“The law of humanity ought to be composed of the past, the present, and the future, that we bear within us; whoever possesses but one of these terms, has but a fragment of the law of the moral world.” — Edgar Quinet (1803-1875)


The papacy was in a very precarious position when Pope Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council on June 29, 1868. The drive for Italian unification was underway, with a revolution in 1848 that led to the exile of Pius IX in the castle of Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from November 24, 1848, until his return to Rome in April 1850. The revolutionaries declared the Roman Republic comprised of the Papal States and in accordance with the ideals of the Enlightenment religious liberty and tolerance was enshrined in the new constitution by article 7 of the Principi fondamentali. Prior to this development only Christianity and Judaism were allowed by law to be practiced in the Papal States. The independence of the pope as head of the Catholic Church was guaranteed by article 8 of the Principi fondamentali. While providing constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and papal authority over the Catholic Church, the framers of the Constitution of the Italian Republic curtailed the temporal authority of the Pope which was referred to as an “historical lie, a political imposture, and a religious immorality” by a reform-minded priest, Abbé Arduini. (as cited in Wikipedia) However, by June 1849 the Roman Republic was overthrown by French military intervention and Pius IX restored in office, returning to Rome and reclaiming governance of the Papal States.

Despite the failure of the Roman Republic, the drive for Italian unification continued and by 1861 a new government was formed, a constitutional monarchy with King Victor Emmanuel II proclaimed as head of state by the Parliament in Turin. Rome was declared the capital city of the new Italian state although it remained under Papal rule and garrisoned by French troops. Attempts to take Rome by force by Italian revolutionaries in 1867 failed. In response to this, beginning in 1864, Pope Pius IX laid plans to convene the First Vatican Council, which, as noted above, opened on June 29, 1868. Among the aims put forward by Pius IX for Vatican I was the goal to consolidate and strengthen papal authority over the Church. He accomplished this with the adoption of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith which proclaims the following:

The dogmatic constitution states that the Pope has “full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church” (chapter 3:9); and that, when he “speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals” (chapter 4:9).

The work of Vatican I was not completed as it was interrupted by the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian_War in 1870. The French troops garrisoned in Rome were withdrawn as a result. Rome and the Papal States were then quickly captured and annexed to the Italian state. Vatican I was suspended and with the loss of Rome and the Papal States, papal authority in temporal affairs was finished. Pius IX was facing the prospect of exile once more, but retreated to the Vatican, becoming the prisoner of the Vatican. Rather than banish Pius IX, sending him into exile, the Italian government extended him an olive branch in passing the Law of Guarantees which made the Pope a subject of the Kingdom of Italy while guaranteeing him certain honours not unlike to those given to the sovereign and the right to send and receive ambassadors. He refused the offer as this emant the Italian government would rule over Church affairs and a standoff ensued between the papacy and the Italian government until in 1929 when Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty with the Italian government which created Vatican City and guaranteed full and independent sovereignty to the Holy See. The Lateran Treaty also stipulated that Roman Catholicism remained the state religion in Italy. This stipulation was repealed in 1984 (Italy became a republic in 1947), clearly stating “the principle of the Catholic religion as the sole religion of the Italian State, originally referred to by the Lateran Pacts, shall be considered to be no longer in force.” (cited in the American Society of International Law)

As there are Catholic populations well beyond the borders of Italy, the Lateran Treaty signed by Pope Pius XI and the Italian government in 1929 was well-received across the world. Religious liberty, pluralism and separation of religion and state are among the core values intrinsic to the Western world. This applies to jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom which has Christianity as the state religion. In the United Kingdom, the Church of England is the state church. The fact remains, however, that the law,  Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010, guarantees religious liberty and separation of religion and state. While religious institutions no longer have authority over temporal affairs in the Western world, religion, Christianity in particular, continues to have a place at the table in the discussion of moral and political issues of the day. This very often gives rise to a spirited debate between people of various faiths and those of no faith, but this is part and parcel of societies that embrace liberal democracy and pluralism. This distinction between religion and state was brought about through a long and drawn-out process which included open warfare, but at the end of the day the preservation of our religious heritage among the liberties we enjoy in the present and as we look to the future is a good thing.

Posted by Geoffrey

2 thoughts on ““The law of humanity ought to be composed of the past, the present, and the future, that we bear within us; whoever possesses but one of these terms, has but a fragment of the law of the moral world.” — Edgar Quinet (1803-1875)

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