Pope Benedict XV

Benedict XV

Portrait in 1915
Papacy began 3 September 1914
Papacy ended 22 January 1922
Predecessor Pius X
Successor Pius XI
Ordination 21 December 1878
by Raffaele Monaco La Valletta [1]
Consecration 22 December 1907
by Pius X
Created Cardinal 25 May 1914
by Pius X
Personal details
Birth name Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista Della Chiesa
Born (1854-11-21)21 November 1854
Genoa, Pegli, Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia
Died 22 January 1922 (aged 67)
Apostolic Palace, Rome, Kingdom of Italy
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Motto In Te Domine Speravi, Non Confundar In Aeternum
(In thee, o Lord, have I trusted: let me not be confounded for evermore Psalm 71:1) [2]
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Other popes named Benedict

Pope Benedict XV (Latin: Benedictus XV; Italian: Benedetto XV), born Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa[lower-alpha 1] (21 November 1854 – 22 January 1922), was Pope from 3 September 1914 until his death in 1922. His pontificate was largely overshadowed by World War I and its political, social and humanitarian consequences in Europe.

Between 1846 and 1903, the Catholic Church had experienced two of its longest pontificates in history up to that point. Together Pius IX and Leo XIII ruled for a total of 57 years. In 1914, the College of Cardinals chose della Chiesa at the young age of 59, indicating their desire for another long-lasting pontificate at the outbreak of World War I, which he labeled “the suicide of civilized Europe.”[3] The war and its consequences were the main focus of Benedict XV. He immediately declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives. German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace” as insulting. The French politician Georges Clemenceau regarded the Vatican initiative as being anti-French.[4] Having failed with diplomatic initiatives, Benedict XV focused on humanitarian efforts to lessen the impacts of the war, such as attending prisoners of war, the exchange of wounded soldiers and food deliveries to needy populations in Europe. After the war, he repaired the difficult relations with France, which re-established relations with the Vatican in 1921. During his pontificate, relations with Italy improved as well, as Benedict XV now permitted Catholic politicians led by Don Luigi Sturzo to participate in national Italian politics.

In 1917, Benedict XV promulgated the Code of Canon Law which was released on May 27, the creation of which he had prepared with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII) during the pontificate of Pope Pius X. The new Code of Canon Law is considered to have stimulated religious life and activities throughout the Church.[5] He named Pietro Gasparri to be his Cardinal Secretary of State and personally consecrated Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) on 13 May 1917 as Archbishop. World War I caused great damage to Catholic missions throughout the world. Benedict XV revitalized these activities, asking in Maximum Illud for Catholics throughout the world to participate. For that, he has been referred to as the "Pope of Missions". His last concern was the emerging persecution of the Catholic Church in Soviet Russia and the famine there after the revolution. Benedict XV was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and authorized the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces.[6]

After seven years in office, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922 after battling pneumonia since the start of that month. He was buried in the grottos of Saint Peter's Basilica. With his diplomatic skills and his openness towards modern society, "he gained respect for himself and the papacy."[5] To this day, he is possibly the least remembered pontiff of the 20th century, overshadowed by the likes of successors such as Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II.

Early life

Giacomo in 1866 at age twelve

Giacomo della Chiesa was born at Pegli, a suburb of Genoa, Italy, third son of Marchese Giuseppe della Chiesa and his wife Marchesa Giovanna Migliorati. Genealogy findings report that his father's side produced Pope Callixtus II and also claimed descent from Berengar II of Italy and that his maternal family produced Pope Innocent VII.[7] He is also a descendant of Blessed Antonio della Chiesa.

His wish to become a priest was rejected early on by his father who insisted on a legal career for his son.[8] At age 21 he acquired a doctorate in Law on 2 August 1875. He had attended the University of Genoa, which after the unification of Italy, was largely dominated by anti-Catholic and anti-clerical politics. With his doctorate in Law and at legal age, he again asked his father for permission to study for the priesthood, which was now reluctantly granted. He insisted however, that his son conduct his theological studies in Rome not in Genoa, so that he would not end up as a village priest or provincial Monsignore.[9]

Della Chiesa entered the Collegio Capranica and was there in Rome when, in 1878, Pope Pius IX died and was followed by Pope Leo XIII. The new pope received the students of the Capranica in private audience only a few days after his coronation. Shortly thereafter, della Chiesa was ordained a priest by Cardinal Raffaele Monaco La Valletta on 21 December 1878.[10]

From 1878 until 1883 he studied at the Pontificia Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici in Rome. It was there, on every Thursday, that students were required to defend a research paper, to which cardinals and high members of the Roman Curia were invited. Cardinal Mariano Rampolla took note of him and furthered his entry in the diplomatic service of the Vatican in 1882, where he was employed by Rampolla as a secretary and soon to be posted to Madrid.[11] When Rampolla subsequently was appointed Cardinal Secretary of State, della Chiesa followed him. During these years, della Chiesa helped negotiate the resolution of a dispute between Germany and Spain over the Caroline Islands as well as organising relief during a cholera epidemic.

His ambitious mother, Marchesa della Chiesa, is said to have been discontented with the career of her son, cornering Rampolla with the words, that in her opinion, Giacomo was not properly recognised in the Vatican. Rampolla allegedly replied, Signora, your son will take only a few steps, but they will be gigantic ones.[12]

Just after Leo XIII's death in 1903, Rampolla tried to make della Chiesa the secretary of the conclave, but the Holy College elected Rafael Merry del Val, a conservative young prelate, the first sign that Rampolla would not be the next Pope. When Cardinal Rampolla had to leave his post with the election of his opponent Pope Pius X, and was succeeded by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, della Chiesa was retained in his post.


Pope Pius X consecrates his future successor Pope Benedict XV as Archbishop Giacomo della Chiesa in the Vatican on 22 December 1907


Della Chiesa's association with Rampolla, the architect of Pope Leo XIII's (1878–1903) foreign policy, made his position in the Secretariat of State under the new pontificate somewhat uncomfortable. Italian papers announced that on 15 April 1907, the papal nuncio Aristide Rinaldini in Madrid would be replaced by della Chiesa, who had worked there before. Pius X, chuckling over the journalist’s knowledge, commented, "Unfortunately, the paper forgot to mention whom I nominated as the next Archbishop of Bologna."[13] The Vatican had supposedly "gone so far as to make out the papers naming him the papal nuncio, but [della Chiesa] refused to accept them".[14] On 18 December 1907, in the presence of his family, the diplomatic corps, numerous bishops and cardinals, and his friend Rampolla, he received the episcopal consecration from Pope Pius X himself. The Pope donated his own episcopal ring and crosier to the new bishop and spent much time with the della Chiesa family on the following day.[15] On 23 February 1908, della Chiesa took possession of his new dioceses, which included 700,000 persons, 750 priests, as well as 19 male and 78 female religious institutes. In the episcopal seminary, some 25 teachers educated 120 students, preparing for the priesthood.[16]

As bishop, he visited all parishes, making a special effort to see the smaller ones in the mountains, which could only be accessed by horse. della Chiesa always saw preaching as the main obligation of a bishop. He usually gave two or more sermons a day during his visitations. His emphasis was on cleanliness inside all churches and chapels and on saving money wherever possible, for he said, "Let us save to give to the poor."[17] A meeting of all priests in a synod had to be postponed at the wish of the Vatican considering ongoing changes in Canon Law. Numerous churches were built or restored. della Chiesa personally originated a major reform of the educational orientation of the seminary, adding more science courses and classic education to the curriculum.[18] He organized pilgrimages to Marian shrines in Loreto and Lourdes at the 50th anniversary of the apparition.[19] The unexpected death of his friend, supporter and mentor Rampolla on 16 December 1913,[20] was a major blow to Giacomo della Chiesa, who was one of the beneficiaries of his will.[19]


Archbishop della Chiesa on pastoral visit in 1910

It was custom that the Archbishop of Bologna would be created cardinal in one of the coming consistories. In Bologna this was surely expected of della Chiesa as well, since, in previous years, either Cardinals were named as archbishops, or archbishops as Cardinals soon thereafter.[21] Pius X did not follow this tradition and left della Chiesa waiting for almost seven years. When a delegation from Bologna visited him to ask for della Chiesa's promotion to the College of Cardinals, he jokingly replied by making fun of his own family name, Sarto (meaning "tailor"), for he said, "Sorry, but a Sarto has not been found yet to make the Cardinal's robe." [21] Some suspected that Pius X or persons close to him did not want to have two Rampollas in the College of Cardinals.

Benedict XV as Cardinal Della Chiesa in 1914

Cardinal Rampolla died 16 December 1913. On 25 May 1914, della Chiesa was created a cardinal, becoming Cardinal-Priest of the titulus Santi Quattro Coronati, which before him was occupied by Pietro Respighi. When the new cardinal tried to return to Bologna after the consistory in Rome, an unrelated socialist, anti-monarchic and anti-Catholic uprising began to take place in Central Italy; this was accompanied by a general strike; the looting and destruction of churches, telephone connections and railway buildings; and a proclamation of a secular republic. In Bologna itself, citizens and the Catholic Church opposed such developments successfully. The Socialists overwhelmingly won the following regional elections with great majorities.[22]

As World War I approached, the question was hotly discussed in Italy as to which side to be on. Officially, Italy was still in an alliance with Germany and Austria–Hungary. However, in the Tirol, an integral part of Austria which was mostly German-speaking, the southern part, the province of Trento, was exclusively Italian-speaking. The clergy of Bologna was not totally free from nationalistic fervor either. Therefore, in his capacity as Archbishop, on the outbreak of World War I, della Chiesa made a speech on the Church's position and duties, emphasizing the need for neutrality, promoting peace and the easing of suffering.[23]


Coronation of Pope Benedict XV in 1914
Papal styles of
Pope Benedict XV
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Following the death of Pius X, the resulting conclave opened at the end of August 1914. The war would clearly be the dominant issue of the new pontificate, so the cardinals' priority was to choose a man with great diplomatic experience. Thus on 3 September 1914, della Chiesa, despite having been a cardinal only three months, was elected Pope, taking the name of Benedict XV. He chose the name in honour of Pope Benedict XIV who was also bishop from Bologna.[24] Upon being elected pope, he was also formally the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, prefect of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and prefect of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation. There was, however, a Cardinal-Secretary to run these bodies on a day-to-day basis.

Due to the enduring Roman Question, after the announcement of his election to the papacy by the Cardinal Protodeacon, Benedict XV, following in the footsteps of his two most recent predecessors, did not appear at the balcony of St. Peter's basilica to grant the urbi et orbi blessing. Benedict XV was crowned at the Sistine Chapel on 6 September 1914, and, also as a form of protest due to the Roman Question, there was no ceremony for the formal possession of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran.

Benedict XV's pontificate was dominated by World War I, which he termed, along with its turbulent aftermath, "the suicide of Europe." Benedict's first encyclical extended a heartfelt plea for an end to hostilities. His early call for a Christmas truce in 1914 was ignored. Late in the war, in May–October, 1917, the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima occurred in Fatima, Portugal; apparitions that would be declared "worthy of belief" in 1930 during the papacy of his successor, Pius XI.

Peace efforts

Eugenio Pacelli at the Imperial Headquarters with the peace proposal of Benedict XV to Emperor William II

The war and its consequences were Benedict's main focus during the early years of his pontificate. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives.

The national antagonisms between the warring parties were accentuated by religious differences before the war, with France, Italy and Belgium being largely Catholic. Vatican relations with Great Britain were good, while neither Prussia nor Imperial Germany had any official relations with the Vatican. In Protestant circles of Germany, the notion was popular that the Roman Catholic Pope was neutral on paper only, strongly favoring the allies instead.[25] Benedict was said to have prompted Austria–Hungary to go to war in order to weaken the German war machine. Also, allegedly, the Papal Nuncio in Paris explained in a meeting of the Institut Catholique, "to fight against France is to fight against God,[25]" and the Pope was said to have exclaimed that he was sorry not to be a Frenchman.[25] The Belgian Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, known as a brave patriot during German occupation but also famous for his anti-German propaganda, was said to have been favored by Benedict XV for his enmity to the German cause. After the war, Benedict also allegedly praised the Treaty of Versailles, which humiliated the Germans.[25]

These allegations were rejected by the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri, who wrote on 4 March 1916 that the Holy See is completely impartial and does not favor the allied side. This was even more important, so Gasparri noted, after the diplomatic representatives of Germany and Austria–Hungary to the Vatican were expelled from Rome by Italian authorities.[26] However, considering all this, German Protestants rejected any "Papal Peace", stating it as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau, a fierce anti-clerical, claimed to regard the Vatican initiative as anti-French. Benedict made many unsuccessful attempts to negotiate peace, but these pleas for a negotiated peace made him unpopular, even in Catholic countries like Italy, among many supporters of the war who were determined to accept nothing less than total victory.[27]

On 1 August 1917, Benedict issued a seven-point peace plan stating that (1) "the moral force of right ... be substituted for the material force of arms," (2) there must be "simultaneous and reciprocal diminution of armaments," (3) a mechanism for "international arbitration" must be established," (4) "true liberty and common rights over the sea" should exist, (5) there should be a "renunciation of war indemnities," (6) occupied territories should be evacuated, and (7) there should be "an examination ... of rival claims." Great Britain reacted favorably, but United States President Woodrow Wilson rejected the plan. Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary were also favorable, but Germany replied ambiguously.[28][29] Benedict also called for outlawing conscription,[30] a call he repeated in 1921.[31] Some of the proposals eventually were included in Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points call for peace in January 1918.[27][32]

In Europe, each side saw him as biased in favor of the other and was unwilling to accept the terms he proposed. Still, although unsuccessful, his diplomatic efforts during the war are attributed to an increase of papal prestige and served as a model in the 20th century to the peace efforts of Pius XII before and during World War II, the policies of Paul VI during the Vietnam War and the position of John Paul II before and during the War in Iraq.[27]

In addition to his efforts in the field of international diplomacy Pope Benedict also tried to bring about peace through Christian faith, as he published a special prayer in 1915 to be spoken by Catholics throughout the world.[33] There is a statue in Saint Peter's Basilica of the Pontiff absorbed in prayer, kneeling on a tomb which commemorates a fallen soldier of the war, which he described as a "useless massacre."

Humanitarian efforts

Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli delivers packages from Benedict XV to Italian POWs in 1917

Almost from the beginning of the war, November 1914, Benedict negotiated with the warring parties about an exchange of wounded and other prisoners of war who were unable to continue fighting. Tens of thousands of such prisoners were exchanged through the intervention of Benedict XV.[26] On 15 January 1915, the Pope proposed an exchange of civilians from the occupied zones, which resulted in 20,000 persons being sent to unoccupied Southern France in one month.[26] In 1916, the Pope managed to hammer out an agreement between both sides, by which 29,000 prisoners with lung disease from the gas attacks could be sent into Switzerland.[34] In May 1918, he also reached agreement that prisoners on both sides with at least 18 months of captivity and four children at home would also be sent to neutral Switzerland.[26]

He succeeded in 1915 in reaching an agreement by which the warring parties promised not to let Prisoners of War (POWs) work on Sundays and holidays. Several individuals on both sides were spared the death penalty after his intervention. Hostages were exchanged and corpses repatriated.[26] The Pope founded the Opera dei Prigionieri to assist in distributing information on prisoners. By the end of the war, some 600,000 items of correspondence were processed. Almost a third of it concerned missing persons. Some 40,000 people had asked for help in the repatriation of sick POWs and 50,000 letters were sent from families to their loved ones who were POWs.[35]

Both during and after the war, Benedict was primarily concerned about the fate of the children, about which he even issued an encyclical. In 1916 he appealed to the people and clergy of the United States to help him feed the starving children in German-occupied Belgium. His aid to children was not limited to Belgium but extended to children in Lithuania, Poland, Lebanon, Montenegro, Syria and Russia.[36] Benedict was particularly appalled at the new military invention of aerial warfare and protested several times against it to no avail.[37]

Excerpt from the letter of Woodrow Wilson to Benedict XV.
24 Dec 1918

In May and June 1915, the Ottoman Empire waged a campaign against the Armenian Christian minorities, which by many contemporary accounts looked like genocide or even a holocaust in Anatolia. The Vatican attempted to get Germany and Austria–Hungary involved in protesting to its Turkish ally. The Pope himself sent a personal letter to the Sultan, who was also Caliph of Islam. It had no success, “as over a million Armenians died, either killed outright by the Turks, or as a result of maltreatment or from starvation."[37]

After the war

At the time, the anti-Vatican resentment, combined with Italian diplomatic moves to isolate the Vatican in light of the unresolved Roman Question,[38] contributed to the exclusion of the Vatican from the Paris Peace conference of 1919 (although it was also part of a historical pattern of political and diplomatic marginalization of the papacy after the loss of the Papal States). Despite this, he wrote an encyclical pleading for international reconciliation, Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherrimum[39]

After the war, Benedict focused the Vatican's activities on overcoming famine and misery in Europe and establishing contacts and relations with the many new states which were created because of the demise of Imperial Russia, Austria–Hungary and Germany. Large food shipments and information about, as well as contacts with, prisoners of war were to be the first steps for a better understanding of the papacy in Europe.[4]

Regarding the Versailles Peace Conference, the Vatican believed that the economic conditions imposed on Germany were too harsh and threatened the European economic stability as a whole. Cardinal Gasparri believed that the peace conditions and the humiliation of the Germans would likely result in another war as soon as Germany would be militarily in a position to start one.[40] The Vatican also rejected the dissolution of Austria–Hungary, seeing in this step an inevitable and eventual strengthening of Germany.[41] The Vatican also had great reservations about the creation of small successor states which, in the view of Gasparri, were not viable economically and therefore condemned to economic misery.[42] Benedict rejected the League of Nations as a secular organization that was not built on Christian values.[43] On the other hand, he also condemned European nationalism that was rampant in the 1920s and asked for "European Unification" in his 1920 encyclical Pacem Dei Munus.[43]

The pope was also disturbed by the Communist revolution in Russia. The Pope reacted with horror to the strongly anti-religious policies adopted by Vladimir Lenin's government along with the bloodshed and widespread famine which occurred during the subsequent Russian Civil War. He undertook the greatest efforts trying to help the victims of the Russian famine, raising five million in 1921 alone.[43] Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, concerns were raised in the Vatican about the safety and future of the Catholics in the Holy Land.

Diplomatic agenda

Under Pope Benedict XV Cardinals Domenico Ferrata (above) and Rafael Merry del Val in 1914 switched positions in the Vatican

In the post-war period, Pope Benedict XV was involved in developing the Church administration to deal with the new international system that had emerged. The papacy was faced with the emergence of numerous new states such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Finland, and others. Germany, France, Italy and Austria were impoverished from the war. In addition, the traditional social and cultural European order was threatened by right-wing nationalism and fascism as well as left-wing socialism and communism, all of which potentially threatened the existence and freedom of the Church. To deal with these and related issues, Benedict engaged in what he knew best, a large scale diplomatic offensive to secure the rights of the faithful in all countries.


Leo XIII already had agreed to the participation of Catholics in local but not national politics. Relations with Italy improved as well under Benedict XV, who de facto reversed the stiff anti-Italian policy of his predecessors by allowing Catholics to participate in national elections as well. This led to a surgence of the Partito Popolare Italiano under Luigi Sturzo. Anti-Catholic politicians were gradually replaced by persons who were neutral or even sympathetic to the Catholic Church. The King of Italy himself gave signals of his desire for better relations, when, for example, he sent personal condolences to the Pontiff on the death of his brother.[44] The working conditions for Vatican staff greatly improved and feelers were extended on both sides to solve the Roman Question. Benedict XV strongly supported a solution and seemed to have had a fairly pragmatic view of the political and social situation in Italy at this time. Thus, while numerous traditional Catholics opposed voting rights for women, the pope was in favour, arguing that, unlike the feminist protagonists, most women would vote conservative and thus support traditional Catholic positions.[45]


Joan of Arc enters Orléans (painting by J.J. Sherer, 1887) Joan was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Benedict XV attempted to improve relations with the anti-clerical Republican government of France. He canonized the French national heroine Saint Joan of Arc. In the mission territories of the Third World, he emphasized the necessity of training native priests to quickly replace the European missionaries, and founded the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Coptic College in the Vatican. In 1921, France re-established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.[46]

Soviet Union

The end of the war caused the revolutionary development, which Benedict XV had foreseen in his first encyclical. With the Russian Revolution, the Vatican was faced with a new, so far unknown, situation.

Lithuania and Estonia

His friend Cardinal Rampolla at age 70 shortly before his death

The relations with Russia changed drastically for a second reason. The Baltic states and Poland gained their independence from Russia after World War I, thus enabling a relatively free Church life in those former Russia-controlled countries. Estonia was the first country to look for Vatican ties. On 11 April 1919, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri informed the Estonian authorities that the Vatican would agree to have diplomatic relations. A concordat was agreed upon in principle a year later in June 1920. It was signed on 30 May 1922. It guaranteed freedom for the Catholic Church, established archdioceses, liberated clergy from military service, allowed the creation of seminaries and Catholic schools and enshrined church property rights and immunity. The Archbishop swore alliance to Estonia.[47]

Relations with Catholic Lithuania were slightly more complicated because of the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a city and archiepiscopal seat, which Lithuania claimed as its own. Polish forces had occupied Vilnius and committed acts of brutality in its Catholic seminary there. This generated several protests by Lithuania to the Holy See.[48] Relations with the Holy See were defined during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922–1939)


Before all other heads of State, Pope Benedict XV in October 1918 congratulated the Polish people on their independence.[49] In a public letter to Archbishop Kakowski of Warsaw, he remembered their loyalty and the many efforts of the Holy See to assist them. He expressed his hopes that Poland would again take its place in the family of nations and continue its history as an educated Christian nation.[49] In March 1919, he nominated 10 new bishops and, soon after, Achille Ratti as papal nuncio who was already in Warsaw as his representative.[49] He repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy.[50] During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, he asked for worldwide public prayers for Poland. Nuncio Ratti was the only foreign diplomat to stay in the Polish capital. On 11 June 1921, he wrote to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again for peaceful coexistence with neighbouring peoples, stating that “love of country has its limits in justice and obligations.”[51] He sent nuncio Ratti to Silesia to act against potential political agitations of the Catholic clergy.[50]

Ratti, a scholar, intended to work for Poland and build bridges to the Soviet Union, hoping even to shed his blood for Russia.[52] Pope Benedict XV needed him as a diplomat and not as a martyr and forbade any trip into the USSR even though he was the official papal delegate to Russia.[52] However, he continued his contacts with Russia. This did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. He was asked to go. “While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned”[53] by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to a Polish nuncio supervising elections, and Poles were upset because he curtailed agitating clergy.[54] On 20 November, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti's expulsion climaxed in Warsaw.[54] Two years later, Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI, shaping Vatican policies towards Poland with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli for the following 36 years (1922–1958).

Church affairs

The handwriting of Pope Benedict XV.


In internal Church affairs, Benedict XV reiterated Pius X's condemnation of Modernist scholars and the errors in modern philosophical systems in Ad beatissimi Apostolorum. He declined to readmit to full communion scholars who had been excommunicated during the previous pontificate. However, he calmed what he saw as the excesses of the anti-Modernist campaign within the Church. On 25 July 1920, he wrote the motu proprio Bonum sane on Saint Joseph and against naturalism and socialism.

Canon law reform

In 1917 Benedict XV promulgated the Church's first comprehensive Code of Canon Law, the preparation of which had been commissioned by Pope St. Pius X, and which is thus known as the Pio-Benedictine Code. This Code, which entered into force in 1918, was the first consolidation of the Church's Canon Law into a modern Code made up of simple articles. Previously, Canon Law was dispersed in a variety of sources and partial compilations. The new codification of canon law is credited with reviving religious life and providing judicial clarity throughout the Church.[5] In addition, continuing the concerns of Leo XIII, he furthered Eastern Catholic culture, theology and liturgy by founding an Oriental Institute for them in Rome[5] and creating the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church in 1917.

Catholic missions

On 30 November 1919, Benedict XV appealed to all Catholics worldwide to sacrifice for Catholic missions, stating at the same time in Maximum Illud that these missions should foster local culture and not import European cultures.[5] The damages of such cultural imports[55] were particularly grave in Africa and Asia, where many missionaries were deported and incarcerated if they happened to originate from a hostile nation.


"Salus Populi Romani"

Pope Benedict personally addressed in numerous letters the pilgrims at Marian sanctuaries. He named Mary the Patron of Bavaria, and permitted, in Mexico, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Guadaloupe. He authorised the Feast of Mary Mediator of all Graces.[6] He condemned the misuse of Marian statues and pictures, dressed in priestly robes, which he outlawed 4 April 1916.[56]

On May 10, 1916, Pope Benedict declared the image and Marian title of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as Patroness of Cuba on 10 May 1916 at the written request of the soldier veterans of the Cuban War of Independence.

During World War I, Benedict placed the world under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and added the invocation Mary Queen of Peace to the Litany of Loreto. He promoted Marian veneration throughout the world by elevating 20 well-known Marian shrines such as Ettal Abbey in Bavaria into Basilica Minors. He also promoted Marian devotions in May.[57] The dogmatic constitution on the Church issued by the Second Vatican Council quotes the Marian theology of Benedict XV.[58]

Pope Benedict issued an encyclical, Bonum sane on 25 July 1920, encouraging devotion to Saint Joseph "since through S. Joseph we go directly to Mary, and through Mary to the source of every holiness, Jesus Christ, who consecrated the domestic virtues with his obedience to S. Joseph and Mary."[59]

He issued an encyclical on Ephraim the Syrian depicting Ephraim as a model of Marian devotion, as well as the Apostolic Letter, Inter Soldalica, of 22 March 1918.[60]


During his seven-year pontificate, Benedict XV wrote a total of twelve encyclicals. In addition to the encyclicals mentioned, he issued In hac tanta on St. Boniface (14 May 1919), Paterno iam diu on the Children of Central Europe (24 November 1919), Pacem, Dei munus pulcherrimum on Peace and Christian Reconciliation (23 May 1920), Spiritus Paraclitus on St. Jerome (September 1920), Principi Apostolorum Petro on St. Ephram the Syrian (5 October 1920), Annus iam plenus also on Children in Central Europe (1 December 1920), Sacra propediem on the Third Order of St. Francis (6 January 1921), In praeclara summorum on Dante (30 April 1921), and Fausto appetente die on St. Dominic (29 June 1921).

His Apostolic Exhortations include Ubi primum (8 September 1914), Allorché fummo chiamati (28 July 1915) and Dès le début (1 August 1917) The Papal bulls of Benedict XV include Incruentum Altaris (10 August 1915), Providentissima Mater (27 May 1917) Sedis huius (14 May 1919), and Divina disponente (16 May 1920). Benedict XV issued nine Breves during his pontificate: Divinum praeceptum (December 1915), Romanorum Pontificum (February 1916), Cum Catholicae Ecclesiae (April 1916), Cum Biblia Sacra (August 1916), Cum Centesimus (October 1916), Centesimo Hodie (October 1916), Quod Ioannes (April 1917), In Africam quisnam (June 1920), and Quod nobis in condendo (September 1920).

Ad beatissimi Apostolorum

Ad beatissimi Apostolorum is an encyclical of Benedict XV given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the Feast of All Saints on 1 November 1914, in the first year of his pontificate. The first encyclical written by Pope Benedict XV coincided with the beginning of World War I, which he labeled "The Suicide of Civilized Europe." Benedict XV described the combatants as the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth, stating that "they are well-provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, and they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly shed blood and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain." [61]

In light of the senseless slaughter, the pope pleaded for "peace on earth to men of good will," (Luke 2:14), insisting that there are other ways and means whereby violated rights can be rectified.[62]

The origin of the evil is a neglect of the precepts and practices of Christian wisdom, particularly a lack of love and compassion. Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring among men the Kingdom of Peace, as He stated, "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another."[63] This message is repeated in John 15:12, in which Jesus says, "This is my commandment that you love one another."[64] Materialism, nationalism, racism and class warfare are the characteristics of the age instead, so Benedict XV described:

Humani generis redemptionem

The encyclical Humani generis redemptionem from 15 June 1917, deals with blatant ineffectiveness of Christian preaching. According to Benedict XV, there are more preachers of the Word than ever before, but "in the state of public and private morals as well as the constitutions and laws of nations, there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back into the shameful practices of paganism." [66] The Pope squarely put part of the blame on those ministers of the Gospel who do not handle it as they should. It is not the times but the incompetent Christian preachers who are to blame, for no one today can say for sure that the Apostles were living in better times than ours. Perhaps, the encyclical states, that the Apostles found minds more readily devoted to the Gospel, or they may have met others with less opposition to the law of God.[67] As the encyclical tells, first are the Catholic bishops. The Council of Trent taught that preaching "is the paramount duty of Bishops."[68] The Apostles, whose successors the bishops are, looked upon the Church as something theirs, for it was they who received the grace of the Holy Spirit to begin it. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Christ sent us not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." [69] Council of Trent Bishops are required to select for this priestly office those only who are "fit" for the position, i.e. those who "can exercise the ministry of preaching with profit to souls." Profiting souls does not mean doing such "eloquently or with popular applause, but rather with spiritual fruit." [70] The Pope requested that all the priests who are incapable of preaching or of hearing confession be removed from the position.[71] The encyclical helps to draw out the message that priests must concentrate on the Word on God and the benefitting of souls before their own selves.

Quod iam diu

Quod iam diu was an encyclical given at Rome at St. Peter's on 1 December 1918, in the fifth year of his Pontificate. It requested that, after World War I, all Catholics of the world pray for a lasting peace and for those who are entrusted to make such during peace negotiations.

The pope noted that true peace has not yet arrived, but the Armistice has suspended the slaughter and devastation by land, sea and air.[72] It is the obligation of all Catholics to "invoke Divine assistance for all who take part in the peace conference," as the encyclical states. The Pope concludes that prayer is essential for the delegates who are to meet to define peace, as they are in need of much support.[73]

Maximum illud

Maximum illud is an apostolic letter of Benedict XV issued on November 30, 1919, in the sixth year of his pontificate. It deals with the Catholic missions after World War I. Benedict XV recalled the great Apostles of the Gospel who contributed much to the expansion of missions. He reviewed the recent history of the missions and stated so as the purpose of the apostolic letter.[74] The encyclical first turned to the bishops and superiors in charge of the Catholic missions, noting the need to train local clergy. Catholic missionaries today continue to be reminded that their goal is a spiritual one which must be carried out in a selfless way.[75]

Benedict XV underlined the necessity of proper preparation for the work in foreign cultures and the need to acquire language skills before doing such work. He requested a continued strive for personal sanctity and praised the selfless work of the religious females in the missions.[76] "Mission", however, "is not only for missionaries, but all Catholics must participate through their apostolate of prayer, by supporting vocations, and by helping financially." [77] The encyclical in concluded with the naming of several organizations which organize and supervise mission activities within the Catholic Church.[78]

Beatifications and canonizations

Benedict XV canonized a total of four individuals including Joan of Arc and Marguerite Marie Alacoque. He also beatified a total of thirty six people, including the Uganda Martyrs, Oliver Plunkett and Louise de Marillac.

Personality and appearance

The birthplace of Pope Benedict XV in Pegli

Pope Benedict was a slight man. He wore the smallest of three cassocks that were prepared for the election of a new pope in 1914, and became known as "Il Piccoletto" or "The Little Man". Benedict XV was dignified in bearing and courtly in terms of matters, but his appearance was not that of a pope. He had a sallow complexion, a mat of black hair, and prominent teeth. Everything about him seemed crooked, from his nose to his eyes and shoulders.[79]

He was renowned for his generosity, answering all pleas for help from poor Roman families with large cash gifts from his private revenues. When he was short on money, those who would be admitted to an audience would often be instructed by prelates not to mention their financial woes, as Benedict would inevitably feel guilty that he could not help the needy at the time. He also depleted the Vatican's official revenues with large-scale charitable expenditure during World War I. Upon his death, the Vatican Treasury had been depleted to the equivalent in Italian lire of U.S. $19,000.[80]

Benedict XV was a careful innovator by Vatican standards. He was known to carefully consider all novelties before he ordered their implementation, then insisting on them to the fullest. He rejected clinging to the past for the past’s sake with the words "Let us live in the present and not in history." [81] His relation to secular Italian powers was reserved yet positive, avoiding conflict and tacitly supporting the Royal Family of Italy. Yet, like Pius IX and Leo XIII, he also protested against interventions of State authorities in internal Church affairs.[81] Pope Benedict was not considered a man of letters. He did not publish educational or devotional books. His encyclicals are pragmatic and down-to-earth, intelligent yet at times far-sighted. He remained neutral during the battles of the "Great War," when almost everybody else was claiming "sides." Like that of Pius XII during World War II, his neutrality was questioned by all sides then and even to this day.[82]

Benedict XV personally had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He gave his support to an understanding of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces by approving a Mass and office under this title for the dioceses of Belgium. Benedict affirmed that "together with Christ, she redeemed the human race" by her immolation of Christ as his sorrowful mother as described in his apostolic letter Inter Sodalicia.

Death and legacy

Tomb of Benedict XV in the grottoes of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
Statue of Benedict XV in the courtyard of St. Esprit Cathedral, Istanbul.

Benedict XV celebrated Mass with the nuns at the Domus Sanctae Marthae and while he waited for his driver out in the rain he fell ill with the flu which turned into pneumonia. After a month of pain, from which he was said not to recover, he succumbed to that illness on 22 January 1922 at the age of 67, his nephews alongside him. After his death, flags were flown at half-staff in memory of him and as a tribute to him. His body then lay in state for the people to see before being moved for burial in the Vatican grottos.[83]

Possibly the least remembered pope of the twentieth century, Benedict XV is nevertheless an unsung hero for his valiant efforts to end World War I. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the significance of his long-ago predecessor's commitment to peace by taking the same name upon his own rise to the pontificate. Benedict XV was unique in his humane approach to the world in 1914–1918, which starkly contrasted with that of the other great monarchs and leaders of the time. His worth is reflected in the tribute engraved at the foot of the statue that the Turks, a non-Catholic, non-Christian people, erected of him in Istanbul: "The great Pope of the world tragedy... the benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion." This monument stands in the courtyard of the St. Esprit Cathedral.

Pope Pius XII showed high regard for Benedict XV, who had consecrated him a bishop on 13 May 1917, the very day of the first reported apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. While Pius XII considered another Benedict, Benedict XIV in terms of his sanctity and scholarly contributions to be worthy as Doctor of the Church,[84] he thought that Benedict XV during his short pontificate was truly a man of God, who worked for peace.[85] He helped prisoners of war and many others who needed help in dire times and was extremely generous to Russia.[86] He praised him as a Marian Pope who promoted the devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes,[87] for his encyclicals Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, Humani generis redemptionem, Quod iam diu, and Spiritus Paraclitus, and, for the codification of Canon Law,[88] which under della Chiesa and Pietro Gasparri, he as Eugenio Pacelli had the opportunity to participate in.

Pope Benedict XVI showed his own admiration for Benedict XV following his election to the papacy on 19 April 2005. The election of a new Pope is often accompanied by conjecture over his choice of papal name; it is widely believed that a Pope chooses the name of a predecessor whose teachings and legacy he wishes to continue. Ratzinger's choice of "Benedict" was seen as a signal that Benedict XV's views on humanitarian diplomacy, and his stance against relativism and modernism, would be emulated during the reign of the new Pope.

During his first General Audience in St. Peter's Square on 27 April 2005, Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to Benedict XV when explaining his choice:

"Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples."

See also


  1. English: James Paul John Baptist della Chiesa


  1. Miranda, Salvador. "Della Chiesa, Giacomo", The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, Florida International University
  2. "CHIESA 1922 GENNAIO". Araldicavaticana.com. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  3. Franzen 379
  4. 1 2 Franzen 380
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Franzen 382
  6. 1 2 AAS 1921, 345
  7. George L. Williams, Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes (2004:133)
  8. De Waal 7
  9. De Waal 14–15
  10. De Waal 19
  11. De Waal 43
  12. Pollard 15
  13. De Waal 68
  14. "The New Pope", The Wall Street Journal, 4 September 1914, p. 3. (Newspapers.com)
  15. De Waal 70
  16. De Waal 82
  17. De Waal 102
  18. De Waal 100
  19. 1 2 De Waal 121
  20. 1913
  21. 1 2 De Waal 110
  22. De Waal 117
  23. De Waal 124
  24. Note on numbering: Pope Benedict X is now considered an antipope. At the time, however, this status was not recognized, and so the man the Roman Catholic church officially considers the tenth true Pope Benedict took the official number XI, rather than X. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Benedict by one. Popes Benedict XI-XVI are, from an official point of view, the tenth through fifteenth popes by that name. In other words, there is no legitimate Pope Benedict X.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Conrad Gröber, Handbuch der Religiösen Gegenwartsfragen, Herder Freiburg, Germany 1937, 493
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Gröber 495
  27. 1 2 3 Pollard, 136
  28. John R. Smestad Jr., Europe 1914–1945: Attempts at Peace, Loyola University New Orleans The Student Historical Journal 1994–1995 Vol XXVI.
  29. Five of seven points of Benedict XV's peace plan.
  30. “Pope in New Note to Ban Conscription,” “New York Times,” 23 September 1917, A1
  31. “Pope would clinch peace. Urges abolition of conscription as way to disarmament , New York Times, 16 November 1921, from Associated Press report.
  32. Pope's Name Pays Homage To Benedict XV, Took Inspiration From An Anti-War Pontiff, WCBSTV, 20 April 2005.
  33. "Prayer for Peace from Pope Benedict". Chicago Tribune. 1915-03-14. Retrieved 2015-03-01.
  34. Pollard 114
  35. Pollard 113
  36. Pollard 115
  37. 1 2 Pollard 116
  38. Pollard 141 ff
  40. Pollard 144
  41. Pollard, 145
  42. Pollard 145
  43. 1 2 3 Pollard 147
  44. Pollard 163
  45. Pollard 174
  46. Franzen 381,
  47. Schmidlin III, 305
  48. Schmidlin III, 306.
  49. 1 2 3 Schmidlin III, 306
  50. 1 2 Schmidlin III, 307
  51. AAS 1921, 566
  52. 1 2 Stehle 25
  53. Stehle 26
  54. 1 2 Schmidlin IV, 15
  55. World War One
  56. AAS 1916 146 Baumann in Marienkunde; 673
  57. Schmidlin 179–339
  58. C VII, §50
  59. Pope Benedict XV, Bonum Sane, §4, Vatican, 25 July 1920
  60. 1 2 AAS, 1918, 181
  61. Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, 3
  62. Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, 4
  63. (John 14:34);
  64. (John 15:12);
  65. Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, 7
  66. Humani generis redemptionem 2
  67. Humani generis redemptionem 3
  68. [Sess., xxiv, De. Ref., c.iv]
  69. [I Cor. i:17]
  70. Humani generis redemptionem 7
  71. Humani generis redemptionem 9
  72. Quod iam diu, 1
  73. Quod iam diu, 2
  74. Maximum illud, 5–7
  75. Maximum illud, 19–21
  76. Maximum illud, 30
  77. Maximum Illud 30–36
  78. Maximum illud, 37–40
  79. Alleged The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe: David I. Kertzer. Amazon. ISBN 0812993462.
  80. Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror, HarperCollins, 2007, p.70.
  81. 1 2 De Waal 122
  82. Pollard 86 ff
  83. "Pope Benedict XV (1854-1922)". Find a Grave. 27 November 2001. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  84. Pio XII, Discorsi, Roma 1939–1958, Vol. VIII, 419
  85. Discorsi, I 300
  86. Discorsi, II 346
  87. Discorsi XIX, 877
  88. Discorsi XIII,133
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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Domenico Svampa
Archbishop of Bologna
18 December 1907 – 3 September 1914
Succeeded by
Giorgio Gusmini
Preceded by
Pietro Respighi
Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati
25 May 1914 - 3 September 1914
Succeeded by
Victoriano Guisasola Menéndez
Preceded by
Pius X
3 September 1914 – 22 January 1922
Succeeded by
Pius XI
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