Barchester Popes

Douglas Johnson

  • The Popes and European Revolution by Owen Chadwick
    Oxford, 646 pp, £28.00, March 1981, ISBN 0 19 826919 6

It has long been recognised that one of the saddest moments in the history of the Papacy was the death of Pius VI, on 28 August 1799. He died in captivity, in Avignon. This death seemed to illustrate how the Papacy, and the Catholic Church as a whole, had been brought low, reduced to a state which some thought to be one of complete ruin, humiliated both by the general movement of 18th-century thought and by the more spectacular shocks of the French Revolution. Voltaire, no friend to Popes, had praised the Pontiff Sixtus Quintus (who died in 1599). In L’Essai sur les Moeurs he had seen fit to quote those who had described this Pope as ‘le plus haut, le meilleur, le plus grand des pontifs, des princes et des sages’, and had gone on to apply to him his own criteria for the good ruler and the great prince.

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