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Pope Innocent XI

Blessed Pope
Innocent XI
Portrait in 1787.
Papacy began 21 September 1676
Papacy ended 12 August 1689
Predecessor Clement X
Successor Alexander VIII
Ordination 1650
Consecration 29 January 1651
by Francesco Maria Macchiavelli
Created Cardinal 6 March 1645
by Pope Innocent X
Personal details
Birth name Benedetto Odescalchi
Born (1611-05-16)16 May 1611
Como, Lombardy, Duchy of Milan
Died 12 August 1689(1689-08-12) (aged 78)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post
Motto Avarus non implebitur ("The covetous man is not (never) satified [with money]")
Coat of arms }
Feast day
  • 12 August
  • 13 August (Hungary)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Title as Saint Blessed
Beatified 7 October 1956
Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
by Pope Pius XII
Other popes named Innocent

Pope Innocent XI (Latin: Innocentius XI; 16 May 1611 – 12 August 1689), born Benedetto Odescalchi, was Pope from 21 September 1676 to his death in 1689. He is known as the "Saviour of Hungary".

Much of his reign was concerned with tension with Louis XIV of France. A conservative, he lowered taxes in the Papal States during his pontificate and he also produced a surplus in the papal budget. Because of this surplus he repudiated excessive nepotism within the church. Innocent XI was frugal in matters of governing the Papal States, from dress to leading a life with Christian values. Once he was elected to the papacy, he applied himself to moral and administrative reform of the Roman Curia. He abolished sinecures and pushed for greater simplicity in preaching as well as greater reverence in worship - requesting this of both the clergy and faithful.[1][2][3]

After a difficult cause for canonization, starting in 1791, which caused considerable controversy over the years and stopping on several occasions, he was beatified with no opposition in 1956 by Pope Pius XII.


  • Early life 1
  • Papacy 2
    • Election 2.1
    • Reforming the administration of the papacy 2.2
    • Jewish relations 2.3
  • Foreign relations 3
    • The Battle of Vienna 3.1
    • Relations with France 3.2
    • Cologne controversy 3.3
    • Innocent XI and William of Orange 3.4
  • Other activities 4
  • Death and beatification 5
  • Encyclicals 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

The birthplace of Benedetto Odescalchi at Como.

Benedetto Odescalchi was born at Como on 16 May 1611, the son of a Como nobleman, Livio Odescalchi, and Paola Castelli Giovanelli from Gandino. His siblings were Carlo, Lucrezia, Giulio Maria, Constantino, Nicola and Paolo. He is also a relative of his sister's grandson Baldassare Erba-Odescalchi and is a relative of Carlo Odescalchi and Benedetto Erba Odescalchi. In 1626 his father died, and Benedetto began schooling in human sciences taught by the Jesuits at his local college, before transferring to Genoa. In 1630 he narrowly survived an outbreak of plague, which killed his mother.

The Odescalchi family, although only of minor nobility, were nevertheless determined entrepreneurs. In 1619, Benedetto's brother founded a bank with his three uncles in Genoa which quickly grew into a successful money-lending business. After completing his studies in grammar and letters, the 15-year old Benedetto moved to Genoa to take part in the family business as an apprentice. Lucrative economic transactions were established with clients in the major Italian and European cities, such as Nuremberg, Milan, Kraków, and Rome.

Some time between 1632 and 1636, Benedetto decided to move to Rome and then Naples in order to study civil law. This led to securing the offices of protonotary apostolic, president of the apostolic chamber, commissary of the Marco di Roma, and governor of Macerata; on 6 March 1645, Pope Innocent X (1644–55) made him Cardinal-Deacon with the deaconry of Santi Cosma e Damiano. He subsequently became legate to Ferrara. When he was sent to Ferrara in order to assist the people stricken with a severe famine, the Pope introduced him to the people of Ferrara as the "father of the poor."

Cardinal Odescalchi.

In 1650, Odescalchi became bishop of Novara, in which capacity he spent all the revenues of his see to relieve the poor and sick in his diocese. With the permission of the pope he resigned as bishop of Novara in favor of his brother Giulio in 1656 and went to Rome. While there he took a prominent part in the consultations of the various congregations of which he was a member.[4]



Odescalchi was a strong papal candidate after the death of Pope Clement IX (1667–69) in 1669, but the French government rejected him (using the now-abolished veto). After Pope Clement X (1670–76) died, Louis XIV of France (1643–1715) again intended to use his royal influence against Odescalchi's election. Instead, believing that the cardinals as well as the Roman people were of one mind in their desire to have Odescalchi as their Pope, Louis reluctantly instructed the French party cardinals to acquiesce in his candidacy. On 21 September 1676, Odescalchi was chosen to be Clement X's successor and took the name of Innocent XI. He chose this name in honour of Pope Innocent X, who made him a cardinal in 1645.

Papal styles of
Pope Innocent XI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Blessed

Reforming the administration of the papacy

Immediately upon his accession, Innocent XI turned all his efforts towards reducing the expenses of the Curia. He passed strict ordinances against nepotism among the cardinals. He lived very parsimoniously and exhorted the cardinals to do the same. In this manner he not only squared the annual deficit which at his accession had reached the sum of 170,000 scudi, but within a few years the papal income was even in excess of the expenditures. He lost no time in declaring and practically manifesting his zeal as a reformer of manners and a corrector of administrative abuses. Beginning with the clergy, he sought to raise the laity also to a higher moral standard of living. He closed all of the theaters in Rome (considered to be centers of vice and immorality) and famously brought a temporary halt to the flourishing traditions of Roman opera. In 1679 he publicly condemned sixty-five propositions, taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists (mostly Jesuit casuists, who had been heavily attacked by Pascal in his Provincial Letters) as propositiones laxorum moralistarum and forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication.[4] He condemned in particular the most radical form of mental reservation (stricte mentalis) which authorised deception without an outright lie.

Personally not unfriendly to Miguel de Molinos, Innocent XI nevertheless yielded to the enormous pressure brought to bear upon him to confirm in 1687 the judgement of the inquisitors by which sixty-eight quietist propositions of Molinos were condemned as blasphemous and heretical.

Jewish relations

Innocent XI showed a degree of sensitivity in his dealings with the Jews within the Italian States. He compelled the city of Venice to release the Jewish prisoners taken by Francesco Morosini in 1685. He also discouraged compulsory baptisms which accordingly became less frequent under his pontificate; but he could not abolish the old practice altogether.

More controversially on 30 October 1682, he issued an edict by which all the money-lending activities carried out by the Roman Jews were to cease. Such a move would incidentally have financially benefitted his own brothers who played a dominant role in European money-lending. However ultimately convinced that such a measure would cause much misery in destroying livelihoods, the enforcement of the edict was twice delayed.[5]

Foreign relations

The Battle of Vienna

Innocent XI was an enthusiastic initiator of the Holy League which brought together the German Estates and King John III of Poland who in 1683 hastened to the relief of Vienna which was being besieged by the Turks. After the siege was raised, Innocent XI again spared no efforts to induce the Christian princes to lend a helping hand for the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary. He contributed millions of scudi to the Turkish war fund in Austria and Hungary and had the satisfaction of surviving the capture of Belgrade, 6 September 1688.[6]

Relations with France

Innocent XI (1678-1679)

The pontificate of Innocent XI was marked by the struggle between the absolutism and hegemonic intentions of Louis XIV, and the primacy of the Catholic Church. As early as 1673, Louis 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.

All the efforts of Innocent XI to induce Louis XIV to respect the rights and primacy of the Church proved useless. In 1682, the King convoked an assembly of the French clergy which adopted the four articles that became known as the Gallican Liberties. Innocent XI annulled the four articles on 11 April 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.[4]

To appease the pope, Louis XIV began to act as a zealot of Catholicism. In 1685 he revoked the Edict of Nantes and inaugurated a persecution of French Hugenots. Innocent expressed displeasure at these drastic measures and continued to withhold his approbation from the episcopal candidates.

Tachard, with Siamese envoys, translating the letter of King Narai to Pope Innocent XI, December 1688

Innocent XI irritated the King still more that same year by abolishing the much abused right of asylum, by which foreign ambassadors in Rome had been able to harbor in embassies any criminal wanted by the papal court of justice. He notified the new French ambassador, Marquis de Lavardin, that he would not be recognised 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.[6]

In January 1688, Innocent XI also received the diplomatic mission which had been dispatched to France and the Vatican by Narai, the King of Siam under Fr. Guy Tachard and Ok-khun Chamnan in order to establish relations.

Cologne controversy

Monument to Pope Innocent XI, St. Peter's Basilica.

The tension between the pope and the King of France increased by Innocent's procedure in filling the vacant archiepiscopal see of Cologne. The two candidates for the see were Cardinal William Egon of Fürstenberg, then Bishop of Strasbourg, and Joseph Clement, a brother of Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. The former was a willing tool in the hands of Louis XIV, and his appointment as Archbishop and Prince-elector of Cologne would have implied French preponderance in north-western Germany.

Joseph Clement was not only the candidate of Emperor Leopold I (1658–1705) but of all European rulers, with the exception of the King of France and his supporter, King James II of England (1685–88). At the election, which took place on 19 July 1688, neither of the candidates received the required number of votes. The decision, therefore, fell to Innocent, who designated Joseph Clement as Archbishop and Elector of Cologne.

Louis XIV retaliated by taking possession of the papal territory of Avignon, imprisoning the papal nuncio and appealing to a general council. Nor did he conceal his intention to separate the French Church entirely from Rome. The Pope remained firm. The subsequent fall of James II in England destroyed French preponderance in Europe and soon after Innocent XI's death the struggle between Louis XIV and the papacy was settled in favour of the Church.[4]

Innocent XI and William of Orange

Innocent XI dispatched Ferdinando d'Adda as nuncio to the Kingdom of England, the first representative of the Papacy to go to England for over a century. Even so, the Pope 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 against the Church. It is, therefore, not surprising that Innocent XI had less sympathy for James than for William of Orange,[7] and that he did not afford James help in his hour of trial.[6] In 2007, researchers Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti, drew popular attention to the claim, repeatedly made by historians over the intervening centuries, that Innocent XI had secretly funded the resistance of the Protestant hero William of Orange to the French King, and even financed his overthrow of James II of England. This was done using the established Odescalchi family business in money-lending.[8]

Other activities

Innocent XI was no less intent on preserving the purity of faith and morals among all people. He insisted on thorough education and an exemplary lifestyle all people and he passed strict rules in relation to the modesty of dress among Roman women. Furthermore, he put an end to the ever increasing passion for gambling by suppressing the gambling houses at Rome. By a decree of 12 February 1679 he encouraged frequent and even daily reception of Holy Communion.[1]

Death and beatification

The body of Innocent XI in its former location at St Sebastian Chapel in St Peter's Basilica

Innocent XI died after a long period of ill health on 12 August 1689 due to kidney stones which he had suffered from since 1682. Following his death, he was buried in St Peter's Basilica beneath his funeral monument near the Clementine Chapel, which his nephew, Livio Odescalchi, commissioned.[9][10] The monument, which was designed and sculpted by Pierre-Étienne Monnot, features the pope seated upon the throne above a sarcophagus with a base-relief showing the liberation of Vienna from the Turks by John III Sobieski, flanked by two allegorical figures representing Faith and Fortitude.[11][12]

The process of Innocent XI's beatification was introduced in 1791 by Pope Innocent XII who proclaimed him a Servant of God and was continued by Clement XI and Clement XII; but French influence and the accusation of Jansenism caused it to be suspended in 1744 by Pope Benedict XIV. In the 20th century it was reintroduced, and Pope Pius XII proclaimed him Venerable on 15 November 1955. Pius XII announced his beatification on 7 October 1956.[13]

When his body was exhumed for beatification, it was discovered that it had remained preserved, though 267 years had passed since his death. Innocent XI was subsequently considered by many to be incorrupt, and his body was placed in a glass and bronze-work sarcophagus with his face and hands covered in silver. He is regarded by many Catholics to be the first pope whose body was discovered to be incorrupt, followed by Pope Saint Pius X and Pope John XXIII.

Following his beatification, his sarcophagus was placed under the Altar of St. Sebastian in the basilica's Chapel of St. Sebastian, where it remained until 8 April 2011 when it was moved to make way for the remains of Pope John Paul II to be relocated to the basilica from the grotto beneath St. Peter's in honor of his beatification and in order to make his resting place more accessible to the public.[14] Innocent's body was transferred to the basilica's Altar of Transfiguration, which is located near the Clementine Chapel and the entombed remains of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590–604).[14] The altar is also across from Innocent XI's monument, which was his original site of burial before his beatification.

The feast day assigned to Innocent XI is 12 August, the date of his death. In the Hungarian calendar, it is commemorated on August 13.

Reports suggest that following the attacks on the United States of America on 9/11, the Church decided to advance the long-suspended cause of Innocent to be canonised: as the pope who had prevented the Turks from overrunning Christendom in 1683, thus drawing parallels with aggressive Islamism. However, popular revelations made in the novel, Imprimatur (book) damaged Innocent's reputation and thus the planned canonisation of Benedetto Odescalchi was suspended indefinitely.[15]


See also


  1. ^ a b "Pope Innocent XI". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Pope Innocent XI". Cultural Catholic. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Pope Innocent XI". NNDB. Retrieved 18 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Kelly, 287
  5. ^ Isidore Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia, Varda Books, 2003
  6. ^ a b c Kelly, 288
  7. ^ Crane Brinton, "Italy and the Papacy, 1655 A.D.-1799 A.D." in An Encyclopedia of World History (1941), Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  8. ^ Moore, Malcolm (20 March 2008). "Vatican forced us out of Italy, claim authors". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  9. ^ Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand-Book to Italy (1865) describes Innocent XI's tomb as being that of his Monument in St Peter's Basilica, which is near that of Pope Leo XI's monument and tomb. Francis Wey's Rome (1875) and S. Russell Forbes' Rambles in Rome: An Archaeological and Historical Guide (1882) also refer to Innocent XI's Monument as being his tomb.
  10. ^ Cevetello, Joseph F.X., "Blessed Innocent XI," Homiletic & Pastoral Review. New York, NY: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1957. Pp. 331–339.
  11. ^ "Monument to Bl. Innocent XI". Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  12. ^ Reardon, Wendy J. (2004), The Deaths of the Popes, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc. P. 215.
  13. ^ "Blessed Pope Innocent XI". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Kerr, David. "Pope Innocent XI’s remains make way for John Paul II". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  15. ^ The Independent, 13 May 2008 at


  • Kelly, J.N.D. (1986). The Oxford History of the Popes.  

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Clement X
21 September 1676 – 12 August 1689
Succeeded by
Alexander VIII
  • The Body of Innocent XI in St Peter's Basilica
  • The Altar of Transfiguration
  • Coelestis Pastor
  • Video footage showing the beatification of Pope Innocent XI
  • Innocent XI, 1611-1689 - The Lawyer-Pope
  • Diocese of Como

External links


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