|Today's selection -- from The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmour. In 1870, as the last step in Italy's unification as a single country (the Risorgimento), the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II captured Rome, which had long been the domain of Pope Pius under French protection. Resentful of the power of the newly formed country and his own diminished power, Pope Pius instructed Italian Catholics not to vote in the elections of their newly formed country's government, thus dooming it to a generation of fractiousness. In fact, only 420,000 people out of a population of 22 million voted in the first election. Ironically, Pope Pius' sense of diminished importance also led him to make some of the boldest proclamations in the history of the Catholic church, including the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility:|
"Pope Pius IX reacted to Rome's capture in 1870 by excommunicating 'the sub-Alpine usurper' (Victor Emanuel) and refusing to recognize united Italy. Yet in spite of hostile relations, the new state understood the need for Catholic support and made some early concessions in the hope of attracting it. The Law of Papal Guarantees of 1871 granted the pontiff the status of a sovereign, with foreign ambassadors accredited to him, and gave him a generous income and free 'enjoyment' of the Vatican. This munificence was not excessive but, even so, it may have been unwise because it permitted the formation of 'a state within a state', one that could denounce the larger entity with impunity for the next sixty years.
"The pope, who liked to describe himself as 'the prisoner of the Vatican', was not mollified by the law. Still resentful of the conquest, the closure of convents and the loss of his territories, he refused to have any dealings with the government and continued to insist that he was the rightful ruler of the Papal States. His response to Italian nationalism and to much of the modern world was to lead the Church into zones of obscurantism unvisited by most of his predecessors. In 1854 he had asserted that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception -- the belief that the Virgin Mary herself was conceived without sin -- had been revealed by God. Ten years later, the Syllabus of Errors had condemned eighty modern 'errors' and declared it impossible for the pontiff to accept 'progress, liberalism and civilization as lately introduced'. More recently, in 1870, Pius had proclaimed the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which asserted that the pope himself could make no errors when speaking, in his capacity as Bishop of Rome, on matters of faith and morals. Yet he and his four successors were curiously reluctant to exercise the power he had insisted upon. No pope claimed infallibility until 1950, when Pius XII declared that 'the ever Virgin Mary' had been 'assumed in body and soul to heavenly glory'.
"In 1864 the longest-serving of all popes had told Italian Catholics it was 'not expedient' to vote in parliamentary elections, a position he reiterated after the fall of Rome and one which was strengthened by his successor, Leo XIII, who in 1881 forbade any members of his flock to stand for parliament or vote in national elections. Not until the following century did a pope publish an encyclical allowing Catholics to vote in order to preserve social stability -- that is, to prevent the emerging Socialist Party from dominating the country's politics.
"Many Catholics entitled to vote did so anyway, despite the papal pronouncements. All the same, the Vatican's refusal to recognize the Italian state was fatal to the cohesion and consolidation of the new nation. Catholicism was the one thing shared by nearly all Italians, and the papacy was the only institution in the country that could claim both longevity and continuity. Pius could have been a unifier yet decided alas to be a disruptor. His outrage and hostility encouraged many people to question the legitimacy of the new state and thus weakened the loyalty of millions of its citizens. An alliance of nationalism and Catholicism could have made a powerful force, as it did in Ireland, Spain and Poland. Instead, the animosity between them within Italy led to a divide in an already fractured country that lasted until Mussolini's Lateran Treaty of 1929. Devout Catholics were unable to play a commanding role in Italian politics until a christian democrat became prime minister after the Second World War."
The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples
Author: David Gilmour
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright 2011 by David Gilmo