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  • Le Pontificat de Léon XIII: Renaissances du Saint-Siège?
  • Owen Chadwick
Le Pontificat de Léon XIII: Renaissances du Saint-Siège? Edited by Philippe Levillain and Jean-Marc Ticchi. [Collection de l'École française de Rome, Volume 368.] (Rome: École Française de Rome. 2006. Pp. x, 523. paperback. ISBN: 2-7283-0754-7.)

These essays are the Acts of the Colloquy at Paris on October 16-17, 2003. The collected papers from most colloquies so vary in quality that portions can usually be 1eft to one side. That is not so with this volume, for all the contributors, despite the question mark of the title, are unanimous in believing Leo to be a great Pope, and contribute to our knowledge of that remarkable period in papal history. They were fortunate that in 1979 John Paul II opened up the archives. Levillain gives an up-to-date (2002) list of writings about Leo from the moment of his accession and other essayists comment on past treatments, important in considering the work of that master of the ancient world, Henri Marrou.

The mood of the Catholic world was intransigeance, and naturally a pope who started to reign at the age of sixty-eight shared those convictions. No compromise, no concession, hold fast to tradition in discipline as well as doctrine. The cardinals at the Conclave of 1878 refused to elect Bilio, who as the part-author of the Syllabus represented that mood, in favor of Pecci, who had some (not much) political experience and whom they expected to live a short time. By his use of the French archives Bernard Barbiche throws light on a relatively well-known conclave; the rejection of the respected Bilio was partly due to awareness that the French were likely to use their veto against him, and vetos were to be avoided. It did not mean that a majority of cardinals did not share the intransigeance.

Yet Leo had a quality that did not marry the general mood. He cared about history, and despite public belief in its irrelevance, it can force revolutions in ideas. Philippe Boutry, nevertheless, shows how it fitted his conservative ideas; he imagined that history would clear away legends which pseudo-history recorded about the Catholic Church; he knew that history is a war upon lies; if historians are given access to the documents of the past they will demolish legend—and he was hardly aware they were certain also to discover matter which would be awkward for those who wished for no change in ideas. The outlook contained an attractive axiom, that history has a moral content, Clamat enim quodammodo omnis historia, Deum esse, in a way all history cries aloud that God is. [End Page 161]

Two valuable essays treat the situation in Rome when there were no longer States of the Church, not even a Vatican City. One (Catherine Brice) supplements the usual view of the militant power of the new government, with its seizure of the Quirinal Palace and then the ecclesiastical buildings for government offices, by showing how the traditions, institutions, families, and money of Catholic Rome, with pilgrims from abroad, kept much of the older atmosphere. Another (François Jankowiak} records how a Curia, designed for different purposes, had to be changed and resisted change.

Perhaps the most interesting essay, because in ground little known before, are those which concern Orthodoxy in Russia and the Slavs of the Balkans, Armenians and Catholics inside the Ottoman Empire. Leo longed to end the schism with the East. He desired to achieve this by helping Uniate congregations and failed to realize that this would further alienate the Orthodox (original matter here on the famous Strossmayer). What should be done about the traditional French protectorate in the Near East in a time when French religion seemed to be falling apart?

Naturally, the encyclicals Aeterni Patris and Rerum Novarum are not omitted, but it is treatment of less visible subjects that specially holds the reader, such as the pope's desire to unify the Benedictine Order and give it a government in Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine, and how the plan failed (for the most...


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