Pope Benedict XIV

Benedict XIV
Bishop of Rome
Oil painting by Pierre Subleyras
Papacy began 17 August 1740
Papacy ended 3 May 1758
Predecessor Clement XII
Successor Clement XIII
Ordination 2 July 1724
Consecration 16 July 1724
by Benedict XIII
Created cardinal
  • 9 December 1726 (in pectore)
  • 30 April 1728 (revealed)

by Benedict XIII
Personal details
Birth name Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini
Born (1675-03-31)31 March 1675
Bologna, Emilia-Romagna Papal States
Died 3 May 1758(1758-05-03) (aged 83)
Rome, Papal States
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Coat of arms
Other popes named Benedict

Pope Benedict XIV (Latin: Benedictus XIV; 31 March 1675 – 3 May 1758), born Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, served as the Pope of the Catholic Church from 17 August 1740 to his death in 1758.[note 1]

Perhaps one of the greatest scholars in Christendom, yet often overlooked, he promoted scientific learning, the baroque arts, reinvigoration of Thomism, and the study of the human form. Firmly established with great devotion and adherence to the Council of Trent and authentic Catholic teaching, Benedict removed changes previously made to the Breviary, sought peacefully to reverse growing secularism in certain European courts, invigorated ceremonies with great pomp, and throughout his life and his reign, published numerous theological treatises. In terms of the governance of the Papal States, he reduced taxation and also encouraged agriculture. He also supported free trade. A scholar, he laid the groundwork for the present Vatican Museum. Benedict XIV, to an extent can be considered a polymath due to his numerous studies of ancient literature, the publishing of ecclesiastical books and documents, the study of the human body, and his great devotion to art and theology.

Horace Walpole described him as "a priest without insolence or interest, a prince without favorites, a pope without nephews."[1]

Early life

Birth and studies

Lambertini was born into a noble family of Bologna to Marcello Lambertini and Lucrezia Bulgarini, the third of five children. At the time of his birth, Bologna was the second largest city in the Papal States. At the age of thirteen, he began attending the Collegium Clementianum in Rome, where he studied rhetoric, Latin, philosophy, and theology. During his studies as a young man, he often studied the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, who was his favourite author and saint. While he enjoyed studying at Collegium Clementianum, the bent of his mind was well towards ecclesiastical and civil law, and actively enforcing it. Soon after, in 1694 at the age of nineteen, he received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology and Doctor Utriusque Juris (both ecclesiastical and civil law).[2]

Ecclesiastical career

On the death of Innocent XII, he was made a consistorial advocate by Clement XI, with whom he worked closely. Shortly after, he was created a Consultor of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, then in 1708, Promoter of the Faith; in 1712 a theologian of canon law and assessor of the Sacred Congregation of Rites; in 1713 he was named monsignor; in 1718 secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Council; and in 1725, titular bishop of Theodosia.[2]

Lambertini was consecrated a bishop in Rome, in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican Palace, on 16 July 1724, by Pope Benedict XIII. The co-consecrators were Giovanni Francesco Nicolai, titular Archbishop of Myra (Vicar of the Vatican Basilica), and Nicola Maria Lercari, titular Archbishop of Nazianzus (Papal Maestro di Camera).[3]

He was made Cardinal in pectore in 1726 and Bishop of Ancona in 1727. He was published as Cardinal on 30 April 1728, and was subsequently made the Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme on 10 May 1728. He participated in the 1730 conclave, and in 1731 became Archbishop of Bologna.[2]

Ascension to the papacy

Papal styles of
Pope Benedict XIV
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

After the death of Pope Clement XII, Lambertini attended the papal conclave to choose a successor. It would last for six months. At first Cardinal Ottoboni, dean of the Sacred College, was favored to be elected, but a number of cardinals were opposed to this on account of the cardinal being protector of France.

After long deliberation, Lambertini was put forth to the cardinal electors as a compromise candidate, and it is reported that he said to the members of the College of Cardinals "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, me".[4] (Vincenzo Ludovico Gotti (1664–1742) was professor of philosophy at the College of Saint Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum,[5][6] and perhaps the leading Thomist of his time. Aldrovandi was a canon lawyer and Cardinal of the Catholic Church.)

This appears to have assisted his cause for winning the election, which also benefited from his reputation for deep learning, gentleness, wisdom, and conciliation in policy.[7] On 17 August 1740 he was elected in the evening and took his new pontifical name of Benedict XIV in honour of Pope Benedict XIII. He was crowned on 21 August 1740, and by 30 August 1740 the famous ephemeral baroque structures of the Festival of the Chinea and the triumphal arch of Benedict XIV were erected by Charles III of Spain, who was then a Pontifical vassal and monarch of the Kingdom of Naples.


Lambertini's papacy as Pope Benedict XIV began in a time of great difficulties, chiefly caused by the disputes between Catholic rulers and the papacy about governmental demands to nominate bishops rather than leaving the appointment to the Church. He managed to overcome most of these problems — the Holy See's disputes with the Kingdom of Naples, Sardinia, Spain, Venice, and Austria were settled.


He had a very active papacy, reforming the education of priests, the calendar of feasts of the Church, and many papal institutions. Perhaps the most important act of Benedict XIV's pontificate was the promulgation of his famous laws about missions in the two bulls, Ex quo singulari and Omnium solicitudinum. In these bulls he ruled on the custom of accommodating non-Christian words and usages to express Christian ideas and practices of the native cultures, which had been extensively done by the Jesuits in their Indian and Chinese missions. An example of this is the statues of ancestors – there had long been uncertainty whether honour paid to one's ancestors was unacceptable 'ancestor worship,' or if it was something more like the Catholic veneration of the saints. This question was especially pressing in the case of an ancestor known not to have been a Christian. The choice of a Chinese translation for the name of God had also been debated since the early 17th century. Benedict XIV denounced these practices in these two bulls. The consequence of this was that many of these converts left the Church.

The Apostolic Constitution Sacramentorum Poenitentiae of 1741 assigned to the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition the responsibility of safeguarding the sanctity of the sacrament of penance.

Other activities

On 22 December 1741, Benedict XIV promulgated the papal bull "Immensa Pastorum Principis" against the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and other countries.

On 18 May 1743, Benedict XIV signed a document addressed to the Archbishops and Bishops of the Kingdom of Poland regarding marriage,[8] communicating his dissatisfaction with the dissolution of Christian marriages, even long-stable ones, by the Ecclesiastical Courts of Poland without due cause or in violation of canon law.

Benedict XIV was also responsible, along with Cardinal Passionei, for beginning the catalogue of the Vatican Library. Benedetto, Duke of Chablais, a military commander of the French Revolution and member of the House of Savoy (rulers of the kingdom of Sardinia) was named after him. Infanta Benedita of Portugal was also named after him.

In the apostolic constitution Pastoralis Romani Pontificis, which was promulgated on 30 March 1741, he is one of many popes to enforce and declare that he, his predecessors, and all his successors hold Papal Infallibility and that ecumenical councils should be discouraged, as they can undermine the one of the principle pillars of the papacy — infallibility.

Benedict XIV consecrated the expensive gilded baroque chapel (Chapel of St. John the Baptist), on 15 December 1744 in Sant'Antonio dei Portoghesi. The chapel was designed by Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli, and was then shipped to Portugal to be placed in the Igreja de Sāo Roque.[9]

In 1747 Benedict promulgated the bull Postremo mense superioris anni, which summarised and restated certain aspects of Catholic teaching on infant baptism, in particular that 1) it is generally not licit to baptise a child of a Jewish family without parental consent, 2) it is licit to baptise a Jewish child in danger of death without parental consent, 3) once such a baptism had occurred (whether licit or not), the ecclesiastical authorities have a duty to remove the child from its parents' custody in order to provide it with a Christian education.[10][11]

In 1750, Benedict XIV declared a Holy Year.[12] During the month of April, 43,000 meals were served to the poor at the Trinita Hospital.[13] Later that year he banned Card Games.[14]

In his encyclical, Allatae Sunt, promulgated on 26 July 1755, Benedict XIV, echoing the words of Pope Gelasius I, universally banned the act of females serving the priest at the altar, noting that the practice had spread to certain Oriental Rites.

During his papacy, Benedict XIV commissioned a team of architects led by Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli to design a large palace that was to be 'more complex and with greater baroque style than the box of a palace Vanvitelli designed in Caserta'. The palace was to be built south of St. Peter's Basilica, but was never built, as the plans were quietly ignored by Benedict's successor, Clement XIII. They were brought up once more by Pius VI late in his papacy, but had to stop due to the possibility of invasion.

Benedict improved the finances of the Papal States, reduced taxes, encouraged agriculture and free trade and drastically cut the military budget, but was unable to completely reform the administration, still corrupt from previous papacies. At the University of Bologna he revived the practice of anatomical studies and established a chair of surgery. He had a clear view of ecclesiastical problems, had respect for differing opinions and an ability to distinguish between dogma and theory.

Death and burial

Benedict XIV's health worsened in 1758 and after a battle with gout, he died on 3 May 1758 at the age of 83. His final words to those surrounding him on his deathbed were, "I leave you in the hands of God."[15]

Following his funeral, he was interred in Saint Peter's Basilica and a large catafalque was erected in his honour.

See also


  1. Pope Benedict X is now considered an antipope. At the time, however, this status was not recognised and so the pontiff the Catholic Church officially considers the tenth true Pope Benedict took the official number XI, rather than X. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Benedict by one. Popes Benedict XI-XVI are, from an official point of view, the tenth through fifteenth popes by that name.


  1. "Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini, 1675–1758)", The Metropolitan Museum of ARt
  2. 1 2 3  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Healy, Patrick (1907). "Pope Benedict XIV". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 2. New York: Robert Appleton. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  3. Ferenc, Nagy (1979). "La comune genealogia episcopale di quasi tutti gli ultimi papi (1700-1978)". Archivum Historiae Pontificiae. 17: 433–453, at 439. JSTOR 23563928.
  4. Michael J. Walsh, Pocket Dictionary of Popes (2006) p. 21
  5. Miranda, Salvador. "Gotti, O.P., Vincenzo Ludovico", Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Accessed 7-2-2011
  6. Callan, Charles. "Vincent Louis Gotti." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 16 (Index). New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1914. 30 Dec. 2014
  7. Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, Canon law: I. Introduction to the study of canon law, book 1 (1934), p. 401
  8. Benedict, XIV, "Nimiam Licentiam: To Bishops of Poland: On Validity of Marriages", May 18, 1743
  9. Blunt, Anthony. Guide to Baroque Rome. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. Print.
  10. Cunningham, James J. (2006). Summa Theologiae: Volume 57, Baptism and Confirmation: 3a. 66-72. Cambridge University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780521029650.
  11. Carlen, Claudia (1990). Papal Pronouncements, a Guide, 1740-1978: Benedict XIV to Paul VI. Pierian Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780876502730. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  12. Benedict XIV, "Peregrinantes" (Proclaiming a Holy Year for 1750), May 5, 1749
  13. Kunst, Richard. "Benedict XIV", Papal Artifacts
  14. Dublin Gazette (1750). The Dublin Gazette (Number 26). Dublin: Richard James and John Butler, 1750. Context: "In the Edict lately published against all Games on the Cards, it is enacted, that the Penalty on Delinquents shall be a Fine of 500 Crowns ; but if any Persons of high Rank or Distinction are convicted of suffering or promoting Gaming of that Kind in their house, they shall incur the Pope's Indignation, and be liable to such arbitrary Punishment as to his Holiness shall seem meet."
  15. Haynes, Renée (1970). Philosopher King: The Humanist Pope Benedict XIV. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Jacopo Cardinal Boncompagni
Archbishop of Bologna
30 April 1731 – 17 August 1740
Succeeded by
Vincenzo Malvezzi
Preceded by
Clement XII
17 August 1740 – 3 May 1758
Succeeded by
Clement XIII
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