Temporal power of the Holy See

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The temporal power or jurisdiction of the Holy See designates the political and secular influence of the Holy See, that is jurisdiction of the pope of the Catholic Church, as distinguished from spiritual and pastoral activity.Wycliffe began to write and publish tracts against the friars, not, however, seeking so much to enter into dispute with them as to call the minds of the people to the teachings of the Bible and its Author, he declared that the power of pardon or of excommunication is possessed by the pope in no greater degree than by common priests, and that no man can be truly excommunicated unless he has first brought upon himself the condemnation of God. In no more effectual way could he have undertaken the overthrow of that mammoth fabric of spiritual and temporal dominion which the pope had erected and in which the souls and bodies of millions were held captive. GC 84.2The pope ought to leave unto the secular power all temporal dominion and rule, and thereunto effectually to move and exhort his whole clergy; for so did Christ, and especially by His apostles.24. The church has not the power of using force, nor has she any temporal power, direct or indirect.—Apostolic Letter ‘Ad Apostolicae,’ August 22, 1851.” “78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship.—Allocution ‘acerbissimum,’ September 27, 1852. “79. Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism.—Allocution ‘Nunquam Fore,’ December 15, 1856.&rdquoo;—As printed in Anne Fremantle, ed., The Papal Encyclicals in their Historical Context (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1956), 146, 152.


Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) in his papal tiara, which he claimed as signifying both his spiritual and temporal power

Pope Gregory II's defiance of the Byzantine emperor Leo III the Isaurian as a result of the first iconoclastic controversy (AD 726) in the Eastern Empire, prepared the way for a long series of revolts, schisms and civil wars that eventually led to the establishment of the temporal power of the popes.

For over a thousand years popes ruled as sovereign over an amalgam of territories on the Italian peninsula known as the Papal States, from the capital, Rome.

Early modern period[edit]

The theologian Robert Bellarmine, in his 16th-century dogmatic work Disputationes strongly affirmed the authority of the pope as the vicar of Christ. However, he reasoned that since Christ did not exercise his temporal power, nor may the pope.[1] In 1590, Pope Sixtus V had, or very nearly had, the first volume placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for denying temporal hegemony to the papacy.[2][3]

19th century[edit]

The Quirinal Palace in Rome

The temporal power was abolished by Napoleon Bonaparte, who dissolved the Papal States and incorporated Rome and Latium into his French Empire in 1809; the temporal power was restored by the Great Powers at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in the 1815 Congress of Vienna. The Napoleonic civil laws were abolished, and most civil servants were removed from office. Popular opposition to the reconstituted corrupt clerical government led to numerous revolts, which were suppressed by the intervention of the Austrian army.

In November 1848, following the assassination of his minister Pellegrino Rossi, Pope Pius IX fled Rome. During a political rally in February 1849, a young heretic, the Abbé Arduini, described the temporal power of the popes as a "historical lie, a political imposture, and a religious immorality."[4] On 9 February 1849, the newly elected Roman Assembly proclaimed the Roman Republic. Subsequently, the Constitution of the Roman Republic[5] abolished the temporal power, although the independence of the pope as head of the Catholic Church was guaranteed by article 8 of the "Principi fondamentali".

At the end of June 1849, the Roman Republic was crushed by 40,000 French troops sent by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III), at the urging of the ultramontane French clerical party; the temporal power was restored and propped up by a French garrison.

In 1859–60, the Papal States lost Romagna, Marche, and Umbria; these regions were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy, and the temporal power was reduced to Rome and the region of Lazio. At this point, some ultramontane groups proposed that the temporal power be elevated into a dogma. According to Raffaele De Cesare:

The first idea of convening an Ecumenical Council in Rome to elevate the temporal power into a dogma, originated in the third centenary of the Council of Trent, which took place in that city in December, 1863, and was attended by a number of Austrian and Hungarian prelates.[6]

However, following the Austro-Prussian War, Austria had recognized the Kingdom of Italy, thus the revival of the temporal power of the Bishop of Rome was deemed impossible. Some, primarily Italian, clergy suggested an ecumenical council to dogmatically define papal infallibility as an article of faith, binding upon the consciences of all Catholic faithful; this doctrinal view, however, initially proposed by Franciscan partisans in opposition to the prerogative of popes to contradict the more favourable decrees of their predecessors, faced significant resistance outside of Italy prior to and during the First Vatican Council.[7]

For practical purposes, the temporal power of the popes ended on 20 September 1870, when the Italian Army breached the Aurelian Walls at Porta Pia and entered Rome; this completed the Risorgimento. The pope's alternative claims to reign in religion and to reign in a state were reflected in the possession of two official papal residences: the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, which served as their official religious residence, and the Quirinal Palace, which was their official residence as sovereign of the Papal States. In 1870 papal rule in the Papal States was deposed; the territories were included in the territory of the Kingdom of Italy with Kings of Italy using the Quirinale as their official state palace.

20th century[edit]

Popes continued to assert that their deposition from temporal jurisdiction in the Papal States was illegal until 1929. Catholics were prohibited from voting in Italian elections and Italian state and royal institutions were boycotted as part of their campaign for a return of the papal states. In 1929, with the Lateran Treaty the papacy and the Italian state (then under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini) agreed to recognize each other, with the state paying the church compensation for the loss of the territories; the pope was recognized as sovereign of a new state, the Vatican City, over which he continues to exert temporal power.

On 20 September 2000, an item in the Catholic publication Avvenire stated:

That in 1970, precisely on 20 September 1970, Pope Paul VI sent Cardinal Angelo Dell'Acqua, his vicar for Rome, to Porta Pia to celebrate the "providential" significance of the loss of the temporal power. Since then, at least since then, Porta Pia has also been a Catholic celebration!

The papal coronation and the papal crown (the papal tiara) were both interpreted as reflecting a continuing claim to temporal jurisdiction by the papacy. However, in his homily at his October 1978 papal inauguration, Pope John Paul II dismissed that claim and asserted that the papacy had long had no wish to possess any temporal jurisdiction outside the Vatican.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patricia Springborg. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine". History of Political Thought. 16(4) (Winter 1995), pp. 503–531, 516–517.
  2. ^ "St. Robert Francis Romulus Bellarmine".
  3. ^ "DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH (sep14doc.htm)".
  4. ^ Jasper Ridley, Garibaldi, Viking Press (1976) p. 268
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 27 September 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ De Cesare, Raffaele (1909). The Last Days of Papal Rome. Archibald Constable & Co. p. 422.
  7. ^ De Cesare, Raffaele (1909). The Last Days of Papal Rome. Archibald Constable & Co. p. 423.

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