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Rome in a polite age: 18th century

By the time of the secular 18th century, the fervent certainties of the Catholic Reformation seem to verge on the impolite. Rome enjoys instead a quiet and prosperous existence as the destination of aristocratic Grand Tourists.

But the anti-clerical pressures of the time are a severe challenge to the power and prestige of the papacy. Clement XIII succeeds for a while in protecting the Jesuits (the most loyal of papal allies), but his successor Clement XIV succumbs to the combined demands of the Catholic monarchs of Portugal, France and Spain. He abolishes the order in 1773. Yet this is only a fraction of the damage which the papacy will suffer at French hands a few years later.

The French and Rome: 1793-1814

The papacy is ill-equipped to cope with either French revolutionary zeal or Napoleonic empire building. The years of French ascendancy are a long tale of disaster for Rome.

An incident of 1793 sets the tone. A French diplomat in Rome, Nicolas de Basseville, indulges in a provocative display of the tricolour, symbol of French anti-clerical republicanism. A Roman crowd attacks him and he dies the next day. Four years later, when Napoleon reaches as far south as Ancona in an advance on Rome, this incident remains a specific grievance for which France holds the pope responsible - demanding and receiving 300,000 livres as compensation for Basseville's family.

The pope who has to negotiate with Napoleon in 1797 is Pius VI. The price of persuading the French intruder to head north again, agreed in the peace of Tolentino, is a massive indemnity, the removal of many works of art from the Vatican collections and the surrender to France of Bologna, Ferrara and the Romagna.

This reduction of the papal states is only the beginning of Pius's troubles. In the last few days of 1797 a disturbance outside the French embassy in Rome results in the death of a French general. This is made the pretext for a French army to occupy Rome and to seize the pope, who is taken off to captivity in France - where he dies in 1799.

The new pope, Pius VII, is at first conciliatory towards Napoleon. He agrees the concordat of 1801. He travels to Paris in 1804 to officiate at Napoleon's imperial coronation. But by 1808 relations have deteriorated. The pope annoys Napoleon by refusing to sanction the annulment of his brother Jerome's marriage and, perhaps more significantly, by not bringing the ports of the papal states into the Continental System.

The result is that a French army occupies Rome in February 1808. In the following month another section of the papal states (the Marches) is annexed to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy.

Napoleon follows up these affronts by annexing in 1809 all that remains of the papal states, including the city of Rome, and by announcing that the pope no longer has any form of temporal authority. Pius VII responds by an immediate use of his spiritual authority, excommunicating Napoleon himself and everyone else connected with this outrage. He is immediately arrested and removed to imprisonment in France.

These are the events which bring the entire Italian peninsula under French control by 1809. The situation remains unchanged until after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in 1813 - an event followed by Austrian recovery of much of Italy and a subsequent seal of approval at the congress of Vienna.

Restoration, revolution, reduction: 1814-1870

The congress of Vienna restores the papacy, like other temporal powers, to its pre-Napoleonic territories. Pius VII returns from imprisonment in France to an ecstatic welcome in the papal states. One of his first actions proves him in sympathy with the spirit of the times. Turning the clock back to the days before enlightenment and revolution, he restores in 1814 the Jesuit order.

The Jesuits are linked with two themes which will eventually characterize the 19th-century papacy - a renewal of the Catholic missionary effort around the world, and the insistence on strong papal authority.

During the reigns of Leo XII (1823-9) and Gregory XVI (1831-46) Rome becomes strongly identified with the anti-liberal sentiments of most of the ruling European houses of the day. The election of Pius IX in 1846 seems to promise a less reactionary papacy, but the new pope and his liberal sentiments are together swept away in the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 - which sees him briefly exiled from Rome, until he is restored to his see by a French army.

Pius observes with passive distaste the movement which delivers by 1861 a secular united Italy. He is insulated from the unfolding events because a French garrison remains in Rome to protect him. But in 1870 he loses this shield.

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war means that the French garrison is hurriedly withdrawn from Rome, in August 1870. The French defeat at Sedan in September is immediately followed by the deposing of the emperor Napoleon III. Nothing now remains to deter the Italian state from seizing the holy city. Troops break in through the Porta Pia on September 20.

In October a plebiscite in Rome and the surrounding Campagna results in a vote for union with the kingdom of Italy. Pius IX refuses to accept this act of force majeure. He remains in his palace, describing himself as a prisoner in the Vatican.

The provisional capital of Italy since 1865 has been Florence, in an attempt to appease those nationalists who resent the usurping of their cause by the northern kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Now, in 1871, the Italian government moves to the banks of the Tiber. Victor Emmanuel instals himself in the Quirinale Palace. Rome becomes once again, for the first time in thirteen centuries (since the dying gasp of the western empire in the reign of Odoacer), the capital city of a united Italy.

It is unusual among capital cities only in that it contains a powerful figure and a small parcel of land (the pope in the Vatican) beyond national control. This anomaly is not formally resolved until the concordat of 1929.

But Pius has been strongly asserting another form of authority. As temporal power drains away (and it has been known for some years that the French garrison will soon be withdrawn), he has been redefining the Catholic church as a firm bulwark against the liberal and scientific trends of the period.

The first Vatican Council convenes in Rome in December 1869. Seven months later, on 18 July 1870, the prelates assembled in St Peter's accept an uncompromising dogma - that the pope, when speaking from his throne on a matter of faith or morals, is inspired by God and is therefore infallible.

Papal infallibility is merely the most striking example of the authoritarian stance now being established. The direction in which Pius IX is taking the church is made very plain in a document of 1864 known simply as the Syllabus. It is a list of eighty modern errors. They include such broad topics as socialism, civil marriage and secular education.

The final error is the most sweeping of all. It is the concept that 'the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to and agree with progress, liberalism and modern civilization'.

This History is as yet incomplete.

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