- Ercole Consalvi. Le scelte per la Chiesa
Roberto Regoli has produced a major work on Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, secretary of state under Pius VII, a work of great erudition, utility, and interest. [End Page 389] Consalvi (1757–1824) was a man of intelligence, perceptivity, and practical sense quite superior to most Roman curialists of the time, and one who was highly trusted by Pius VII. The book deals mainly with two periods of Consalvi's career, his negotiations with Napoleon in the years 1800–01, and dealings with several governments at the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15. It does not deal with his important role at that Congress itself. Regoli undertakes an in-depth study of the religious, personal, and political factors operative in the Church's attempts to cope with the situation in Europe in the wake of the French Revolution, focusing consistently on Consalvi's "choices for the Church."
He begins with a rather exhaustive eighty-six-page informative review of everything written about Consalvi from his own time through the twentieth century. A most interesting chapter relates in detail the formation and personality of Consalvi, beginning with the ecclesio-political scene in which he grew up. Born and mostly educated in Rome, he knew the Roman curial mentality well, including its serious limitations. In Rome there were the few politicanti, who could see some reasons for acceptance of revolutionary developments (these few were led by Consalvi) and the zelanti, rigidly opposed to any compromises with new ideas.What hopes Consalvi had for the evolution of Roman thinking and practice had to wait for over a hundred years.
Regoli's one-hundred-page chapter on the Holy See and France recounts in a very detailed day-by-day account the lengthy negotiations between Consalvi and Napoleon that resulted in the concordat of 1801. Pius VII also wanted some reconciliation with France but needed Consalvi's strong leadership to achieve a workable settlement. Moving up to the time of the Congress of Vienna, Regoli offers much very interesting information on Consalvi's efforts to achieve some relief for the Catholics in England and Ireland, some dealings with Josephinist Austria and with Germany and Russia.The restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814 can be considered a failure of Consalvi: He did not favor it because he feared the reactions of several governments to the reappearance of the Jesuits.
He did, together with Pius VII and all the Romans, want to retain all the Papal States, and his diplomatic skill was a major factor in the Holy See's success in this effort.The zelanti felt that for the Church to accept the new idea of religious tolerance must mean "indifferentism," that is, that Catholics no longer need to believe traditional doctrines. Consalvi disagreed strongly on this, thinking that there are good reasons for favoring tolerance, especially if one wants reciprocity for Catholics in Protestant and Orthodox states. All these and more topics are dealt with clearly with profuse notes and references. Of special interest are informative biographical notes on the many persons dealt with in this quite valuable and interesting history. [End Page 390]