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The bishop who lost his way: Tuscany in the 1780s. Liturgical reform ahead of its time. Incumbent pope made short work of it. The synod that popped up in Vatican 2 debate.
The times, they have been a-changing.
This problem seems not to have risen until after Vatican 2, when communion became not only frequent but standard for mass-goers and everyone went, as I noted in a National Catholic Reporter essay in the 1970s, calling attention to an unsung achievement of the council, namely that it had abolished mortal sin, which at least since my boyhood, if committed and not confessed, had been a disqualifier.
In any case, this change of his is tame stuff by today’s standards.
Let us, however, put a hold on this tenth Pius and his works, looking back a mere hundred or so years before him to the Synod of Pistoia, a diocese in Tuscany, in 1786, scene of another landmark in liturgical reformation.
Liturgy was dying on the vine. Jansenists had made worship barely approachable with hard-nose demands on worshipers. Quietists had made it irrelevant with their insistence on a God-to-individual hot line as more than adequate.
Gallicanism (French-ism) was chopping away at the idea and practice of a universal liturgy, in fact universal lots of things, promoting church as federation of independent entities and papacy as a first among equals, if that.
The issue or issues came to a head with this Pistoia synod, called by the local bishop at behest of the grand duke, Peter Leopold, later Emperor Leopold II, who pressed all 18 bishops in his duchy to do it, of whom three did. One was the Pistoia man, Scipio de’ Ricci, who was buying into what were at the time some highly questionable ideas and causes. Bishop de’ Ricci was to regret this.
To each bishop the duke, seeking to limit what some considered “overweening” church power, had sent a list of fifty-seven “points of view of His Royal Highness” (himself) on doctrine, discipline, and liturgy and said each should hold a synod every two years “to restore to the bishops [themselves] their native rights abusively usurped by the Roman Court.” Gallicanism writ large.
Nothing to lose but your undue subservience, the duke was saying, stirring the revolutionary pot, revving up a supposed discontent among his bishops -- ineffectively, he was to discover. Promoting his points of view and telling the pope off were things all but three of the 18 wanted no part of.
Chief among them was the Pistoia man, who called a synod that endorsed the 57 points of view, approving these items about church authority:
* Church authority came entirely from church members.
* Bishops were on their own. They need not make an oath of obedience to the pope before their consecration. Neither did priests.
* Excommunications had only external effect. None were reserved to the pope.
* Civil rulers could decide divorce cases, dispensing from marriage vows as they saw fit.
* As to liturgy, each parish church should have only one altar. Liturgy should be in the vernacular. There should be only one Mass on Sundays.
* Religious orders should amalgamate, with a common habit and no perpetual vows. [Arguably, the least conceivable of them all.]
The pope of course would have none of it. He gathered four fellow bishops and some theologians to examine the offending enactments. They would have none of it either, unsurprisingly, and condemned the synod, calling most of its propositions completely out of line.
Which indeed they were, considering how they upended the centuries-old structure of a centuries-old organization which for all its fault its adherents for the most part loved still.
Note the part about vernacular masses among the anarchic deviations and the emasculating, you might say, of religious orders, also centuries-old and competing in their own way with both papal and secular power, adding their mix to the central structure.
In due time, as we know, vernacular worship became the New Order, or Novus Ordo of the day.
As for religious orders, with varying support from popes, they have managed over the decades to keep calm and carry on.
In 1794, eight years after the Pistoia fiasco, the pope made rejection official with his bull “Auctorem Fidei,” condemning this diocese-rights doctrine.
The condemned synod’s ideas remained in the hearts and minds of reformers, however, by way of its presence as “the ghost of Pistoia” on the floor of Vatican 2 — “a key moment in the Church’s collective memory that influenced the drafting of texts and subsequent debate over them.”
Which is worthy of explanation at another time in the history of this blog, harumph.
The duke left Tuscany, succeeding his brother as emperor in 1790. Bishop De’ Ricci, bereft of his support, resigned his see in 1791, and lived in Florence as a private gentleman — or in a monastery, as another source has it. In May 1805, he signed an act of submission to papal authority in 1805, died in 1810.
Do not put your trust in Princes, the Psalmist had told him, but he apparently wasn’t listening.
In any case, sic transit gloria episcoporum. That is, bishops should look before they leap (as should we all.)