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Biography - Pope Innocent XI - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Innocent XI1676-1689 Benedetto Odescalchi born 1611 Innocent XI was born on the 16th of May, 1611, of an illustrious family of Como, a city of the Milanese. Having completed his studies under the Jesuits, he went to Genoa to perfect his acquirements; thence to Rome and to Naples, where he received the grade of doctor. Having from an early age felt a vocation to the ecclesiastical life, he proceeded to Rome in the reign of Urban VIII, who made him assistant prothonotary, president of the chamber, and commissioner of assistance of the Marches during the war against the Duke of Ferrara. Innocent X, after confiding to Benedetto the functions of president of the March and governor of Macerata, gave him the purple in 1645, when he was not yet thirty-four years of age. In 1666 Cardinal Odescalchi was created legate to Ferrara. His letters of nomination began with these compliments words: We send you, the father of the poor. Bayle and several other French encyclopaedias state that Benedetto had been a soldier. This is not correct. The writers have confounded him with quite another Odescalchi who fought in Flanders. Count Antonio Joseph Rezzonico, in a dissertation printed at Como in 1742, has shown that Benedetto was never a soldier. These writers ascribe Pope Innocent's opposition to Louis XIV to the military tastes and habits of the pontiff. But in truth, as Benedetto was never anything but an ecclesiastic, it is manifestly unjust to attribute to him the hard, stern feeling of the camp:an ecclesiastic from the first, he could only take counsel from the duties of sovereign pontiff and independent sovereign. In the conclave which followed the death of Clement IX, Benedetto would doubtless have received the tiara; but Cardinal de Bouillon, fearing the known austerity of Odescalchi, induced the King of France to exclude him. After the funeral of Clement X, on the 2nd of August. sixty-seven sacred electors entered into conclave. To meet the necessary expense of this occasion, the College had previously decided that a sum of twenty-five thousand crowns should be drawn from the treasury of the Castle of Sant' Angelo. It was in this conclave that the name of the Zelanti was first used; it indicated those cardinals who, from pure religious zeal, sought, independently of all human considerations and interest, to select the worthiest for the pontificate. In the first ballots Cardinal Celio Piccolomini obtained twenty-eight votes; but forty-five were required for a valid election. Cardinal Gravina then proposed Odescalchi. The latter warmly refused the nomination; but, on the evening of the 20th of September, the cardinals, paying no attention to his resistance, repaired to the chapel, and, without a single exception, insisted upon kissing his hand, which was sufficient to make him the legitimately elected head of the Church, this being a less tumultuous kind of election by adoration. Odescalchi, taken by surprise by this novelty, burst into sobs and implored a moment for reflection. There was an instant silence, and all present gazed with astonishment and admiration upon that spectacle of humility and detachment from worldly grandeurs. At that moment Odescalchi, his face downcast towards the earth, shed tears that were actually visible upon the earth. He entreated the cardinals to elect some one else: he named one of them worthier than himself; he named two; he named all of them, and he entreated them not to crush him under a burden too heavy for him to bear. But the electors were inflexible, especially Cibo, a personage of great integrity and especially jealous of the decorum of the Church, and they would allow Odescalchi to hesitate no longer; and menaced him with the consideration that by prolonging the conclave he would be acting to the detriment of Holy Church. That powerful motive was required to decide him to accept; but he still demanded that there should be a ballot, in order that everything should be done decorously and in order. At first he had nineteen votes; but at the accesso the other forty-seven votes elected him pontiff. On account of the close friendship which united Odescalchi and Cibo, who hoped to see another Innocent VIII, of the Cibo family, and in memory of Innocent X, from whom Odescalchi had received the purple, Benedetto took the name of Innocent XI, and was crowned on the 4th of October. A month later, on the 8th of November, he took possession of Saint John Lateran. On the day of his election, when he had scarcely entered the Vatican, he called to his side Livius Odescalchi, the only son of his brother Charles, and told him in a tone of authority to proceed with his studies at the college of the Jesuits. You will make, said the pope to his nephew, no change in your former way of life; you will receive neither presents nor visits as our nephew, and you will in no respect interfere in the government of our court. The young noble, who was then twenty-two years of age, obeyed these orders of his uncle. That his nephew should have no cause to complain, the pope presented to him his own entire patrimony, an income of some forty thousand crowns, with the exception of less than one fortieth, which the Holy Father reserved for his own personal expenses. There, said Innocent, you have enough to support you nobly, without your needing any of the dew of the Vatican. And during his whole pontificate this disinterested pope never touched a cent of the State income, but ordered all to be applied to the discharge of the debts of the apostolic chamber and the needs of the Church. He reformed the palace table, and admitted to it none but those who were recommended by modest demeanor and purity of morals. He soon announced to all the Christian sovereigns his exaltation, of which he had been the sole opponent, and he exhorted them to concord, and offered to go to any Catholic city they chose, in order that he might personally endeavor to arrange terms of peace, and show the spirit of conciliation that especially belongs to a sovereign pontiff. At the same time he recommended to all his nuncios that they should bear in mind the bygone victories of the Turks and their attempts to put down Christianity in Europe. Innocent XI ordered an attentive examination into the conduct and capacity of all who were proposed for promotion to dignities; and to that end he named a congregation of four cardinals and four prelates, with instructions to regard merit as the sole claim

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