Pope Pius VII

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Servant of God, Pope
Pius VII
Sir Thomas Lawrence - Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) - Google Art Project.jpg
Papacy began 14 March 1800
Papacy ended 20 August 1823
Predecessor Pius VI
Successor Leo XII
Ordination 21 September 1765
Consecration 21 December 1782
by Francesco Saverio de Zelada
Created Cardinal 14 February 1785
by Pius VI
Personal details
Birth name Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti
Born (1742-08-14)14 August 1742
Cesena, Papal States
Died 20 August 1823(1823-08-20) (aged 81)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post
Motto Aquila Rapax (Rapacious eagle)[1]
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Title as Saint Servant of God
Other popes named Pius

Pope Pius VII (14 August 1742 – 20 August 1823), born Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, reigned from 14 March 1800 to his death in 1823. Chiaramonti was also a monk, theologian, and bishop throughout his life. When he joined his religious order in 1756 he took the name of Gregorio.

In the process towards sainthood, his cause of canonization was started at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, and he was granted the title of Servant of God.

Early life[edit]

Barnaba Chiaramonti was born in Cesena in 1742, the son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti. His mother, Giovanna, was the daughter of the Marquess Ghini; through her, the future Pope Pius VII was related to the Braschi family of Pope Pius VI.

He joined the Benedictine Order in 1756 at the Abbey of St Maria del Monte of Cesena, where he took the name Gregorio. He taught at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome, and was ordained a priest on 21 September 1765.

Episcopate and cardinalate[edit]

A series of promotions resulted after his relative, Giovanni Angelo Braschi, was elected Pope Pius VI (1775–99). In 1776, Pius VI appointed the 34-year-old Dom Gregory, who had been teaching at the Monastery of Sant'Anselmo in Rome, as honorary abbot in commendam of his monastery. Although this was an ancient practice, it drew complaints from the monks of the community, as monastic communities generally felt it was not in keeping with the Rule of St. Benedict. In December 1782, the pope appointed Dom Gregory as the Bishop of Tivoli, near Rome. Pius VI soon named him, in February 1785, simultaneously both as a Cardinal-Priest, with the Basilica of St. Callistus as his titular church,[2] and as the Bishop of Imola, an office he held until 1816.[3]

When the French Revolutionary Army invaded Italy in 1797, Cardinal Chiaramonti counseled temperance and submission to the newly created Cisalpine Republic. In his Christmas homily that year, he asserted that there was no opposition between a democratic form of government and being a good Catholic: "Christian virtue makes men good democrats.... Equality is not an idea of philosophers but of Christ...and do not believe that the Catholic religion is against democracy."[4]


Papal styles of
Pope Pius VII
C o a Pio VII.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Servant of God


Following the death of Pope Pius VI, by then virtually France's prisoner, at Valence in 1799, the conclave to elect his successor met on 30 November 1799 in the Benedictine Monastery of San Giorgio in Venice. There were three main candidates, two of whom proved to be unacceptable to the Habsburgs, whose candidate, Alessandro Mattei, could not secure sufficient votes. However, Carlo Bellisomi also was a candidate, though not favoured by Austrian cardinals; a veto was imposed against him in the name of Franz II.

After several months of stalemate, Jean-Sifrein Maury proposed Chiaramonti as a compromise candidate. On 14 March 1800, Chiaramonti was elected pope, certainly not the choice of die-hard opponents of the French Revolution, and took as his pontifical name Pius VII.[4] He was crowned on 21 March in a rather unusual ceremony, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara as the French had seized the original when apprehending Pius VI. He then left for Rome, sailing on a barely seaworthy Austrian ship, the Bellona, which lacked even a galley. The twelve-day voyage ended at Pesaro, whence he proceeded to Rome.

Negotiations and exile[edit]

One of Pius VII's first acts was appointing the minor cleric Ercole Consalvi, who had performed so ably as secretary to the recent conclave, to the College of Cardinals and to the office of Cardinal Secretary of State. Consalvi immediately left for France, where he was able to negotiate the Concordat of 1801 with the First Consul Napoleon. While not effecting a return to the old Christian order, the treaty did provide certain civil guarantees to the Church, acknowledging "the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion" as that of the "majority of French citizens".[5]

The main terms of the concordat between France and the pope included:

  • A proclamation that "Catholicism was the religion of the great majority of the French" but was not the official religion, maintaining religious freedom, in particular with respect to Protestants.
  • The papacy had the right to depose bishops (this made little difference, because the French government nominated them).
  • The state would pay clerical salaries and the clergy swore an oath of allegiance to the state.
  • The church gave up all claims to church lands that were taken after 1790.
  • The Sabbath was reestablished as a "festival", effective Easter Sunday, 18 April 1802.

As pope, he followed a policy of cooperation with the French-established Republic and Empire. He was present at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804. He even participated in France's Continental Blockade of Great Britain, over the objections of his Secretary of State Consalvi, who was forced to resign. Despite this, France occupied and annexed the Papal States in 1809 and took Pius as their prisoner, exiling him to Savona. This exile ended only when Pius VII signed the Concordat of Fontainebleau in 1813. One result of this new treaty was the release of the exiled Cardinals, including Consalvi, who, upon re-joining the papal retinue, persuaded Pius VII to revoke the concessions he had made in it. This Pius VII began to do in March 1814, which led the French authorities to re-arrest many of the opposing prelates. Their confinement, however, lasted only a matter of weeks, as Napoleon abdicated on 11 April of that year.[6]As soon as Pius returned to Rome, he immediately revived the Inquisition and the Index of Condemned Books.

Relationship with Napoleon I[edit]

Pope Pius VII presided over the Coronation of Napoleon I.

From the time of his election as pope to the fall of Napoleon in 1815, Pius VII's reign was completely taken up in dealing with France.[7] He and the Emperor were continually in conflict, often involving the French military leader's wishes for concessions to his demands. Pius wanted his own release from exile as well as the return of the Papal States, and, later on, the release of the 13 "Black Cardinals", i.e., the Cardinals, including Consalvi, who had snubbed the marriage of Napoleon to Princess Marie Louise, believing that his previous marriage was still valid, and had been exiled and impoverished in consequence of their stand,[8] along with several exiled or imprisoned prelates, priests, monks, nuns and other various supporters.

Relationship with the United States of America[edit]

Monument by Bertel Thorvaldsen on the tomb of Pius VII inside the Basilica of St. Peter.

On the United States' suppression in the First Barbary War of the Muslim Barbary Pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, ending their kidnapping of Christians for ransom and slavery, Pope Pius VII declared that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”[9]

Condemnation of heresy[edit]

On 3 June 1816, Pius VII condemned the works of Melkite Bishop Germanos Adam. His writings supported Conciliarism, which placed the authority of Ecumenical Councils over that of the papacy.[10]

Death and burial[edit]

In 1822, Pius reached his 80th birthday and his health was visibly declining. On July 6, 1823, he fractured his hip in a fall in the papal apartments and was bedridden from that point onward. He succumbed to his injury on August 20 and was buried in a monument in Saint Peter's Basilica after his funeral on August 25.[11][12]

Beatification process[edit]

On August 15, 2007, the Holy See contacted the diocese of Savona-Noli with the news that Pope Benedict XVI had declared nihil obstat (nothing stands against) the cause of beatification of the late pontiff, thus opening the diocesan process for this pope's beatification. He now has the title of Servant of God.[13]


Pope Pius VII's monument (1831) in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, is by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Protestant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pope Pius VII (1800-1823)". GCatholic. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Cardinal Title S. Callisto GCatholic.org
  3. ^ "Pope Pius VII (timeline)". Catholic Hierarchy. Retrieved 21 March 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Thomas Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice (NY: Doubleday, 1998), 32
  5. ^ "France". Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Retrieved 2011-12-15.  See drop-down essay on "The Third Republic and the 1905 Law of Laïcité"
  6. ^ Aston, Nigel (2002). Christianity and Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46027-1. 
  7. ^ J. M. Thompson, Napoleon Bonaparte: His Rise and Fall (1951) pp 251-75
  8. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia 1914 entry on Napoleon I
  9. ^ Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates by City Journal
  10. ^ Fortescue, Adrian and George D. Smith, The Uniate Eastern Churches, (First Giorgas Press, 2001), 210.
  11. ^ "Pope Pius VII". Retrieved January 22, 2014. 
  12. ^ "CHIARAMONTI, O.S.B.Cas., Gregorio Barnaba (1742-1823)". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  13. ^ "CHIARAMONTI, O.S.B.Cas., Gregorio Barnaba". Retrieved January 22, 2014. 


Further reading[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Giulio Matteo Natali
Bishop of Tivoli
16 December 1782 – 14 February 1785
Succeeded by
Giovanni Battista Banfi
Preceded by
Giovanni Carlo Bandi
Bishop of Imola
14 February 1785 – 8 March 1816
Succeeded by
Antonio Lamberto Rusconi
Preceded by
Pius VI
14 March 1800 – 20 August 1823
Succeeded by