Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58)
Who was Pope Benedict XIV?
Pope Benedict XIV was the son of Marcello Lambertini and Lucretia Bulgarini, b. at Bologna 31 March, 1675; d. 3 May, 1758. His early education was received from tutors. At the age of thirteen he went to the Collegium Clementianum in Rome where he studied rhetoric, philosophy, and theology.
St. Thomas Aquinas was his favourite author, but the bent of his own mind was towards historical and legal studies in which latter he excelled, as well in civil as in ecclesiastical law. In 1694, though only nineteen, he received the degree of Doctor of Theology and Doctor Utriusque Juris (canon and civil law). On the death of Innocent XII he was made consistorial advocate by Clement XI, and shortly afterwards Consultor of the Holy Office.
In 1708 he was appointed Promotor of the Faith; in 1712 canon theologian at the Vatican and assessor of the Congregation of Rites; in 1713 he was named domestic prelate; in 1718 secretary of the Congregation of the Council; and in 1725 titular Bishop of Theodosia. He was made Bishop of Ancona in 1727 and cardinal 30 April, 1728. He was transferred to the Archbishopric of Bologna in April, 1731, in succession to Lorenzo Corsini who had become pope as Clement XII.
Benedict XIV is best known to history as a student and a scholar. Though by no means a genius, his enormous application coupled with more than ordinary cleverness of mind made him one of the most erudite men of his time and gave him the distinction of being perhaps the greatest scholar among the popes. His character was many-sided, and his range of interests large.
His devotion to science and the serious investigation of historical problems did not interfere with his purely literary studies. "I have been reproached", he once said, "because of my familiarity with Tasso and Dante and Ariosto, but they are a necessity to me in order to give energy to my thought and life to my style." This devotion to the arts and sciences brought Lambertini throughout his whole life into close and friendly contact with the most famous authors and scholars of his time. Montfaucon, whom he knew in Rome, said of him, "Young as he is, he has two souls: one for science, the other for society." This last characterization did not interfere with his restless activity in any of the many important positions which he was called on to fill, nor did it diminish his marvellous capacity for the most arduous work.
The zeal and energy which Lambertini carried to this office infused new life into all his subjects. He himself explained his assiduity by saying that he looked on the episcopate not as an honour, but as an opportunity to do good. His administration was exemplary: he visited all parts of his diocese, held synods, incited the people to piety by word and example, and supervised the affairs of his diocese so thoroughly that nothing needing change or correction escaped him. His humility and vast learning were a source of inspiration and strength to his clergy, and his broad firm grasp of public affairs and public questions gave him a position of unique influence among rulers and people. In his opinion the foundation of success in episcopal administration was thorough harmony between bishop and clergy, and this he succeeded in obtaining.
Because of his wonderful gifts and his extraordinary success as Bishop of Ancona, Pope Benedict XIII wished to transfer him to some position of greater responsibility affording a wider field for the display of his powers and activity, but he replied in his usual jocose vein that no change of place could make him other than he was, cheerful, joyous, and the friend of the pope. When he was transferred to Bologna in 1731 his energies and activities seemed to redouble. He became all things to all men and is said to have never allowed anyone to leave his presence dissatisfied or in anger, and without being strengthened and refreshed by his wisdom, advice, or admonitions. His efforts were largely directed to the improvement of clerical education in his diocese. He reformed the programme of studies in his seminary and drew up a new curriculum in which special stress was laid on the study of Sacred Scripture and patrology.
When Clement XII died (6 February, 1740) the fame of Lambertini was at its highest. Through intrigues of various kinds the conclave which commenced on 17 February lasted for six months. It was composed of fifty-four cardinals of whom forty-six were Italians, three French, four Spanish, and one German. These were split into several parties. One was composed of those who had been appointed by Clement XI, Innocent XIII, and Benedict XIII; another of those appointed by Clement XII who were known as the new college. The long, tedious session and the intense heat did not improve the temper of the cardinals; after six months of fruitless effort and constant intrigue, the election seemed no nearer than in the beginning. Various expedients were suggested, such as the withdrawal of the names of the leading candidates and the substitution of others, but without avail.
After several plans had been tried to end the deadlock, Lambertini, whose name had been proposed as a compromise, addressed the conclave, saying: "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldobrandini; an honest man, elect me." These words spoken as much perhaps in jest as in earnest helped to end the difficulty. Lambertini was chosen and took the name of Benedict XIV in honour of his friend and patron Benedict XIII. As pope, Lambertini was no less energetic, brave, and unassuming than before his election. His great learning placed him in a position to deal successfully with ecclesiastical situations that needed reformation, and the broad Christian spirit which animated his dealings with foreign powers removed the pressure and hostility of even Protestant courts and rulers. He was undoubtedly liberal in his political dealings, though he never lost sight of the essential interests of the Church and religion.
- Catholic Encyclopedia