Pius VII

Pius VII, 1740–1823, pope (1800–1823), an Italian named Barnaba Chiaramonti, b. Cesena; successor of Pius VI, who had created him cardinal in 1785. He conducted himself ably during the period of the French Revolution, showing sympathy for the social aims of the Revolution. A protracted conclave in 1799–1800 ended with his election. His secretary, Ercole Consalvi, was a guiding force throughout his pontificate. An early event was the Concordat of 1801 with Napoleon, to reestablish the church in France and set up a new hierarchy; much of it was vitiated by Napoleon's Organic Articles, which Pius would not accept. In 1804, Napoleon forced Pius to come to Paris to consecrate him as emperor, only to demean him at the last minute by taking the crown from the pope's hands and crowning himself. Napoleon found Pius intractable when not directly under his influence, and the French eventually took Rome (1808) and the Papal States (1809). Pius excommunicated the assailants of the Holy See, and Napoleon had him taken prisoner and removed to Fontainebleau. The pope was browbeaten into signing a new concordat, which he disavowed after the battle of Leipzig. In 1814, after Napoleon's downfall, Pius returned to Rome in triumph. One of his first acts was to restore the Society of Jesus. The rest of Pius's pontificate was devoted to reestablishing the church in Europe. The Papal States were restored at the Congress of Vienna, and a series of concordats were signed with European powers. At the same time Pius VII's stolidity in the face of humiliation began a revival of personal popularity for the pope that has since characterized Catholicism. Napoleon had treated Pius VII with sneering brutality, yet the pope's treatment of the fallen emperor's family was a model of benevolence: he gave them haven at Rome and interceded with the British to lighten Napoleon's treatment. He was on better terms with Great Britain than any pope had been since the Reformation, and he was keenly interested in the United States and in the Roman Catholic Church there. His patronage of artists was munificent. Leo XII succeeded him.

See E. E. Y. Hales, The Emperor and the Pope (1961).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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