Leo XIII

Pope from 1878. Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci was a native of Carpineto, he was educated by the Jesuits of Viterbo, and studied at Rome. He was ordained priest in 1837, and made apostolic delegate of Benevento. In 1841 he became delegate of Perugia, where he gained a reputation as a social reformer. He was appointed nuncio to Brussels (1843) and consecrated archbishop of Damiato, and during his three years’ residence he mediated in an educational controversy between the Jesuits and the Catholic University of Louvain. He became bishop of Perugia (1846) and in 1853 was created cardinal priest of St. Crisogono. His long episcopate found him building and restoring churches, and encouraging learning and social reform. Though not altogether persona grata to Pius IX, he yet protested against the loss of the pope’s temporal power in 1870.

Elected to the papacy, he ought to have come to terms with the civilization of the day. By conciliatory methods he overcame the anticlericalism in Germany which followed the decree of papal infallibility in 1870. In Belgium he saw the Catholic party return to power (1884), while in 1892 he established an apostolic delegation in Washington. He renewed contacts with Russia and Japan and improved relations with Britain. In France, however, he tried with little success to dissociate the Catholic clergy from the royalist party, and during his last years relations between church and state there deteriorated into a period of triumphant anticlericalism. In Italy, too, he failed to recover the lost temporal powers of the papacy, and the pope remained “the Prisoner of the Vatican.”

Leo did much by way of improving social attitudes, and attempted to stem the drift of the working classes into irreligion. His encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) emphasized that labor should receive its just reward, and approved of social legislation and trade unionism. He encouraged the study of the Bible, and in 1883 he opened the Vatican archives to historical research. He made some approaches to other churches, notably to the Church of England in his apostolic letter Ad Anglos (1895), even though a commission he appointed rejected Anglican orders as invalid (1896). He also promoted the spiritual life of his own church.

Bibliography: M. Spahn, Leo XIII (1912); H. Somerville, Studies in the Catholic Social Movement (1933); E. Soderini, The Pontificate of Leo XIII (ET 1934-35).