The Fall of Papal Rome
in the reconstruction of “Civiltà Cattolica” (1870-1871)
1. Defense and conquest of Rome
The events that condense in the defense and conquest of the last provinces of the Papal States in September 1870 find in the Contemporary Chronicle of “La Civiltà Cattolica” a careful and timely testimony. There are detailed reports, the result of an information framework mainly drawn on the ground, as well as a selective analysis of the periodic press. These, being no less than the challenging articles of the Magazine’s reputation, presuppose a screening and weighting that make its documentary contribution increasingly relevant.
In the Chronicle the judgment rather than preceding the facts emerges from their determinedness. The reference to them goes beyond ideological mortgages, which claim to alter their physiognomy. The ideological narrative, in fact, subordinated in itself to technical objectives, compared with the data, cannot but reveal its tendentiousness. The reference to the evidence of the facts constitutes a distinctive feature, which makes the Contemporary Chronicle objectively appreciable for the reconstruction of decisive epochal passages. This therefore makes it possible both to draw pregnant factual elements and to correct official instrumental versions. As can be reported for the events that marked the crucial moments of the establishment of the Risorgimento state on the ashes of the pre-ununitari political systems of the Peninsula.
So vivid and incisive is the Contemporary Chronicle,as regards the risorgimento events, that its oblivion would be an undeniable factor of weakness, if not a manifest impairment of the panorama of sources, for any historiographical reconstruction. In particular, between 1870 and 1871, “La Civiltà Cattolica” describes, with sobriety of accents no less than with participating attention, the events that led to the end of the Civil Principality of the Popes (whose origins reassembled in the 8th century) by the Kingdom of Italy.
As if to indicate the substance of the incipient Roman question, Magazine5 reports the text of a speech by Pius IX (June 17, 1870), delivered on the occasion of the twenty-fifth year of his pontificate. It transcribes a diagnosis that is as dense as it is essential to the risorgimento process. This is the result of a truly revolutionary movement, and is implemented as an “emancipation” project. Political emancipation has been, and is, functional to religious emancipation. One preceded the other, paved the way for it, and contains it in the back of the head. Faced with this novation, Pius IX identifies three distinct attitudes: that of those who lend to it (in various ways and in various ways) their work, that of those who have an uncertain and undivage attitude in front of it, and that of those who are strangers to it (and are “the most”, who, in spite of everything, walk – he writes – “in the ways of truth and justice”.
This emancipation constitutes a “liberation” in its ideological meaning, the decoding of which reveals it as an immanentization. This is a theory that is being practiced. From this point of view, liberation is an autonomization, through which the constrainivity of higher principles is subtracted. Emancipation is the exclusion of transcendence, in civil life as in philosophical knowledge.
This process is therefore not limited to a question of territorial power, nor does it end in a congeria of particular ambitions. Its profound meaning, therefore, goes beyond its episodes. Its political raison d’ion is religious: it is religious, on the one hand, because politics is understood as a factor of immanentized soteriology, and on the other hand because immanentized religion is its origin and landing place. So that, paradoxically, its religious nature is the truth of its political nature, and, precisely for this reason, politics itself is denied in state rule, and religion itself is denied in historiological gnosis.
The Chronicle records the official acts of the Risorgimento State put in place almost as a legitimization of the military action that was undertaken against the Papacy. These include, in particular, the text of the instructions of the President of the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom of Italy to Count Ponza di San Martino (dated 8 September 1870 and published in the Official Journal of the Kingdom on the following 11 September). As a result of the deliveries contained therein, the addressee should have notified the Pope of the resolutions. The imminent attack on the papal provinces is presented as deriving from the desire to prevent unrest resulting from revolutionary unrest. It announces its desire to ‘bring our troops into Roman territory when circumstances prove necessary’.
Without a reason to invade the Papal States, nor any declaration of war, only a dominant intent (albeit instrumentally validated) is revealed. The decision is taken as already taken. Circumstances are indicated as the only variable. No room is left for any alternative, no negotiation, no agreement.
The same text declares, almost as a positive qualification, a self-protection of the impending military action, on three fronts: it would have been left ‘to the people to take care to provide for their own administration’; the ‘inescribed rights of the Romans’ would have been protected; the interest of the “Catholic world in the intiera independence of the Supreme Pontiff” would be guaranteed.
These statements return their true meaning when decoded in the view of risorgimento ideology. In this perspective the populations (in this case, the “Romans”) acquire a kind of collective hypostatization, as of cumulative entity, capable of acting with a single will and endowed with formal rights, while self-referential independence (without adjectives) appears as an absolute good (therefore guaranteed also to the Pontiff).
While it should be noted that such recruitment, precisely from the perspective which informs them, can only be submissive to the “current conscience” and the “operational objectives” of the organization (pro tempore) intent on going from theory to practice; on the other hand, it is undeniable that the experience of the subsequent conduct of the Risorgimento State will empirically disprove the immediate meaning of the declared intentions and the assurances given.
The Contemporary Chronicle does not fail to highlight that the Italian invasion finds no justification, even in a possible situation of internal turbulence (due to a Mazzinian-Garibaldi intervention) or in a conflict (of revolutionary sign) between populations and government, since “then the State of the Church poured into the deepest stillness”. There was, in fact, no popular uprising, calling for annexation to the Kingdom of Italy. There was no liberal-national riot among the populations. What excluded, appealing to the evidence, any justification such as to present the Italian military intervention as required by the “maintenance of order” and the guarantee of the “security of the Holy See”.
In this context, account is given of the Roman mission of Count Ponza di San Martino, lar of a letter of Victor Emmanuel II to the Supreme Pontiff (published, then, in the Official Journal of the Kingdom on September 20, 1870). In essence, it was a question of ordering the Pope to surrender in the face of the imminent invasion of the last provinces of the papal territories. Moreover, the attempt was accompanied by heavy pressure on the episcopate of the Peninsula, so that clergy and bishops refrained from actively solidarity with Pius IX and support his rights.
The Giornale di Roma (September 12, 1870) – taken from “La Civiltà Cattolica” – points out the two ideological-propaganda reasons exhibited in support of the upcoming offensive: the irresistibleness of the “action party” and the “national aspiration”. As if to invoke a compelling necessity, proper to the alleged Zeitgeist. The same newspaper attests that, rejecting what is called an ‘unspeakable act’10, the Pope ‘has declared himself firmly opposed to any proposal’.
Pius IX responds to the letter, sent to him by Vittorio Emanuele II, with a letter (September 11, 1870) published later (in French) by the Bien public of Ghent. The Pontiff, in declaring that the initiative of the Kingdom of Italy has filled him “with bitterness”, declares, firmly, that the act of imminent appropriation of the territories of the Papal States is morally and legally unacceptable: “I cannot admit certain requests, nor conform to certain principles contained in his letter”.
On the same day as the papal response – so before he could arrive in Florence, or independently of it – according to the prepared plan of “concentric assault” in Rome – as evidenced by the the Chronicle – the troops under General Cadorna (already gathered near Terni, Rieti and Orte) begin the advance.
General Kanzler, supreme commander of the Papal Army, had established that – in compliance with the provisions given by Pius IX – the different departments established to defend the provinces were brought together on the City, to “avoid too unequal conflicts and unnecessary bloodshed”. The order, however, does not arrive to be communicated in time to the presidio of Civita Castellana, hit by the Italian attack. Despite the heavy disparity of forces, it does not fail in its duty: it sustains, albeit with few men and few means, the shock of the division of Cadorna and strenuously defends the city. The Magazine gives dryness: the presidio of Civita Castellana “did well to defend the pass, what was allowed by the condition of the places and the disproportion between not only 250 soldiers without cannons, against an intiera division of several thousand provided with large artillery”.
Invaders are not welcomed as liberators. When they enter towns and villages, the alienation towards them is unequivocally manifested. On the other hand, there are numerous statements of esteem and gratitude for the papal militias. As if to attest icastically to the appreciation for the traditional order and hostility to revolutionary promises.
The Contemporary Chronicle reports on a page of the Giornale di Roma (September 15, 1870): “The reception that the overly popular enemy forces found in the populations, constantly maintained in order and tranquility, was the coldest; while the papal troops, who at the gathering of the enemy cleared the places that it was impossible to defend, and operated a movement of conjunction to fall back on the capital, the same populations, rushing into the crowd on their passage, demonstrated with words and deeds the pain from which they were understood. The exit of our soldiers, mainly in Frosinone and Terracina, produced a moving effect on the masses, who regretted their departure. From the Province of Viterbo Colonel Charette arrived in Rome with the entire column he commanded; and this was also done by the province of Velletri Colonel Azzanesi, and by that of Frosinone Major Lauri, with the troops placed under their orders»
With Italian troops surrounded by the perimeter of the Roman walls on September 15, 1870, Cadorna sent Kanzler an intimation to capitulate, letting his army enter the city. To this the Papal Commander responds to be resolute, for the defense of the Pope’s freedom, to “resist with the means that remain at my disposal, as honor and duty impose on us”. In the same way, General Kanzler responded to a second similar Cadornian missive, having claimed that the Italian military initiative was a ‘sacrilegious attack’, an ‘unjust aggression’ and an ‘already too far-off violence’. This is devoid of the apparent justifications ostentatious, since the conduct of the populations of the papal provinces reveals no sign of willingness to annex to the Risorgimento Kingdom. On the contrary, they “have given undoubted evidence of attachment to the Papal Government”.
The Chronicle records the disposition of the forces defending the City, as it is fixed and active in the days immediately preceding the attack: “The Pontificals, who in all could be 8,000 men, stood on the walls; and the Roman volunteers of the reserve, who were an elected patrician and the Roman bourgeoisie, guarded the maintenance of order on the squares and on the streets of Rome. At the Vatican the honor of defense was left to the various guards palatine and a small number of artillery.
The disproportion of forces between defenders and invaders was evident. The Journal reports that the latter had a force of about 50,000 men. On the line of attack, the disadvantage of papal artillery was equally clear: the papals were equipped with about thirty artillery pieces of various and small caliber, compared to the enemy’s 130 cannons.
The Contemporary Chronicle attests to the demeaning and value of all troops deployed in defense of papal Rome, particularly the Papal Zuavi. The final battle begins at dawn on September 20. The Italian batteries open fire particularly between Porta Salaria and Porta Pia, up to Porta San Giovanni. Cannonfire, in short, opens wide rifts in the old walls. Bombs and grenades hit the Barracks at Castro Pretorio. The defenses educed at the arches of the railway are destroyed. Bullets reach the Quirinale. A large fire breaks out at Villa Bonaparte. They soon ruined both Porta Pia and Porta San Giovanni, while “the division of Nino Bixio from the heights of villa Panfili assaulted the bastions of Porta San Pancrazio, and stormed the Trastevere with grenades, with breakdown and fire of houses and buildings in large numbers”.
The cannoning of the walls of Rome lasts about five hours. About 120 guns are used. The Magazine reports that, according to reliable evidence, “explosive grenades alone numbered 4,000; and that more than twice as many conical projectie waves were broken and broken the walls and gates.
Around 10 a.m., Pius IX, when it is clear that, the order of assault is about to be given through the open breaches in the walls, as was his intention already manifested to Commander Kanzler, to avoid the predictable bloodshed in the defense of the City, gives order to hoist the white flag. The papal troops obey, thus refraining from any further military action. On the other hand, the Italian departments, despite the white flag requiring the cessation of hostilities and the start of negotiations, attack “as if they were taking it by storm”. In this way they simulate the completion of a war which is now without reason, as it was carried out against an enemy which they had declared shortly before the end of the defence.
The Chronicle evokes those excited moments. The assault of the Italian departments is given despite the fact that the white flag was clearly visible, “thus abusing the respect that the Pontificals practiced of the constrictions of war, while the white flag that flew on each side denounced: to be suspended hostilities, and to have to remain quiet in the occupied postures, as long as they were either broken or closed the practices for surrender. This trait, nothing glorious for those who collected the fruit of a safe entry into Rome without harm, was then aimed at oppression of the Pontificals, who were denied those allowances, which with a more energetic defense (if the Pope wanted to allow it) would have been able to demand from the enemy, before laying down their arms”.
The Garibaldians, excluding being a vanguard, hold themselves behind the royal army, in order to enter his following in Rome. Once penetrated into the city they give themselves to all sorts of violence against men and things representing the papal authority, and especially against the papal military, surprised in isolation or in small groups. The Magazine outlines its behaviour on 20 September: “They came down to Rome; they attacked the barracks of the Gendarmi; they invaded the Presidencies of Rioni, packing them and stealing them and sending their records wrong […]; they set out to break down the papal coats of arms; many soldiers were beaten to death; they imposed furious cries and immediately obtained from the terrified citizens who adorned the balconies with national flags, distributed by their accomplices who had as their piece for this reason prepared in Rome, and gave them free ». But not only that. Among the acts of garibaldini are also reported the looting of the Serristori barracks, the assault on the Presidency of the Borgo district (going as far as the porch of St. Peter’s Basilica, from where they are removed thanks to the intervention of some papal gendarmes), as well as arbitrary searches, grasses, outrages and violence at convents and monasteries (during several days).
Despite the heavy disproportion of the forces in the field, the Contemporary Chronicle reports that the fallen among the papals did not exceed 20, while among the assailants they reached up to (about) 40. Similarly, the number of papal wounded stood at around 50, unlike the more than 150 in the Italian army.
Pius IX, through a Circular sent to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, declares the annexation of the papal territories to the Kingdom of Italy completely null and void. Among the spoliations implemented by the new State, the Magazine was, in particular, that of the Apostolic Palace of the Quirinal and that of the Roman College, acquired by subtracting them respectively from the Papacy and the Society of Jesus – beyond any legal basis – by virtue of the mere effectiveness of power. To them the liberal state adds severe restrictions on freedom. So all Roman Catholic newspapers stumble into the censorship of the unitary regime.
Finally, it is a testimony of loyalty to the Pope, to most civil administration officials and army officers. They refuse to join the ranks of the Italian State, not to swear allegiance to him, nor to serve him or to cooperate with it. Hence an emblematic and very concrete situation: “Lulled with every way of proffers and flattery, solicited with the interest of profit and promotions, threatened, terrified with the complaint of stripping and exclusion of all employment, these official codes largely refused to serve the Liberating Government; some few, stretched by necessity and after the reasons of conscience, could hardly be reduced to continuing for a short time in the exercise of their offices; and almost everyone, when they were ordered to take the oath to the new political order of the State, preferred to be thrown without bread on the floor, rather than to suggest that in them the feeling of sworn fidelity to the Pope and the defense of his unprescriptive rights would be lost. There was full dicasteries, in which not one of the papal officers surrendered at the pace of the oath.
2. The “Roman knot”
See the full text with notes in our magazine: La Tradizione Cattolicca n°2 (113) – 2020 (pp.32-49).
You will also find the doctrinal defense of the temporal power of the Popes: “The temporal independence of the Pope in Catholic doctrine”, Ibid.,pp. 22-31.