The Popes and European Revolution

By Owen Chadwick | Go to book overview
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5 The Fall of the Jesuits

As king and politician the Pope was weak. His power, so far as not spiritual, lay in the ability to concede or sell to kings rights over the Church in various countries, in appointments, money, tax, exemption, dispensations. These were very important. But they were being eroded by the system of Concordats and the pressure of Catholic sovereigns.

Peace after 1748 was a blessing. No hostile armies trampled the Papal States. The Catholic powers were near harmony. And their harmony was not in all respects a blessing for the Pope.

France and Austria were natural rivals in Italy and remained so until the war of 1914. This helped Popes. A Pope could not long be bullied by France because Austria would protest nor by Austria because France would protest. But in Germany Prussia was rising. For the first time in the modern history of the Holy Roman Empire Austria feared for the leadership of Germany.

Thus the rise of Prussia affected Popes. The Austrians needed French and Spanish help against the threat of Prussia.

After 1750 Popes were confronted with a Bourbon alliance between France and Spain which Austria did not like too firmly to oppose. A Pope could no longer be sure of independence because governments disagreed. He might be faced with a united demand from all Catholic sovereigns.

Never in all the history of the papacy were the ambassadors from Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Naples, and Lisbon so mighty in Rome as during the half-century of peace after 1748. To the Pope they behaved with ceremonious decorum. His secretaries of state, favourites, friends, confidential advisers, chaplains, and cardinals they threatened and bullied where they could not bribe or persuade.

The ghost of Henry VIII walked abroad among the Catholic governments. Cardinals, who had long memories, kept reminding themselves what happened in England when a Pope too pertinaciously resisted a Catholic sovereign. Cordara, who knew much about the cardinals of those years, wrote this: 'By the example of Henry VIII advisers of Popes are


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