The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Pope Pius IX

Pius IX
Name Giovanni Maria
Papacy began June 16, 1846
Papacy ended February 7, 1878
Predecessor Pope Gregory XVI
Successor Pope Leo XIII
Born May 13, 1792
Place of birth Senigallia , Italy
Died February 7, 1878
Place of death Rome, Italy

The Blessed Pope Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, (May 13, 1792February 7, 1878) was pope for a record pontificate of over 31 years, from June 16, 1846 until his death.


Early life and election

Mastai-Ferretti was born in Senigallia , Italy into the noble family of Girolamo Ferretti, and was educated at the Piarist College in Volterra and in Rome. He attempted to join the Noble Guard but was turned down due to his epilepsy. He instead studied theology at the Roman Seminary, he was ordained in April 1819. He worked initially in Rome before being sent to Chile. He returned in 1825 to become head of a hospital and canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata. He was made Archbishop of Spoleto in 1827. In 1832 he was moved to the more prestigious diocese of Imola and in 1840 he was made a cardinal, Santi Pietro e Marcellino.

His election to the papacy following the death of Pope Gregory XVI was the result of a factional division in the conclave between conservatives and modernisers. Mastai-Ferretti was the liberal candidate, and on June 16, at the fourth scrutiny, he was elected - a key conservative had arrived too late to vote for an alternative candidate and thus deny Mastai-Ferretti a majority in the ballot. Mastai-Ferretti took the name Pius IX in memory of Pope Pius VII, an early benefactor to him. He was crowned on June 21.

Liberalism and conservatism

As a liberal and, somewhat aware of the political pressures within the Papal States, his first act was to announce a general amnesty for political prisoners. His nature was kind-hearted and generous so he did not consider the potential implications of the amnesty - his concessions only provoked greater demands; radical Roman groups were seeking constitutional government and war with Austria. He was not such a radical, and in an encyclical of November 1846 he denounced secret societies (such as Circolo Romano ), the Bible associations, false philosophy, communism, and the press.

His Syllabus of Errors issued in 1864 as an appendix to his encyclical Quanta Cura condemned as heresy 80 propositions, many on political topics and firmly established his pontificate as the enemy of secularism, rationalism, and modernism in all its forms.

Treatment of Jews

Pius IX abolished laws that required Jews to live in specified neighborhoods, that forbade them to practice certain professions, and that required them to listen to sermons four times per year aimed at their conversion. Judaism and Catholicism were the only religions allowed by law (Protestant worship was allowed to visiting foreigners, but strictly forbidden to Italians). But the testimony of a Jew against a Christian remained inadmissible in courts of law, a tax levied only on Jews supported schools for converts from Judaism to Catholicism, and Jews continued in various other respects to be discriminated against by law.

In 1858, in a highly publicized case, a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, was taken from his parents by police of the Papal States. It had been reported that he had been baptized by a Christian servant girl of the family while he was ill because she feared he would die and go to hell otherwise. In this time, the law did not permit Christians to be raised by Jews, even their own parents. Pius steadfastly refused calls from numerous heads of state including Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary and Emperor Napoleon III of France to return the child to his parents.

The end of the Papal States

Establishment of the Roman Republic

By early 1848, public disorder had forced Pius to concede a lay ministry and a constitution, although he held fast against war with Austria (April). Public disorder grew, with repeated riots, the Prime Minister was murdered (November 15) and the Pope was denounced and trapped by a mob in the Quirinal. Pius escaped in disguise to Gaeta on November 24, leaving Rome to the radicals and the mob. A republic was declared in February 1849. The Pope appealed for support, and French troops crushed the republic in June, although Pius did not return to Rome until April 1850.

Although Pius had lost his liberal tastes, his rule was still beset with temporal problems. The revolutionaries were still there, and the Papal States were coming under increased pressure from anti-papal nationalists – notably Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont. The Pope was obliged to rely on French and Austrian soldiers to maintain order and protect his territories.

Italian unification

In 1858 Napoleon III and Cavour (Premier to Victor Emmanuel) agreed to war on Austria. Following the Battle of Magenta (July 4, 1859) the Austrian forces withdrew from the Papal States, precipitating their loss. Revolutionaries in Romagna called upon Piedmont for annexation. In February, 1860, Victor Emmanuel demanded Umbria and the Marches; when his demand was refused, he took them by force. After defeating the papal army on September 18 at Castelfidardo , and on September 30 at Ancona, Victor Emmanuel took all the Papal territories except Rome. In September, 1870, he seized Rome as well, making it the capital of a new united Italy. He granted Pius the Law of Guarantees (May 15, 1871) which gave the pope the rights of a sovereign, 3.25 m lira a year and extraterritoriality to the papal palaces in Rome. Pius IX never officially accepted this offer, retaining his claim to all the conquered territory. Although he was not forbidden or prevented from travelling as he wished, he called himself a prisoner in the Vatican. See also September Convention.

Outside the loss of territory in Italy the rights of the Church were reduced across Europe, with Piedmont leading the way (Pius condemned them repeatedly, in allocutions in 1850, 1852, 1853 and 1855). The Church was reduced in the German states due to the power of Protestantism, in 1873 a Kulturkampf was started in Prussia and elsewhere against the Church. The situation was worse in Switzerland, Poland and Russia, while in the New World the Pope denounced Colombia (1852) and Mexico (1861) for their anti-Church legislation. However the Pope did manage to secure satisfactory concordats with Spain, Portugal and a number of Caribbean and South American states. Further, he re-established the Church in England (1850) and the Netherlands (1853).

In spiritual matters Pius was much more vigorous. His December 1864 encyclical Quanta cura condemned seventy errors (Syllabus errorum), including many of the important intellectual ideas of the century such as rationalism, socialism, communism, and freedom of religion. In 1854 he became one of the few popes to issue a statement considered infallible when he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He also organised the First Vatican Council (1869-70) which defined the dogma of Papal infallibility.

For all his achievements, he was considered a conservative by the standards of the times, and he was often lampooned by reference to the Italian version of his name (Pio Nono) - as Pio No No.

Death and beatification

His tomb is in the church of St. Lawrence outside the Walls. His beatification was begun on February 11, 1907 and relaunched three times before he was made venerable (July 6, 1985) and then beatified on September 3, 2000. The beatification of Pius IX is a subject of controversy in light of some of his actions during his time as Pope. Some Jews and Catholics have expressed concern if Pius IX is made a Saint that it would seriously hamper Catholic-Jewish relations.


Pius had the longest reign in the history of the post-apostolic papacy, celebrating his silver jubilee in 1871. The pope who beatified Pius IX was John Paul II, who in March 2004 overtook Pius' successor Leo XIII to become the longest-serving pope after Pius.

Last updated: 08-29-2005 12:30:41