Benedict XIV

Pope from 1740. From an old Bolognese noble family, Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini was educated at the Collegium Clementinum, Rome. Beginning as an assistant lawyer in Rome, he became Consistoral Advocate (1701), Promoter Fidei (1708), assessor of the Congregation of Rites (1712), and secretary of the Congregation of the Council (1718). He was appointed bishop of Ancona in 1727, cardinal in 1728, and archbishop of Bologna in 1731. He was elected pope following a struggle between the moderates and those resisting the takeover of ecclesiastical privileges by secular authorities.

A man of wide outlook, common sense and integrity, he promoted good understanding between the papacy and European rulers. He conceded to the Spanish and Portuguese crowns the right to nominate most benefices, made concordates with Naples and Sardinia, and recognized Frederick the Great as sovereign of Prussia in return for Frederick’s acknowledgment of the bishop of Breslau’s jurisdiction over Prussian Catholics. He settled controversies concerning Indian and Chinese rites. He issued an encyclical easing the position of Jansenists* in France (1756). Ruling the Papal States* in an enlightened manner, he established free trade, developed agriculture, and reduced taxation. He patronized the arts and learning, founded four academies for historical study, purchased MSS and books for the Vatican library, inaugurated the catalogue of Vatican MSS, and improved the University of Rome. He promulgated a bill restraining hasty and unnecessary prohibitions of books on the Index,* protecting in particular L.A. Muratori when attacked by the Jesuits (see Muratorian Canon). He himself was a brilliant canonist, writer, and controversialist. His writings included an important book on canonization, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione (1734-38), and a treatise on the Sacrifice of the Mass (1748). His conciliatory policy was interpreted as weakness by some anticlericals, but he was the outstanding pope in a period when papal authority was in decline.