From Prince To Pastor: How the Papacy Has Changed

Times are indeed changing, even for popes. Maybe especially for popes. A new book, The Papacy since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor, explores how the papacy has changed greatly, and repeatedly, during the past 500 years through forces largely beyond its control.

This book's essays focus on select, fascinating popes from Julius II, patron of Michelangelo and warrior prince, to John Paul II, itinerant spokesman for peace and pastor of a world-wide church. It considers how popes have been received in different eras -- favorably and unfavorably.

The Papacy since 1500 places special emphasis on two roles of the pope, prince and pastor. Attention is also paid to the role of patron, a role closely associated with that of prince. Though the pope has become principally if not exclusively a pastor, a kind of universal pastor, the essays in the book explore some of the complexities of how he has become that. It emerges clearly that it has not been through a simple, linear evolution, and still less solely through free choices made by popes. If the pope as prince was frequently challenged, so too has been his role as universal pastor, as a pastor claiming a kind of universal jurisdiction and doctrinal authority throughout the world. What popes have done is less the focus of this book than how performance of certain functions or roles has been perceived, promoted and/or critiqued. How the roles of prince and patron have been largely replaced by that of pastor alone is examined, as well as how that transition has been elicited from the papacy by a wide variety of factors and forces at times beyond papal control.

By the papacy "since 1500" the editors mean since the pontificate of Julius II (1503-13), Giuliano della Rovere. Julius was the epitome of what is sometimes referred to as a Renaissance pope. He lived as an Italian prince of his time, and thus he spent much of his efforts on war, seeking to defend and, better yet, extend his territory on the Italian peninsula. He was a warrior who led troops into battle. The beneficiary of nepotism -- his uncle was Sixtus IV, who made the young Giuliano a cardinal -- Julius II bribed his way to election as pontiff. Though Julius did not have as many mistresses and illegitimate children as some bishops of Renaissance Rome, his daughter Felice played a prominent role in early 16th century Rome. And the pope as patron of the arts emerged as equal to the pope as pastor or as warrior prince. Julius laid the foundation stone of the new Saint Peter's basilica, the one we see today.

Another essay presents a pope (Pius V, 1566-72), who is remembered not only as a warrior but also as a saint: he was canonized a century and a half after his death. Pius was thus revered both as a man of battle and as a man of prayer. This pope, who reigned just after the Council of Trent (1545-63), also saw to the implementation of that Council's reforms; and in the decades after Trent, as the papacy took more seriously its pastoral role, popes also strove to keep up, as it were, with other heads of state, working hard as both princes and pastors, focused not only on Rome, but on the entire world, a world in which the Catholic Church was increasingly present, through the efforts of missionaries sent to the corners of the earth.

While the book examines several popes in the 17th and 18th centuries, the emergence of the major role of pastor, in addition to prince -- for the popes still had the Papal States to govern -- gained new prominence in the 19th century, where the role of pastor became pre-eminent as the Papal States were lost, finally, by Pope Pius IX (1846-1878). Since 1870, there had been no papal state, which prompted Pius IX and his successor, Leo XIII (1878-1903), to assert greater spiritual and pastoral authority. The lack of need, after 1870, to engage in wars of defense, enabled popes to become, gradually, spokesmen for peace. One essay considers both how and why Benedict XV (1914-22) adopted an "impartial" stance in time of war, and the generally negative reception of this stance. During World War I, the impartiality of Benedict XV irritated governments on both sides, which suspected him of really favoring their enemies. Benedict's efforts to broker a peace deal in World War I failed, and when the Armistice of 1918 came, he was refused the right to send a representative to the peace conference at Versailles.

Benedict's (albeit failed) efforts on behalf of peace may at least have made it possible, decades later, for Paul VI and John Paul II to fare better in its regard, even if, as another chapter shows, Paul's teachings on war and peace received a mixed reception. As the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) met, Paul VI traveled to places no pope had been before. Modern technology had made possible a different style of the papacy, as itinerant as Roman. Paul VI's 1965 address to the United Nations helped to establish a new model of the papacy: prophetic, on pilgrimage and concerned with the good of all human beings in this world, not solely their salvation in the next. Pope John Paul II developed Paul VI's itinerant model of the papacy further, with much more travel, all around the world, as well as deft use of all the new electronic media to promote his message of human dignity and to speak for peace. Whether his showman-like appearances and his ubiquitous electronic presence through television and Internet led always to acceptance of his teachings is a question that remains.

The pope emerged as a world religious leader and shaper of values from the mid-20th century onwards. Just think of papal addresses to the UN; the Vatican's interventions in the two Gulf Wars; appeals for clemency in death penalty cases; the issuing of key texts on emerging bioethical issues; and papal statements on world hunger. Contemporary popes are in no doubt that the Catholic voice should contribute -- and should be heard -- in pluralist democracies and societies. This was evident recently when the present pope, Benedict XVI, visited the United Kingdom. His papacy is already somewhat different in style from that of his predecessor, adjusting, indeed, to how John Paul II was received. This book shows that the development of the papacy is unpredictable because the factors shaping papacies have as much to do with social, cultural and political circumstances as with the popes themselves. So there are surprises ahead.

By James Corkery and Thomas Worcester, editors of The Papacy since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor, Cambridge University Press, 2010. Corkery is Associate Professor of Theology at Milltown Institute, Dublin; Worcester is Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.