Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World

Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World

Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World

Politics and the Papacy in the Modern World

Synopsis

The outbreak of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century transformed the world and ushered in the modern age, whose currents challenged the traditional political order and the prevailing religious establishment. The new secular framework presented a potential threat to the papal leadership of the Catholic community, which was profoundly affected by the rush towards modernization. In the nineteenth century the transnational church confronted a world order dominated by the national state, until the emergence of globalization towards the close of the twentieth century. Here, Coppa focuses on Rome's response to the modern world, exploring the papacy's political and diplomatic role during the past two centuries. He examines the Vatican's impact upon major ideological developments over the years, including capitalism, nationalism, socialism, communism, modernism, racism, and anti-Semitism. At the same time, he traces the continuity and change in the papacy's attitude towards church-state relations and the relationship between religion and science.

Excerpt

At the dawn of the modern age, when Giovanni Angelo Braschi assumed the triple tiara (1775), which some believed symbolized papal authority on earth, heaven, and the underworld, the new pope, Pius VI, seemed oblivious to the winds of change shaking its claims at home and in the international arena. In educated circles and among the political elite of Europe, rationalism, empiricism, scientific analysis, philosophical speculation, and reliance on historical inquiry challenged the universal role of the papacy. This criticism was reinforced by papal behavior, for while Pius VI advanced transnational claims for his office, he remained preoccupied by provincial concerns and developments within the Italian peninsula, and petty personal matters. This led him to largely ignore the broader intellectual climate, which disdained ecclesiastical assertions and derided papal pretensions. Like many of his predecessors, he relied upon the goodwill of the Catholic powers to sustain the papacy and its mission, and preserve his state and temporal power, which extended from Ravenna in the north to Terracina in the south, and stretched from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic.

Early on Italian nationalists such as the poet Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803) complained that the Papal State’s presence and policies since the eighth century had blocked Italian unification. Outside the peninsula, contemporary critics had a broader catalog of complaints. They grumbled that the clock of Europe had stopped in Rome, which was seen to combine feudal pretensions with Renaissance extravagance and whose rigidity and isolation led to stagnation, lamenting that while the world had . . .

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