(Blessed) Pope Pius IX (13 May 1792 – 7 February 1878), born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the 2nd longest reigning Pope (or Bishop of Rome) in the history of the Catholic Church. Only the Apostle Peter is said to have served in the capacity longer. Many today do not know anything of the man, but it is clear he is one of the most powerful men of the past two centuries.
When we say “powerful”, we measure that via scale of influence amongst others in the world at that time, and of the era following their death. This influence could very well be in a negative fashion, and the persons could indeed be quite controversial. Who might, then, be the most powerful or influential men of the past 150 years? There are many that could be considered: Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, etc. But Pope Pius the 9th should be on that short list, and worthy for Christians and historians to study.
The Significance of the Pope
Every Pope is typically amongst the most influential persons in the world during their generation or decade. In a direct sense, the Bishop of Rome is the spiritual leader and shepherd for about 18% of the world population. In a more indirect and arguable manner, the Pope is the most recognizable Christian leader, and Christians currently account for about 31% of the world.
In addition to this fact, Pope Pius was the last Pope to have temporal (or governmental) powers. During his reign, he was the head of the Papal States- a portion of Italy which took up about 25% of the modern-day country. He was the true Chief Executive/ Administrator of territories and the government needed to manage those citizens. In a way, this could be called by many a theocracy- which most in the Western world today shun. There is inherent danger in a theocracy; combining spiritual/ religious/ moral power with the government and taxation and civil punishments and all that will bring. In a non-benevolent scenario, a theocracy can quickly become deadly for some of its citizens.
In any case, Pope Pius ruled over the Papal States up until its military take-over in 1870. Early in his papacy the Pope had to literally flee in order to save his own life due to a rebellion; he did this under disguise. Imagine the media circus if something like that were to happen in 2012!
The Pope was the center of controversy and debate for much of his papacy. The Catholic Church has declared him “Blessed” which is one step below that of a “Saint”. This has been agreed to after nearly 100 years of studying his life, his holiness, and via the prolonged canonization process.
Here in the U.S. in the 1850’s, the “No-Nothing” Party attracted quite a following and one of its key platforms (unofficially) was a very anti-Catholic and anti-Pope stance. How many relevant political parties are started as a result of one man living 6,000 miles away?
In compiling some research for this article, I stumbled upon a controversial website called one-evil.org. Allegedly it studies and calls out evil in the world, at least according to its owner/ webmaster. From my reading of the site it appears extremely anti-Catholic, but nonetheless it “ranks” Pope Pius IX as the 18th “most evil” person ever. This is a curious selection, and list. Other names on their list include Mao Zedong, Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and St. Vlad Dracula. (Writer’s Note: I disagree strongly with Pius being included on this list with many of these other names- however wanted to share this information to help show that Pius was a divisive and powerful figure.)
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Christians off all types- mainly Protestants but also some Catholics- have had trouble with some of the writings and declarations of Pope Pius. These issues and debates are still strongly contested to this day.
One is the dogma of papal infallibility, which declares that the Pope, when acting in his official role and when in agreement with the (Catholic) Church’s selected bishops, is infallible (incapable of being wrong) when he is speaking about morals or other issues or questions of Faith. This declaration and stance has increased the divide amongst many Protestants and Catholics worldwide.
The other controversial statement is that of the Immaculate Conception of Mary; here Pius declares as an official Church teaching that Mary was born without original sin, free from the “stain” of all other men and women who have lived. Readers can research this dogma, and that of papal infallibility, on their own and make their own determinations.
To surmise, Pope Pius IX left an indelible mark on the world, and especially on Christians. Whether one agrees with the Pope or the Catholic Church in general, learning about the life of this man would be a worthy subject in order to better understand where Christianity is today.
(A note from Pastor Duke: The study of church history is an important part of understanding your Christian faith. If we do not understand where we have came from we do not understand why some things have came to pass. To exclude or ignore the role the Catholic church has played in church history would be remiss and incomplete. However the study of something does not equal an endorsement of something. This website is neither pro-Catholic nor anti-Catholic. This website endorses an Evangelical theology and as such does come into disagreement with certain Catholic doctrines.)