Pope Pius VI

Pope Pius VI

Pope Pius VII, born Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, shepherded the Catholic Church through an era rife with upheaval and transformation, from 1800 to 1823.

Pope Pius VII was the 250th leader of the Catholic Church and the sixth among that lot to take the name “Pius.”

His papacy intersected with the dramatic events of the Napoleonic era, a period that tested the Church’s resilience like few others. This piece aims to illuminate the life and legacy of Pope Pius VII, whose leadership was characterized by a blend of steadfast faith and strategic diplomacy.

Facing challenges that ranged from negotiating the Concordat of 1801, which sought to reconcile the Church with the French Republic, to enduring personal captivity at the hands of Napoleon, Pius VII’s tenure was marked by his unwavering commitment to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Church.

As we journey through his early years, rise to the papacy, and the defining moments of his pontificate, we uncover the story of a pope who navigated the complexities of his time with grace and strength, leaving an enduring impact on the Catholic Church’s history.

Life Before the Papacy.

Giovanni Braschi was the eldest of Count Marco Aurelio Tommaso Braschi’s and Ana Teresa Bandi’s eight children. After studying at Cesena’s Jesuit college, where he earned doctorates in canon and civil law, he pursued further education within the halls of the University of Ferrara.

His first work with the Church was as secretary to Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo, the papal legate and Bishop of Ostia and Velletri. Ruffo appreciated the young man and elevated him to auditor upon becoming Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

In recognition of his considerable diplomacy within the court of Naples and shortl after Cardinal Ruffo’s death, Pope Benedict XIV appointed Braschi to serve among his secretaries. after abstaining from marriage in 1758, Braschi formerly joined the priesthood and also served as Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura until a year later.

He would then become auditor and secretary for Pope Clement XIII’s nephew, Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico. 1766 would see Clement XIII intervene again, appointing Bruschi to treasurer of the camera apostolica.

Bruschi would later become elevated to Cardinal by Clement XIV on April 26th, 1773, serving as Cardinal-Priest of Sant’Onofrio. Soon after, he retired to the Abbey of Subiaco.

The Concordat of 1801

Pope Pius VII, stepping into his papal role in a time of great turmoil for the Catholic Church, faced the monumental task of restoring peace and stability after the upheaval of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

A significant achievement of his papacy was the negotiation of the Concordat of 1801 with Napoleon Bonaparte, the then First Consul of France. This agreement was a delicate balancing act, aimed at reconciling the fractured relationship between the French state and the Catholic Church.

The Concordat of 1801 was the result of intricate negotiations, where Pius VII demonstrated remarkable diplomacy and resilience. Recognizing the need for compromise, Pius VII was willing to make concessions for the greater good of restoring the Church’s presence in France.

The Concordat acknowledged Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French people, while also allowing for religious tolerance towards others. It granted the French government the right to nominate bishops, who would then be appointed by the Pope, effectively giving the state a significant role in church matters, but it also ensured that the Church could publicly practice and administer sacraments, restoring much of its civil status and presence in French society.

Pius VII’s negotiation of the Concordat was a strategic move to heal the rift between the Church and the revolutionary French state, seeking a middle ground that would respect the sovereignty of both parties. Though it faced criticism from various quarters for the compromises made, the Concordat played a crucial role in stabilizing the Church’s position in France and laid the groundwork for the Church’s reconstruction in the post-revolutionary era.

Through this diplomatic achievement, Pope Pius VII managed to safeguard the Church’s interests and reassert its influence in European affairs, marking a significant chapter in the history of the Catholic Church’s relationship with secular powers.

Papal Legacy.

  • While he was dedicated to reforming the church, some felt he did so with a discriminatory bent. He twice promoted an uncle, Giovanni Carlo Bandi.
  • He established the first American episcopal see in North America and the Diocese of Baltimore.
  • He saw the French Revolution as a conspiracy to overthrow God’s will. He believed the central reason for the Revolution was defiance of the Church.
  • After French forces managed to make it into Rome without any opposition, Pius VI was asked to renounce his control over the region. After refusing, he was taken into french custody.

List of Events In The Life of Pope Pius VII (Giovanni Braschi)

25 Dec 1717Born
175840.0Ordained PriestPriest
26 Apr 177355.3Elevated to Cardinal
10 May 177355.3InstalledCardinal-Priest of Sant’Onofrio
15 Feb 177557.1ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
22 Feb 177557.1Ordained BishopPope (Roma, Italy)
29 Aug 179981.6DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

See the full list of Popes

Quick Facts About Pope Pius VI.

  • He was born within the Papal States on Christmas Day, 1717.
  • His full given name was Count Giovanni Angelo Braschi.
  • He died August 29th, 1799.
  • He lost his life due to a combination of old age and conditions related to imprisonment by the government of France’s Emperor Napoleon I.
  • His papacy began on February 15th, 1775.
  • His papacy ended with his life.
  • His papal successor was Pius VII. Notably, there was a span of 228 days where the Church was without a church due to the circumstances surrounding Pius VI’s death while imprisoned, the conclave being held in Venice and half a year of deadlock in electing a pope successor.

Five Interesting Facts About Pope Pius VI.

  1. His papal motto translates from Latin as “it blossoms in the house of God.”
  2. While he hailed King Louis XVI as a martyr, the late French monarch was never canonized.
  3. He was the longest-reigning pope of his time and remains among the top 10 men to serve the position the longest.
  4. Although his body was embalmed immediately after death, Napoleon did not bury it until January 30th, 1800. This was a political move intended to control Catholicism from France instead of Rome, which had been made a French-controlled Roman Republic.
  5. He was buried in Valence, exhumed on Christmas Eve of 1801, and, with Pope Pius VII present, buried again, in Rome on February 19th, 1802.