#251 - Servant of God, Pope Pius VII
Pope from March 14, 1800 - August 20, 1823
Lived: August 14, 1742 - August 20, 1823
Birth name: Barnaba Chiaramonti
Who was this guy before he was pope?
Barnaba Chiaramonti shared a hometown with his papal predecessor, Pius VI, having been born at Cesena in 1742. He entered the Order of St. Benedict as a teenager, and was in fact followed into the religious life by his own mother five years later. Soon afterward, the pious Carmelite (in the presence of young Barnaba) actually prophesied her son’s election to the papacy and his impending sufferings as pontiff. Barnaba, being recognized for his intellect and general goodness, was made abbot of his monastery, Bishop of Tivoli and Imola (respectively), and finally cardinal over the course of several years, all by Pius VI.
Give me the scoop on Pius VII.
To do Pope Pius VII justice would take three “Popes in a Year” installments. With all of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rabble-rousing in Rome, the humble Pius was elected in a secret conclave held in the Benedictine monastery of St. George in Venice. Nearly two-thirds of his pontificate was spent in battle with the French leader (more on that in a minute), but Pius was hardly worn out following the emperor’s downfall in 1814.
He served for nine more years, during which he restored the Jesuits to good standing (also in 1814), condemned slavery, and established the American dioceses of Charleston, Cincinnati, and Richmond (1823), over a decade after creating those of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston (1808). The saintly pope even welcomed Napoleon’s own family to Rome and placed them under his protection, following the emperor’s exile. Pius’ death came from complications of a broken hip, just a week after his 81st birthday. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, recognizing a worthy candidate when he saw one, approved Pius VII’s cause for canonization in 2007, which gained him the title “Servant of God.”
What was he known for?
Pope Pius VII is easily best known for going toe-to-toe with the power-hungry Napoleon, and for outmatching him at every turn. Pius’ first and best move to combat the Frenchman was appointing Cardinal Consalvi as his right-hand man. Consalvi was one of the best statesmen of the 19th Century, and it showed during those years. Even imprisoning Pius and forcing the still-faithful “Black Cardinals” (as they came to be known) to wear only simple black cassocks didn’t break wily old pope. It was like Pius was chuckling under his breath with every sorry attempt Napoleon made to destroy the Church. Napoleon bullied Pius in vain right up to the end, to no avail. The tiny tyrant was defeated and cast out in 1814, while the pope was treated to a hero’s welcome throughout Europe.
Attendees of a papal Mass on August 15, 1811 -- the Feast of the Assumption -- witnessed something truly remarkable. At some point during the liturgy, Pius VII is said to have entered a trance and begun to levitate in such a way that he was drawn closer to the altar. Holiness level: Expert.
Coming Monday...Pope Leo XII
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Pius VII -
Pope Pius VII -
The Pope Who Outlasted a Tyrant -
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on Friday, November 30, 2018 at 2:00AM