara. Debate over the incident and the pontificate of Pius IX is likely to continue, and perhaps even intensify as the Vatican pursues the canonization process and the case is made into a motion picture scheduled to start shooting in 2002 (BBC News).


Pius can be seen as liberal in heart and a conservative in faith. His mind was always inclined toward the needs of his subjects and his great devotion to the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus led to revivals and official sanctioning of these popular devotional pieties. At the same time, Pius was a strong believer in the need for spiritual exercises and retreats and rarely missed a chance to advocate them both to his Church. While these tendencies reveal a man of tender affections Pius was also possessed of an unwavering conviction to the absolute truth of Catholic dogma, such that he could stomach no changes that might nullify any doctrine. This was the motivation he had for defending the temporal power, and the vehemence of his objections to the modern “liberal” world.

Pius could not see how it was possible to separate temporal or civil and ecclesial power and in this he demonstrated his strongly medieval state of mind. Pius could not relate to the modern world because where the later saw the world divided between secular and religious spheres he saw it in terms of goodness and truth against evil and error.

Pius’ reign brought about the modern papacy by setting the anti-modern agenda firmly in dogma (Hales xiii). All future developments within Catholicism (if not Western Christianity as a whole) had to contend with the effects of his intense dedication to remain true to the Church as he had received (and conceived of) it. By his repeated accusations against the secular world, Pius IX succeeded, despite himself, in establishing the Church as a primarily religious institution. Despite his attempts to reverse the liberal tide the only stage of importance left to the Popes after him was the religious (and therefore circuitously political).

Finally, by asserting the power of his office and the Church precisely as they both lost power Pius IX was indirectly responsible for the maintenance of an institution designed to function in a medieval world. If the Church through Pius had not dug in its heels against liberalism there might be no easily recognizable Catholic Church at all. On the other hand, by so openly and forcefully condemning the modern world the Church further isolated itself and gave up much of its relevance on the world stage. Pio Nono is remembered both as a savior and as one who so scorned the world (both inside the Church and out) that it was therefore (and remains) difficult for the modern, “liberal,” democratic, West to relate to the Roman Catholic Church and vice versa.

2. Works (Selected List)

Qui pluribus (1846); Ineffabilis Deus (1856); Quanta cura (1864); Syllabus of Errors (1864); Aeterni Patris (1868)

3. Themes


4. Outline of Major Works

Qui pluribus

To explain the religious position of Pius early in his reign a brief look at his first encyclical Qui pluribus is helpful. The encyclical, issued on November 9, 1846 just months after his election to the pontificate, addressed “faith and religion.” Beginning with the usual pleasantries of papal communication Pius admonishes the bishops to remain constantly vigilant “against the hateful enemy of the human race” (3, all references for encyclicals are to the paragraph numbers found in Ihm 1990). Specifically, Pius warns of the demonic “war against the whole Catholic commonwealth” being carried out by heretical philosophers who teach “all sorts of prodigious beliefs” (4). “[T]hese enemies never stop invoking the power and excellence of human reason; they raise it up against the most holy faith of Christ, and they blather with great foolhardiness that this faith is opposed to human reason” (5). Other enemies are said to “want to import the doctrine of human progress into the Catholic religion” (7) despite the fact that it was revealed by God and therefore exists “on the strongest foundations” (8). Pius speaks of the infallibility of the Church and especially the See of Peter, and reminds the bishops that in contrast to the teachings of heretics the bible means only that which the Pope says and has said it means (10). Pius warns that the enemy “would even trample underfoot the rights both of the sacred and of the civil power” (13) and that this is the goal of Bible Societies who commit the crime of spreading the vernacular bible throughout the world with unauthorized commentaries containing “perverse explanations” (14). Particularly despicable to Pius are those who claim that it does not matter what religion one is, “as if there could ever be any sharing between justice and iniquity” (15). He further rails against the evils of priests lured into breaking their celibacy vows, communism, and competing books of spirituality (16-17). Pius declares revolution a sin, and he stresses the divine rights of the state and the need to be obedient except when there is conflict with the will of the Church (22). He calls for the clergy to be an example of moral excellence (23), for bishops to see after the education of priests (28-30), and advocates spiritual exercises to keep priests holy so that converts will be more easily won (29-30). Pius ends the encyclical by praising the clergy (31-32) and expressing his hope that Catholic politicians will remember their duty to protect the Church (34). It is interesting to note that Pius refers to the Virgin Mary as “immaculate” and our “greatest source of confidence” (36) foreshadowing the future definition of the Immaculate Conception.

Ineffabilis Deus


Quanta cura and the Syllabus of Errors


5. Relation to Other Thinkers


6. Bibliography and Cited Works

Anti-Defamation League. 2000. “Statement on Beatification of Pope Pius IX.” Press Release dated September 3, 2000.

Aubert, Roger. 1989. “Pius IX” Translated from French by Matthew J. O’Connell. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Mircea Eiliade editor in chief. New York: Macmillan. 356-358.

Associated Press. 2000. “Pope at Odds with Italy’s Jewish Community.”, Saturday, September 2, 2000.

BBC News. 2002. “Cannibal to Catholic for Hopkins.”, Wednesday 22 May, 2002.

Chadwick, Owen. 1998. A History of the Popes 1830-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Coppa, Frank J. 1979. Pope Pius IX: Crusader in a Secular Age. Twaynes World Leaders Series #81. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Coppa, Frank J. 1999. “Pius IX.” In The Encyclopedia of the Vatican and Papacy. Edited by Frank J. Coppa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 334-336.

Hales, E.E.Y. 1954. Pio Nono: A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons.

Heyer, Fredrich. 1969 [1963]. The Catholic Church from 1648-1870. Translation of Die Katholische Kirche vom Westfailischen Frieden bis zum Ersten Vatikanischen Gottingen, Zurich: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht 1963 by D.W.D. Shaw. London: Adam & Charles Black.

Ihm, Claudia Carelen. 1990. The Papal Encyclicals 1740-1878. The Pierian Press. 275-441.

Kertzer, David. 1997. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Livingston, James C. 1997 [1988]. Modern Christian Thought Volume I: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century. 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall.

McCool, Gerald A. 1977. Nineteenth-Century Scholasticism: The Search for a Unitary Method. New York: Fordham University Press.

Miller, Glenn T. 1997. The Modern Church: From the Dawn of the Reformation to the Eve of the Third Millennium. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 231-237.

Schaff, Philip. 1993 [1931]. The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes. Volume II: The Greek and Latin Creeds with Translations. Edited by Philip Schaff. Revised by David S. Schaff. Reprinted from the 1931 edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 213-271.

7. Internet Resources

The Writings of Pope Pius IX” includes full text of the encyclicals, the Syllabus of Errors, and the Apostolic Constitution.

The Dogmatic Constitutions of the First Vatican Council

“Pope Pius IX,” article on Wikipedia

“Pope Pius IX,” article in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)

“Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, 1792-1878),” brief historical article by Frank J. Coppa

EWTN site on the Beatification of Pope Pius IX and Pope John XXIII

8. Related Topics

Roman Catholic Modernism

Protestant Liberalism

Oxford Movement

Johann Adam Möhler (1796-1838)

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

George Tyrrell (1861-1909)

Alfred Firmin Loisy (1857-1959)

Vatican II (1962-1965)


Author: Derek Michaud (2002, 2009).


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