By John R. G. Hassard
We are pleased to add another old Nineteenth Century Catholic book to our Tridentine Archive. The book is the 1878 Life of Pius IX by John R. G. Hassard and appears here in nine chapters:
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 1: Early Years in Christendom Despoiled
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 2: The Carbonari and Other Secret Societies
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 3: The Conclave Elects a New Pope
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 4: Conspiracy, War and Revolution
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 5: Annexation of the Papal States
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 6: Counter-Revolution and the Syllabus of Errors
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 7: Ultramontanism and the First Vatican Council
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 8: The Seizure of Rome and the Last Stand of the Papal Zouaves
- Life of Pope Pius IX – Ch 9: A Prisoner of the Vatican
The book we think has many merits, including its brief, but telling, treatment of many themes of the pontificate of Pius IX – including his battle with the secret societies of the time. (There is much more concerning these societies, beginning in the next chapter.)
Something of the spirit and sources of Hassard’s concise approach can be gleaned from his original foreword to his book:
Being more anxious to show the spirit of the late pontificate than to write a full catalogue of its achievements, I have passed lightly over all but the greater incidents in this history of a quarter of a century of battles. Perhaps a rapid story may be acceptable to many Catholic readers who find fuller biographies too long and too costly.
There are ample materials in French for a life of Pius IX The work of J. M. Ville-franche in particular … to which I have often resorted, is so good that I hope somebody will translate it. M. Alex, de Saint-Albin’s Histoire de Pie IX … is valuable for the period to which it refers. Mr. Legge cites many important documents relating to the revolutionary movements of 1848 and other authorities are quoted from time to time in the body of this book.
New York, April 6, 1878.
It should be said that, like almost any book published in 1878, the content is dated. Many a modern reader is likely to be a little lost, inasmuch as he is unlikely to know all the events and personalities mentioned.
We hope to rectify that problem a little with a series of brief introductions from myself to each chapter – which outline some of the more basic historical considerations necessary to understand this material.
In this chapter, we deal with the early years of John Mary (Giovanni Maria) Mastai – who would become the future Pope – Bl. Pius IX.
These are the years of Christendom despoiled. Just before Mastai was born in 1792, the earth-shattering French Revolution of 1789 had broken out, proclaiming a then-very liberal agenda of Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! – whilst initiating a period of bloodshed and genocide in which hundreds of thousands of Catholics loyal to Altar and Throne were massacred.
Then, the Napoleonic wars arrived, lasting till 1815. All of Europe was shaken to her roots.
Whilst Napoleon brought the worst excesses of the French Revolution to an end, it might be said – if somewhat simplistically in this short space – that he nonetheless exported French Revolutionary ideas across Europe as he conquered her various lands, including, for example, Spain and the various states which then made up the Italian peninsula.
For at this time, there was no united Italy.
Rather what is now Italy today was divided amongst different independent states as well as Spain and Austria.
We shall explain this situation more in further introductions to this series. For it is necessary to appreciate the political nature of the Italian peninsula in the Nineteenth Century – including its independent Papal States – in order to understand the papacy of Bl. Pius IX.
We should also say that, even after order was restored in Europe in 1815 and the Church and monarchy could flourish once more, revolutionary movements against Altar and Throne continued to spring up in countries like Spain and France, the latter of which experienced a second revolution in 1830.
All this forms the background to the early years of John Mary Mastai – the future Pope. We will not say much more for now – but rather expand as this series progresses.
In this day of the Internet, the online 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia and Wikipedia, among other sites, can, of course, be usefully consulted to gain further insight into the leading events and personalities which shaped the life of Pope Pius IX.
We should also say that very small changes have been introduced into the manuscript, including things like adding italics and subtitles and breaking longer paragraphs down into shorter ones. These and other small changes are more clearly explained in an Afterword to the final instalment.
We are also adding some of our own annotations with the clear bold heading: CSJ.org Note.
But now, let us to turn this over to John R. G. Hassard, who begins here with a brief overview of the epoch of Bl. Pius IX – and then continues to tell us of his early life.
Pius IX – Overview of His Life and Times
NEVER since the days of Hildebrand has the Church seen so remarkable a pontificate as that which has just closed.
The long reign of Pius IX, far exceeding in duration that of any of his predecessors, and surpassing even the traditional ‘years of Peter,’ which a popular prediction declared that no pope should ever see, was crowded with momentous political events, involving the most important changes in the condition of a large part of the civilized world.
In nearly all these changes the Sovereign Pontiff was the central figure.
Ideas which were just beginning to ripen into action at the time of his birth became the ruling force of Europe before the close of his career.
The ancient society of Christian nations was broken up. Christendom as a political entity ceased to exist.
A new order of civilization, founded on new principles, took its place. In all these vicissitudes, the Roman See was the one institution which suffered no change. Time and time again has it seemed to be the pivot around which moved the revolutions of a world.
And the part of Pius IX in this turmoil of transformation was no less strange than eventful.
The early years of his pontificate showed that there was no reasonable liberty of which the Church might not be the protector, and for a few weeks the whole world sang hymns of praise to the Pope who had proved the compatibility of the authority of Rome with political freedom, and her sympathy with all noble and patriotic aspirations.
Yet the World and the Church were soon in conflict, though the Pope never changed.
Empires and republics rose and fell. Princes turned democrats. Democrats assumed the crown. Kingdoms were blotted off the map. Nations sprang into life. The Church was stripped of all her temporal possessions.
Governments which had been her stanchest supporters suddenly become her foes. And in the midst of this hurry of revolutions political, social, and religious the Papacy alone retained its stability.
The world beat against it, and beat in vain. When it was deemed friendless it was strongest. When it had no help except the unseen hand of Heaven, it was most formidable in the unity of its episcopate, the affection of its children scattered far and wide over the earth, the clearness of its teachings, and the quick and full assent which all Catholics yielded to the authoritative voice that spoke to them from the Vatican.
‘There is, perhaps, hardly any pontiff,’ says Cardinal Manning, ‘ who has governed the Church with more frequent exercises of supreme authority than Pius IX.’
‘No pontiff from the beginning,’ adds the same distinguished authority in another place, ‘in all the previous succession of two hundred and fifty-six popes, has ever so united the bishops with himself.’
‘It seems to me,’ remarked the Pope to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1873, ‘ that as my pontificate is prolonged your affection towards the Holy See, and your zeal in defence of its rights, are more and more inflamed and strengthened; and everywhere your good example is copied.’
Certainly no pontiff since the primitive ages of the Church has been regarded with a more enthusiastic personal love, or has exercised so marked and far-reaching a personal influence.
‘A considerable time must elapse,’ observes a recent writer:
Before we can estimate aright this great pontificate, so remarkable, so exceptional in many ways. We stand, as it were, in its full glare; we cannot take into account all its proportions, its vastness, its harmony, its importance in the history of the Church.
Those great commanders have been few who could comprehend all at once the full results of a successful battle; but to the soldiers who make up the army, while the din of the combat is yet sounding in their ears, and the battle is still being fought around them, it is not given to take in at a glance all the features of the engagement, still less to know with precision what will be its effects upon the general fortune of the war.
Yet some things there are which it is not difficult to discern at once, and concerning which no additional fulness of knowledge or maturity of re flection can well alter our judgment.
It is with certain of these things with the story of the private virtues of Pius IX, the outlines of his public life, and the most important works of his pontificate that the present biography will be chiefly concerned.
Origins of Pope Pius IX
The family of Mastai was an ancient and respectable one of Lombardy. The first Mastai who bore the title of count removed into the duchy of Urbino, in Central Italy, towards the end of the seventeenth century, and, settling at the small but at that time not unimportant town of Sinigaglia, on the Adriatic, near Ancona, married an heiress of the place, and added her name, Ferretti, to his own.
Count Jerome Mastai-Ferretti, the father of the Pontiff, was gonfalonier, or mayor, of Sinigaglia. He was a gentleman of good character and small fortune.
His wife, Catharine Solazzi, is said to have been distinguished both for beauty and vir tue. She bore seven children, of whom the subject of this book, born at Sinigaglia, May 13, 1792, and baptised John Mary (Giovanni Maria), was the youngest.
From his earliest years the boy was noted for a sweet and sunny temper, a loving disposition, and a tender piety. At the age of eleven he was sent to a college kept by the Fathers of the Pious Schools at Volterra, and there he was a general favorite and an apt scholar, especially in mathematics.
He had reached his seventeenth year when a terrible affliction fell upon him. He became the victim of epileptic attacks of the most distressing kind; he was obliged to interrupt his studies, and his whole future became clouded.
In company with his mother he made a pilgrimage to Loretto to beg the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
Although Heaven permitted the disease to try him some years longer, its severity began to abate, and in 1808 he received the tonsure at Volterra as the first step in the ecclesiastical career to which he had resolved to devote himself.
Some unfriendly historians, who have given a grossly false account of his early years, will have it that he chose the military profession, and only turned to the Church when his epileptic attacks forced him to abandon the army.
Others declare that, though he was not actually a soldier, he was a candidate for admission to the Pope s Noble Guard, and was rejected on account of the state of his health. These stories are disposed of by the direct testimony of Pius IX himself.
The editor of an Encyclopaedia Ecclesiastico, published at Rome, wishing to have an accurate sketch of the Pope’s life, caused the proof-sheets to be submitted to the Holy Father, who corrected them with his own hand, and struck out the statement that in his youth he wished to join the army and to enter the Noble Guard.
‘I never had any idea of the sort,’ he said. When it was objected that this was generally believed to be true, and had found way in many biographical sketches, he replied:
This is the cause of the unfounded notion. When the first Napoleon invaded the pontifical provinces, he wished to gather round him a guardia nobile of all the noble youths of the Italian peninsula.
A list was drawn up and published in the papers, and my name, without my knowledge, was put among the rest; but as soon as I was informed of it I took care to have my name struck out. Napoleon’s plan could not be carried out. *
Growing Up in an Age of Revolution
Certainly, there would have been nothing discreditable to a young man in wishing to be a soldier, but, as a matter of fact, he had early determined to become a priest; and, accordingly, on leaving college he was sent to Rome (October, 1808) to live and study with his uncle, Paolino Mastai-Ferretti, who was a canon of the Vatican and a prelate of the papal court.
The condition of the Christian world at this period was dark indeed. The Pope was in exile; the church was pillaged and persecuted.
It was in the year of young Mastai-Ferretti’s birth that the Red Republic was proclaimed in France, to be followed, within a few months by the murder of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Reign of Terror, the prohibition of Christian worship, the banishment of the clergy, the massacre of the flower of the French nobility, and what seemed to be the beginning of a general revolt against God all over Europe.
At the time of which we now write, Pius VI, dethroned by the French Directory, had died in prison.
Pius VII, made captive by Napoleon, was a prisoner in France. For the second time within ten years the States of the Church were under a foreign domination.
The rule of the emperor, whose object was to erect a church basely devoted to his interests, and to make a religion which he did not love the servant of his dynasty, was perhaps more brutal in Italy than in any other of the subjugated countries.
Bishops were dispossessed, exiled, or imprisoned, as they are today in Germany under a similar system of imperial persecution.
Priests were deported to Corsica or sent to the galleys at Toulon.
John Mary’s uncle, the canon, who was with Pius VII on the night of the Pontiff’s arrest by French soldiers, was forced to leave Rome.
Another uncle, who was bishop of Pesaro, was imprisoned in Mantua. The young student returned to his parents to wait for better times.
A few years were thus spent at Sinigaglia, where Canon Mastai, the uncle, had likewise sought refuge.
After the Restoration of the Papacy
The fall of Napoleon restored the Pope to his throne. He passed through Sinigaglia on his way to Rome, and the whole Mastai family went out to meet him and receive his blessing.
The schools of theology in the sacred city were now reopened, and young Mastai resumed his attendance at the classes of the Accademia Ecclesiastica, though for some time, as his epileptic attacks were still severe, he wore the lay dress.
The long triumph of impiety and atheism had left the society of Rome in a frightful state of demoralization, and one of the first tasks of the regular and secular clergy, now recalled from prison and exile, was to rescue the imperilled young.
Sunday-schools were opened, volunteer catechists were enlisted from the nobility, and confraternities were organized with the special object of combat ing the infidelity and indifference of the rising generation.
Into these labors John Mary Mastai threw himself with a beautiful zeal, and when in 1818 a mission was organized by Monsignor after wards Cardinal Odescalchi and Monsignor Strambi, Bishop of Macerata, to prosecute the same good work in Sinigaglia, the ardent, generous, and devoted student was chosen to be their assistant.
It was shortly after the close of this mission that, finding his malady much diminished, he obtained admission to the order of subdeacon (December 18, 1818).
In the following spring he received a dispensation to be ordained deacon and priest; but he was required, as a measure of precaution, to say Mass only in private and with the attendance of another priest.
Before long he ventured to ask a special audience of Pope Pius VII, and to pray that this restriction might be removed.
‘Yes,’ replied the kind old Pontiff, ‘I grant you this favor, and the more readily because I am persuaded that hence forth the cruel disease will trouble you no more.’
And, in fact, from that time the attacks, if they ever returned at all, were so slight and rare that they ceased to be of any consequence.
The Young Priest
It was on Easter day, in 1819, that Father Mastai celebrated his first Mass, and the place which he chose for this memorable event was the obscure little church of St. Ann of the Carpenters (S. Anna dei Falegnami), attached as a chapel to an asylum for poor boys in the Via Giulia in Rome.
He was no stranger in this modest chapel, for much of the time which he devoted to the in struction of the young before his ordination was spent in this retreat, and the children had a strong affection for him.
The asylum was founded some forty years before this time by a poor, illiterate mason named Giovanni Borgi, who for a long while had been in the habit of collecting destitute children from the streets, giving them food and shelter in his own house, causing them to be instructed in religion, and finally sending them out as apprentices to respectable mechanics.
When his good work became known pious people offered their help, an association was organized, and Pope Pius VII bought for it the building in the Via Giulia.
The boys always called their protector ‘Tata Giovanni’ (Daddy John), and so the home came to be known as the Asylum Tata Giovanni.
The good old mason had gone to his reward, but his work lived after him; the number of the children was increased, and the scope of the charity was greatly extended.
The first pastoral charge of Father Mastai was over this asylum. He lived with the boys, ate at their table, and spent his whole private income in their service.
At all periods of his life he had a remarkable power of attracting the kindness of those who came in contact with him, and it is not surprising that the poor little waifs formed the most devoted and almost romantic attachment to the warm-hearted and sympathetic young priest.
He, on his part, never lost a tender regard for them, and interesting stories are told of the concern he used to show, even to the end of his life, in the welfare of those who had been his pupils during these first years of his priesthood. In 1871 he recognized at one of his audiences a certain jeweller of Rome.
‘ Ah!’ said the Pontiff, ‘ I remember that you were always ready to take apprentices from Tata Giovanni. Tell me if you still have any among your workmen whom I knew.’
The jeweller hesitated; his memory was not so good as the Pope s.
‘You ought to have so-and-so,’ continued his Holiness.
‘ Yes, Holy Father; I have him still.’
‘Are you pleased with him? Has he any family? Is he doing well? ‘
And then Bl. Pius IX went on to tell of circumstances connected with this workman, to whom he had taught the catechism a half-century before. After the occupation of Rome by Victor Emanuel the revenues of the Asylum Tata Giovanni were cut off by the Italian Government, and the Pope made it an annual allowance from his own purse.
Father Mastai spent four years at this institution, holding also during part of the time a canonry of St. Mary via Lata, a little church on the Corso, with an oratory in which pious tradition relates that St. Paul and St. Luke used to preach. The first employment which brought him into public notice was a mission to the New World.
The Future Pope travels to Chili
In 1822, the Government of Chili sent Archdeacon Cienfuegos to Rome to try to establish direct ecclesiastical relations between the republic and the Holy See.
The condition of the Church in the South American States was deplorable. Bishoprics were vacant, because the Spanish crown angrily insisted upon the right of presentation to sees which the success of the war of independence had long since removed from Spanish jurisdiction.
The mother-country still asserted the authority which she no longer even attempted to enforce, and resented all proposals to recognize, however indirectly, the de facto separation of the revolted provinces.
It was at length determined by Pope Pius VII to disregard the protests of Spain, and to send to Chili a vicar-apostolic, in order to reorganize the Church in that country.
The choice fell upon Monsignor Muzi, then auditor of the nunciature at Vienna; Canon Mastai, on the recommendation of Cardinal della Genga then cardinal-vicar, and destined soon to be Pope under the name of Leo XII. was attached to the mission as adjunct; and a priest named Sallusti was appointed secretary.
They sailed from Genoa, October 11, 1823, in a brig called the Eloysa, which flew the Sardinian flag, and the envoy Cienfuegos bore them company.
It was a long, difficult, and dangerous journey in those days from Italy to the Pacific coast of South America. More than once the apostolic delegation narrowly escaped shipwreck.
Stress of weather drove them into the Spanish port of Palma, in the istornl of Majorca, where the governor roughly ordered Archbishop Muzi and Canon Mastai to come on shore and give an account of themselves.
On the absurd pretence that the country to which they were bound was in rebellion and must not be visited without permission of the Cortes, the embassy was locked up in jail.
Then,’ said Pius IX, in telling this adventure long years afterward:
I realized the necessity of the papal independence. They sent me a ration of food every day from the ship, but I was allowed neither letters nor papers. I was initiated, however, on this occasion into the little stratagems of solitary prisoners, for we hid our correspondence in loaves of bread; and so it was that I learned of the victory of the Duke of Angouleme which restored Ferdinand VII to the throne of Spain. After that they did not trouble themselves any more about a poor canon, and they let us go.
A voyage of three months brought them to Buenos Aires, and there they began a toilsome ride of two months across the continent.
They travelled in a caravan of three covered carts, stop ping occasionally to celebrate Mass, or to rest, or to receive civilities at the towns and settlements along the route, just escaping massacre by a band of Indians who attempted to waylay them, crossing the Andes on mules, and entering Santiago at last to the tones of the Te Deum.
During this trying journey the cheerfulness, vivacity, and simple piety of Canon Mastai were the admiration and delight of his companions. Descending the slope of the Cordillera towards Santiago, they stopped one night at a miserable wayside inn, where they found an English officer named Miller lying unconscious in a raging fever.
He was a stranger and a Protestant; but it was enough that he was suffering, and when the embassy went on its way the young canon remained behind to nurse the Englishman, tending him with the affection of a brother until he was well enough to continue his journey.
On another occasion the canon found an Indian dying in a wretched hut. He placed himself by the side of the poor man, comforted his last hours, instructed and baptized him, and never left him until the soul had taken its flight.
Then he wrapped the body in his own best linen, and buried it with a cross above the grave; and finally, after instructing and baptizing the Indian s widow and children, he divided his purse and clothing with them.
In going by sea from Valparaiso to Callao the vessel of the embassy, caught near the coast in a gale, was driving upon the rocks when a fisherman put off in his boat, boarded them in the midst of the storm, and brought them through intricate passages into the harbor of Arica.
The next day Canon Mastai visited the hut of this daring pilot, and left with him a purse containing about four hundred dollars.
After becoming Pope he sent the man a second purse of equal value and his picture. The fisherman was overwhelmed with gratitude.
The first four hundred dollars had proved the making of his fortune. He gave the second to the poor, and placed the picture of the Pope in a little chapel which he had built on a spot overlooking the sea.
The time spent in this mission was not fruitless, for the apostolic delegate succeeded in effecting some improvement in the condition of the disorganised South American Church, and Canon Mastai, in frequent excursions hither and thither, revived the faith and zeal of the people, and learned much about the wants of religion in that part of the world which he remembered when he came to the pontifical throne.
One important result of his journey was the foundation of the South American College in Rome; it was not until twenty five years later that this establishment was opened, but the idea of it is distinctly traceable to the apostolic mission to Chili in 1824.
The principal immediate object of the mission, however the restoration of the episcopacy was not accomplished. The Chilian Government raised so many difficulties that there was every reason to doubt its good faith; and at last, after many disappointments, the embassy returned to Rome. Their vessel had gone around Cape Horn to meet them, and they embarked at Valparaiso, October 30, 1824.
The Hospital of St. Michael
Immediately after his arrival home Canon Mastai was appointed domestic prelate to His Holiness Leo XII, and placed in charge of the Hospital of St. Michael. This famous institution was a city in itself, and its administration was a real government.
Founded two centuries ago, it had grown, by the liberality of successive popes, to be one of the greatest and grandest asylums in existence a house of refuge for the young, a retreat for the aged and infirm, a hospital for the sick, a reformatory for Magdalens, a home for virtuous girls, and, besides all that, a school of arts and industries.
When Monsignor Mastai assumed the presidency of this vast and complicated charity, every department of it was in a miserable state of disorganisation.
Nearly all the earnings of the boys and girls in the industrial schools went towards the support of the establishment, and yet there was an enormous deficit in the revenues.
Bankruptcy seemed at hand. The new president took up his task with the enthusiasm of a reformer and the practical sagacity of a man of business. In two years the disorder was at an end.
The expenses of the institution were brought within its income, yet its charity was enlarged rather than restricted, and a large part of the earnings of the children was paid into a savings fund, to be returned to them when they went out into the world.
Monsignor Mastai had obtained this remarkable result in part by his talent for business; but not wholly by that, for when the work was done his own patrimony had disappeared.
‘Of what use is money to a priest,’ said he, ‘except to be spent in the cause of charity?’
Archbishop of Spoleto in Umbria
After about two years of this active work at the hospital Monsignor Mastai was appointed Archbishop of Spoleto in Umbria. He was consecrated on the 3d of June, 1827, by Cardinal Castiglioni, afterwards Pius VIII.
It is related that, having given away all the money at his command, he was obliged to sell the last acre of his estate to defray the expenses of his installation, and he entered his diocese actually penniless.
Promotion in this case meant a great increase of labor, hardship, and privation. The revenues of the see were small, and the needs of the people were great.
Religion, society, and industry had all been grievously wounded by the disorders of the past thirty years, and just then, moreover, the spirit of revolution and infidelity had a strong hold upon the minds of the middle classes.
The post of a bishop at such a time, in a poor and distracted city, seemed not one to be envied. But the gentleness and unbounded generosity of Archbishop Mastai quickly endeared him to the whole population.
He filled his diocese with good works, founding schools and charities, promoting the establishment of factories for he knew that idleness and hunger were at the root of many of the evils of the day and taking a personal interest in the comfort and prosperity of his people.
From his youth to the very end of his life he was prodi gal in almsgiving, and was often left destitute by his benefactions.
A poor woman applied to him for help at Spoleto when his purse was empty; he could find nothing else of value, so he took a silver dish from his table and bade her put it in the pawn.
On another occasion, after he had been translated from Spoleto to Imola, he was applied to by a man who was hard pressed by a creditor.
‘How much do you need? ‘ asked the archbishop.
‘Monsignor, the debt is forty crowns.’
‘I have not a copper, my poor friend,’ said the good pastor, ‘but take these silver candlesticks and sell them.’
The silversmith to whom they were offered recognised on them the archbishop’s arms, and hastened to the palace.
‘Monsignor,’ he cried, ‘ you have been robbed of your candlesticks, and I have the thief.’
‘No, no, ‘was the reply; ‘ I have not been robbed. Buy them, if they suit you.’
The dealer returned to his customer, and, learning the whole story, gave him what he required. Then he carried the candlesticks back to the arch bishop.
‘Monsignor,’ he said, ‘I have advanced the forty crowns, and you can give them to me at some convenient time; but I will not take your silver plate.’
The archbishop gave away even the clothes that he really needed. Sometimes he lacked the money to buy food; and once, having invited a bishop tc visit him, he pawned his watch to pay for the dinner.
Still Further Revolution
Pope Leo XII died in February, 1829. Pius VIII died on the ist of December, 1830. The next conclave was a long one, and it was not until the 2nd of February, 1831, that the deliberations of the Sacred College came to an end with the election of Gregory XVI.
Within three days, the new Pope was confronted by an extensive insurrection.
The revolt had been long in preparation, and the revolution in France which drove Charles X from his throne precipitated the outbreak.
All central Italy was violently disturbed, but, although the insurgents were well enough organized to provoke a risijg on the same day in several cities of the Romagna, they seem to have had no settled plan, and to have been animated by no more definite purpose than a general hostility to religion and hatred of the existing government.
‘ Some,’ says the Liberal Italian writer, Farini:
Wished to place the sons of Hortense Beauharnais at the head of the Italian movement; others, some Italian prince; and others had plans differing from both of these.
In the Roman States the conspirators were for the most part Voltairians, or indifferentists in religion materialists in philosophy, and nearly all of them constitutionalists in politics some after the French, some after the Spanish, model.
Few had any well-defined notions of a philosophical or national system. The greater number cared only for destroying. Of building up they thought it would be time to take heed afterwards.
The revolt soon spread from the Romagna to the neighboring provinces, and before the middle of February it involved Spoleto. The pontifical governor fled for his life. Even the charitable archbishop was in danger.
‘I made my escape to the woods,’ said he many years afterwards:
And had gone some ten miles or so when, overcome by fatigue, I entered a little hut. There I found two poor women at work, and I shall never forget the sorrow with which they beheld their archbishop in such a plight, or the kindness with which they shared with me their scanty meal of bread and water.
His exile, however, was short. For a little while after his return he was charged with the civil administration of the province.
The complicity in this revolt of the two sons of Hortense Beauharnais, step-daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte and wife of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, has been alluded to.
These sons were Napoleon, who died shortly afterwards of disease contracted in the insurrectionary campaign, and Louis, who became emperor under the name of Napoleon III.
It is related that on the defeat of the enterprise Louis, being in imminent danger of arrest, presented himself one night at the door of Archbishop Mastai, and owed his safety to that kindest of men, who concealed him for some lime in his palace, and finally smuggled him across the frontier.
The story rests upon no very secure foundation, but it has been often published and remains uncontradicted. There is another anecdote, relating to the same period, which seems to b<3 much better authenticated.
A force of four or five thousand insurgents approached Spoleto, close pressed by the pontifical troops on the one side and menaced by the advance of an Austrian army on the other.
The archbishop went out to meet them, and, showing the futility of resistance, persuaded them to lay down their arms. To satisfy their immediate wants he gave them several thousand crowns.
Next he visited the Austrian commander, and induced him to respect the in formal amnesty which had thus been concluded; and finally he repaired to Rome to beg the Papal pardon for the rebels. On his return to Spoleto the grateful inhabitants took the horses from his carriage anil drew him home in triumph.
One day an agent of the police brought him a list of persons in Spoleto whom he had discovered to be implicated in the insurrection. The archbishop took the paper and threw it into the fire.
‘My good friend,’ said he, ‘ you do not know your business, or mine. When the wolf means to fall upon the flock he does not warn the shepherd.’
A Cardinal at Imola
In December, 1832, Archbishop Mastai was translated to the see of Imola. This was a sim ple bishopric, but it was a more important post than Spoleto, and was regarded as a step towards the dignity of cardinal.
The promotion to the princely purple came in due course; it was pro claimed December 14, 1840, having been reserved in petto since December 23, 1839, and Cardinal Mastai took his tide from the church of SS. Peter and Marcellinus.
His life at Imola was like his life at Spoleto. He was rarely seen at Rome, even after his creation as cardinal. He was almost unknown to the courtiers of the Quirinal.
His time, his strength, and his income were all spent in relieving the needs of his people. If there is one religious work for which, more than another, his administration of the diocese of Imola deserves to be remembered, it is the education of the clergy.
In the general wreck which followed the French invasion under Napoleon, the old theological schools had been swept away.
The zealous bishop founded a seminary, opened and endowed a house of retreat for the priests, and established a Bible Academy at his residence for the discussion of sacred subjects. He introduced the Sisters of Charity from France.
He invited also from France a community of Sisters of the Good Shepherd, endowing a house for them from his private means, and when they arrived he received them at the episcopal palace and waited on them at table.
He opened an asylum for poor boys on the plan of Tata Giovanni. He repaired the churches. He multiplied the schools. The revenues of the see of Imola were much larger than those of Spoleto; but, as usual, the bishop was always giving and always poor.
The political and social condition of central Italy became more and more deplorable, yet Cardinal Mastai, devoted to his flock, was surrounded by a grateful population.
Once, it is said, a party of revolutionists broke into his house with the wild purpose of carrying him off prisoner, together with two cardinals who were his visitors.
On another occasion, while praying before the Blessed Sacrament, he confronted three Assassins who had wounded a young man in the cathedral of Imola.
He drove them from the church, and his courage saved the young man’s life.
The revolutionist Felice Orsini, executed in 1858 for an attempt to assassinate the Emperor of the French, was a lad living at Spoleto at this period, and he relates in his memoirs that, having accidentally killed a man, he owed his liberty to the bishop, who protected him from prosecution and became security for his good behavior.
These are almost the only incidents of Archbishop Mastai’s career at Imola which the historian finds recorded.
The fourteen years of his useful and inconspicuous labor at that place were a golden time of peace and consolation, whose story is written only in heaven.
They were a time, moreover, of providential preparation for the place to which he was soon to be raised.
He came forth from this retreat with a character enriched by the daily practice of virtue, a disposition sweetened by the habit of self-sacrifice, a resolution strengthened by reliance upon God, and a heavenly courage that was proof against the threats and buffets of the world.
Modest, however, as his retirement had been, his holy life was not unknown at Rome, and when Gregory XVI died on the ist of June, 1846, Cardinal Mastai had already been much spoken of as the fittest person to rule the Church in the trying clays that were plainly at hand.
He was at this time fifty-four years of age. His figure was of medium height and well proportioned, his frame rather sturdy, his bearing erect and dignified, his gestures were full of unstudied grace, and his walk was described as ‘ princely.’
Yet there was a simplicity in his manner that charmed everybody, and the graciousness ot Christian hu mility softened and adorned his demeanor.
There is a story of a peasant who sought. an audience of him, expecting to see a potentate of dazzling gran deur, and who came away astonished, exclaiming: E un’ uomo come me! He is a man like me!’ His features were noble and regular, his complexion was a rich olive, his eyes were large, soft, and blue.
But the chief beauty of his face was the gentle and benevolent expression that shone in his glance and played about his shapely mouth. This was an attraction which age and trouble never destroyed.
* This conclusive denial is quoted by Mr. Alfred Owen Legge in his Plus IX : The Story of his Life to the Restoration in 1850 (London, 1875); yet with a singular indifference to the value of historical testi mony, Mr. Legge professes himself ‘compelled to regard ‘ the contrary statement ‘as well authenticated,’ because it is affirmed by the Duke of Sermoneta and others!
More than sixty years afterwards, addressing the chapter of the basilica of St Mary Major, he said : ll That church is doubly dear to me first, because it is dedicated to the Mother of God; secondly, be cause it calls up certain souvenirs. When I first arrived in Rome, in my fresh youth, I went immediately to St. Mary Major, and I fancy I can see now, sitting in his confessional, the good Dominican who heard my first confession there.’