“Certainly, the boat (the Church) is secure from shipwreck; but that will not prevent those who are in the boat from getting a good mouthful if they do not look out for themselves and if Providence does not come to their help!”
Blessed Pope Pius IX
A liberal pope, that’s the most egregious thing I can imagine!
Metternich’s reaction upon hearing of the election of Pius IX
Pio Nono is often regarded in secular histories as a hopeless reactionary. That is as misguided as the Metternich quote above, when the Pope was regarded as a liberal at the beginning of his reign. Pio Nono was Pio Nono, and it is mistaken to attempt to place him into a secular box.
In regard to technology, and the 19th century was in many ways a time period when technology was changing in a more revolutionary fashion than our own day, Pius tended to eagerly embrace it. Photography was a prime example of this. Before the reign of Pius, the pope to almost all Catholics outside of the hierarchy was a fairly shadowy and mysterious figure. Most had little idea of what the pope looked like, and while his office was understood as important, the man behind the office was a question mark.
Pio Nono changed that. He used the new science of photography to form a link between himself and the average Catholic. The first Pope photographed, Pio Nono sent out many autographed photographs of himself. It was a rare rectory by the end of the reign of Pio Nono that did not have a picture of the Pope.
Pio Nono understood the value of what we call public relations. He once acknowledged that he was the number one attraction for tourists in Rome. He also had a sharp sense of humor, telling the Anglican bishop of the Mediterranean that he found himself living in the bishop’s diocese! We can see this understanding of the attraction of his personality in some of his photographs:
Where a pope less attuned to popular tastes might have regarded this picture as too casual, Pio Nono understood that this pose would appeal to Catholics who wished to see that their Pope, with a smile half formed on his lips, was not some forbidding monarch, but a friend who wished to share with them his love of Christ.
I have long regarded Pio Nono, with his great flaws and great strengths, leavened with wit and humor, as one of the most fascinating men ever to wear the shoes of the Fisherman. He was the Pope who saw the ending of the role of Pope as a temporal monarch, an event he fought futilely against, and the Pope who at Vatican I established the modern Papacy. We see in his photographs the complexity of the man who reluctantly bid farewell to the past of the Papacy, while simultaneously establishing a much greater role for the pope in the modern world.