November 20, 2011

A cautionary tale...

Most of my projects are doomed to failure... I'm not even on the same wavelength as everybody else. Heck I might as well be speaking Martian. But I keep trying.

One project most close to my heart is to try to wake up my parish (and eventually all the other Catholics too) to the need to adjust to the new era we have entered. We have left the Industrial Age, and entered the Information Age. We need to adapt and change. Most likely we will not do so. Instead we will crash and burn, and our grandchildren will cobble together new structures from the tumbled stones of the ruins.

Such a waste.

This is a cautionary tale I'll be circulating; a story of a certain institution that could not SEE that times had changed...

Papal states map 1870Have you heard of the Papal States? Did you know that the Pope was once a sovereign prince, the ruler of a large part of central Italy? With his own army and police and castles and taxes? (Firearms collectors place high value on the rare M1868 Papal States Remington rifle, known as the... Pontificio!) The Papal States made sense in the Agricultural Age, when power and wealth flowed from land, and the idea of great lord without a landed patrimony was almost unthinkable. Land was the only reliable investment. The Pope had lands of his own from the Sixth to the Nineteenth centuries. And no one seems to have minded much 

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution the Papal States were doomed. Their reason for existing evaporated, because the income and strength derived from land and peasants became trivial compared to what the Holy See could raise from donations from the industrially developed world. And the new geo-political organizing principle was the nation state, not the feudal territories of princes. The very concept of a "prince" had become obsolete, though many still held such titles.
The Papal States were violently seized from the Pope by the emerging nation of Italy in 1861 and 1870. (Before the mid-19th century Italy had been a collection of city-states, not a nation.) At the time this seemed like the end of the world to many Catholics.

Thousands of Catholic men from around the globe volunteered for the Papal forces, and fought in small but serious battles against Garibaldi's Redshirts. When the Italian Army finally marched into Rome in 1870, this seemed to most Catholics outrageous and unforgivable. Bitterness and intransigence were the order of the day. No pope spoke in St Peter's Square for 46 years, because it was under the control of the Italian Army. The situation was not fully resolved until 1926.

Few people then imagined that the influence of the Pope in the world would greatly increase with the loss of his territories. And yet it was true. The loss of the states was a blessing in disguise, and no one today would want the Pope to be a territorial magnate.

The lesson: The Church in the 19th century poured large amounts of her treasure and energy into defending things that were, in reality, already dead. More importantly, she was slow to see many of the new opportunities and possibilities of the 19th century and the industrializing world.
Posted by John Weidner at November 20, 2011 7:05 PM
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