Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pope Innocent XI and William of Orange

A provocative article highlights the claims of two historical novelists that Blessed Pope Innocent XI was funding William of Orange. No doubt the article is exaggerated on many levels. However, the claim is not a new one and has been debated for years. The key to understanding the situation is to look at the very complicated political scene in Europe of the mid to late 1600's, when one of the major threats to Christendom, other than the Turks, was not Protestant William of Orange but Catholic Louis XIV. Remember that the French king encouraged the Turks to attack the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV was the major antagonist of Pope Innocent, and the Pope giving some financial aid to William to drive Louis out of the Netherlands should not come as a shocker. According to New Advent:
The whole pontificate of Innocent XI is marked by a continuous struggle with the absolutism of King Louis XIV of France. As early as 1673 the king had by his own power extended the right of the régale over the provinces of Languedoc, Guyenne, Provence, and Dauphiné, where it had previously not been exercised, although the Council of Lyons in 1274 had forbidden under pain of excommunication to extend the régale beyond those districts where it was then in force. Bishops Pavillon of Alet and Caulet of Pamiers protested against this royal encroachment and in consequence they were persecuted by the king. All the efforts of Innocent XI to induce King Louis to respect the rights of the Church were useless. In 1682, Louis XIV convoked an Assembly of the French Clergy which, on 19 March, adopted the four famous articles, known as "Déclaration du clergé français" (see GALLICANISM). Innocent annulled the four articles in his rescript of 11 April, 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.

To appease the
pope, Louis XIV began to pose as a zealot of Catholicism. In 1685 he revoked the Edict of Nantes and inaugurated a cruel persecution of the Protestants. Innocent XI expressed his displeasure at these drastic measures and continued to withhold his approbation from the episcopal candidates as he had done heretofore. He irritated the king still more by abolishing the much abused "right of asylum" in a decree dated 7 May, 1685. By force of this right the foreign ambassadors at Rome had been able to harbour in their palaces and the immediate neighbourhood any criminal that was wanted by the papal court of justice. Innocent XI notified the new French ambassador, Marquis de Lavardin, that he would not be recognized as ambassador in Rome unless he renounced this right. But Louis XIV would not give it up. At the head of an armed force of about 800 men Lavardin entered Rome in November, 1687, and took forcible possession of his palace. Innocent XI treated him as excommunicated and placed under interdict the church of St. Louis at Rome where he attended services on 24 December, 1687.

The subsequent fall of James II of England destroyed French preponderance in Europe and soon after Innocent's death the struggle between Louis XIV and the papacy was settled in favour of the Church. Innocent XI did not approve the imprudent manner in which James II attempted to restore Catholicism in England. He also repeatedly expressed his displeasure at the support which James II gave to the autocratic King Louis XIV in his measures hostile to the Church. It is, therefore, not surprising that Innocent XI had little sympathy for the Catholic King of England, and that he did not assist him in his hour of trial. There is, however, no ground for the accusation that Innocent XI was informed of the designs which William of Orange had upon England, much less that he supported him in the overthrow of James II.
It is sad that the political ambitions of secular rulers so often pitted Catholics against Catholics. The Holy Father, as a temporal as well as a spiritual ruler, had to be skilled in statecraft in order to keep one step ahead of venal monarchs such as Louis XIV. This is not to say that every decision made by every pope in political matters was perfect, certainly not, and in secular matters popes can make mistakes like anyone else. It does not take away from the personal virtue of a holy pope like Blessed Innocent. If the pope did give money to William, then he did what at the time seemed to be the best thing for the church and the stability of Europe. We are free to agree or disagree. Share


Unknown said...

Was Pope Innocent XI a signatory to the 'Grand Alliance'of Augsburg which gave 'William of Orange' the mandate to oust 'King James II' of the thrown of England. If so, was he the only catholic in authority who did so?

Thank you,
Patrick Mc Cann.

elena maria vidal said...

I can't find anything about the Pope being a signatory. Here are some sites with more information:



Byron Hoover said...

Finally a balanced and insightful analysis in the wake of the recent revisionist history critical of this great pope. Your points are exactly on the mark - Innocent XI took whatever action he deemed appropriate for the welfare of the Church in the complicated world of the late 17th century. James II's imprudent attempts to force Catholicism on his Anglican nation were already doomed, and his close ties to Louis XIV rendered him increasingly problematic to the Church. All of us are indebted to Blessed Innocent XI for saving Europe from the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks at Vienna and preserving Western Civilization in the process. God bless you for your wisdom in defending this outstanding pontiff in such an enlightened and powerful way. Byron Hoover

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Hoover.

johngx said...

Given the historical inter-twinning of Church and State, Innocent XI was inevitably caught up in the intrigues of Europe, yes.

But nonetheless, even in historical terms, to have acted as he did to help significantly to oust Catholicism and bring in a Protestant order, it remains that his actions look like treachery from the very highest levels.

With beautification, the historical plot seems to get that much thicker... A Catholic saint? Well, ok.


Unknown said...

By 1688 England had been a Protestant stronghold for over 150 years. Catholics were decidely in the minority and received unjust treatment by English society regardless of the religious affiliation of the reigning monarch. King James II did not possess the talents of governance to rule his nation effectively and was closely allied to Louis XIV of France, who had already wreaked havoc across the continent for decades. Even when Blessed Innocent XI united the Christian kings of Europe to defeat the attacking Ottoman Turks at Vienna in 1683, Louis XIV secretly backed the invading Turkish forces for his own selfish interests. Scholars of European history regard Innocent XI as the greatest pope of his century. His beatification in 1956 stands as appropriate acknowledgment of his courageous and visionary leadership of the Church and his heroic and providential defense of Western Civilization.