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Saturday, April 02, 2005

The masons are in retreat

It seems like a good day to recall Pius IX.

Pio Nono, it is said, was a great favorite of the present Pope’s (present, as of today). This is no doubt why, in 2000, his beatification was set in motion. Commonweal at the time published an article (“No No Pio Nono” ) that began straightforwardly enough:

“Is Pope Pius IX, who occupied the throne of Peter from 1846 to 1878, with God? We certainly hope so. But is this author of the notorious "Syllabus of Errors" (1864), diehard defender of the papacy's temporal rule, unyielding foe of freedom of conscience, speech, thought, and religion, of Protestantism, ecumenism, and the separation of church and state, a figure to be singled out for public veneration by the Catholic church? Is this a man whose life and character should be celebrated and held up for imitation? And should he be yoked, in memory and honor, with Pope John XXIII who called the Second Vatican Council, in part, to heal the wounds that Pius spent much of his pontificate inflicting on the church and European society?”

In the same year, the Massachusetts Review published an article on the continuity between Pius IX and John Paul II: :A Nineteenth-Century Church for the New Millennium: The Legacy of Pius IX and John Paul II” by Bob Swacker and Brian Deimling. Pius IX was elected Pope two years before the appearance of the Communist Manifesto. He was, supposedly, a liberal. He turned out to be the most recalcitrant of reactionaries, and in nothing so reactionary as in his clinging to temporal power in Rome, however shrunken the territory. It was Pius IX who made the doctrine of papal infallibility official, thus setting up a paradox of performativity that even Austin could not untangle.

Here’s a nice summary of Pius IX’s work:

“Pius's great work was the Vatican Council he convened in 1870. Here was his chance to do battle with Voltaire, Locke, Marx, Mazzini, Darwin and all the others whose perfidious beliefs and theories challenged his worldview. He spent his entire papacy with the council's planning, building up the papacy to set this council apart from the counciliar tradition m which the bishops discussed and debated doctrinal questions. The Vatican Council would be completely dominated by the Bishop of Rome.

Pius had backed out on Mazzini in the 1848 nationalist attempt to unify Italy. A dozen years later he stood against Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, and Victor Emmanuel when a united Italy was proclaimed, because it included the Papal States and had its eyes on Rome. When King Victor Emmanuel's popular plebiscite on the incorporation of Rome into Italy as the new capital (since 1862 it had been Florence) won 153,681 to 1,507 Pius petulantly retreated to the 108.7-acre Vatican enclave as a "prisoner." He lashed out, calling on Italians to boycott the new Italian government. (Neither he nor his successors left the grounds until the 1929 Lateran Accord with Mussolini "liberated" them and gave the Catholic Church educational access to the Italian public school system and Vatican control over public morals m Rome, as well as a significant indemnity. The price was a begrudging papal acceptance of the political reality of Italy.)

Always a supporter of religious freedom for Catholics, Pius signed an 1851 Concordat with Isabella II of Spain and a similar agreement in 1855 with Austria's Franz Josef opposing religious rights for anyone except Catholics. His opposition to democracy and republicanism provoked reaction in Western Europe where democratic impulses were gaining ground, and also in the United States where his opposition to public schools and the social work of Protestant benevolent associations intensified Nativist sentiments and anti-immigrant hostility. Needless to say, the pope opposed socialism and trade unionism.”

John Paul II obviously saw his own reflection in this predecessor, but the unfortunate constraints of modernity have kept the Church from pursuing the goal of religious and moral monopoly with quite Piux IX’s vigor.

When Andre Gide wrote the Cellars of the Vatican, he infused into it the pantomime conspiracy of Masons against Catholics – a conspiracy that was, nevertheless, firmly believed by Catholics in the nineteenth century. For Americans, who think of Masons as, vaguely, Shriners without the funny hats, or at best as the inspiration for the Magic Flute, this is preposterous – it is like supposing a conventicle of the Optimist Society pulled the strings to bring about the Cold War. But Pius IX’s supporters – his name rallies the anti-modernist faction in the Church – is still wary of those Masons.

And of course, Pius IX did have a problem with the Jews…

Piux IX died in 1878. Dead, he could be moved from the Vatican. When, however, his body was being transferred in a coffin on July 12, 1881, the procession was attacked by a Roman mob bent on tossing the late pontiff’s remains into the Tiber. They were repelled, eventually, which is why the remains could remain perfectly sweet, according to a report made to his beatification committee in 2000, as is befitting a saint.

Pius IX has good reason to smell sweet in 2005. The rise of anti-semitism is going along swimmingly. In Russia, an attack on an art exhibit that the Orthodox Church viewed as blasphemous has resulted in a fine – given to the artists. The United States, so influenced, at one time, by democracy, is settling down in a mix of oligarchy and theocracy, and has embarked on a crusade in the Middle East with very Christian overtones. Everywhere, the enemies of the church – Voltairism, tolerance, science – are in retreat. The Masons are fleeing.

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