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Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX
English name Pius IX
Birth name Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferrretti
Term start June 16, 1846
Term end February 7, 1878
Predecessor Gregory XVI
Successor Leo XIII
Birth date May 13, 1792
Birth place Senigallia, Italy
Death date February 7, 1878
Death place Apostolic Palace, The Vatican

Pope Pius IX (May 13, 1792February 7, 1878), born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, reigned as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from his election in June 16, 1846, until his death more than 31 years later in 1878, making him the longest-reigning Pope since the Apostle St. Peter. Pius IX was elected as the candidate of the liberal and moderate wings on the College of Cardinals, following the pontificate of arch-conservative Pope Gregory XVI. Initially sympathetic to democratic and modernizing reforms in Italy and in the Church, Pius became increasingly conservative after he was deposed as the temporal ruler of the Papal States in the events that followed the Revolutions of 1848. He formally adopted the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and organized the First Vatican Council, which enshrined the dogma of papal infallibility.

Early life and ministry[]

Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was born in Senigallia, Italy into the noble family of Girolamo dei conti Ferretti, and was educated at the Piarist College in Volterra and in Rome. He attempted to join the Noble Guard but was turned down due to his epilepsy. He instead studied theology at the Roman Seminary. He was ordained in April 1819. He worked initially as the rector of the Tata Giovanni Institute in Rome before being sent to Chile and Peru in 18231825, to assist the Apostolic Nuncio, Mons. Giovanni Muzi, in the first mission to post-revolutionary South America [1]. He returned to become head of the hospital of San Michele in Rome (18251827) and canon of Santa Maria in Via Lata. Father Mastai-Ferretti was made Archbishop of Spoleto in 1827, at the age of 35. In 1831 the abortive revolution that had begun in Parma and Modena spread to Spoleto; the Archbishop obtained a general pardon after it was suppressed, gaining him a reputation for being liberal. The following year he was moved to the more prestigious diocese of Imola, was made a cardinal in pectore in 1839, and in 1840 was publicly announced as Cardinal Priest of Santi Pietro e Marcellino. According to historians, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti was considered a liberal during his episcopate in Spoleto and Imola because he supported administrative changes in the Papal States and sympathized with the nationalist movement in Italy.

Papal election[]

Papal styles of
Pope Pius IX
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleBlessed

The conclave of 1846, following the death of Pope Gregory XVI (1831–46), was one which took place within an unsettled political climate in Italy. Because of this, many foreign Cardinals decided not to attend the conclave. At its start, only 46 out of 62 cardinals were present.

Moreover, the conclave of 1846 was steeped in a factional division between conservatives and liberals. The conservatives supported Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini, Gregory XVI's secretary of state. Liberals supported two candidates: Cardinal Pasquale Tommaso Gizzi and the 54 year-old Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti. During the first ballot, Mastai-Ferretti received 15 votes, the rest going to Cardinal Lambruschini and Cardinal Gizzi. Many thought that if Lambruschini was not elected, Gizzi would surely be selected.

Because the conclave was deadlocked, liberals and moderates decided to cast their votes for Mastai-Ferretti – a move that was certainly contrary to the general mood throughout Europe. By the second day of the conclave, on 16 June 1846, during an evening ballot, Mastai-Ferretti was elected Pope, having received a majority of 36 votes, while Lambruschini received only ten; Gizzi received no votes. Because it was night, no formal announcement was given, just the signal of white smoke. Many Catholics had assumed that Gizzi had been elected successor of St. Peter. In fact, celebrations began to take place in his home town, and his personal staff, following a long standing tradition, burned his cardinalatial vestments.

Pio 9

Arms of Pope Pius IX

On the following morning, the senior Cardinal-Deacon announced the election of Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti before what had to be a shocked crowd of faithful Catholics. Of course, when Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti appeared on the balcony, the mood became joyous. Mastai-Ferretti chose the name Pius IX in honor of Pope Pius VII (1800–23), who had encouraged Mastai-Ferretti's vocation to the priesthood despite his childhood epilepsy.

However, Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, now Pope Pius IX, had little diplomatic and no curial experience, which did cause some controversy. In fact, the government of the Empire of Austria as represented by Prince Metternich in its foreign affairs objected to even the possible election of Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti. Thus, Cardinal Gaisruck, Archbishop of Milan was sent to present the official veto of Mastai-Ferretti. However, Cardinal Gaisruck arrived too late: – the new Pope was already elected.

Pius IX was crowned on 21 June 1846, and chose Cardinal Gizzi as his Secretary of State. Liberal Europe applauded his election.

Pius IX's papacy[]

Liberalism and conservatism[]


Title page to El Syllabus, in Spanish.

As a liberal and someone aware of the political pressures within the Papal States, his first act was to announce a general amnesty for political prisoners. As his nature was kind-hearted and generous, he did not consider the potential implications of the amnesty – his concessions only provoked greater demands; radical Roman groups sought constitutional government and war with Austria. He was not so radical, and in an encyclical of November 1846 he denounced secret societies (such as Circolo Romano), the Bible associations, false philosophy, communism, and the press.

His initial reforms created quite a sensation among Italian patriots, both at home and in exile, that is best exemplified by the following letter written by Giuseppe Garibaldi from Montevideo, Uruguay.

"If these hands, used to fighting, would be acceptable to His Holiness, we most thankfully dedicate them to the service of him who deserves so well of the Church and of the fatherland. Joyful indeed shall we and our companions in whose name we speak be, if we may be allowed to shed our blood in defence of Pio Nono's work of redemption" (October 12, 1847). [A. Werner, Autobiography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Vol. III, p. 68, Howard Fertig, New York, 1971.]

His Syllabus of Errors issued in 1864 as an appendix to his encyclical Quanta Cura condemned as heresy 80 propositions, many on political topics, and firmly established his pontificate in opposition to secularism, rationalism, and modernism in all its forms, thus branding himself as an enemy of liberalism and a leading conservative. He is known to the Catholic faithful as "The Scourge of Liberalism."

Treatment of Jews[]

Pius IX's relations to the Jews remain ambiguous. He repealed laws that forbade Jews to practice certain professions and required them to listen to sermons four times per year aimed at their conversion. Judaism and Catholicism were the only religions allowed by law (Protestant worship was allowed to visiting foreigners, but strictly forbidden to Italians). The testimony of a Jew against a Christian remained inadmissible in courts of law, a tax levied only on Jews supported schools for the conversion of Jews to Catholicism, and Jews continued in various other respects to be discriminated against by law. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pius IX opened the Jewish ghetto in Rome, but after his return from exile in 1850 re-instituted it again.

In 1858, in a highly publicized case, a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, was taken from his parents by the police of the Papal States. He had reportedly been baptized by a Christian servant girl of the family while he was ill, because she feared that otherwise he would go to Hell if he died. At that time, the law did not permit Christians to be raised by Jews, even their own parents. Pius IX steadfastly refused calls from numerous heads of state including Emperor Franz Josef (1848–1916) of Austria-Hungary and Emperor Napoleon III of France (1852–70) to return the child to his parents.

The end of the Papal States[]

By early 1848, public disorder had forced Pius IX to concede a lay ministry and a constitution, although he held fast against war with Austria (April 1848). Public disorder grew, with repeated riots; the Prime Minister was murdered (November 15) and the Pope was denounced and trapped by a mob in the Quirinal. Pius IX escaped in disguise to Gaeta on November 24, leaving Rome to the radicals and the mob. A Roman Republic was declared in February 1849. When General Oudinot's expeditionary force made its direct attack in April 1849, and the Constituent Assembly in Rome passed a resolution of protest (May 7, 1849), French President Louis Napoleon (the future Napoleon III of France) encouraged him and assured him of reinforcements from France. The Pope appealed for support, and Napoleon – who had engaged in a liberal insurrection in the states of the church himself in 1831 – now sent troops that crushed the republic (June 29), although Pius IX did not return to Rome until April 1850. The French troops remained in Rome to protect the status quo until 1870 (see September Convention), while the Risorgimento united the remainder of Italy, leaving the block of the Papal States in the center.

Although Pius IX had lost his liberal tastes, temporal problems still beset his rule. The revolutionaries were still there, and the Papal States were coming under increased pressure from anti-papal nationalists – notably Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1861–78) of Piedmont. The Pope was obliged to rely on French and Austrian soldiers to maintain order and protect his territories. Napoleon III and Cavour (Premier to Victor Emmanuel) agreed to war on Austria. Following the Battle of Magenta (July 4, 1859) the Austrian forces withdrew from the Papal States, precipitating their loss to Sardinia. Revolutionaries in Romagna called upon Piedmont for annexation. In February 1860, Victor Emmanuel II demanded Umbria and the Marches; when his demand was refused, he took them by force. After defeating the papal army on September 18 at Castelfidardo, and on September 30 at Ancona, Victor Emmanuel took all the Papal territories except Latium with Rome. In September 1870, he seized Rome as well, making it the capital of a new united Italy. He granted Pius IX the Law of Guarantees (May 13, 1871) which gave the Pope the use of the Vatican but denied him sovereignty over this territory, nevertheless granting him the right to send and receive ambassadors and 3.25 m lira a year. Pius IX officially rejected this offer (encyclical Ubi nos, May 15, 1871), retaining his claim to all the conquered territory. Although he was not forbidden or prevented from travelling as he wished, he called himself a prisoner in the Vatican. See also September Convention.

With the end of the Papal States in 1870, Pope Pius IX was thus the last Pope to hold temporal powers.

The pontificate of Pius IX from his return to Rome in April 1850 to 20 September 1870 is discussed in the book by Raffaele De Cesare, The Last Days of Papal Rome, Archibald Constable & Co, London (1909). The following are excerpts:

The Roman question was the stone tied to Napoleon's feet--that dragged him into the abyss. He never forgot, even in August 1870, a month before Sedan, that he was a sovereign of a Catholic country, that he had been made Emperor, and was supported by the votes of the Conservatives and the influence of the clergy; and that it was his supreme duty not to abandon the Pontiff. [Chap. XXXIV, p 440]
For twenty years Napoleon III had been the true sovereign of Rome, where he had many friends and relations ... . Without him the temporal power would never have been reconstituted, nor, being reconstituted, would have endured. [Chap. XXXIV, p 443]
The Pope's reception of San Martino [10 Sept. 1870] was unfriendly. Pius IX allowed violent outbursts to escape him. Throwing the King's letter upon the table he exclaimed, "Fine loyalty! You are all a set of vipers, of whited sepulchres, and wanting in faith." He was perhaps alluding to other letters received from the King. After, growing calmer, he exclaimed: "I am no prophet, nor son of a prophet, but I tell you, you will never enter Rome!" San Martino was so mortified that he left the next day. [Chap. XXXIV, p 444]

Church and spirituality[]

Besides the loss of territory in Italy, the rights of the Church were reduced across Europe, with Piedmont leading the way (a loss Pius condemned repeatedly, in allocutions in 1850, 1852, 1853 and 1855). By decree of Pope Pius IX on 29 September 1850, the Catholic hierarchy was restored on a regular pattern to England and Wales. The Church was reduced in the German states due to the power of Protestantism; in 1873 a Kulturkampf was started in Prussia and elsewhere against the Church. The situation was even worse for the Church in Switzerland, Poland and Russia, while in the New World the Pope denounced Colombia (1852) and Mexico (1861) for their anti-Church legislation. However, Pius IX did manage to secure satisfactory concordats with Spain, Austria, Portugal and a number of Caribbean and South American states. By the Bull Universalis Ecclesiae (29 September 1850), he recreated a Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales, which had become extinct with the death of the last Marian bishop in the reign of Elizabeth I; a similar pronouncement followed for the Netherlands in 1853.

In spiritual matters Pius IX was much more vigorous. His December 1864 encyclical Quanta cura condemned eighty errors (Syllabus errorum) related to many of the important intellectual ideas of the century such as rationalism, socialism, communism, and freedom of religion. In 1854 he became one of the few Popes to issue a statement considered infallible when he defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He also organised the First Vatican Council (18691870) which defined the dogma of Papal infallibility.

A detailed analysis of the First Vatican Council, and how the passage of the infallibility dogma was orchestrated, is contained in the book by the Catholic priest August Bernhard Hasler: HOW THE POPE BECAME INFALLIBLE: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuation, Doubleday (1981) [translation of WIE DER PAPST UNFEHLBAR WURDE: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas, R. Piper & Co. Verlag (1979)].

Pius IX beatified 15 individuals, one in 1847, 1850 and 1861, and 11 in 1867: Margaret Colonna (1847), Peter Claver (1850), John Leonardi (1861), John Baptist Machado (1867), John Baptist Zola (1867), John Kinsaco (1867), John Yano (1867), John Foyamon (1867), John Maki (1867), John Cochumbuco (1867), John Xoun (1867), John Ivanango (1867), John Montajana (1867), and Thomas Tsugi (1867). He also canonized four others: John of Cologne (1867), John of Osterwick (1867), John Soan de Goto (1867),Nicholas Pieck (1867).

Death and beatification[]

Pius IX died on 7 February 1878 from natural causes. His last words were "Guard the church I loved so well and sacredly" as recorded by the Cardinals kneeling beside his bedside. His body was originally buried in St. Peter's grotto, but was moved 13 July 1881 to the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. The event was almost disrupted when a mob tried to seize the body and throw it into the Tiber River. When his body was exhumed during the beatification process during the reign of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) it was found to be totally incorrupt, a fact that caused some surprise amongst the witnesses.

The process for his beatification was begun on February 11, 1907, and recommenced three times. Pope John Paul II (1978–2005) declared him venerable on July 6, 1985, and beatified him on September 3, 2000. This latter ceremony also included the beatification of Pope John XXIII (1958–63).

The beatification of Pius IX is a subject of controversy in light of some of his actions during his time as Pope, and lingering questions concerning his mental well-being in the last years of his reign. Some Jews and Catholics have expressed concern that if Pius IX were to be declared a saint, it would seriously hamper Catholic-Jewish relations.


Pius IX had the longest reign in the history of the post-apostolic papacy, celebrating his silver jubilee in 1871. Despite his own wishes, Pius IX's pontificate also marks the beginning of the modern papacy, which was freed of its temporal sovereignty during his reign. From this point on, the papacy became and continues to become more and more a spiritual, and less a temporal, authority.

For all his achievements, Pius IX was considered a conservative Pope by the standards of the time, and he was often lampooned by reference to the Italian version of his name (Pio Nono), as Pio No No.

One enduring popular touch, however, lies in Pius IX's artistic legacy as author of the Italian-language lyrics of Italy's best known indigenous Christmas carol, Tu scendi dalle stelle ("From starry skies descended"), originally a Neapolitan language song written by Saint Alphonsus Liguori.

To commemorate his term as pope, there is a street in Montreal called Pie-IX, French for Pius IX. There is also a stop on the Montreal Metro system called Pie-IX serving the street, located at the foot of the Olympic stadium. Also, there is a street in Santiago, Chile called Pío Nono, Spanish for Pius IX and a secondary school with the same name (Pio IX) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

External links[]


  • Raffaele De Cesare, The Last Days of Papal Rome, Archibald Constable & Co, London (1909)
  • August Bernhard Hasler: HOW THE POPE BECAME INFALLIBLE: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuation, Doubleday (1981) [translation of WIE DER PAPST UNFEHLBAR WURDE: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas, R. Piper & Co. Verlag (1979)]
  • David I Kertzer, 2004. Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes' Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State (Houghton Mifflin) ISBN 9780618224425
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Mario Ancaiani
Archbishop of Spoleto
21 May 1827 – 17 December 1832

Succeeded by
Ignazio Giovanni Cadolino
Preceded by
Giacomo Giustiniani
Bishop of Imola
17 December 1832 – 16 June 1846

Succeeded by
Gaetano Baluffi
Preceded by
Gregory XVI
16 June 1846 – 7 February 1878

Succeeded by

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