The Roman Question

An investigation into the claims of the papacy.

By H. L. RUDY, President, Central European Division, Section II

When the Papacy entered into volun­tary captivity in 1870, it did so partly as a protest against the claims of the Italian government and partly because the time had come for it to adjust itself definitely to the revolutionary changes that had been effected in the great governments of the world. Having received a "deadly wound" during the French Revolution, the Papacy became so weak that it found itself at the mercy of a single national power by 1870. Yet in all pride, the symbolized "woman" that had been riding the scarlet-colored beast, was not willing to surrender to the terms laid down for her by Italy. She must seek a way back to universal recognition and power. The only way left open to her was to refuse the terms imposed upon her by the Italian government and se­clude herself as a prisoner within the confines of the Vatican.

The sixty years' "imprisonment" (1870­1929) were well employed by the Papacy. She resolutely faced the reality that she could no more summon secular armies to fight her bat­tles. Secular Catholicism was a thing of the past. The question to be answered now was : How can the Papacy continue ho exercise uni­versal power over the souls of men without the employment of secular armies ? Until this fundamental question was sufficiently clarified, there could be no official negotiations with Italy.

Ever since 1870 the popes have faithfully applied themselves to the solution of this prob­lem. The organization of the Holy See was enlarged to include new branches of activity. New congregations were created to care for the education of a foreign clergy, and to re­vive missionary activities throughout the world. All the powers of the church were summoned to a spiritual revival of Catholicism. Great success attended their effort. The Catholicism of the church was presented, and the universal authority of the Papacy was maintained. With these results attained even more fully than could be hoped at first, the Papacy was ready to take its place among the powers of earth again, although this time not as a secular but as a spiritual power.

The first difficulty to be removed was the Roman question. Now that the church had gained such outstanding spiritual advantages, she was willing to forgo certain political claims which, after all, could never be realized again in a modern world. All that the Papacy needed now to establish herself as a universal spirit­ual power, capable of dealing independently with individual nations, was a few acres of sovereign territory and a practical basis for dealing with her nearest neighbor—the Italian government.

These requisites were met in the Lateran Agreements between Italy and the Vatican, and thus a very important chapter in the his­tory of the Papacy was concluded in 1929. The student of prophecy will find most fruitful employment in the study of the Roman ques­tion and its settlement.

End of the Papal State

With the accomplishment of national union in Italy, the history of the Roman Catholic Church entered upon a new epoch. Napoleon II's defeat at Sedan, September 2, 1870, meant the end of the Papal State. Encouraged by Prussia, Piemonter armed for the capture of Rome. On September 20 the Bersagliere of General Cadorna entered the Porta Pia in Rome after a brief bombardment of five hours, and the jubilant crowds welcomed the liberator. Soon the green-white-red flag was hoisted on the top of the capitol. The Pope was made defenseless, and on October 9 the Papal State became a part of the kingdom of Italy.

The way was now open for the king of Italy to enter Rome. The decision of the plebiscite, favoring incorporation of the Papal State into Italy, was made irrevocable. Vic­tor Emmanuel entered the Quirinal on June 2, 1871, and the Pope secluded himself in the Vatican as a voluntary prisoner in protest against the robbery of his territory and the vio­lation of the Law of Papal Guaranties. With no further trouble than the fact of broken power, Pius IX and the popes following him until 1929, enjoyed the unceasing opposition of Catholic countries toward the Italian atti­tude in regard to the Roman question.

The power of the Roman church was broken. From now on the secular state was supreme. At one time papal Rome had conquered Italy; now Rome was conquered by Italy. It is said that when Cadorna's bombardment ripped an opening in the Porta Pia, Pope Pius IX ex­claimed : "It is finished !" The hoisting of the white flag on top of St. Peter's as a sign of capitulation, meant nothing less than the relinquishing of Rome's claim on world ruler-ship. Dr. W. Oncken, the historian, makes the following comment on the pontifex at this time:

"Whatever may be said or written in the future about the rights of the popes to a kingdom, one thing was and has remained true: there were no more Romans present who wanted to obey the pontifex. The papal chair could lay claims to tem­poral powers of rulership both in word and in writ­ing, but the fact still remained that he was left a king without a country, without subjects. And that in truth was the only 'imprisonment' in which he found himself. Henceforth he was no more in possession of a worldly arm, but that did not hinder him in the least to enter the struggle for spiritual rulership of the world, which he has done in a manner during the century of the press and parlia­ments as could never have been dreamed of by the human mind."—"Das ,Zeitalter des Kaiser's Wil­helm," p. 389.

When Leo XIII ascended the papal throne in 1878 he sought to reconcile the Roman church with the modern state, with society and with modern thought. A man of learning and literary tastes, he passed into contempo­rary history as the great "reconciler of differ­ences," to use Carlyle's phrase. Although he has been praised for his superb diplomacy, the Pope's hopes were not all realized by any means. That was impossible because the pon­tiff's chief objective was the restoration of the temporal power of the Papacy. Leo and his secretary of state, Rampo11a, struggled in vain to secure the support of the great powers on the Roman question. He had hoped that he might be received into the Italian union as one of the sovereign princes. But the at­titude of the Italian government toward the papal "voluntary imprisonment" in the Vati­can, and the French opposition to the Triple Alliance and Italy, made all diplomatic at­tempts for reconciliation of no avail. Political and state philosophies in both France and Italy made it impossible for Leo to make peace with his fatherland, which he loved as a patriot, and where he would have been satis­fied to have sovereign rule over even a very limited territory.

The Law of Papal Guaranties

Two things greatly irked the Papacy—the loss of the Papal State and the Law of Guar­anties. There was nothing that the Papacy could do about the first loss, and the second had to be accepted as gracefully as possible. "The status of the Pope and the relations between the civil power and the Papacy are defined by the Law of Guaranties (May 13, 1870," states the Cambridge Modern History, and continues to define this instrument thus:

"The Pope's claim to sovereign honors and pre­rogatives is recognized, and his person being declared sacred and inviolable, all attacks or incitements to attack are subject to the same penalties as those directed against the king; he is guaranteed the use of the Vatican and Lateran apostolic palaces and of Villa Gandolfo, with their artistic and literary treas­ures, and a perpetual net annual endowment of £129,000. The absolute spiritual authority of the Pope and his control of all papal seminaries, acad­emies, and colleges, are also recognized, and the fullest liberty to hold conclaves or councils is granted. The government surrendered the privilege of nominating to benefices, and offices in the church, provided that Italian subjects only are appointed; bishops were exempted from the oath of allegiance to the king ; the exequatur and the placitum regium were abolished, except so far as regards tempor­alities. These and other clauses of the law were so many conditions imposed on the Papacy by su­perior force; they were never recognized by it and the prof erred annual endowment has, owing to French pressure, never been accepted. The law, like so much modern Italian legislation, was too hastily drafted, and an ill-defined borderland of overlapping interests and jurisdictions has been a source of much friction. But on the whole it has worked well, despite papal assertions of the impossibility of com­promise; though there have been intrigues with the enemies of Italy and much angry hostility on the surface, the personal relations between pontiff and king have been generally conciliatory."—Va XII, p. 229, 1934.

The relations between the king of Italy and the Papacy grew more and more cordial. This condition was greatly aided by the favorable attitude of Victor Emmanuel III and the diplomatic rupture between the Papacy and France.

"But for the violence of extremists in both camps, and financial considerations at the Vatican, together with the fear that an avowed reconciliation with the monarch would loosen the ties between the Papacy and the Catholic World and accelerate the tendency towards the creation of national churches, the kiss of peace would already have been exchanged long before it was."—Id. p. 229.

The settlement of the Roman question called for "a free pope in a free territory." Says the Catholic historian Paulet:

The freedom of the Papacy requires that the Pope be subject to no temporal power; the freedom of the church is guaranteed only by a free pope in a free territory. Were any one government to possess temporal jurisdiction over the Bishop of Rome, it could bring pressure to bear upon him and seriously impair his spiritual ministrations as well as the interests of both church and state."—"A History of the Catholic Church," Vol. II, p. 636.

At first the Vatican resorted to measures intended to destroy the power of the Italian state. But recurring riots and social disorder in Italy, caused largely by subversive political parties, caused the Vatican to change its atti­tude toward Italian political life.

"The declaration of the Cardinal Penitentiary on the occasion of the general elections of 1874 that it was inexpedient for Catholics to vote at political elections, known as the non expedit, and subsequently interpreted by the Holy Office to imply absolute pro­hibition, was partially withdrawn; and the bishops were instructed to permit the Catholic laity to vote in order to combat the subversive parties and uphold the principles of social order and respect for religion. The boycott of Italian political life by the Catholics that had begun in 186r with Don IVIargotti's mani­festo Ne eletti, ne elettori, was at length removed (1904). For the first time in the history of united Italy, political meetings of Catholics were held in Milan, and the haughty isolation of the Catholic nobility of Rome was changed to active participation in the turmoil of political elections."—Thomas Okey, in Cambridge Modern History, Vol. XII, p. 226, Now York, 1934.

The solution of the Roman question was approached more closely year by year, and was finally officially documented in the Lateran Treaties of 1929.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By H. L. RUDY, President, Central European Division, Section II

May 1939

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

World Brotherhood of Trained Leaders

A look at definite methods which have been tried with success in every field.

Study the Spirit of Prophecy

As we see the perils of these last days thickening about us, we need more and more to strengthen and fortify our faith. So let us study the Spirit of Prophecy.

Advertising an Effort

It has been proved in the advertising world that an advertisement in color produces 25 to 50 percent more business than one with no color. Why, then, do we not use color in our advertising efforts to bring people out to hear our message?

Why Overlook 75 Million Readers?

Should we not have the Ad­ventist explanation of things placed in every public library where anyone and everyone can lay hands upon it quickly?

The Preaching of Christian Doctrine—No. 1

No true doctrine of Scripture is separable from Christ.

"Be Ye Clean" That Minister

Vital "Testimony" Counsels reprinted.

South America's Task

The magnitude of the task of solidly establishing the advent movement in the South American Division is a tremendous challenge to the workers in our field.

Proper Approach to Hindu Mind

The conclusion to our series from last month.

Bible Facts and Personal Fancies

Growing in our knowledge of the scriptures is crucial to our presentation of truth.

Editorial Keynotes

Advent Source Research Values--No. 3

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up

Recent issues

See All