A bulky but readable history of the last leader of the Papal States.
Pio Nono, or Pius IX, was one of the architects of the modern Catholic Church, the pontiff who forged the doctrine of papal infallibility while making some decidedly fallible choices on the front of worldly politics. According to Pulitzer Prize winner Kertzer (Social Science/Brown Univ.; The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, 2014, etc.), the pope had reasonably humane inclinations but not much sense of the power politics of the day. He found himself in an uncomfortable alliance with France while facing off against the nationalist forces that, inspired by Garibaldi’s red shirts, would forge a unified country out of a collection of rival city-states and principalities. One legacy of Pius IX’s time is the tiny enclave of Vatican City, surrounded by an Italy that, nominally Catholic, does not suffer much political interference from it. That tradition reflects on the fraught relationship with Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel, who died early in his reign. As Kertzer writes, “the Catholic press made much of this evidence of divine punishment, although it might have made more of it had the elderly Pius IX not died four weeks later.” Though broadly criticized in his time, the pope, a hero of conservatives today, was elevated to sainthood during John Paul’s papacy. The cardinal who guided Pius IX in political matters has not fared so well, Kertzer notes; while attempting to preserve the pope’s 1,000-year-old kingdom, he enriched himself and his family while allegedly maintaining a series of mistresses. In the end, writes the author, the old papacy was a victim of the Enlightenment, which had further implications when the Second Vatican Council removed some of the last of its medieval vestiges.
A touch too long but a pleasingly encompassing view of the hapless papal reign that inspired Kertzer’s early book The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortaro (1997).