Some little while ago, a kind Canadian benefactor sent me a book ... small, as we say, but perfectly formed ... which set me thinking about the Temporal Power of the Papacy. It was a reissue of a book by Dom Martial Besse (1861-1920) about Mgr Louis-Francois-Desire-Edouard Pie, Cardinal Bishop of Poitiers (1815-1880). (Le Cardinal Pie Sa Vie Son Action religieuse et Sociale; Edition de Chire). I commend it to anyone who can muddle through a little French and is mindful of C S Lewis's wise advice that one should never read another new book until one has read three old ones.
"The temporal Government of the Vicar of Jesus Christ is, in effect, the very nearly unique refuge of orthodox polity (la politique orthodoxe). What a triumph for Hell, if this last fortress of Christian Order (le droit chretien) were broken and overturned." Pie sees in such sacrilegious enterprises as the Piedmontese and Garibaldian aims of uniting Italy "a supreme effort of the Revolution and of Hell to introduce the principles of 1789 in the whole of Italy and even in the States of the Church, to the end that the church would no longer have the thought, the possibility of re-establishing the principles of Christian Order among the nations".
I suppose most of us would defend the establishment of the Vatican City-State as a useful way of preserving the independence of the Church from any secular state. It was certainly useful in WW2. But it had never occurred to me to see in it any deeper purpose. Which means, I suppose, that I am less wise than so many of those builders of Europe, both in its West and in its East, who understood just a little of the meaning of the Kingship of Christ. I gather Cardinal Pie has not been totally forgotten in France; perhaps he deserves to be better known this side of the water. Perhaps Fr George Bampfield and his Papal Zouaves were not so stupid.
Not surprisingly, Victor Emmanuel complained to Napoleon III, who had one of his ministers pass the complaint on to Poitiers, and who spoke personally about it to the future Cardinal. But Pie was not to be silenced; he spoke movingly at the funeral of Papal Zouaves who died defending the rights of the Holy See; he saw meaning in the person of the de jure Henry V.
Who, some people say, could have had his throne if he had been prepared to accept the revolutionary tricolore.
Would that have been a proper sacrifice to make?
9 August 2022
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