Friday, June 22, 2007

Two Hundred Fifty-first Pope: Pius VII - 1 comments

Pius VII also had a long reign, from 1800 to 1823. He supported the growing trend of democratic government (he once said in a homily, "Be good Catholics and you will be good democrats.")

His predecessor (Pius VI) died effectively as a prisoner of Napoleon, and so the beginning of his reign was strange. The French had seized the papal tiara, and so Pius was crowned with a papier mache version.

Pius spent his reign in a continuous kind of shaky diplomacy with the French. They had all the military power, but knew that they needed religion to keep the common people in line. The French managed to keep Pius in line with a combination of threats, bribes, and kidnappings (really! They even kept a canon aimed at his bedroom window).

Two Hundred Fiftieth Pope: Pius VI - 0 comments

Pius had a long reign - nearly twenty-five years from 1775 to 1799. This is the fourth-longest papal reign in history, during which he saw both the American Revolutionary War and Napoleon's invasion of Italy.

Two Hundred Forty-ninth Pope: Clement XIV - 1 comments

Another Clement! This one was educated by the Jesuits, so he also showed them support in Europe. Clement XIV struggled to match the growing power of the Enlightenment, hoping to embrace its love of free thought without its secularism. Like any half-hearted embrace, it convinced no one, and Clement's reign serves as a reference point in the perceived split between "rational thought" and "spiritual authority."

Two Hundred Forty-eighth Pope: Clement XIII - 0 comments

It's pretty astounding how only a few papal names have been in fashion for the last four hundred years or so. It's pretty much all Clement, John, Paul, Benedict, Innocent, and Pius from 1600 until now. I miss the days of Caius, Sylvester, Eleutherius, Telephorus, and Zephyrinus. Heck, even Lando!

Anyway. On to Clement (sigh) XIII. He ruled for eleven years, from 1758 to 1769. He was one of the rare popes to support the Jesuits, who were increasingly reviled in Europe (meanwhile, they were nearly running the place down in South America). He was a modest pope - oh, let's just call him a prude - and mass-produced fig leaves to cover up all the classical nude statues in the Vatican.

Two Hundred Forty-seventh Pope: Benedict XIV - 2 comments

Benedict had the chair for eighteen years, most of them quiet. He got involved in controversy with the Chinese Catholics, in what appears to be a pretty shameless double standard. He agreed with his predecessors that the Chinese must use the Latin name for God (not the Chinese), and must not offer anything to ancestors. Venerating his European saintly ancestors, however, is still acceptable practice.

Two Hundred Forty-sixth Pope: Clement XII - 0 comments

Clement was seventy-eight years old when elected to the papacy. He'd held many of the important managerial positions within the church before that, and the college of cardinals chose him to repair the financial havoc caused by his predecessor.

He was the first pope to act against the Freemasons. He didn't seem to really know what the secret society was about (not even the Pope is in on that secret!), but banned Catholics from joining, writing, "if they were not doing evil they would not have so great a hatred of the light."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two Hundred Forty-fifth Pope: Benedict XIII - 1 comments

Benedict was worried about the unlucky number thirteen, and at first called himself Benedict XIV. He concerned himself with small vices: banning the lottery, while his advisors ran the government and got rich. Benedict ruled from 1724 to 1730.

Two Hundred Forty-fourth Pope: Innocent XIII - 0 comments

Innocent was a pretty dull pope. He ruled from 1721 to 1724.

Two Hundred Forty-third Pope: Clement XI - 0 comments

Clement is known for his part in the Chinese Rites controversy. Catholic missionaries in China were debating whether or not local practice of making offerings and burning incense to ancestors and Confucius were idolatrous. Most of the local missionaries leaned toward the liberal idea: these practices were not really religious in nature, but more likely social conventions that helped hold society together. (Perhaps we can compare this to Santa Claus at Christmas. He's not an object of religious worship, but we still sing songs about him, have elaborate rituals about his arrival, and even leave food offerings out for him.)

Clement, who never earned that name, came down on the side of idolatry. He demanded that Chinese Christians stop these practices, and even went so far as to command that they use the latin "Deus" to refer to God, instead of the more Chinese-friendly "Shangdi", or Heavenly Lord. Not surprisingly, this pissed off the emperor - he banned Catholic missionaries.

Two Hundred Forty-second Pope: Innocent XII - 0 comments

Innocent XII appears in a Robert Browning poem from 1869! A man is falsely convicted of the murder of his wife and family, and Innocent refuses to grant him pardon.

He ruled from 1692 until his death in 1700.

Two Hundred Forty-first Pope: Alexander VIII - 1 comments

Alexander had a short run, from 1689 to 1691. His term was marked by a ruinous generosity: he lowered taxes in the Papal States and gave the papal wealth liberally to his family, nearly bankrupting the papacy in the process.

Two Hundred Fortieth Pope: Innocent XI - 1 comments

Innocent XI is considered one of the first 'incorrupt' popes. This doesn't mean that he didn't get into the usual kinds of foreign intrigues common to the seventeenth century; 'incorrupt' here refers to a very slow decomposition of the body.* After Innocent's death, they exhumed his body for the beatification process and noticed that the body was very intact. They painted him silver, and he now rests with the two other 'incorrupt' popes, Pius X and John XXIII.

*The whole 'free from decay as a sign of God's blessing' idea is a really interesting one, if theologically shaky. It's much more common in the Russian Orthodox church, although I have no idea why. Dostoevsky uses it to great effect in comparing the deaths of Father Zosima and Ilyusha, and how that affects the faith of the people around them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Two Hundred Thirty-ninth Pope: Clement X - 1 comments

Clement seems like a good guy. He served most of his life in the lower ranks of church service, getting passed up for or declining major advancement. Just before his predecessor died, Clement IX made Clement X a cardinal - this was pretty rare, as the cardinals were career churchmen who usually rose quickly through the ranks and fought for power. Clement (X) was over eighty years old when he finally became a cardinal.

When Clement IX died, the college of cardinals couldn't reach an agreement on the next pope. The struggle between the two major candidates lasted four months. Finally, the cardinals agreed to take the usual approach: elect a very, very old man. They nearly unanimously chose Clement X.

Clement didn't want the job, however - he protested his old age, and finally had to be dragged from his bed to the papal throne, reportedly screaming, "I don't want to be Pope!" along the way.

Two Hundred Thirty-eighth Pope: Clement IX - 0 comments

Clement had a short reign as pope, only a year and a half. During that time, he's not known for doing much besides writing: poems, plays, and (says Wikipedia) the world's first comic opera.

Two Hundred Thirty-seventh Pope: Alexander VII - 0 comments

During Alexander's reign, from 1655 to 1667, the Queen of Sweden converted to Catholicism. She kept it secret for a while (Sweden, like most northern european countries, had embraced the Reformation), but evenutally abdicated her throne to practice openly. She moved to Rome under Alexander's protection.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two Hundred Thirty-sixth Pope: Innocent X - 2 comments

Um, this might require some explanation.
There are two very famous portraits of Innocent X - they look like this.

The left image is a painting ("Portrait of Pope Innocent X") by Diego Valazquez, a Spanish painter. He was a masterful realist during the Baroque period. The right image is a painting by English Irish-born British modernist Francis Bacon ("Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X"). I couldn't choose which to draw from, so I used both. (Is it presumptuous to call it "Sketch after Bacon after Velazquez?")

Innocent X himself ruled from 1644 to 1655. He supported the Irish in the civil war with England.

Two Hundred Thirty-fifth Pope: Urban VIII - 0 comments

Urban ruled for twenty-one years. He played a very important part in the Thirty Years' War, which took up his entire reign. History buffs can brush up elsewhere: the rest of you can trust me that it was the biggest deal happening from 1623 to 1644.

The ongoing drama of popes versus tobacco continues: Urban made smoking tobacco punishable by excommunication. Seriously.

Two Hundred Thirty-fourth Pope: Gregory XV - 0 comments

Gregory had a short two years as pope, but managed to canonize three very famous saints: Teresa of Avila, Ignatius Loyola, and Francis Xavier. He also was the last pope to set up rules for the punishment of witchcraft, and these were very light. The death penalty was reserved only for those witches who committed murder.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Two Hundred Thirty-third Pope: Paul V - 2 comments

Paul V was also a connected family-man; he was part of the Borghese clan. He had two distinct brushes with awesomeness: Galileo Galilei, and a group of Samurai. Seriously.

He met with Galileo in 1616 after his clash with Robert Bellarmine - a cardinal who was passed up for papal election. Bellarmine tried to stop Galileo from spreading his Copernican hypothesis, but that didn't really pan out. History doesn't tell us if Paul also put pressure on the scientist, or if their chat was friendly.

Paul also met with a group of wandering Samurai, led by Hasekura Tsunenaga. They'd traveled from Japan as emissaries of the shogunate, asking for Christian missionaries (I think we can assume that was only for politeness' sake) and a trade treaty with Mexico* (which I assume they really wanted). Paul gave them the first but not the second, which made Shogun Tokegawa Ieyasu pretty angry. Tokegawa-san banned all Christian preaching.

*Mexico? What? Yeah, I know. The Japanese knew that the Catholic Spaniards, who ran Mexico at the time, answered to the Pope. Clever, huh?

Two Hundred Thirty-second Pope: Leo XI - 1 comments

Leo XI was one well-connected guy. He was part of the Medici family, and his uncle was Leo X. It served him well - he made it to the papacy after all - but not for the long run. He died just 26 days into his reign (from April 1 to 27, 1605). The Italians called him Papa Lampo - Lightning Pope.*

*If there's a Posthumous Papal Superhero team, I think we all know what Papa Lampo's skill will be.

Two Hundred Thirty-first Pope: Clement VIII - 0 comments

Clement was Italian (like all popes for the last 500 years up until John Paull II), but served for a time as cardinal in Poland. He developed a nasty case of anti-semitism, and persecuted Jews in some pretty shameful ways.

One small mark in his favor is that he was a coffee fan. Coffee was just gaining popularity in Europe, but it's reputation as a drink of the Infidel Middle Easterners was damaging. Some of the church officials asked Clement to ban it - as a drink of the devil - but instead Clement suggested that perhaps Christians should be baptized in it instead. Yum!

Two Hundred Thirtieth Pope: Innocent IX - 0 comments

Innocent was a lawyer by trade - a diplomat and administrator too. His reign was short, only from October 29 to December 30 in 1591.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Two Hundred Twenty-ninth Pope: Gregory XIV - 0 comments

Gregory XIV had a longer reign than his predecessor, but still less than a year. He was never easy in the role; he had a tightly-wound disposition, was prone to nervous laughter, and is reported to have said, "God forgive you! What have you done?" when he found out he had been elected Pope.

Among the good works he accomplished in his 11-month reign, he made slight reparations to former Filipino slaves, and set a rule that Catholics must release all their slaves 'upon pain of excommunication.'

Two Hundred Twenty-eighth Pope: Urban VII - 1 comments

Urban is known for two really remarkable facts.

1. He banned smoking in all churches, and even on the front steps. This was in 1590, less than one hundred years after tobacco was brought to Europe from the New World. Urban was fighting a losing battle.

2. He had the absolute shortest reign of any pope! He died of malaria only thirteen days after his election, and never actually made it to his consecration. He ruled from September 15-27, 1590.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Two Hundred Twenty-seventh Pope: Sixtus V - 0 comments

Sixtus V was born to peasant family, and worked as a swineherd during his adolescence. He was drafted into a Franciscan monastery while young, and rose quickly through the church ranks. As an enemy of Gregory XIII, he had to fake retirement for a while, but then was elected as his replacement.

While Pius and Gregory had worked to reform the papal court and church, they had largely ignored the area of Italy which they controlled, the Papal States. These had run wild with bandits, but Sixtus cleaned them up with fairly brutal force. He then went on a building spree, beautifying Rome with new construction but trampling on the ancient structures. Sixtus also excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was busy administrating her own Church of England.

He ruled from 1585 to 1590.

Two Hundred Twenty-sixth Pope: Gregory XIII - 1 comments

Gregory, whose real first name was Ugo*, followed Pius V's lead and worked to reform the church. He's one of the few popes that has had a world-changing impact: he gave us the Gregorian calendar.

Before Gregory, Europe used the Julian calendar - which Julius Caesar put into effect in 45BC. That calendar lost a bit of time, but Gregory's contemporary Johannes Kepler pinpointed the errors and advised the church on a more accurate system. While Gregory promoted the new system, it took a few centuries to catch on throughout Europe.

*yes, Ugo. Awesome, no?

Two Hundred Twenty-fifth Pope: Pius V - 0 comments

Pius was a Dominican before his election, and he brought that Order's more stringent attitudes to the papal court. He worked hard to restore morality and encourage decent behavior among the clergy during his reign. He also wore the hallmark white clothing of the Dominicans, and every pope since then has adopted that pattern. He ruled from 1566 to 1572.

*This drawing is of his grave at the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It's a heavily decorated glass coffin, with a gold-plated statue reposing inside. Or - maybe a gold plated pope?