Birthday: March 2, 1810
Died At Age: 93
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Carpineto Romano, Italy
Famous as: Pope
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
father: Ludovico Pecci
mother: Anna Prosperi
Died on: July 20, 1903
place of death: Apostolic Palace, Rome, Kingdom of Italy
education: Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Pontifical Gregorian University
Leo XIII served as the pope, or the head of the ‘Catholic Church,’ from 1878 to 1903. He was the second-longest-reigning pope, after Pius IX, and also the longest-living pope. Although he continued to adhere to some of the traditional features of the papacy, he refused to completely reject the modern facets of the then-society. He mended diplomatic ties with Italy, Germany, and France, among others, by adopting a softer stance than his predecessors. He refused to merge Christianity with politics and also denounced Americanism. He was also a staunch follower of Thomas Aquinas. Though he did not agree with the views of liberal economists about the issue of labor exploitation, he believed that labor issues could be solved by mutual cooperation of business owners and their workers. His cyclicals showcase his belief in mediation as a path to solving social issues.
Early Life & Career
Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci was born on March 2, 1810, in Carpineto Romano, (Frosinone) near Rome. He was the sixth of the seven sons born into the lower noble family of Count Ludovico Pecci and Anna Prosperi Buzzi.
His family was of Sienese origin. Giuseppe and Giovanni Battista Pecci were two of his brothers. Until 1818, he lived with his family, which was highly devoted to religion.
He attended the ‘Jesuit College’ in Viterbo, with his brother Giuseppe. He studied there from 1818 to 1824. He was fond of Latin and wrote Latin poems at the tender age of 11.
In 1824, he and Giuseppe went to Rome to visit their dying mother. They then stayed with their father, after their mother’s death. In Rome, they attended the ‘Jesuit Collegium Romanum’ from 1824 to 1832.
In 1828, Vincenzo started following the secular clergy, while Giuseppe followed the Jesuit order. Vincenzo then attended the ‘Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici’ (or the ‘Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics’) in Rome. There, he studied law and diplomacy.
In 1834, he delivered a presentation on papal judgements. It won him several awards and even brought him to the notice of Vatican officials. He was soon introduced to Vatican’s congregations, by Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Lambruschini.
He assisted Cardinal Sala, as an overseer of the hospitals of the city, during a cholera epidemic in Rome. In 1836, he obtained his doctorate in theology, along with the doctorates of civil and canon law.
In December 1837, he was ordained a priest. Vincenzo was then made the apostolic delegate in Benevento. In 1841, he was made a papal delegate to Perugia.
In 1843, he was sent to Belgium as a nuncio, by Pope Gregory XVI. After 3 years, Gregory made him the bishop of Perugia (1846–1877).
He joined the college of cardinals in 1853. His support for the ‘Syllabus of Errors’ (1864) was criticized by the conservatives. At the ‘Vatican Council,’ he sided with the majority but said the he did not condemn all progress.
Vincenzo studied Catholic operations in Brussels and then visited London, the Rhineland, and Paris. In Perugia, he claimed social injustice was sinful. He also criticized the "inhuman traffic" of children in various factories. However, he was not against every aspect of the modern world.
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The Beginning of His Pontificate
After Pius IX’s death in February 1878, Vincenzo was considered as a successor. Most non-Italian cardinals supported his candidature. Vincenzo was elected on February 20, 1878, at age 68.
He declared that he would use the name “Leo,” in memory of Leo XII, whom he idolized.
The pontificate of his predecessor, Pius IX, was long. Pius IX was a conservative pope and opposed the new Italian government that had annexed the Papal States.
The pontificate of Leo XIII, however, was different, since it adopted many flexible strategies.
Leo also tried to build diplomatic ties, writing to the president of France, and then the emperors of Russia and Germany, and the president of the Swiss Confederation. In 1884, he restored diplomatic relations with Germany. He also approached Belgian Catholics, asking them to retain their constitution, although it suggested the separation of the church and the state.
In 1879, Leo made John Henry Newman a cardinal. He also made the church accessible to scholars, thereby becoming popular.
Relations with Germany
He adopted a flexible strategy to deal with the German empire. Otto von Bismarck invited him to mediate the clash between Germany and Spain in the Caroline Archipelago. In December 1885, his mediation was accepted.
Soon, the “fourth law for peace” was passed by the Reichstag. In 1890, it was stated that the Catholic Church would get back whatever was snatched away from the priests during the Kulturkampf (a conflict between the government and the Church).
Relations with Italy
In January 1881, the Italian government declared it would confiscate and use church property in its regions. Leo vehemently opposed this.
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The relations went from bad to worse in July 1881, when the body of Pius IX was transferred from St. Peter's to San Lorenzo, outside the walls. Leo asked for foreign intervention.
Relations with France
In France, President Jules Grévy requested Leo to make French Catholics abandon the royalists/monarchists. Leo followed the suggestion and was supported by Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro and Cardinal Charles-Martial-Allemand Lavigerie.
In 1892, Leo stated that while he supported the opposition of anticlerical measures, he still wanted people to respect the Republic. Leo thus strengthened relations between the Vatican and Paris, in 1894, recognizing the Third Republic and requesting the Catholics to follow it.
Balancing Traditions and New Thoughts
Leo opposed liberal economists and instead showcased a Christian concern for the poor, stressing on the need to remove their suffering. Leo did not condemn labor but suggested cooperation between business owners and their employees.
In 1891, Leo elaborated on workers’ issues in his encyclical ‘Rerum novarum.’ It showcased how workers were exploited and were unable to stand for their own rights.
He suggested societies and institutions for the welfare workers, the young, and the aged. He also suggested the formation of guilds rather than industrial unions. Leo’s work earned him the title of "workingman's pope."
Two of his letters, written in 1888 and 1890, respectively, were about the need to speed up the abolition of African slavery.
He established the ‘Vatican Archives’ in 1883, while propagating Thomism (the beliefs of Thomas Aquinas) and Christian philosophy in schools.
Leo advocated for biblical studies, and in 1902, he established a biblical commission. He supported missionaries, too. However, since he could not solve the Roman Question, trouble continued to brew between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See.
In 1895, he released the encyclical ‘Permoti Nos,’ which centered on the social issues in Belgium. Leo talked about the relationship of religion and morality.
Amidst calls for a Christian political intervention, in his encyclical ‘Graves de Communi Re’ (January 1901), Leo suggested cooperation as a way to solve all social issues, rather than a clash between classes. Thus, he did not recognize Christian Democracy as a political movement.
Moreover, his movement spanned all groups, irrespective of class or position. He believed Christian Democracy, if considered a movement at all, should be free from narrow-minded politics.
Nevertheless, he was against Freemasonry (a secret society that was perceived to be against Christianity) and complete liberalism.
He also continued to support papal authority over churches and reinforced the authority of the nuncios. He also encouraged people to follow the ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.’ He was a critic of rationalism, which stated that the primary source of knowledge was reason. He went against Americanism (an adaptation of Catholicism to American culture) in 1899.
Leo XIII died on July 20, 1903, at the age of 93. He was the longest-living of all popes in history. He was also the second-longest-ruling pope, second only to Pius IX.
Charles A. Finn served as a mass officer at Leo’s funeral. He was interred in ‘Saint Peter's Basilica’ initially but was later (1924) moved to the ancient ‘Basilica of Saint John Lateran,’ which was his cathedral church as the bishop of Rome.