Pope Pius Vi
POPE PIUS VI (Giovanni Angelo Braschi), pope from 1775 to 1799, was born at Cesena, on the 27th of December 1717. After taking the degree of doctor of laws he went to Ferrara and became the private secretary of Cardinal Ruffo, in whose bishopric of Ostia and Velletri he held the post of uditore until 1753. His PIUS (POPES)
skill in the conduct of a mission to the court of Naples won him the esteem of Benedict XIV., who appointed him one of his secretaries and canon of St Peter's. In 1758 he was raised to the prelature, and in 1766 to the treasurership of the apostolic chamber by Clement XIII. Those who chafed under his conscientious economies cunningly induced Clement XIV. to create him cardinal-priest of San Onofrio on the 26th of April !773> a promotion which rendered him for the time innocuous. In the four months' conclave which followed the death of Clement XIV., Spain, France and Portugal at length dropped their objection to Braschi, who was after all one of the more moderate opponents of the anti-Jesuit policy of the previous pope, and he was elected to the vacant see on the isth of February 1775. ' His earlier acts gave fair promise of liberal rule and reform in the defective administration of the papal states. He showed discrimination in his benevolences, reprimanded Potenziani, the governor of Rome, for unsuppressed disorders, appointed a council of cardinals to remedy the state of the finances and relieve the pressure of imposts, called to account Nicolo Bischi for the expenditure of moneys intended for the purchase of grain, reduced the annual disbursements by the suppression of several pensions, and adopted a system of bounties for the encouragement of agriculture. The circumstances of his election, however, involved him in difficulties from the outset of his pontificate. He had received the support of the ministers of the Crowns and the anti-Jesuit party upon a tacit understanding that he would continue the action of Clement, by whose brief Dominus ac redemptor (1773) the dissolution of the Society of Jesus had been pronounced. On the other hand the zclanli, who believed him secretly inclined towards Jesuitism, expected from him some reparation for the alleged wrongs of the previous reign. As a result of these complications Pius was led into a series of half measures which gave little satisfaction to either party: although it is perhaps largely due to him that the order was able to escape shipwreck in White Russia and Silesia; at but one juncture did he even seriously consider its universal re-establishment, namely in 1792, as a bulwark against revolutionary ideas. Besides facing dissatisfaction with this temporizing policy, Pius met with practical protests tending to the limitation of papal authority. To be sure " Febronius," the chief German literary exponent of the old Gallican ideas, was himself led (not without scandal) to retract; but his positions were adopted in Austria. Here the social and ecclesiastical reforms undertaken by Joseph II. and his minister Kaunitz touched the supremacy of Rome so nearly that in the hope of staying them Pius adopted the exceptional course of visiting Vienna in person. He left Rome on the 27th of February 1782, and, though magnificently received by the emperor, his mission proved a fiasco; he was, however, able a few years later to curb those German archbishops who, in 1786 at the Congress at Ems, had shown a tendency towards independence. In Naples difficulties necessitating certain concessions in respect of feudal homage were raised by the minister Tannucci, and more serious disagreements arose with Leopold I. and Scipione de' Ricci, bishop of Pistoia and Prato, upon the questions of reform in Tuscany; but Pius did not think fit to condemn the offensive decrees of the synod of Pistoia (1786) till nearly eight years had elapsed. At the outbreak of the French Revolution Pius was compelled to see the old Gallican Church suppressed, the pontifical and ecclesiastical possessions in France confiscated and an effigy of himself burnt by the populace at the Palais Royal. The murder of the republican agent, Hugo Basseville, in the streets of Rome (January 1793) gave new ground of offence; the papal court was charged with complicity by the French Convention; and Pius threw in his lot with the league against France. In 1796 Napoleon invaded Italy, defeated the papal troops and occupied Ancona and Loreto. Pius sued for peace, which was granted at Tolentino on the 19th of February 1797; but on the 28th of December of that year, in a riot created by some Italian and French revolutionists, General Duphot of the French embassy was killed and a new pretext furnished for invasion. General Berthier marched to Rome, entered it unopposed on the 13th of February 1798, and, proclaiming a republic, demanded of the pope the renunciation of his temporal authority. Upon his refusal he was taken prisoner, and on the 20th of February was escorted from the Vatican to Siena, and thence to the Certosa near Florence. The French declaration of war against Tuscany led to his removal by way of Parma, Piacenza, Turin and Grenoble to the citadel of Valence, where he died six weeks later, on the 2pth of August 1799. Pius VII. succeeded him.
The name of Pius VI. is associated with many and often unpopular attempts to revive the splendour of Leo X. in the promotion of art and public works the words " Munificentia Pii VI. P. M." graven in all parts of the city, giving rise amongst his impoverished subjects to such satire as the insertion of a minute loaf in the hands of Pasquin with that inscription beneath it. He is best remembered in connexion with the establishment of the museum of the Vatican, begun at his suggestion by his predecessor, and with an unpractical and expensive attempt to drain the Pontine marshes.
AUTHORITIES. Zopffel and Benrath, " Pius VI.," in HerzogHauck, Realencyklopddie, 3rd ed., vol. xv. pp. 441-451 (Leipzig, 1904, with elaborate bibliography); F. Nielsen, History of the Papacy in the icjth Century, vol. i. chap. vii. (London, 1906); J. Gendry, Pie VI. sa vie, son pontifical, d'apres les archives vaticanes et de nombreux documents inedits (2 vols., Paris, 1907). (W. W. R.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)