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Benedict XIII

by Catherine Frakas 13 May 2003

Benedict XIII

Vincenzo Maria Orsini born 1649

Benedict XIII belonged to the illustrious Orsini family, which counted among its members eighteen saints, five pontiffs, and forty cardinals. His original name was Vincenzo Maria Orsini. He was the eldest son of Ferdinand X Orsini, Duke of Gravina, and Jane Frangipani de la Tolfa, daughter of the Duke of Grumo.

Vincenzo Maria was born on the 2nd of February, 1649, at Gravina, a city of the kingdom of Naples, in the territory of Bari. He renounced the rights of primogeniture that belonged to him, refused a noble establishment which was offered to him by his parents, and set out for Venice, where he entered the order of Saint Dominic. Then, abandoning to his brother all his rights, he made his profession on the 13th of February, 1668. Brother Vincenzo Maria applied himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures, the councils, an. ecclesiastical annals, principally the works of Baronius, which he read from beginning to end twenty-four times.

Clement X created Vincenzo Maria a cardinal on the 22nd of February, 1672, while he was still studying in the convent of Bologna, and was only twenty-three years of age; and even then he had already three times refused the purple. Nor did he finally accept it till the pope and Roccaberti, the general of the Dominicans, gave him the formal order to submit to the will of the pope in virtue of his vow of obedience.

On the 17th of January, 1675, the new cardinal was named Archbishop of Manfredonia, in the kingdom of Naples, whence he was transferred to the bishopric of Benevento.

On the 20th of March, 1724, the sacred electors to the number of thirty-one entered into conclave. Two months were spent in weighing the merits of the candidates.

The national cardinals put forward Cardinal Piazza, while others supported Cardinal Gazzadini. Finally, on the 29th of March, a day when fifty-three cardinals were present, fifty-two were unanimously in favor of Cardinal Orsini—his own vote, which he gave to Cardinal Paolucci, being the only one against him.

For more than one whole day Orsini resisted, although the Jesuit, Cardinal Tolomei, endeavored to prove to him that ought to accept. Tolomei feared that a schism would be the consequence of any further delay in the election. Orsini still refused. Even as cardinal he had continued to recognize as his superior the Dominican general of his order, and now general was called into the conclave, and he was requested to order Orsini, in virtue of the rules of obedience, as had been done to cause him to accept the purple, to submit to the wishes of the fifty-two cardinals who had elected him.

Orsini, at the first words of his general, bowed his head to the divine will, begged the cardinal penitentiary to absolve him from the promise he had secretly made to God not to accept of any dignity, and received the tiara, under the name of Benedict XIII, in memory of Benedict XI, a pontiff of most holy life, and who had also belonged to the order of Saint Dominic.

From the conclave Benedict, placed on the sedia gestatoria, was carried to the Vatican Basilica. There, in spite of etiquette, he alighted and kissed the threshold of the door. Then he went on foot to the altar of the Blessed Sacrament. In vain the masters of the ceremonies represented to the pope that he was departing from the established custom. Benedict replied: "We are not worthy to sweep this sacred temple." Then it seemed to the masters of the ceremonies that the Ecce sacerdos magnus should not be sung, for they shudderingly said, Why sing "Behold the high priest," when none will see him?

When the pope was conducted to the Vatican, he at first refused to pass the night in the bed appropriated to the pontiff, but at last he consented to do so, and thus passed the first night. On the second night he had his convent bed brought to him, with its woollen sheets and coarse coverings. During three days he refused to give audiences, spending his whole time in prayer.

On the 4th of June Benedict was crowned, and on the 24th of September he took possession of Saint John Lateran.

When he first went out, on the 11th of June, the pope visited the hospital of the Holy Ghost, where he administered the Viaticum to a dying man.

On the 26th of June he had published a new universal jubilee, in order to ask the favor of God for the new reign.

On the feast of Saint Dominic he visited the Minerva, the convent of his order, and dined with the brethren in refectory. On Saint Francis of Assisi's day he was present in the church of Aracoeli, and dined with the religious, but wore the Dominican habit. Often during his promenades, when he left Rome, and he was asked for the benediction on a patient who was at the point of death, he alighted from his carriage and hastened to the sufferer, an act which excited the great joy of the people, whose applause he received with the most profound humility.

On Saint Peter's eve, Constable Colonna, ambassador extraordinary from the court of Naples, could not present to the pope, who was ill, the tribute of the palfrey for the fief of the Two Sicilies. That ceremony, therefore, was deferred till the 8th of September, when it took place in the church del Popolo.

At that moment the pope thought fit to grant to the four principal patriarchs, those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, the use of the mozzetta over the violet mantelletta; whence it results that in Advent and Lent there is no difference between the vestment of the patriarchs and that of the cardinals, who at that season do not wear the purple.

It is known that differences still existed in relation to the usurpation of Comacchio, occupied by the emperor. That prince restored it on the 20th of February, 1725.

The same year Benedict, with exemplary piety, celebrated the sixteenth ordinary jubilee of the holy year, which he had announced on the 26th of June of the preceding year.

The cares demanded by ecclesiastical discipline frequently absorbed all this pontiff's hours. He celebrated a provincial council in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, composed exclusively of Italian bishops. It commenced on the 15th of April, and terminated on the 29th of May.

In the council there were thirty cardinals, six archbishops, thirty-eight bishops, three regular abbots, and thirty-five proxies of absent bishops. It declared that the bull Unigenitus was a rule of faith, and condemned all writings that were published against that bull.

On the 23rd of March, by order of Benedict, five Roman knights, deputed by the conservators and the senator of Rome, Mario Frangipani, crowned with laurel Bernardine Perfetti, knight of Saint Stephen, a Siennese, who among the Arcadians had the name of Alaurus of the Eurotas.The Holy Father received the Laureate with great demonstrations of kindness, sent him presents, and gave him the right to Roman citizenship. Rome had not witnessed that ceremony since the coronation of Petrarch, and did not see it again till the poetess Corilla was crowned on the 1st of August, 1776.

On Corpus Christi Benedict departed from the custom carrying the Blessed Sacrament kneeling on a platform borne on the shoulders of the grooms; he carried it on foot the whole length of Saint Peter's Square, in the route usually taken by the procession.

By a single bull, but with various solemnities, Benedict canonized ten beatified servants of God, including Saint James della Marca, a Franciscan; Saint Agnes of Montepulciano; Pellegrino Laziosi, a Servite; John of the Cross, a Carmelite, founder and companion of Saint Teresa in the reform of the barefooted Carmelites; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga of the Society of Jesus; Saint Stanislas Kostzka, novice of the Society of Jesus, who died at the age of eighteen, after ten months' novitiate; and Saint John Nepomucene, confessor of Queen Jane of Bohemia, martyred for refusing to reveal her confession, one of the most courageous priests of whom Catholicism can boast.

Benedict also canonized, but by equipollent canonization, Saint Gregory VII, the Roman pontiff. From time immemorial that pope had received the cultus rendered to canonized saints.

Anastasius IV, when adorning the oratory of Saint Nicholas, bishop, caused Gregory VII to be painted there with the title of saint. The name of that pontiff was placed by Gregory XIII in the Roman Martyrology of 1584, and preserved in that which was printed under Sixtus V.

Pope Paul V, considering that the body of that saint, five hundred years after his death, had been found almost entire, and still dressed in the pontifical habit, as related by the Bollandists, granted his office to the church and the clergy of Salerno, and afterwards to the chapter of Sienna. Finally, Benedict XIII, by a decree of the 25th of September, 1756, ordered as of precept (in which consists the equipollent canonization) that throughout the Church the office and the Mass of Saint Gregory VII should be celebrated on the 25th of May, as a double.

The second saint canonized by the equipollent canonization was Saint Wenceslas, martyr.

Some African bishops, during the persecution by the Vandals, towards the close of the fifth century, having removed the body of Saint Augustine from Hippo, where he was buried, to the island of Sardinia, where those prelates had taken shelter. Luitprand, King of the Lombards, when the Saracens invaded Sardinia, redeemed the body of the holy doctor, and conducting it in solemn pomp to Pavia, enshrined it in the Church of Saint Peter in Coelo Aureo. The sacred body was found on the 1st of October, 1695, after all trace of it had for a long time been lost. The regular canons of Saint Augustine published an authentic account of that discovery.

A controversy then arose between the Augustine hermits and the regular canons, as to whether the discovered body was really that of the holy doctor, the former denying and the latter affirming it.

Benedict directed the Bishop of Pavia, Monsignor Pertusati, to make a strict examination. The prelate declared that, in his opinion, the body was certainly that of Saint Augustine, and Benedict, by a bull of the 22nd of September, 1728, approved the bishop's opinion, and ordered perpetual silence as to that controversy.

From 1226 the Carmelites alone had performed the office of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On the 6th of July, 1728, Benedict by a decree extended the office to the whole Pontifical States, and subsequently to all the Church.

On the 11th of September, 1726, Benedict created as cardinal Andrew Hercules de Fleury, born at Lodeve, in Languedoc, on the 23rd of June, 1653; successively canon of Montpellier and chaplain to the king; named in 1699, Louis XIV, Bishop of Frejus; then preceptor of Louis XV, president of the Posts, and subsequently, after the regency, prime minister of the kingdom during fourteen years; who died at the age of ninety, with the reputation of an exemplary ecclesiastic, a zealous pastor, and a statesman celebrated for his uprightness and disinterested conduct. No minister ever cost France less. He died poor. After paying the expense of his funeral there was scarcely enough to pay the small legacies he had imagined himself entitled to make. It was to this cardinal, who has not been sufficiently praised, that France owed the acquisition of Lorraine.

In the following promotion the pope named as cardinal Father Lorenzo Cozza, a Minor Observantine, who for six years had been guardian of the Holy Sepulchre. He was a religious of rare merit, piety, and courage.

Benedict XIII raised to five thousand three hundred crowns the ordinary allowance of the cardinals who had no private fortune. This nepotism of a novel description, in favor of the Sacred College, was an act of munificence, justice, and apostolic liberality. The cardinals could increase their almsgiving, and would not be found so cruelly destitute when circumstances should arise to demand those sacrifices to religion which they were always the first to offer.

It was at this precise period that Benedict XIII created as cardinal Prosper Lambertini, afterwards pope under the name of Benedict XIV.

Having resolved to visit Terracina, in order to inspect the Pontine marshes, Benedict embarked on one of the pontifical galleys. Two Barbary corsairs becoming aware of that imprudent voyage, which ought not to have been made with so little precaution, landed their crews at San Felicita; but they were too late to seize upon the person of the pope. What mischief would have accrued to the Holy See had the pontiff been seized and carried to Tunis, Tripoli, or Algiers!

It was for the sake of seeing again the cathedral of Benevento that Benedict XIII had quitted Rome.

Neapolitan troops received the pope at Gaeta with military pomp. He lodged with his Dominican brethren at Capua. On the 31st of March, 1727, he set out for Benevento, but stopped to pass the night at Cervinara, in that diocese. In the morning he was unable to proceed, in consequence of a heavy fall of snow. When the roads were clear, Benedict delivered a discourse to his chapter in the cathedral, taking for his text these words of the Gospel: "My sheep hear my voice." At Benevento, Benedict gave audience to all, consecrated churches, and assisted in choir. Subsequently he celebrated the ceremonies of the Holy Week, heard children's lessons, administered the sacraments, preached, waited upon the hospital table every day, washed the feet of the poor, and performed other acts of piety.

On the 12th of May Benedict left Benevento on his return to Rome. On reaching Epitaffio, which is on the frontier the State, he found the cardinal viceroy waiting for him, who paid him homage, as he had done in every part the territory dependent on Naples. Benedict on reaching the extreme frontier alighted from his carriage, kissed the ground, weeping as he did so, and went to pass the night Montesarchio. At Capua he again saw some of his Dominican brethren. At Teano he was received by the Franciscans; at Monte Cassino, by the worthy successors of Saint Benedict.

On the 19th, Benedict, assisted by the cardinal viceroy,seven archbishops, seven bishops, and seven Benedictine abbots, solemnly consecrated that august temple which was founded by Saint Benedict in 529; consecrated in 748 by Pope Saint Zachary, after the Lombard pillage; consecrated anew in 1061 by Alexander II, after it had been fired by the Saracens; and, finally, rebuilt after being almost totally destroyed by an earthquake. Benedict XIII, in order to perpetuate the memory of this third consecration, sent on the 27th of August to the abbot of that monastery, Sebastian Gadaleta, a brief which His Holiness confirmed the ancient privileges of the order and granted some additional favors.

On arriving at Veletri, the pope passed the night in palace of Prince Lancellotti, whose marquisate of Castelginnetto he had changed to a principality.

By the constitution Loca Sancta the Holy Father confirmed all the indulgences granted to those who visited the holy places of Palestine, and to the Franciscan friars, the zealous guardians of those places. Those indulgences are recorded in sixty-three bulls, emanating from his predecessors in the pontificate, which he enumerated, commencing with the reign of Gregory IX, in 1230.

There still existed in the Ceremoniale Episcoporum (Ceremonial of Bishops) many incorrect and scarcely intelligible passages in the editions issued by order of Clement VIII and Innocent X. The Holy Father, who had been a bishop for fifty years and was perfectly familiar with all customs, ordered all these passages to be made conformable to the ancient originals and explained in an absolutely correct manner, and required bishops in future to use only the ceremonial thus corrected.

At the solicitation of the general of the Minor Observantines, the pope, by a bull of the 1st of April, instituted in the convent of Aracoeli the confraternity of the congregation of the Virgin Mary, with the same indulgences which had been enjoyed by a society of the same name in the Church of Saint Laurence in Damaso, but which had been suppressed; and he gave the Franciscans power to bless the beads of the Immaculate Conception, to which he applied many indulgences.

After the death of Clement XI, who had endeavored, by the bull Unigenitus, to extinguish Jansenism, Innocent XIII had manifested the same sentiments—although, at the entreaty of the Cardinal de Rohan, he had promised not to take any new step in regard to the churches of France until King Louis XV was of age. To this agreement a condition was attached, namely, that the Jansenists should give the pope no reason to repent of having consented to it.

While Innocent adhered to this agreement, Monsignor IMaffei, nuncio in France, informed the Holy Father that the refractory bishops had published, in their dioceses, pastorals imbued with their old errors. Innocent wrote a brief to the king, and another to the regent, dated the 24th of March, 1722. In them he explained the reasons by which they might be induced to silence bishops who dared to brave the orders of their sovereign. Innocent was a pontiff who spoke little, but who well knew how to both think and speak to the purpose. He obtained the interference of the regent, and the bishops were silenced.

Benedict XIII, on succeeding to the pontificate, availed himself of an intimacy formed with Cardinal de Noailles during the conclave in which Innocent XII was elected, and since maintained, to induce that cardinal to withdraw his opposition to the bull Unigenitus.

Cardinal de Noailles was eighty years of age; he reflected with some alarm on the consequences of supporting the opposition of the four refractory bishops and other Jansenists. He addressed a letter to the pontiff, dated on the 19th of July, 1724, in which he promised to submit to the bull. He condemned Quesnel's Book of Moral Reflections, which he had formerly approved, as well as the hundred and one propositions drawn from it, condemning them in the same manner in which they were condemned by the bull. At the same time he revoked his pastoral of 1719, as well as everything published in his name against the bull.

The cardinal, not content with this, courageously confirmed by a pastoral his letter to the Holy Father. The pope greatly commended the cardinal for his resolution, grant him the jubilee which he solicited for Paris, only excluding from the jubilee those who were opposed to the bull Unigenitus.

This conduct of the cardinal produced a great effect at Rome. The bishops did not follow the cardinal in his obedience, as they had done in his opposition; the Bishop of Senez, especially, grew more and more obstinate and audacious.

De Tencin, Archbishop of Embrun, and therefore metropolitan of Senez, proposed the assembling of a council to compel the bishop to appear before it, for either condemnation or absolution.

Benedict, a zealous defender of the faith, approved the archbishop's proposal.

The king also lent his authority, promising to enforce whatever the assembled bishops should order, after it should be approved by the pope. The council was opened with sixteen bishops present. In the first session, the Bishop of Senez, Monsignor Soanen, an Oratorian, was summoned and compelled to appear. Accusations were produced against him. They consisted in proving that he was a zealous Jansenist; that he had written against the bull both before and after his appeal to a future general council; and, finally, that he had approved the condemned doctrines of Quesnel.

The bishop obstinately refused to make any defence, and denied the competency of the bishops to try him, appealing to a future council.

The bishops, however, suspended the bishop from his episcopal functions, and were of opinion that, in addition, he should be exiled to the abbey of Chaise Dieu, in Auvergne.

This sentence, with all the other decisions of the council, was approved by the Holy Father, and the King of France ordered the sentence to be carried out. Thus ended the history of the Jansenist appellants.

Clement XI had suppressed a tribunal called the Monarchy or Tribunal of Sicily; but his act led to troubles. Benedict XIII renewed a bull issued August 30, 1726. It contained, in thirty-five articles, rules for deciding ecclesiastical affairs in that kingdom, reserving the most important cases to the Holy See.

At this period there was an unforeseen opportunity for studying the disposition of Benedict XIII, upon which his successor Benedict XIV often modelled his own.

When Pampeluna was invaded by a contagious disease, the people assembled on the public square and made a vow that, if God would stay the ravages of the plague, no comedies whatever should be allowed to be performed in Pampeluna. The fury of the plague suddenly abated. The corregidor, or police magistrate, kept his word, and no more comedies were allowed. But some inhabitants complaint of the deprivation of their accustomed amusement, and demanded to be absolved from their vow. The question was referred to Rome. There it was decided that the theatre of the city being, for a long time past, one of the properties of the hospital for illegitimate children, it was wrong to diminish their means of support, and that means must be found to restore their property. But it was replied, by those who were opposed to theatrical performances, that the vow was good and ought to be fulfilled, because all comedies were improper.

Benedict decided that the Catholic king would never be inclined to allow improper comedies to be performed in his dominions, and absolved the inhabitants from their vow, on condition of their giving an alms to the poor of not less than five hundred dollars.

The Diet of Grodno, in Poland, had established five laws, as injurious to ecclesiastical liberty as to the apostolic nunciature, at that time held by Monsignor Vincent Santini. The complaints made by the Holy Father to the king and to the primates of the kingdom proving useless, His Holiness declared those laws null and void, and pronounced censures against all who had taken part in forming them.

The pontiffs being by their immense occupations prevented from attending to all confidential causes, Pius IV had instituted an auditor-general delle confidenze. Saint Pius V confirmed, and Sixtus V extended his jurisdiction. Subsequently it was decided that this auditor should renounce his office. Then Benedict, by a bull of the 5th of Nov 1729, united it, with the same faculties and the same emoluments, to the post of auditor-general of the chamber, because the causes submitted to that prelate had much connection with those of the confidences.

Innocent XI had ordered, in 1682, a great reform in the tribunals; but disputes and altercations were the result, especially as to the right of judgment attributed to the majordomo of the palace in cases concerning offences committed in the pontifical palace. By clear and precise decrees Benedict put an end to all controversy upon that subject.

John V, King of Portugal, still insisted that the nuncio Bichi should be named cardinal before leaving Lisbon. Benedict loved peace, and was about to yield, but resolved to submit the difference to the judgment of a congregation. That body decided that the wish of the prince ought not to be acceded to; and they gave as their reason that were such a precedent established, the pope would thenceforth be unable to recall any of his ministers without consulting a will which might be altogether hostile to his own.

On learning this decision, John V yielded to unseemly anger, and ordered Cardinal Pereira, a Portuguese, to quit Rome, and at the same time recalled his ambassador Mello, the prelates of the nation, and all the subjects of the crown. Then he commanded Monsignor Firrao, whom he had never recognized as nuncio, to quit Lisbon. At the same time he enjoined the former nuncio, Bichi, not to quit that city, although he was recalled by Rome and threatened with censures if he disobeyed the orders of His Holiness. All this did not suffice to satisfy that petulant prince. No Portuguese was allowed to ask anything from Rome, to send any money thither for dispensation, or even to continue any commercial intercourse. This prince insensibly fell into that situation which necessarily brings about a schism, but the nation did not sympathize with the sentiments of the king.

Benedict, always reasonable and conciliating, applied to Philip V to aid him in restoring harmony. Philip had given his daughter in marriage to the hereditary prince of Portugal, who subsequently ascended the throne under the name of Joseph I. But the discord still existed, and it was reserved for Clement XII to terminate the difference.

Meantime Benedict had received so much pleasure from once more seeing his church at Benevento that, in 1729, he resolved to go there again. On his return, notwithstanding his narrow escape on the former occasion, he again had the courage to make a part of the journey by sea; but this time he embarked on board a pontifical war-galley, which was capable of making some resistance, and would not have declined a combat.

To prevent abuses, the Holy Father established at Corneto a prison, called the Ergastolo, for priests deserving punishment; they were to suffer none more severe than that imprisonment.

"King James III" of England continued to reside in Rome. Benedict endeavored to mitigate the lot of that unfortunate monarch. He presented him with all the furniture of Innocent XIII, of which the chamber had the right of disposaL Benedict, never losing his warm affection for his brethren of Saint Dominic, went to dine in their common refectory the Minerva; allowing no distinction, except that a seat was left vacant between him and the general, whom he permitted to kiss his hand; but immediately after the good pope kissed that of the general, to show that he still recognized him as his superior.

He tenderly loved his nephew, Don Philip, Duke of Gravina; but neither that noble nor his brother, Father Mondillo, priest of the Oratory at Naples, was either admitted to the pontifical palace, or allowed to interfere in the business of the government.

Novaes thinks that Benedict should have raised the Duke of Gravina to a higher dignity, instead of intrusting the affairs of state to men brought from Benevento, who, in the administration of affairs, chiefly thought of their personal interests, and neglected their duty to their prince. That pontiff, Novaes again remarks, who was wanting neither in kindliness nor in rectitude, had not the necessary sagacity to select incorruptible ministers.

Benedict was now more than eighty-one years old. He was suddenly attacked by a catarrh, of which he died on the 21st of February, 1730, after governing the Church five years, eight months, and twenty-three days.

This pope was of middling size; his countenance was mild, his nose aquiline, and his forehead broad. At the autopsy it was discovered that his heart was remarkably large. His funeral ceremonies were performed at the Vatican, whence he was removed to the Minerva.

Benedict XIV said of Benedict XIII: "We respectfully love that pontiff who backed his carriage rather than dispute the passage with a cartman." On that occasion Benedict exclaimed to his coachman: "Non ci far impicci"—"Do not involve us in a quarrel."

One day seeing a peasant complain bitterly of a tax which he was paying, he inquired into the nature of the tax, and seeing that it really was unjust, he suppressed it, saying at the same time that the peasant was right and had good reason for complaint.

The Dominicans erected a fine tomb, by Marchioni, to Benedict XIII, in the chapel of Saint Dominic at the Minerva.

This biographical data is from "The Lives and Times of the Popes" by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from " Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae."

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