In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano, Italian historian Francesco Guglietta, an expert on the life of Pius IX, revealed how the Pontiff decided to consult with the bishops of the world to proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854.
Guglietta points out that the revolution that ended with the proclamation of the “Roman Republic” in 1848 and that forced the Pope to take up residence for nine months in Gaeta, south of Rome, had a profound effect on the Pontiff, who like Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, had openly sympathized with the European revolutionary movements.
“During this lapse of time, in fact, Pius IX progressively lost trust in the processes of the ‘revolution’ that were taking place in Europe and distanced himself from the liberal Catholic environment, beginning to see in the insurrection movement, as well as in the ‘modernity’ of that time, a dangerous snare for the life of the Church,” Guglietta writes.
The expert points out that “understanding what happened with the thinking of Pius IX in Gaeta is of significant historic relevance” and is an “area of research not yet explored.” Nevertheless, he said, the Pope’s sojourn in Gaeta was fundamental for his decision of proclaiming the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
According to tradition, Pope Pius IX spent a long period in prayer in Gaeta before a painting of the Immaculate Conception by Scipione Pulzone preserved in the so-called Chapel of Gold, and that moment of encounter with God convinced him to proclaim the dogma.
However, French historian and professor Louis Baunard said that while gazing upon the Mediterranean from the city, “the Pope mediated on remarks made to him by Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini: Holy Father, you will not be able to heal the world unless you proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Only this dogmatic definition will reestablish the meaning of the Christian truths and bring minds back from the paths of naturalism upon which they have become lost.”
According to Guglietta, naturalism, which rejected all supernatural truth, could be considered the “backdrop” for the Pope’s proclamation of the dogma. “The affirmation of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin laid a strong foundation for affirming and strengthening the certainty of the primacy of grace and the work of Providence in the lives of men.”
He said Pius IX, despite his enthusiasm, welcomed the idea of consulting with the bishops of the world, who expressed their agreement, leading him to finally proclaim the dogma.