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Biography - Pope Innocent XII - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Innocent XII1691-1700 Antonio Pignatelli born 1615 Innocent XII, a Neapolitan, was born on the 13th of March, 1615, at Spinazzola, a fief of his family, in the Basilicate, and was the son of Fabricius Pignatelli, first Prince of Minervino, and of Porzia Caraffa, daughter of the Duke of Andria. The Pignatelli family is considered one of the most illustrious in Naples, and is traceable not only to the times of the crusades, but even to the days of the Lombard rule. Antonio, after his earlier studies at the Roman College, became doctor of both laws. He then determined to enter the order of Saint John of Jerusalem, in which several of his family had distinguished themselves, in the city of Sion, at Rhodes and Malta. Urban VIII made Antonio a prelate when he was only twenty years old, and the same year he appointed him president at Urbino. Innocent X sent him as inquisitor to Malta in 1646, then to Viterbo as governor, and as nuncio to Florence. Alexander made him his nuncio in Poland. From that nunciature Clement IX transferred him to that of Vienna. In that residence the agent of the Holy See caused the arrest of Rossi, who, supported by some great men of those parts, did much injury to the unity of the faith. This Milanese was imprisoned as a visionary, or rather as the founder of a sect which he himself very soon abjured. He had had the time to represent himself in many of the kingdoms of Europe as being endowed with power to work miracles at will, especially with reference to health, for the restoration of which many persons applied to him, in the expectation of obtaining a complete cure; and Rossi often profited by their simplicity and credulity. Innocent XI created Antonio a cardinal, and then legate to Bologna, and finally Archbishop of Naples. After the funeral of Alexander VIII, on the 10th of February 1691, forty-three cardinals went into conclave. Others continued to arrive, until the conclave at length consisted of sixty-five electors. During a deliberation it happened that a fire broke out in the cell of the young Cardinal Altieri, and the palace doors had to be thrown open in order to admit the assistance which loudly called for. But the fire being extinguished, the conclave remained closely shut up as usual. Cardinal Colloredo, an Oratorian of great virtue, first proposed two cardinals, Gregory Barbarigo and Anthony Pignatelli. For some time it was thought that the former would be the choice; but his cause did not make progress, and its supporters soon despaired of it. The Church had been without a pastor during five months and eleven days, when, on the 12th of July, the votes were almost unanimous in favor of Cardinal Pignatelli, who, in memory of his benefactor, Innocent XI, chose the name of Innocent XII. He was seventy-six years of age. Three days later he was crowned at the Vatican, but he did not take possession of Saint John Lateran until the 13th of the following April. Some writers have fallen into error with regard to Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, granddaughter of Edward the Confessor, her father being Edward and her mother Agatha, a daughter of the Emperor Conrad the Salic. She married, in 1070, Malcolm III, King of Scotland, by whom she had eight children, among whom was Saint Matilda, venerated by the Church on the 30th of April. She died at forty-seven years of age, on the 16th of November, 1093. Those writers who have accredited an error affirm that Innocent IV had canonized Saint Margaret in the year 1251; but they rely upon facts which are not authentic. That canonization did not take place then, since the Scotch solicited it from Innocent VIII. That pope ordered the formal inquiries in 1487. Her name was subsequently placed in the Roman Martyrology, her feast being celebrated on the 10th of June, either double or single rite at option. The feast of Saint Margaret was subsequently transferred, by a decree of Innocent XI, to the 8th of July. Under Innocent XII took place the canonization equipollent, that is to say, without ceremonies, yet equivalent to a canonization with ceremonies. That pontiff, on the 15th of September, 1691, ordered that throughout the whole Church the office and the Mass of Saint Margaret should be celebrated with the semi-double rite. Then, by another decree of the 21st of February, 1693, he ordered that with the same rite, semi-double, the feast of Saint Margaret should be celebrated on the 10th of June, the day on which the name occurs in the martyrology. Finally, by decrees of the 27th of March and the 15th of May, 1694, the pope granted the double rite. At the very outset the electors felt assured that they had chosen a pontiff who was not born for the advantage of himself or of his family, but for the welfare of the Church. By a bull published on the 23rd of June, and greatly praised even by non-Catholics, who on account of it erected a statue to this pope at Wittenberg, he aimed at the extermination of nepotism, that is to say, that great authority and unmeasured power of which the nephews of former popes had been possessed. He strictly forbade that the pontiffs should enrich their relatives with the property of the Church, declaring, however, that it was allowable for the pontiffs to aid their relatives with the same moderation that was due to strangers. Finally, Innocent prescribed that the popes should not give their relatives more than twelve thousand crowns of annual income. He suppressed those titles which of themselves aggrandized the position of the nephews, that is to say, the generalship of the Church and of the galleys, which were the possessed by Alexander's nephews, Don Marco and Don Antonio Ottoboni. He abolished some other dignities to which extraordinary profits were attached. He said that in case of necessity those dignities might be revived, but in such case attention should be paid only to the merits of those who should be appointed to them. By that reform Innocent achieved a saving of eighty thousand crowns in favor of the apostolic chamber. In order that the bull should be perpetually observed, he ordered that the then living cardinals should recognize it, and that all future cardinals should ratify it in the conclaves; at the same time it was declared that all future pontiffs should engage to observe it. Innocent having thus taken from his relatives all prospect of enriching themselves at the expense of the Church, and having thus left himself without natural relatives, substituted the poor. He called the poor his nephews, the better to make his views understood. He distributed among them the presents that he was obliged to receive, and gave them even his patrimony. He had a hospital fitted up for them in the palace of Saint John Lateran, collected some five thousand of them in it, and endowed that asylum of the unfortunate with considerable revenues, incessantly renewed. Thus in the course of time he succeeded in banishing mendacity. To him also is due the complete establishment of Saint Michael at Ripa Grande, which became one of the most imposing and the best administered hospitals in Europe. The pope was returning one day from Civita Vecchia, his litter being carried by the grooms of the palace. A great multitude of the poor had gone two miles out from the city and meeting the pope there, they insisted, in spite of his resistance, that it was their right as well as their duty to carry the father of the poor. Innocent strictly questioned them, with a view of ascertaining whether that movement had been concerted, resolved in that case to censure the authorities. The paupers replied that ten or twelve having proposed to go and meet the pope, all the rest had followed. It was necessary to let them have their way, and in this wise they carried the litter to the palace. In his will Innocent the poor his sole heirs, and commanded that his property of every kind should be sold, and that the proceeds in full amount should be distributed among the poor of the city. Meantime Innocent XII had the happiness to terminate, in 1692, one of the most delicate affairs which had occurred in the course of recent centuries between the Holy See and France. At the commencement of this pontificate the Holy Father had seriously intimated to the ambassadors residing in Rome that it was his intention to be the only master in his capital city, and that he would no longer endure either the privileges which they claimed for the precincts of their palaces, or any disturbances created by the insolence of their servants. In his nunciatures the pope had observed that all sovereigns were masters in their own capitals. Acting up to the spirit of his edict, he ordered patrols of sixty sbirri around those palaces for which privileges were claimed, and he at the same time directed that the garrison of Rome should attend and comply with all requisitions made by the ministers of justice for military aid in the execution of their duty. The firmness of this pope induced the King of France to renounce those privileges which he had so much insisted upon during the reign of Innocent XI. Subsequently the French monarch, by a letter to the pope dated September 14, 1693, revoked the edict published upon the declaration of the clergy of France in regard to the ecclesiastical power. The French bishops, who were named by the assembly of the clergy, agreed to write to the pope a letter replete with submission and respect, testifying their displeasure as to what had passed and declaring that they had never intended to define anything contrary to the rights of the Roman Church. On the contrary, they affirmed that the said propositions ought not to be and could not be sustained. On his side, the Holy Father consented to the extension of the regalia throughout the kingdom of France; and thus all fitting arrangements were concluded upon to the satisfaction of both the king and the pope. In order to render the administration of justice at once more easy and less costly, Innocent suppressed very many special tribunals, and erected a magnificent palace, which to this day is called the Curia Innocenziana, and which was to become the residence of the judges and the place for the tribunals. It has often been remarked that elected sovereigns possess a vast amount of information of which sovereigns born in the purple are profoundly ignorant. Pignatelli, while Bishop of Lucca, in the kingdom of Naples, was one day in the antechamber of Cardinal Paluzzi, nephew of Clement X; in the same antechamber, and also awaiting an audience of the cardinal, was a clerk of the chamber. The cardinal's chamberlain introduced the clerk to the audience-chamber before the bishop, who exclaimed: "What! is a clerk of the chamber more than a bishop?" From that moment he took a kind of aversion, doubtless unjust, against these officials, who at that time bought their offices at a high price–a fact which caused the clerks of the chamber to show no small degree of importance. Antonio Pignatelli, having ascended the throne, reimbursed the clerks and gave to that department a better form. The tribunal of the chamber presides over the collection of the revenues, over the personal domain of the pontiffs, and over that which is called the apostolic chamber. It consists of a cardinal camerlinga, who is at its head; of the governor of Rome, who has the title of vice-camerlinga; of the treasurer-general (minister of the finances); of the auditor and of the president of the chamber, the advocates of the poor, the fiscal of Rome, and twelve clerks of the chamber, one of whom is prefect of the Annona, or abundance of breadstuffs; the other, prefect of the Grascia, or meats; a third, president of the arms, or administrator of paid troops; and a fourth, president of roads. The submission of the dissenting bishops in France was not imitated by the Jansenists. Still embittered against the Roman pontificate, and ill enduring their own depression, they constantly declaimed against the formulary of Alexander VII, sometimes altering its sense and sometimes varying its words. Innocent, by a brief addressed to the bishops of Flanders, prohibited the altering of even the smallest word in the formulary. Within ten months Rome endured the twofold visitation of an earthquake and an inundation of the Tiber. The vigilance of the pontiff carried, in every direction, aid, consolation and encouragement. He opened the treasury and established a new claim to the confidence and gratitude of the Romans. In the meantime the poor were not neglected, and the evil having redoubled, the sacrifices also redoubled under a father so tender and so generous. The Emperor Leopold, who was under so many obligations to the Holy See, apparently acting under the advice of persons holding lightly the duty of gratitude, suddenly to Rome an ambassador, Count George Adam de Martinitz, who seemed to have special orders to fill the Holy Father with disgust and mortification. Disregarding time-honored custom, this ambassador, who had the undisputed right of precedence over all the other ambassadors, maintained that he also had that right over the governor of Rome in the procession at Corpus Christi. Wherever the pope is celebrant he necessarily is attended by the heads of his government. They are there as a part of the pontifical escort, the great guard of honor of His Holiness; they become a necessary, an indispensable part of the ceremonial. That the ambassadors should dispute among themselves about the old rules of precedence was a thing easily to be understood; it exists at all times, and alike among civilized and among barbarous peoples. In Rome, Martinitz was pre-eminent among ambassadors: no minister preceded him, neither the ambassador of Charlemagne's successor at Paris, nor the ambassador of the king who had subjected eleven kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula. Martinitz had the preference everywhere. "If he was absent," said a master of the ceremonies, "they even waited for him to come." The pretensions of the French were sometimes different; they demanded privileges for France which they represented, and left the local authority to arrange its procession to its own liking. The manner in which that was done was not always regular; but they did not, in order to get places nearer the pope, endeavor to reverse the established order and to substitute themselves for personages who definitely are only subjects of high rank. Martinitz wanted more. He endeavored to depreciate the governor of Rome, which for a long time no imperial ambassador had done, especially in the Roman ceremonies in which God was invoked for the deliverance of Vienna in 1683. Innocent avoided all scandal by the ordering the governor of Rome to absent himself from the procession. It will appear that the imperial ambassador had orders to object. The ambassador immediately placed himself among the cardinal-deacons, pretending to go in equality with them. The tumult that such extraordinary conduct was designed to provoke soon arose, and it lasted of four hours. Each protested on his own side; the Romans sustained their cardinals, and the ambassador's suite maintained the pretensions of their master. Innocent, by an edict, ordered that the ancient rules shouId be respected. Then Martinitz set no limits to this insolence, which the Italians call prepotency. The pope having applied to Leopold upon the matter, that prince also issued an edict, which was displayed on the gate of the palace occupied by Martinitz. It announced that imperial fiefs had been usurped in Italy, and that those who had long possessed them had not taken investiture. The edict went on to order all to exhibit to Martinitz documents proving their independence, or to receive their infeudation within three months. This was to return to the time of Henry IV, King of Germany. Innocent courageously, but without pride, offensive words, or recriminations, wrote to ask Leopold if by such threats it was intended to revive disturbances, and especially in the Pontifical States, which were solely occupied in maintaining universal concord. Then came the astonishment of the Catholic king: murmurs, swelling to complaints, from France. Leopold found that he had gone somewhat too far. Should a general war be kindled, he would be the first prey to the Turks. A counter-edict of the pope was opposed to that of the emperor. The latter addressed respectful letters to His Holiness, and for the time those sparks were extinguished which had threatened to kindle so terrible a flame. In 1697 all Rome rejoiced at the victory gained over the Turks by Prince Eugene of Savoy, Count de Soissons, one of the most renowned warriors of that time. The victory was complete. Besides the grand vizir, there perished the aga of the janizaries, seventeen pashas, and more than thirty thousand soldiers. The sultan, Mustapha, fled to Belgrade. The Holy Father ceased not to exhort the Catholic sovereigns to preserve peace among themselves; and he had the satisfaction to learn that, in 1697, peace was signed at Ryswick, in Holland, between the emperor, the King of France, and the King of Spain, and the other powers that had taken part in the war. Subsequently a treaty was also signed between the emperor and the Turks. The affection which the Holy Father felt for the emperor did not, on one occasion, prevent Innocent from showing some discontent toward His Majesty. To reward services rendered, the emperor granted the ninth electorate of the empire to Ernest, Duke of Brunswick and Hanover. Innocent could not congratulate Leopold upon that political act, for Ernest did not profess the Catholic religion. The pope at the same time had the consolation of seeing as successor to the great Sobieski, on the throne of Poland, Duke Frederic of Saxe, who, before taking possession of that kingdom, abjured the teaching of Luther. Monsignor Davia, the pope's nuncio, had greatly contributed to that election in the Polish Diet, and had even been obliged, contrary to his inclination, to thwart the design of offering the crown to Prince de Conti, of the royal family of France, who also had a party in Poland. To facilitate communication with Rome, Innocent caused several buildings to be commenced at Porto d'Anzo, and ordered the erection of a fortress to protect the inhabitants of the seacoast against the raids of the Barbary pirates. Sixtus V had conceived the design of draining the Pontine marshes; but death arrested the plans of that great pope. Innocent did not dare to venture upon such vast labors, but he established the custom-house of Ripa Grande and another built upon the ruins of what is known as the Basilica of Antoninus Pius. At the time it was warmly discussed whether Elias and Eliseus were the founders of the order of Carmelites. On both sides the discussion grew very warm; the pope, therefore, by a bull imposed silence on both the contending parties, on pain of excommunication latae sententiae, in case of disobedience. While the pope was thus engaged in the cares required by his pious mission, he found himself called upon to arrest the effects of a kind of Quietism. The most subtle error of Molinos had made its way into France. Francis Malaval, who was blind from birth, pretended to the glory of having preceded Molinos in divining this false spiritualism. Father Francis de La Combe, a Barnabite, and Madame Jane Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon, who in Savoy had been under the direction of that religious, carried Quietism into France, and there it began to diffuse itself to the great prejudice of religion. Louis Anthony de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, James Benignus Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, and Paul Godet des Marets, Bishop of Chartres, moved by the possible consequences, met at Issy, near Paris, by order of the king, and on the 1st of March, 1694, drew up thirty-four articles for the direction of pious souls in prayer and spiritual life. Madame Guyon was secluded in a monastery in Paris, and forbidden by the archbishop to write on such subjects. The Abbé Francis de Salignac de Fénelon, so celebrated for his birth, learning, and piety, being suspected of sharing the sentiments of Madame Guyon, was obliged to sign the articles of Issy. The suspicions then conceived proved to be well founded, when, being appointed preceptor to the dukes of Burgundy, Anjou, and Berri, sons of the dauphin and grandsons of Louis XIV, and subsequently Archbishop of Cambray, Fénelon showed his attachment to these doctrines in his Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints upon the Interior Life. The prelates already mentioned and several doctors of the Sorbonne opposed those doctrines, and were prepared to accuse Fénelon of a mitigated but dangerous Quietism, when Fénelon, to avoid the censure of his colleagues, referred the matter to the judgment of the pope, declaring that he would listen respectfully to the Holy Father, vicar of Christ and successor to Saint Peter. While Innocent caused the work to be examined by a congregation which he appointed for that purpose, the three prelates of the congress of Issy, not as bishops having the right to condemn, but as theologians having occasion to dispute, wrote against Fénelon, who replied in his own defense; with this difference, however, that the Archbishop of Cambray, in a night or two, produced a work full of grace, wit, and elegance, while the Archbishop of Meaux, notwithstanding the great genius that appears in his work, took six months to publish a refutation. The congregation proceeded to a strict examination. The result was that Fénelon's book was condemned on the 12th of March, 1699. The Most Christian King, by a letter under his own hand, on the 23rd of December, 1698, had warmly solicited His Holiness to settle the matter. His Majesty received from the hands of the nuncio the brief of condemnation (accompanied by a separate brief filled with eulogies of the prince), which he caused to be registered by the Parliament, and which the bishops equally received throughout the kingdom. Scarcely did the Archbishop of Cambray learn that his book was condemned, when he himself ascended the pulpit to censure it; and he published, in his diocese, a pastoral on the 9th of April, 1699, by which he ordered the brief to be received, and in which he declared that he accepted it, as well for the text of the book as for the twenty-three propositions extracted from it, and that he accepted it absolutely, precisely, and without any restriction whatever. Thus terminated the affair in which Fénelon, by his example of submission, edified more than his work had given scandal. Martinitz, the imperial ambassador, persevered, under various pretexts, in renewing his attacks for the fiefs. The resistance of the pope was as firm as the attacks were per persistent. Martinitz, who showed that he was acting rather for the gratification of his own pride than for the interests of his imperial master, was recalled, but could not obtain admission to the Quirinal to take leave. Queen Mary Casimir de la Grange d'Arquien, widow of Sobieski III, King of Poland, resolved, after the example of Queen Christina, to take up her residence at Rome, to end her days there in works of piety. She arrived there on the 24th of March, 1699, and was magnificently received in the palace of the prince Don Livio Odescalchi, Duke of Sirmio and Bracciano. The Holy Father had sent a sumptuous escort to receive her, and he welcomed her with every testimony of affection. We have now reached the year 1700, in which the fifteenth ordinary jubilee was to be celebrated. The holy gate had been opened in 1699, at Christmas, by Cardinal de Bouillon, subdean, because the pope, extremely aged, was obliged to keep his bed, and the dean, Cardinal Cibo, was scarcely less ill than the pope. Cosmo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, visited Rome for the jubilee, under the name of Count of Pitigliano. The pope received him kindly, made him supernumerary canon of the Vatican, and, among other presents, gave him the antique seat of Saint Stephen I, which the grand duke sent to the cathedral of Pisa. That city is the chief place of the Tuscan order of Saint Stephen, pope and martyr. At the beginning of spring Innocent went from the Quirinal to the Vatican to give his benediction to the people, who earnestly solicited it, but on his return to Monte Cavallo he fainted. Then he sent for Father Casini, apostolic preacher, made a general confession of his whole life, and, after receiving the sacraments of the Church, gave his last sigh on the 27th of September, 1700, at the age of nearly eighty-six years, after governing the Church nine years, two months, and fifteen days. 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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