Christianity Knowledge Base

Benedict XV
Bishop of Rome
Benedictus XV
Pope Benedict XV
ChurchCatholic Church
Papacy began3 September 1914
Papacy ended22 January 1922
PredecessorPius X
SuccessorPius XI
Ordination21 December 1878
by Raffaele Monaco La Valletta[1]
Consecration22 December 1907
by Pope Pius X
Created cardinal25 May 1914
by Pope Pius X
Personal details
Birth nameGiacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa
Born(1854-11-21)21 November 1854
Pegli, Genoa, Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia
Died22 January 1922(1922-01-22) (aged 67)
Apostolic Palace, Rome, Kingdom of Italy
Previous post(s)
  • Undersecretary of State (1901–1907)

  • Archbishop of Bologna (1907–1914)

  • Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati (1914)
MottoIn Te Domine Speravi, Non Confundar In Aeternum for 'In thee, o Lord, have I trusted: let me not be confounded for evermore'[lower-alpha 1][2]
SignatureBenedict XV's signature
Coat of armsBenedict XV's coat of arms
Ordination history
Priestly ordination
Ordained byRaffaele Monaco La Valletta
Date21 December 1878
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byPius X
Date22 December 1907
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Pope Benedict XV as principal consecrator
Antonio Lega21 June 1914
Sebastiano Nicotra6 January 1917
Pius XII13 May 1917
Willem Marinus van Rossum19 May 1918
Ersilio Menzani [it]25 January 1921
Federico Tedeschini5 May 1921
Carlo Cremonesi8 January 1922
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Pope Benedict XV (Latin: Benedictus PP. XV) (November 21, 1854January 22, 1922), born Giacomo della Chiesa, reigned as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from September 3, 1914 to January 22, 1922; he succeeded Pope Pius X (1903–14).

Early life[]

C o a Bennedetto XV

Arms of Pope Benedict XV

Della Chiesa was born at Pegli, a suburb of Genoa, Italy, of noble family, the son of Marchese Giuseppe della Chiesa. He acquired a doctorate of law in 1875, after which he studied for the priesthood and then the training school for the Vatican diplomatic service, in which he would spend most of his career. Once he had entered the diplomatic service, Mariano Cardinal Rampolla was a friend and patron, employing him as a secretary on being posted to Madrid and subsequently on being appointed Cardinal Secretary of State. During these years Della Chiesa helped negotiate the resolution of a dispute between Germany and Spain over the Caroline Islands as well as organising relief during a cholera epidemic. When Rampolla left his post with the election of Pope Pius X, and was succeeded by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, Della Chiesa was retained in his post.

But Della Chiesa's association with Rampolla, the architect of Pope Leo XIII's (1878–1903) foreign policy made his position in the Secretariat of State under the new pontificate (with its more strongly uncompromising foreign policy) somewhat uncomfortable. He was soon moved out of the diplomatic service; on 16 December 1907 becoming Archbishop of Bologna.

On 25 May 1914 Della Chiesa was created a cardinal, becoming the Cardinal Priest of the Titulus Ss. Quattuor Coronatorum. In this capacity, on the outbreak of World War I (1914–18) – with the papacy vacant upon Pius X's death on 20 August 1914 – he made a speech on the Church's position and duties, emphasising the need for neutrality and promoting peace and the easing of suffering. The conclave opened at the end of August 1914. The war would clearly be the dominant issue of the new pontificate, so the cardinals' priority was to choose a man with great diplomatic experience. Thus on 3 September 1914 Della Chiesa, despite having been a Cardinal only three months, was elected Pope, taking the name of Benedict XV.


Papal styles of
Pope Benedict XV
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous stylenone

Benedict XV's pontificate was dominated by the Great War, which he termed "the suicide of Europe", and its turbulent aftermath. His early call for a Christmas truce in 1914 was ignored, and though the Pope organised significant humanitarian efforts (establishing a Vatican bureau, for instance, to help prisoners of war from all nations contact their families) and made many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate peace, his effectiveness even in Italy was undermined by his pacifist stance. The best known was the seven-point Papal Peace proposal of August 1917, demanding a cessation of hostilities, a reduction of armaments, guaranteed freedom of the seas, and international arbitration. Only Woodrow Wilson responded directly, declaring that a declaration of peace was premature; in Europe each side saw him as biased in favour of the other and were unwilling to accept the terms he proposed. This resentment contributed to the exclusion of the Vatican from the Paris Peace conference of 1919 (although it was also part of a historical pattern of marginalization of Benedict XV's political clout after the loss of the papal states); despite this, he wrote an encyclical pleading for international reconciliation, Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherrimum [1].

In the post-war period Benedict was involved in developing the Church administration to deal with the new international system that had emerged.

In internal Church affairs, Benedict XV reiterated Pius X's condemnation of "modernist" scholars and the errors in modern philosophical systems in his first encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, and declined to readmit to full communion scholars who had been excommunicated during the previous pontificate. However, he calmed what he saw as the excesses of the anti-modernist campaign within the Church.

The Pope was also disturbed by the revolution in Russia. Although it would not be until after his death that the persecutions of Christians would take full swing (under the leadership of Stalin, the Pope watched in horror the butchery of the Russian Civil War and the famines that were caused due to the policies of the Lenin government.

Benedict XV also promulgated a new Code of Canon Law in 1917 and attempted to improve relations with the anticlerical Republican government of France. He canonised the French national heroine Saint Joan of Arc. In the mission territories of the Third World, he emphasised the necessity of training native priests to replace the European missionaries as soon as possible, and established a Coptic college in the Vatican.

In physical appearance, Benedict XV was a slight, rather sickly man (the smallest of the three cassocks which had been prepared for whoever the new Pope might be in 1914 was still a good deal too big for him). He was renowned for his generosity, answering all pleas for help from poor Roman families with large cash gifts from his private revenues.

Benedict XV had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and like all the modern Popes encouraged the wearing of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He endorsed the belief that wearing it piously brings "the singular privilege of protection after death" from eternal damnation, and granted an indulgence for every time it was kissed. He also added the title 'Queen of Peace' to her Litany, and gave his support to an understanding of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces (by approving a Mass and office under this title for the dioceses of Belgium) and affirmed that "together with Christ she redeemed the human race" by her immolation of Christ as his sorrowful mother (in his apostolic letter Inter sodalicia).

Benedict XV fell ill with pneumonia in early January 1922. Speculation around the world about the 67 year old pontiff's impending death went so far that a New York newspaper mistakenly ran a front page headline announcing that he had died when, in fact, he continued on. The newspaper had a sense of humor about its terrible gaffe and ran a follow-up headline later in the day, "Pope has remarkable recovery". On January 22, Benedict XV died of the illness.

Although one of the less remembered Popes of the twentieth century, Benedict XV was unique in his humane approach in the world of 19141918, which starkly contrasts with that of the other great monarchs and leaders of the time. His worth is reflected in the tribute engraved at the foot of the statue that the Turks, a non-Catholic, non-Christian people, erected of him in Istanbul: "The great Pope of the world tragedy...the benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion."

Pope Benedict XVI[]

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger showed his own admiration for Benedict XV following his election to the Papacy on April 19th, 2005. The election of a new Pope is often accompanied by conjecture over his choice of papal name; it is widely believed that a Pope chooses the name of a predecessor whose teachings and legacy he wishes to continue. Ratzinger's choice of "Benedict" was seen as a signal that Benedict XV's views on humanitarian diplomacy, and his stance against relativism and modernism combined with a certain moderation, would be emulated during the reign of the new Pope.

During his first General Audience in St. Peter's Square on April 27, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to Benedict XV when explaining his choice: "Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples."

It has been reported that the relatively short 20th century reign of Benedict XV was another reason for the choice.

(Note on numbering: Pope Benedict X is now considered an anti-pope. At the time however, this fact was not recognized and so the tenth true Pope Benedict took the official number XI. So the true fourteenth Pope Benedict took the official number XV. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Benedict by one. Popes Benedict XI-XVI are really the tenth through fifteenth popes by that name.)

External links[]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Domenico Svampa
Archbishop of Bologna
18 December 1907 – 3 September 1914

Succeeded by
Giorgio Gusmini
Preceded by
Pietro Respighi
Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati
25 May 1914 – 3 September 1914

Succeeded by
Victoriano Guisasola Menéndez
Preceded by
Pius X
3 September 1914 – 22 January 1922

Succeeded by
Pius XI
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