Pope Innocent XI

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The Blessed Innocent XI, n Benedetto Odescalchi (May 16, 1611 - August 12, 1689) was pope from 1676 to 1689.


Early life

He was born at Como in 1611, and was educated there by the Jesuits. He studied law at Rome and Naples, held successively the offices of protonotary, president of the apostolic chamber, commissary of the Marco di Roma, and governor of Macerata; in 1647, Innocent X made him Cardinal Deacon with the title of Santi Cosma e Damiano. He afterwards became legate to Ferrara. When he was sent to Ferrara in order to assist the people stricken with a severe famine, the pope introduced him to the people of Ferrara as the "father of the poor." In 1650, Odescalchi became bishop of Novara, in which capacity he spent all the revenues of his see to relieve the poor and sick in his diocese. With the permission of the pope he resigned as bishop of Novara in favour of his brother Giulio in 1656 and went to Rome. While there he took a prominent part in the consultations of the various congregations of which he was a member. In all these capacities, the simplicity and purity of character which he displayed combined with his unselfish and openhanded benevolence to secure for him a high place in the popular affection and esteem.

Election to the Papacy

Odescalchi was a strong candidate for the papacy after the death of Clement IX in 1669, but the French government rejected him. After Clement X's death, Louis XIV of France again intended to use his royal influence against the election of Odescalchi. Instead, seeing that the cardinals as well as the Roman people were of one mind in their desire to have Odescalchi as their pope, he reluctantly instructed the cardinals of the French party to acquiesce in his candidacy. On September 21, 1676, he was chosen Clement's successor.


Reforming the Vatican Administration

Immediately upon his accession, Innocent turned all his efforts towards reducing the expenses of the Curia. He passed strict ordinances against nepotism among the cardinals. He lived very parsimoniously and exhorted the cardinals to do the same. In this manner he not only squared the annual deficit which at his accession had reached the sum of 170,000 scudi, but within a few years the papal income was even in excess of the expenditures. He lost no time in declaring and practically manifesting his zeal as a reformer of manners and a corrector of administrative abuses. Beginning with the clergy, he sought to raise the laity also to a higher moral standard of living. In 1679 he publicly condemned sixty-five propositions, taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez, and the like, as propositiones laxorum moralistarum and forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunicaton.

Personally not unfriendly to Molinos, he nevertheless yielded to the enormous pressure brought to bear upon him to confirm in 1687 the judgement of the inquisitors by which sixty-eight Molinist propositions were condemned as blasphemous and heretical.

Relations with France

The whole pontificate of Innocent XI is marked by a continuous struggle with the absolutism of Louis XIV. As early as 1673, the king had by his own power extended the right of the rgale over the provinces of Languedoc, Guyenne, Provence, and Dauphin, where it had previously not been exercised. All the efforts of Innocent to induce King Louis to respect the rights of the Church were useless. In 1682, Louis convoked an assembly of the French clergy which adopted the four famous articles, which became known as the Gallican Liberties. Innocent annulled the four articles on April 11, 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.

To appease the pope, Louis began to act as a zealot of Catholicism. In 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes and inaugurated a cruel persecution of the Protestants. Innocent expressed his displeasure at these drastic measures and continued to withhold his approbation from the episcopal candidates. He irritated the king still more that same year by abolishing the much abused right of asylum, by which the foreign ambassadors at Rome had been able to harbor in their embassies any criminal who was wanted by the papal court of justice. Innocent notified the new French ambassador, Marquis de Lavardin, that he would not be recognized as ambassador in Rome unless he renounced this right, but Louis XIV would not give it up. At the head of an armed force of about 800 men Lavardin entered Rome in November 1687, and took forcible possession of his palace. Innocent treated him as excommunicated and placed under interdict the church of St. Louis at Rome where he attended services on December 24, 1687.

Cologne Controversy

The tension between the pope and the king of France was still increased by the pope's procedure in filling the vacant archiepiscopal see of Cologne. The two candidates for the see were Cardinal William Egon of Frstenberg, then Bishop of Strasbourg, and Joseph Clement, a brother of Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. The former was a willing tool in the hands of Louis XIV, and his appointment as Archbishop and Elector of Cologne would have implied French preponderance in north-western Germany. Joseph Clement was not only the candidate of Emperor Leopold I of Austria but of all European rulers, with the exception of the King of France and his supporter, King James II of England. At the election, which took place on July 19, 1688, neither of the candidates received the required number of votes. The decision, therefore, fell to Innocent, who designated Joseph Clement as Archbishop and Elector of Cologne. Louis XIV retaliated by taking possession of the papal territory of Avignon, imprisoning the papal nuncio and appealing to a general council. Nor did he conceal his intention to separate the French Church entirely from Rome. The pope remained firm. The subsequent fall of James II of England destroyed French preponderance in Europe and soon after Innocent's death the struggle between Louis XIV and the papacy was settled in favour of the Church.

Other Foreign Relations

Innocent dispatched Ferdinando d'Adda as nuncio to England, the first representative of the Church to go to that land in more than one hundred years. Even so, the pope did not approve the imprudent manner in which James II attempted to restore Catholicism in England. He also repeatedly expressed his displeasure at the support which James II gave to the autocratic King Louis XIV in his measures hostile to the Church. It is, therefore, not surprising that Innocent had little sympathy for the Catholic King of England, and that he did not assist him in his hour of trial. There are, however, no grounds for the accusation that Innocent was informed of the designs which William of Orange had upon England, much less that he supported him in the overthrow of James II.

It was due to Innocent's earnest and incessant exhortations that the German Estates and King John Sobieski of Poland in 1683 hastened to the relief of Vienna which was being besieged by the Turks. After the siege was raised, Innocent again spared no efforts to induce the Christian princes to lend a helping hand for the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary. He contributed millions of scudi to the Turkish war fund in Austria and Hungary and had the satisfaction of surviving the capture of Belgrade, September 6, 1688.

Death and Beatification

Innocent XI died after a long period of feeble health on August 12, 1689.

The case for his canonization was introduced in 1714 but the influence of France forced it to be suspended in 1744. In the 20th century it was reintroduced, and Pius XII announced his beatification on October 7, 1956.

The feast day of Innocent XI is August 12.

Writings about Innocent IX

  • Robert Browning's work The Ring and the Book features Innocent as an important character, providing the theological monologue that makes up the tenth book of the poem.
  • Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti, in their novel Imprimatur (Mondadori ed., 2002), cast a different and more controversial light on that pope, building a very strong case against his canonization. They depict a selfish politician, betraying the Roman Catholic Church's interests in the hope of recovering a personal debt. Although the book does not pretend to be of scholarly value, an appendix of various notes and documents spanning about forty pages at the end of the text allows a critical review of the authors' researches, and gives a final touch of credibility to the story.

See also: list of popes named Innocent

Original text from the 9th edition (1880) of an unnamed encyclopedia This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia.

Preceded by:
Clement X
Succeeded by:
Alexander VIII

Template:End boxde:Innozenz XI. (Papst) et:Innocentius XI fr:Innocent XI it:Papa Innocenzo XI nl:Paus Innocentius XI ja:インノケンティウス11世 (ローマ教皇) pl:Papież Innocenty XI pt:Papa Inocncio XI


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