Lorenzo Corsini (Clement XII) elected Pope
Pope Clement XII (7 April 1652 – 6 February 1740), born Lorenzo Corsini, was Pope from 12 July 1730 to 6 February 1740.
Born in Florence, the son of Bartolomeo Corsini, Marquis of Casigliano and his wife Isabella Strozzi, sister of the Duke of Bagnuolo, Corsini had been an aristocratic lawyer and financial manager under preceding pontiffs. He is known for building the new façade of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, beginning construction of the Trevi Fountain, and the purchase of Alessandro Cardinal Albani's collection of antiquities for the papal gallery. He was created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna in 1706.
Under Pope Benedict XIII (1724–30), the finances of the Papal States had been delivered into the hands of Niccolò Cardinal Coscia and other members of the curia, who had drained the financial resources of the see. After deliberating for four months, the College of Cardinals selected Lorenzo Cardinal Corsini, 78 years old and with failing eyesight, who had held all the important offices of the Roman Curia. Clement XII was one of the oldest men to be elected Pope. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in the April, 2005 conclave three days after turning 78.) As a Corsini, with his mother a Strozzi, the new pope represented a family in the highest level of Florentine society, with a cardinal in every generation for the previous hundred years.
Corsini was a lawyer, with a degree from the University of Pisa, who had practiced law under the able direction of his uncle, Neri Cardinal Corsini. After the death of his uncle and his father, in 1685, Lorenzo, now thirty-three, would have become head of the Corsini. Instead he resigned his right of primogeniture and from Pope Innocent XI (1676–89) he purchased, according to the custom of the time, for 30,000 scudi, a position of prelatial rank and devoted his wealth and leisure to the enlargement of the library bequeathed to him by his uncle.
In 1696 Corsini was appointed treasurer-general and governor of the Castel Sant'Angelo. His good fortune increased during the pontificate of Pope Clement XI (1700–21), who employed his talents as a courtier and rewarded him with a cardinal's hat, on May 17, 1706, retaining his services as papal treasurer.
He advanced still further under Pope Benedict XIII, who made him prefect of the judicial tribunal known as the Segnatura di Giustizia. He was successively Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.
Though he was blind and compelled to keep to his bed, from which he gave audiences and transacted affairs of state, he surrounded himself with capable officials, many of them his Corsini relatives, but he did little for his family except to purchase and enlarge the palace built in Trastevere for the Riarii, and now known as the Palazzo Corsini (the seat of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei). In 1754, his nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini, founded there the famous Corsini Library.
His first moves as Pope Clement XII were to restore the papal finances. He demanded restitution from the ministers who had abused the confidence of his predecessor. The chief culprit, Cardinal Coscia, was heavily fined and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Papal finances were also improved through reviving the public lottery, which had been suppressed by the severe morality of Benedict XIII. Soon it poured into Clement XII's treasury an annual sum amounting to nearly a half million scudi, enabling him to undertake the extensive building programs for which he is chiefly remembered, but which he was never able to see.
A competition for the majestic façade of the San Giovanni in Laterano was won by architect Alessandro Galilei. The façade he designed is perhaps more palatial than ecclesiastic, and was finished by 1735. Clement XII erected in that ancient basilica a magnificent chapel dedicated to his 14th century kinsman, St. Andrea Corsini. He restored the Arch of Constantine and built the governmental palace of the Consulta on the Quirinal. He purchased from Cardinal Albani for 60,000 scudi a famous collection of statues, inscriptions, etc., and added it to the gallery of the Capitol. He paved the streets of Rome and the roads leading from the city, and widened the Corso. He began the triumphant Baroque Fontana di Trevi, one of the noted ornaments of Rome. Under his reign a port was built at Ancona, with a highway that gave easy access to the interior. He drained the malarial marshes of the Chiana near Lake Trasimeno.
Politically, however, this was not a successful papacy among the secular powers of Europe. When the attempt of papal forces to take over the ancient independent Republic of San Marino failed, Clement XII disavowed the arbitrary action of his legate, Cardinal Alberoni, in seizing San Marino, and restored its independence. He was also rebuffed in Papal claims over the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza.
In ecclesiastic affairs he issued the first papal decree against the Freemasons on April 28, (1738), it was titled In eminenti. He canonized Saint Vincent de Paul and proceeded with vigour against the French Jansenists. He campaigned for the reunion of the Roman and Orthodox churches, received the Patriarch of the Coptic Church and persuaded the Armenian Patriarch to remove the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo I (440–461). He dispatched Joseph Simeon Assemani to the East for the twofold purpose of continuing his search for manuscripts and presiding as legate over a national council of Maronites. He created the youngest Cardinal ever when on 19 December 1735, he named Luis Antonio Jaime de Borbón y Farnesio, Royal Infant of Spain, age 8, to the Sacred College. He did much to develop schooling in Ottoman Albania as well, as his mother was from Albanian origins and his forefathers were soldiers under the command of Scanderbeg's army.
Pope Clement XII's tomb is in the Capella Corsini of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and was completed by the sculptors Maini and Monaldi. His bust was completed by Filippo della Valle.
Born at Florence, 7 April, 1652; elected 12 July, 1730; died at Rome 6 February, 1740. The pontificate of the saintly Orsini pope, Benedict XIII, from the standpoint of the spiritual interests of the Church, had left nothing to be desired. He had, however, given over temporal concerns into the hands of rapacious ministers; hence the finances of the Holy See were in bad condition; there was an increasing deficit, and the papal subjects were in a state of exasperation. It was no easy task to select a man who possessed all the qualities demanded by the emergency. After deliberating for four months, the Sacred College united on Cardinal Corsini, the best possible choice, were it not for his seventy-eight years and his failing eyesight.
A Corsini by the father's side and by the mother's a Strozzi, the best blood of Florence coursed through his veins. Innumerable were the members of his house who had risen to high positions in Church and State, but its chief ornament was St. Andrew Corsini, the canonized Bishop of Fiesole. Lorenzo made a brilliant course of studies, first in the Roman College, then at the University of Pisa, where, after five years, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws. Returning to Rome, he applied himself to the practice of law under the able direction of his uncle, Cardinal Neri Corsini, a ma of the highest culture. After the death of his uncle and his father, in 1685, Lorenzo, now thirty-three years old, resigned his right of primogeniture and entered the ecclesiastical state. From Innocent XI he purchased, according to the custom of the time, for 30,000 scudi (dollars) a position of prelatial rank, and devoted his wealth and leisure to the enlargement of the library bequeathed to him by his uncle. In 1691 he was made titular Archbishop of Nicomedia and chosen nuncio to Vienna. He did not proceed to the imperial court, because Leopold advanced the novel claim, which Pope Alexander VIII refused to admit, of selecting a nuncio from a list of three names to be furnished by the pope. In 1696 Corsini was appointed to the arduous office of treasurer-general and governor of Castle Sant' Angelo. His good fortune increased during the pontificate of Clement XI, who employed his talents in affairs demanding tact and prudence. On 17 May, 1706, he was created Cardinal-Deacon of the Title of Santa Susanna, retaining the office of papal treasurer. He was attached to several of the most important congregations and was made protector of a score of religious institutions. He advanced still further under Benedict XIII, who assigned him to the Congregation of the Holy Office and made him prefect of the judicial tribunal known as the Segnatura di Giustizia. He was successively Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.
He had thus held with universal applause all the important offices of the Roman Court, and it is not surprising that his elevation to the papacy filled the Romans with joy. In token of gratitude to his benefactor, Clement XI, and as a pledge that he would make that great pontiff his model, he assumed the title of Clement XII. Unfortunately he lacked the important qualities of youth and physical strength. The infirmities of old age bore heavily upon him. In the second year of his pontificate he became totally blind; in his later years he was compelled to keep his bed, from which he gave audiences and transacted affairs of state. Notwithstanding his physical decrepitude, he displayed a wonderful activity. He demanded restitution of ill-gotten goods from the ministers who had abused the confidence of his predecessor. The chief culprit, Cardinal Coscia, was mulcted in a heavy sum and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Clement surrounded himself with capable officials, and won the affection of his subjects by lightening their burdens, encouraging manufacture and the arts, and infusing a modern spirit into the laws relating to commerce. The public lottery, which had been suppressed by the severe morality of Benedict XIII, was revived by Clement, and poured into his treasury an annual sum amounting to nearly a half million of scudi (dollars), enabling him to undertake the extensive buildings which distinguish his reign. He began the majestic façade of St. John Lateran and built in that basilica the magnificent chapel of St. Andrew Corsini. He restored the Arch of Constantine and built the governmental palace of the Consulta on the Quirinal. He purchased from Cardinal Albani for 60,000 scudi the fine collection of statues, inscriptions, etc. with which he adorned the gallery of the Capitol. He paved the streets of Rome and the roads leading from the city, and widened the Corso. He began the great Fontana di Trevi, one of the noted ornaments of Rome.
In order to facilitate the reunion of the Greeks, Clement XII founded at Ullano, in Calabria, the Corsini College for Greek students. With a similar intent he called to Rome Greek-Melchite monks of Mt. Lebanon, and assigned to them the ancient church of Santa Maria in Domnica. He dispatched Joseph Simeon Assemani to the East for the twofold purpose of continuing his search for manuscripts and presiding as legate over a national council of Maronites. We make no attempt to enumerate all the operations which this wonderful blind-stricken old man directed from his bed of sickness. His name is associated in Rome with the foundation and embellishment of institutions of all sorts. The people of Ancona hold him in well-deserved veneration and have erected on the public square a statue in his honour. He gave them a port which excited the envy of Venice, and built a highway that gave them easy access to the interior. He drained the marshes of the Chiana near Lake Trasimeno by leading the waters through a ditch fourteen miles long into the Tiber. He disavowed the arbitrary action of his legate, Cardinal Alberoni, in seizing San Marino, and restored the independence of that miniature republic. His activity in the spiritual concerns of the Church was equally pronounced. His efforts were directed towards raising the prevalent low tone of morality and securing discipline, especially in the cloisters. He issued the first papal decree against the Freemasons (1738). He fostered the new Congregation of the Passionists and gave to his fellow-Tuscan, St. Paul of the Cross, the church and monastery of Sts. John and Paul, with the beautiful garden overlooking the Colosseum. He canonized Sts. Vincent de Paul, John Francis Regis, Catherine Fieschi Adorni, Juliana Falconieri, and approved the cult of St. Gertrude. He proceeded with vigour against the French Jansenists and had the happiness to receive the submission of the Maurists to the Constitution Unigenitus. Through the efforts of his missionaries in Egypt 10,000 Copts, with their patriarch, returned to the unity of the Church. Clement persuaded the Armenian patriarch to remove from the diptychs the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and St. Leo I. In his dealings with the powers of Europe, he managed by a union of firmness and moderation to preserve or restore harmony; but he was unable to maintain the rights of the Holy See over the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza. It was a consequence of his blindness that he should surround himself with trusted relatives; but he advanced them only as they proved their worth, and did little for his family except to purchase and enlarge the palace built in Trastevere for the Riarii, and now known as the Palazzo Corsini (purchased in 1884 by the Italian Government, and now the seat of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei). In 1754, his nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini, founded there the famous Corsini Library, which in 1905 included about 70,000 books and pamphlets, 2288 incunabula or works printed in the first fifty or sixty years after the discovery of printing, 2511 manuscripts, and 600 autographs. Retaining his extraordinary faculties and his cheerful resignation to the end, he died in the Quirinal in his eighty-eighth year. His remains were transferred to his magnificent tomb in the Lateran, 20 July, 1742.
THE conclave which followed the death of Benedict XIII assembled on March 3rd and lasted four months. Except indirectly, by mowing down with systematic consistency the daily crop of candidates, the activities and intrigues of the Sacred College had little bearing on the ultimate issue.
The Dean, Cardinal Pignatelli, fell ill almost at once and there was no other prelate with sufficient influence over his colleagues to maintain or enforce the necessary discipline during his absence. The weather being oppressively hot, the younger cardinals discarded most of their clothing piecemeal, till the precincts of the conclave must have presented the shocking spectacle of a nudist colony! The windows were opened and free communication established with the outer world; the Marquis de Monteleone, the Spanish Ambassador, was smuggled in through an aperture and spent a whole night in the conclave, a most serious infraction of the regulations. Voting became a mere exchange of civilities, the most surprising names appearing on the forms. Cienfugos, the uncompromising leader of the imperialists, was outraged at such levity: "We might be at the dinner-table paying compliments to the ladies instead of at a conclave to elect a Pope!" he exclaimed, his protest being received with supercilious smiles. But when Coscia's name was read out at the scrutiny, then even the least squeamish waxed indignant, and someone proposed that the slip should be preserved and given to the new pope so that he should deal with the culprit. As, however, there was little likelihood of the humourist having signed his own name to such a compromising document it was eventually burnt with the rest. Coscia was present at this scene, as he had managed to sneak into the Vatican by a side entrance and join his colleagues undetected. His reception had been distinctly chilly and the storm which that unfortunate vote had let loose was an ominous forecast of what the future might have in store for him. He almost fainted with fright and [p. 246] had to be supported out of the chapel, and having been put to bed, thought it wise to remain there for the time being.
The sultry atmosphere was no less damping to the spirits than to the flesh, and the only joke on record turned out to be anything but a merry jest. The victim, an aged prelate called Conti who was monstrously fat and crippled with gout, happened, as he was dragging himself along a passage one morning, to come face to face with Albani. Acting on a mischievous impulse, Albani stopped him, and with exaggerated gestures of precaution whispered in his ear that everything was settled and that he was to be elected Pope that very evening. The poor old simpleton in a frenzy of excitement hastened with frantic efforts to reach his cell; he burst in on his astonished conclavist who was stirring his patron's chocolate, and having managed to stammer out the great news, reeled forward and fell dead of an apoplectic fit.
But the disposing of candidates either by manslaughter or more conventional methods did not bring the Sacred College any nearer to giving St. Peter a successor, and seeing that the electors proved incapable of selecting a pope themselves, it was only to be expected that their duties should be undertaken for them by more enterprising outsiders. The question which was engaging the general attention just then was the Medici succession, as the ex-Cardinal Grand Duke was childless, and Austria, France, Spain and Sardinia were no less anxious to provide an heir for him than they had been in the case of Charles II of Spain. A congress had been held in Seville to examine the various claims, and it had found in favour of Don Carlos, second son of Philip V. The indignant Grand Duke had appealed to the Emperor against this arbitrary decision, which denied to the hereditary Sovereign of Tuscany any say whatever in a matter which he might after all be permitted to consider as of some concern to himself.
The Tuscans naturally resented the idea of being ruled by a foreigner of any nationality, and were strongly in favour of some autonomous form of government on the model of that of Venice or Genoa.
Among the most prominent Florentines both from the point of view of position and of wealth was the Marchese Neri Corsini. He had held diplomatic posts at most of the great European Courts, where he had made many friends; and having lately retired into [p. 247] private life, had settled in Rome to be near his uncle Cardinal Corsini. What more fitting conclusion to a distinguished career could be devised than to become Cardinal-Nephew and finish one's days as an influential member of the Sacred College, or even—perhaps—as Pope!
The circumstances indeed were most favourable; there was little to fear from exclusions and no dangerous rival to defeat; Neri Corsini had powerful connections, much worldly experience, money and feminine support. The Cardinal's personality would also help to further his cause, for among his colleagues he did not appear to have a single enemy. He belonged to the Zelanti faction, but had none of their bigotry and aggressiveness. Without being clever he had a certain political acumen and was recognised as the prototype of the Florentine grand seigneur. He had the reputation of being both resolute and broad-minded, was credited with generosity, moderation and good sense, and last but not least, he was seventy-eight years of age.
The centre of electoral activities now shifted from the Vatican to the palace of the Marchesa Acciaioli, the most noted Roman hostess and a close friend of Neri's. She was an invaluable ally with far-reaching influence abroad, and mainly to her efforts was due the Emperor's patronage of Corsini's candidature. Her word of course was law to all the young Roman cardinals, and Prince Albani could refuse her nothing. Neri himself purchased Coscia's vote for 25,000 crowns and sent expensive presents to several of the foreign cardinals. He had always kept in close touch with Florence and had no difficulty in persuading the Grand Duke of the advantage there would be for him in the elevation to the Holy See of one of his own subjects. The Grand Duke himself warmly recommended Corsini to the French, Spanish and Sardinian Monarchs, each one interpreting this proceeding as a sign of special goodwill towards himself. The sympathies of a Florentine pope, the Powers considered, might bear great weight with his compatriots when the time came for a change of dynasty, and Neri Corsini in the post of Cardinal-Nephew would be an invaluable ally. The great thing was to be the first in the field, so as to have the strongest claim on Corsini's gratitude. And so from various points of the compass, messengers bearing the despatches which settled the problem of the pontifical election thundered along the highways, all converging towards the Vatican where the suffragists [p. 248] continued every morning to call perfunctorily on the Paraclete for divine inspiration.
One by one, in the order in which their instructions reached them, the Cardinal-Padrones crept into Corsini's cubicle bringing with them ready-drawn-up agreements across which the old man, who was practically blind, scrawled his illegible signature; Albani under pressure from his brother, followed his colleagues' example; and so on July 12th, 1730, Corsini became Pope Clement XII.
Walton, who does not appear to have taken any active part in this election, was delighted at Corsini's victory. "Under the reign of this Pope", he writes, "the Pretender will enjoy no favour. Clement will govern with caution and sound good sense. He will restore the pomp and splendour which Benedict XIII abolished, for his tastes are very magnificent. He will also encourage literature, having one of the finest and best selected libraries in Europe."
As regards the Pope's behaviour towards the Pretender, Walton was doomed to disappointment, for James managed in time to win Clement's good graces. The Pontiff's caution, or perhaps the lassitude of age, caused him at first to adopt an attitude of neutrality. He evinced little interest in the fate of Tuscany and strove to remain aloof while the Powers flew at one another's throats. But as in the general scuffle several of the papal fiefs were snapped up by one or other of the belligerents, he had perforce to raise his voice in protest, though with little result.
During the ten years of his pontificate many changes took place in Italy, territories continually changing hands either in consequence of treaties or of the fortunes of war. The Papal States were for ever being overrun and plundered by advancing or retreating armies, and finding that expostulations were apt to lead to worse trouble, Clement accepted the inevitable with silent resignation, remaining a passive and impotent spectator of the bartering of papal fiefs between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs. Thus the Emperor exchanged the Two Sicilies with the King of Spain against Parma and Piacenza without even troubling to notify the Holy See of the transaction.
Clement, notwithstanding these slights, made friendly advances to Philip V, bestowing on his third son Don Luis, aged barely eight years old, the cardinal's hat together with the archbishoprics of Seville and Toledo; but he received scant thanks for his affability, the [p. 249] Queen, Elizabeth Farnese, reproaching him acrimoniously for not doing a great deal more.
He left the administration of the State to his nephew, but insisted on a special commission being appointed to examine and judge Coscia. Benedict XIII's favourite was condemned to ten years detention in the fortress of S. Angelo and to the loss of all his possessions. He was also excommunicated and deprived of his vote at future conclaves. Just before Clement died, however, his nephews, who felt uncertain as to what might fall to their lot under the next pontiff if such a precedent was allowed, prevailed on the Pope to quash the verdict and sign a decree of rehabilitation which gave Coscia his freedom. His ill-gotten goods were restored to him, at least what could be recovered of them from the safe keeping of his friends.
Heresy was now an accepted calamity. It was confined within certain areas, and although the Church of Rome no doubt deplored the existence of these plague-spots, it no longer felt threatened in its stability. But during Clement's pontificate a new menace known as Freemasonry made its appearance; it caused the Pontiff and his successors acute anxiety, and has not ceased to this day from sapping the foundations of the Catholic Church. This institution had been imported to the Continent from England, the first lodge being opened in Paris in 1725. In the Catholic countries of Southern Europe it spread like wildfire, the aims and spirit of the association developing, however, on totally different lines from those advocated by Christopher Wren and George Payne, and obtaining in the British Isles. Only Anglo-Saxons could accept such a quaint notion as to forward schemes of mutual assistance by adopting mysterious rites and cabalistic signs. Such a thing is incompatible with the Latin temperament. To this race a brotherhood bound by oaths of secrecy whose members were admitted with so much solemnity to the various degrees of initiation, could only have conspiracy as an object and become a destructive instead of a constructive organisation. The English Freemason might be content with symbolic aprons, benevolence, secret signs of fraternity and gargantuan banquets; but the foreigner certainly was not. He eagerly adopted the outward form and structure of the institution with the letter of its regulations; but to expect him to be satisfied with such an anodyne purpose was as [p. 250] preposterous a notion as it would be with us to ask the members of a hunt to come to the meet with their pockets full of carrots and, having fed one another's horses, patted the hounds, sung John Peel and given the Master the Fascist salute, expect them to jog home contentedly as though they had enjoyed a good day's sport! No. The Continental Freemason, like the English hunting man, expects a run for his money and hopes for a kill.
All those who had a grievance against the existing order of things, all those who from envy, spite, conviction or altruism were inimical to the Church of Rome, flocked to join an association in the bosom of which they could air their views freely, with absolute impunity. They tasted for the first time the sweets of declamation for which they have such a remarkable aptitude, and from the Masonic Lodges no doubt sprang the famous revolutionary clubs of Paris. Although their bond of union was hatred of "tyranny" in all its forms, their password was certainly anti-clericalism.
Clement battled energetically against this alarming conflagration by taking the most rigorous measures against the firebrands. To be affiliated or to cause anyone to be affiliated to the brotherhood was punished by excommunication and death. To aid, protect or shelter a Freemason was scarcely less dangerous, and the Pope's subjects were obliged under threats of severe corporal punishment to denounce any member of the society, be he father, brother, husband or son. But no penalties, however drastic, could stem the movement, which received stimulus and encouragement from the tone of atheistic liberalism which pervaded the writings of the most outstanding intellectuals of the times both in France and in Italy. And so the peril grew ever more deadly.
Towards the end of his life, however, the unconcerned detachment of senility saved Clement any further apprehensions, and he died peacefully on February 7th, 1740.