Category Archives: Religious

February 11th – The Lateran Treaty is signed, the Vatican City is created

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

On this day in 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See (the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome), which created the Vatican City and brought resolution to the “Roman Question”. Ever since the Risorgimento (Italian unification) in 1870, the political status of the Pope in Italy had been disputed, however the Lateran Treaty resolved these issues and created the world’s smallest sovereign state: the Vatican City (only 110 acres in area, and a population of 840 today).

Italy before Risorgimento was divided amongst several independent nations. Amongst these nations was the Papal States, a collection of lands in Central Italy, centered on Rome, that were under the direct rule of the Pope himself. While the rest of the Italian peninsula was being united under the leadership of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Papal States actively resisted unification efforts, wishing to maintain Church sovereignty over their lands. French Emperor Napoleon III left a garrison of troops in Rome to protect the Papal States from Italian unification. The threat of war with Prussia, however, led Napoleon III to withdraw his garrison from Rome and back to France, leaving the Papal States nominally defenseless. In 1870, Italian troops moved into the Papal States and occupied Rome, moving the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to the ‘Eternal City’ (prior to Florence, Turin was the capital of Italy). The Pope did not recognize the authority of the new Italian government in Rome, and for almost 60 years, relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian government would remain strained. The Pope and his cardinals remained “prisoners of the Vatican” for the duration of this time, because if they placed themselves outside the walls of the Vatican, they were afforded the protection of Italian law, which served as an implicit recognition of the authority of the Italian state in Rome. Needless to say, this “Roman Question” was an awkward position for both the Catholic Church and Italy.

Ironically it was the anti-clerical fascist dictator Benito Mussolini that normalized relations between Italy and the Catholic Church. A shrewd politician, Mussolini recognized that the majority of the Italian population, Catholic in religious affiliation, wanted a reconciliation between church and state. On February 11th, 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini for King Emmanuel III and Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State for Pope Pius XI. Through the Lateran Treaty, the sovereign state of the Vatican City was created, free from Italian law and taxation. Catholicism was recognized as the Italian state religion, with the Church holding authority over marriage and Catholicism being taught in school. Italy also agreed to pay the Vatican City 3250000 lire per annum as an indemnity for the Church’s loss of territory and sovereignty over lands formerly part of the Papal States. Today, despite the downfall of Mussolini and Italian fascism, the Lateran Treaty remains the legal document defining the relationship between Italy and the Vatican City.

Interesting facts about the Vatican City:

  • While the Vatican has approximately 840 citizens, Vatican citizenship is only temporary (citizenship ends upon the discontinuation of residency in the Vatican).
  • St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. The Statue of Liberty can fit underneath the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica!
  • The Vatican has its own telephone system, post office, mint, astronomical observatory, radio station, banking system, and pharmacy. In fact the sale of coins and postage stamps at the Vatican’s post office makes up a substantial portion of the state’s revenue.
  • Per capita, the Vatican has a much higher crime rate than in Italy, given the popularity of the Vatican as a tourist location.
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December 4th – The final session of the Council of Trent is held

Council of Trent (1588) by Pasquale Cati

Council of Trent (1588) by Pasquale Cati

On this day in 1563, the twenty-fifth and final session of the Council of Trent was held. An eighteen year process held in the northern Italian city of Trent (in italiano, Trento), this Council was a re-examination of the Catholic Church and what it stood for in light of the Protestant Reformation.

For decades, the Catholic Church had been facing internal turmoil over its state of affairs. In 1517, Martin Luther famously posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenburg, Germany. Within these 95 Theses, Luther outlined problems he saw in the Catholic Church and its practices, in particular, the sale of indulgences. Through indulgences, people were able to pay monetarily to the Church in order to have sins forgiven. The money earned from indulgences were highly profitable for the Church, and in fact funded the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. In later speeches to congregations, Luther would go out and speak against the corruption of church offices (certain positions such as bishop and even Pope were up for sale), the veneration of relics (a body part of a saint or important religious artifact), and the importance of the Pope as head of the Church. Dissatisfied with the Catholic Church, Luther and his followers broke from the Church, and in doing so, started the Protestant Reformation.

Before continuing further, and I know fellow historians would agree, Martin Luther was not the sole originator of the Protestant Reformation. Many individuals came before Luther in denouncing/criticizing certain practices of the Church including, but not limited to, Ulrich Zwingli, Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. I only begin with Luther for ease of this blog post. I am sure that in future posts I will discuss the Protestant Reformation further and Martin Luther as well (interestingly, Martin Luther was voted as the #2 greatest German on the German television show Unsere Besten, similar to CBC’s The Greatest Canadian).

Fearful of the traction the Protestant Reformation gained throughout Europe, the Catholic Church decided to convene the Council of Trent in 1545. This Council has historically been seen as the affirmation of the Counter-Reformation, that is, the Catholic “rebuttal” to the Protestant Reformation that was going on. At Trent, cardinals sought to address the theological and dogmatic issues brought up by the Protestants in regards to the Catholic Church, and re-evaluate/re-assess what the Catholic Church stood for. The Council of Trent was broken up into three periods and twenty-five different sessions, formulating proclamations on Church policy. Amongst other formulations, at Trent the Catholic Church: condemned Protestantism, deplored the sale of indulgences and church offices, and supported the primacy of the Church and Pope as interpreter of Scripture. On December 4th, 1563, 450 years ago, the final session of the Council of Trent was held, and decrees concerning relics and indulgences were made.

While the Council of Trent solidified the Catholic position in the face of Protestant opposition, tensions in Europe concerning Catholicism vs. Protestantism would linger. Religious wars would pit Catholic nations versus Protestant nations for decades after the conclusion of the Council of Trent until the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) was signed, where cuius regio, eius religio was established. Translated from the Latin as “Whose realm, his religion”, this policy dictated that the ruler of the country would decide the religion that his subjects would follow.

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