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Benedict XIV - A Noted Writer

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Son of Marcello Lambertini and Lucretia Bulgarini, b. at Bologna 31 March, 1675; d. 3 May, 1758. His early education was received from tutors. At the age of thirteen he went to the Collegium Clementianum in Rome where he studied rhetoric, philosophy, and theology. St. Thomas Aquinas was his favourite author, but the bent of his own mind was towards historical and legal studies in which latter he excelled, as well in civil as in ecclesiastical law. In 1694, though only nineteen, he received the degree of Doctor of Theology and Doctor Utriusque Juris (canon and civil law). On the death of Innocent XII he was made consistorial advocate by Clement XI, and shortly afterwards Consultor of the Holy Office. In 1708 he was appointed Promotor of the Faith; in 1712 canon theologian at the Vatican and assessor of the Congregation of Rites; in 1713 he was named domestic prelate; in 1718 secretary of the Congregation of the Council; and in 1725 titular Bishop of Theodosia. He was made Bishop of Ancona in 1727 and cardinal 30 April, 1728. He was transferred to the Archbishopric of Bologna in April, 1731, in succession to Lorenzo Corsini who had become pope as Clement XII.

Benedict XIV is best known to history as a student and a scholar. Though by no means a genius, his enormous application coupled with more than ordinary cleverness of mind made him one of the most erudite men of his time and gave him the distinction of being perhaps the greatest scholar among the popes. His character was many­sided, and his range of interests large. His devotion to science and the serious investigation of historical problems did not interfere with his purely literary studies. "I have been reproached", he once said, "because of my familiarity with Tasso and Dante and Ariosto, but they are a necessity to me in order to give energy to my thought and life to my style." This devotion to the arts and sciences brought Lambertini throughout his whole life into close and friendly contact with the most famous authors and scholars of his time. Montfaucon, whom he knew in Rome, said of him, "Young as he is, he has two souls: one for science, the other for society." This last characterization did not interfere with his restless activity in any of the many important positions which he was called on to fill, nor did it diminish his marvellous capacity for the most arduous work.

The zeal and energy which Lambertini carried to this office infused new life into all his subjects. He himself explained his assiduity by saying that he looked on the episcopate not as an honour, but as an opportunity to do good. His administration was exemplary: he visited all parts of his diocese, held synods, incited the people to piety by word and example, and supervised the affairs of his diocese so thoroughly that nothing needing change or correction escaped him. His humility and vast learning were a source of inspiration and strength to his clergy, and his broad firm grasp of public affairs and public questions gave him a position of unique influence among rulers and people. In his opinion the foundation of success in episcopal administration was thorough harmony between bishop and clergy, and this he succeeded in obtaining. Because of his wonderful gifts and his extraordinary success as Bishop of Ancona, Pope Benedict XIII wished to transfer him to some position of greater responsibility affording a wider field for the display of his powers and activity, but he replied in his usual jocose vein that no change of place could make him other than he was, cheerful, joyous, and the friend of the pope. When he was transferred to Bologna in 1731 his energies and activities seemed to redouble. He became all things to all men and is said to have never allowed anyone to leave his presence dissatisfied or in anger, and without being strengthened and refreshed by his wisdom, advice, or admonitions. His efforts were largely directed to the improvement of clerical education in his diocese. He reformed the programme of studies in his seminary and drew up a new curriculum in which special stress was laid on the study of Sacred Scripture and patrology.

When Clement XII died (6 February, 1740) the fame of Lambertini was at its highest. Through intrigues of various kinds the conclave which commenced on 17 February lasted for six months. It was composed of fifty­four cardinals of whom forty­six were Italians, three French, four Spanish, and one German. These were split into several parties. One was composed of those who had been appointed by Clement XI, Innocent XIII, and Benedict XIII; another of those appointed by Clement XII who were known as the new college. The long, tedious session and the intense heat did not improve the temper of the cardinals; after six months of fruitless effort and constant intrigue, the election seemed no nearer than in the beginning. Various expedients were suggested, such as the withdrawal of the names of the leading candidates and the substitution of others, but without avail. After several plans had been tried to end the deadlock, Lambertini, whose name had been proposed as a compromise, addressed the conclave, saying: "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldobrandini; an honest man, elect me." These words spoken as much perhaps in jest as in earnest helped to end the difficulty. Lambertini was chosen and took the name of Benedict XIV in honour of his friend and patron Benedict XIII. As pope, Lambertini was no less energetic, brave, and unassuming than before his election. His great learning placed him in a position to deal successfully with ecclesiastical situations that needed reformation, and the broad Christian spirit which animated his dealings with foreign powers removed the pressure and hostility of even Protestant courts and rulers. He was undoubtedly liberal in his political dealings, though he never lost sight of the essential interests of the Church and religion.


To go to the extreme limit of concession and conciliation seems to have been the principle that dominated all Benedict's actions in his negotiations with governments and rulers, so much so, indeed, that he has not escaped criticism even from those within the Church as being too prone to settle difficulties by making concessions or compromises. However his actions may be judged, whatever may be thought of his motives, it cannot be denied that he aimed constantly at peace and that few causes of friction remained after the close of his administration. Moreover, in estimating the value and effect of his concessions, it is seen that in nearly every case he strengthened the moral influence of the papacy even though some rights of patronage or other material interests were abandoned. Nor was his influence less potent among Protestant than Catholic rulers; the universal esteem in which he was held throughout the world meant much in an epoch, the close of which was to witness the disruption of many time­honoured institutions, social and political as well as religious. An enumeration of his principal dealings with the heads of states will show that Benedict wisely abandoned, in most cases, the shadow of temporal authority to maintain the substance of spiritual supremacy.

The King of Portugal received the right of patronage over all the sees and abbeys in his kingdom (1740) and was further favoured with the title of Rex Fidelissimus (1748). In the matter of church revenues and the allotment of ecclesiastical benefices Spain was also treated very generously. In 1741 permission was granted to tax the income of the clergy, and in 1753 the Government received the right of nomination to nearly all the Spanish benefices; in 1754 an agreement was ratified by which the revenues from all the benefices in Spain and in the American colonies were paid into the government treasury to carry on the war against the African pirates. The King of Sardinia received the title of Vicar of the Holy See which carried with it the right of nomination to all the ecclesiastical benefices in his dominions and the income of the pontifical fiefs in lieu of which a yearly indemnity of one thousand ducats was to be paid. Through the mediation of the pope a tribunal was established in Naples consisting of an equal number of clerical and lay members presided over by an ecclesiastic, which formed the final court for the trial of ecclesiastical cases. As mediator between the Kinghts of Malta and the King of Naples the pope brought a long standing controversy to a happy termination. By the Encyclical "Ex omnibus christiani orbis" (16 October, 1756), the bitter controversy regarding the question of admitting to the sacraments persons who would not accept the Bull "Unigenitus" was brought to a close. While insisting on the authority of the "Unigenitus" and pointing out that it was the duty of all the faithful to accept it with veneration, the pope decrees that only those persons should be excluded from the sacraments whose opposition to the pontifical constitution was public and notorious, and who therefore should be regarded as public enemies. The title of King of Prussia, taken in 1701 by the Elector of Brandenburg, was recognized by Benedict against the vigorous opposition of many members of the Curia. He was referred to as the sage par excellence by Maria Theresa, and received many encomiums from the sultan to whom he playfully referred in his writings as the "Good Turk". At the close of his pontificate the only question of importance in the foreign relations of the Holy See which had not been successfully settled was that concerning the Patriarchate of Aquileia over which the Republic of Venice and the emperor claimed control. Benedict decided that the rights of the patriarchate should be divided between the Archbishopric of Görz, in Austria, and that of Udine in the Venetian States. This decision was regarded as unjust by Venice, which in retaliation decreed that no Bull, Brief, or communication of the Holy See should be promulgated within the jurisdiction of the Republic without the supervision and approval of the Government.


As temporal sovereign Benedict governed the States of the Church with wisdom and moderation and introduced many reforms for the purpose of diminishing abuses and promoting the happiness and prosperity of the people. With a view to replenishing the treasury which had been exhausted by the extravagance of some of his predecessors, especially that of Benedict XIII under the influence of Cardinal Coscia, and because of the enormous outlay for public buildings under Clement XII, he made no promotions to the Sacred College for four years. Measures were set on foot to reform the nobility, a new regional division of the city was introduced for the purpose of greater administrative efficiency, agriculture was fostered and encouraged by the introduction of new and improved methods, commerce was promoted, and luxury restrained, while the practice of usury, against which he published the Encyclical Vix Pervenit (1745), was almost entirely suppressed. Benedict abandoned none of the claims of his predecessors, but the liberal use of his powers had no other aim than the promotion of the arts of peace and industry. How serious the problem was is best seen from his own words: "The pope orders, the cardinals do not obey, and the people do as they please."

In purely spiritual and religious matters the influence of Benedict left a lasting impress on the entire Church and its administration. His Bulls and Encyclicals, which have played such an important part in defining and clarifying obscure and difficult points of ecclesiastical law, were learned treatises full of wisdom and scholarship. The vexed question of mixed marriages, unions between Catholics and Protestants, demanded settlement in consequence of the increasing frequency with which they occurred. Much of the bitterness of the Reformation time had passed away and Protestants sought to have their marriages with Catholics solemnized with ceremonies equal to those when both parties were Catholics. Though the doctrine prevailed in Rome that the contracting parties were the real ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony, no general unanimity prevailed among theologians on this point. Without derogating in the least from this theory, Benedict in reply to the questions from bishops in many places, especially in Holland and Poland, decreed by the Bull "Magnæ nobis admirationis" (29 June, 1748) that mixed marriages were allowable only under certain well­defined conditions, the principal of which was that children born of those marriages should be brought up in the Catholic Faith, but that such marriages while tolerated, should never be performed with the ceremonies that imply formal ecclesiastical approval.


Under the skilful hand of Benedict a formal union was consummated with some of the Eastern Churches. The frequent attempts of the Greek Melchite Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem to obtain recognition from the Holy See did not for a long time result in any definite union, because of dissatisfaction on the part of the popes with the formulation of the Oriental creeds. In 1744, Benedict XIV sent the pallium to Seraphin Tanas whom he acknowledged as Patriarch of the Greek Melchites of Antioch. The conflicts in the Maronite Church, after the deposition of Jacob II, which seriously threatened its unity were settled in a national council (1736), the decrees of which were approved by Benedict. On 18 March, 1751, he renewed the prohibitions of Clement XII against the Freemasons, and though very few governments regarded the suppression of this society as demanding decisive action on their part, laws were at once passed by Spain and Naples, and in 1757 by Milan. The controversy in regard to Chinese and Malabar customs, or the system of accommodation to heathenism which some missionaries had permitted their converts to practice, and by which it was said that pagan ideas and pagan practices had been grafted on Christianity, was terminated by Benedict XIV who issued two Bulls on the subject, and required the missionaries to take an oath that such abuses would not be tolerated in the future. The Bull "Ex quo singulari", in regard to the abuses in China, was published 11 July, 1742; that in regard to Malabar, "Omnium sollicitudinum", 12 September, 1744. (See CHINA, INDIA.) Because of the manner in which church festivals had been multiplied, Benedict strove to diminish them. This he did in Spain in 1742, in Sicily and Tuscany in 1748, and later in Sardinia, Austria, and the Papal States. Such a move met with much opposition from many cardinals. Benedict silenced their reproaches by saying that fewer feasts observed in a more Christian manner would contribute more to the glory of religion.


In liturgical matters Benedict XIV was extremely conservative. He viewed with grief the profound changes which had been introduced into the Roman Calendar since the time of Pius V. The increase in the number of Feasts of Saints and the multiplication of offices with the rank of Duplex had superseded the old ferial and dominical offices, and throughout his entire pontificate he set himself determinedly against the introduction of any new offices in the Breviary, a policy which he adhered to so strictly that the only change it underwent during his administration was that Leo the Great received the title of Doctor. So profoundly impressed was he with the necessity of a thorough revision of the Breviary which would eliminate those portions with which the critical sense of the eighteenth century found fault that he commissioned the Jesuit, Fabio Danzetto, to prepare a report on the subject. This report in four volumes of notes was of such a sweeping character that it is said to have caused Benedict to desist from his project. The plan of reforming the Roman Martyrology was, however, carried to a successful issue, and a new edition was published by his authority in Rome in 1748. The same is true of the "Cæremoniale Episcoporum", which Benedict XIII undertook to reform and which Benedict XIV published (1752) in the now usual form. The classical work of Benedict on liturgical matters is his "De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione" which still regulates the process of beatification and canonization. Other important liturgical writings of Benedict deal with the sacrifice of the Mass and the feasts of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and some saints. Besides these he published numerous works on the rites of the Greeks and Orientals; Bulls and Briefs on the celebration of the octave of the Holy Apostles, against the use of superstitious images, on the blessing of the pallium, against profane music in churches, on the golden rose, etc.

In order that the clergy should not be deficient in ecclesiastical and historical science, and that they might not lack opportunity to profit by the intellectual progress of the period, he founded at Rome four academies for the study of Roman antiquities, Christian antiquities, the history of the Church and the councils, and the history of canon law and liturgy. He also established a Christian museum, and commissioned Joseph Assemani to prepare a catalogue of the manuscripts in the Vatican Library, which he enriched by the purchase of the Ottobonian Library containing 3,300 MSS. of unique value and importance. He founded chairs of chemistry and mathematics in the Roman university known as the Sapienza, and many others for painting, sculpture, etc., at other schools. Over all these foundations he exercised the closest supervision; he also found time to carry out many schemes for the building and adornment of churches in Rome. The fact that Benedict never raised a Jesuit to the cardinalate is attributed to his hostility to the Society; on the other hand, it must be noted that it was to a Jesuit, Emmanuel Azevedo, that he committed the complete edition of his works (1747-51). He had been long urged by his friends Cardinals Passionei and Archinto to order a thorough reformation of that body, but it was not until the last year of his life that any decisive action was taken. On 1 April, 1758, he issued a Brief by which Cardinal Saldanha was commissioned to inspect all the colleges and houses of the Society in Portugal, and to undertake a reform of the same, but this authority was withdrawn by his successor, Clement XIII.

Benedict XIV sought recreation in the society of learned men and artists, among whom he shone as a wit and a scholar. Gay, lively, and talkative, his conversation at times amazed, if it did not shock, the staid sensibilities of some of the dignified courtiers who came in contact with him. Mild and gracious in his demeanour to all who approached him, the pope was at times lacking neither in energy nor spirit. On one occasion a violent scene took place in which the pope expressed in a most decided manner his disapproval of the tactics of the French court. Choiseul, the French ambassador, called at the Vatican to request that the appointment of Cardinal Archinto to succeed Cardinal Valenti as Secretary of State be deferred until after some matters in which the French king was interested were decided. Choiseul himself gives an account of this scene (Letters, p. 169), without, however, relating all the details. The conversation was more lively than Choiseul reported, and from the "Mémoires" of the Baron de Besonval (p. 106) we learn that when the pope had grown tired of the importunities of Choiseul he seized him by the arm and pushing him into his own seat said: "Be pope yourself" (Fa el Papa). Choiseul replied: "No, Holy Father, let us each do his part. You continue to be pope and I shall be ambassador." This brusqueness, however, was not usual with Benedict. He could be gay as well as serious. The Abbate Galiani once presented him with a collection of minerals saying: Dic ut lapides isti panes fiant (Command that these stones be made bread), and the hint was not lost. The miracle requested was performed and the abbé received a pension.

To his subjects Benedict was an idol. If they complained at times that he wrote too much and governed them too little, they all agreed that he spoke well and wittily, and his jokes and bon mots were the delight of Rome. Cares of state, after his elevation to the pontificate prevented him from devoting himself as much as he would have wished to his studies of former days; but he never lacked intellectual stimulus. He surrounded himself with such men as Quirini, Garampi, Borgia, Muratori, and carried on an active correspondence with scholars of many shades of opinion. His intellectual pre­eminence was not only a source of pride to Catholics, but formed a strong bond with many not of the Faith. Voltaire dedicated to him his "Mahomet" with the words: "Au chef de la véritable religion un écrit contre le fondateur d'une religion fausse et barbare". On another occasion he composed for a portrait of the pope the following distich:

Lambertinus hic est, Romæ decus, et pater orbis
Qui mundum scriptis docuit, virtutibus ornat.

(This is Lambertini, the pride of Rome, the father of the world,
who teaches that world by his writings and honours by his virtues.)

The distich caused discussion regarding the quantity of "hic", but the pope defended the prosody of Voltaire who confirmed his opinion by a quotation from Virgil which he said ought to be the epitaph of Benedict.

Great as a man, a scholar, an administrator, and a priest, Benedict's claim to immortality rests principally on his admirable ecclesiastical writings. The most important of them, besides those already mentioned, are: "Institutiones Ecclesiasticæ", written in Italian, but translated into Latin by P. Ildephonsus a S. Carolo; it is a collection of 107 documents, principally pastoral letters, letters to bishops and others, independent treatises, instructions, etc., all of which are really scientific dissertations on subjects connected with church law or the care of souls; the classical work "De Synodo Dioecesanâ", published after his elevation to the papacy, an adaptation to diocesan administration of the general ecclesiastical law; this book is called by Schulte, because of its influence, one of the most important, if not the most important, modern work in canon law; "Casus Conscientiæ de mandato Prosp. Lambertini Archiep. Bonon propositi et resoluti", valuable for the lawyer as well as the confessor; "Bullarum Benedicti XIV", which contains the legislation of his pontificate, many of its documents being scientific treatises. He also compiled a "Thesaurus Resolutionum Sacræ Congregationis Concilii", the first attempt at a scientific presentation of the "Praxis" of the Roman Congregations. A complete edition of his works appeared at Rome (1747-51) in twelve folio volumes, by Emmanuel Azevedo, S. J., who also translated into Latin the Italian documents. A better and more complete edition is that of Venice, 1788. The latest and most serviceable (Prato, 1844) is in seventeen volumes. Some letters of Benedict were published by Kraus: "Briefe Benedicts XIV an den Canonicus Pier Francesco Peggi in Bologna (1729-1758) nebst Benedicts Diarium des Conclaves von 1740" (2d ed., Freiburg, 1888). Cf. Batiffol, "Inventaire des lettres inédites du Pape Bénoit XIV" (Paris, 1894); R. De Martinis, "Acta Benedicti XIV"; (Naples, 1884, passim). In 1904 Heiner edited three hitherto unpublished treatises of Benedict XIV on rites, the feasts of the Apostles, and the Sacraments.

The best account of the writings of Benedict and the sources for his life are contained in the above­mentioned work of KRAUS. See also GUARNACCHI, Vitæ et res gestæ Romanor. Pontif. et Card. a Clem. X usque ad Clem XI (Rome, 1857); NOVAES, Storia de' Sommi Pontefici (Rome, 1822); RANKE, Die röm. Päpste in den letzten vier Jahrh. (Leipzig, ed. 1900); Vie du Pape Bened. XIV (Paris, 1783); GRÖNE, Papst­Geschichte (Ratisbon, 1875), II. For a long account of the Curia and the character of the cardinals in the time of Benedict XIV, see CHOISEUL, Lettres et Mémoires inédites, publiées par Maurice Boutry (Paris, 1895). On Benedict as a canonist see SCHULTE, Gesch. der Quellen und Litt. des can. Rechts (Stuttgart, 1880), III, 503 sqq.

Transcribed by WGKofron
With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II
Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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