Innocent XII


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(12 July 1691–27 Sept. 1700)

The conclave following Alexander VIII's death lasted five months, with the opposing French and imperial factions divided also among themselves. As a compromise Antonio Pignatelli was at last elected when disturbances in Rome and the summer heat forced a decision. A Neapolitan aristocrat born near Spinazzola (Puglia) on 13 Mar. 1615, he was educated at the Jesuit college at Rome, joined the curia under Urban VIII, and became successively vice-legate of Urbino, governor of Viterbo, and nuncio to Tuscany (1652), Poland (1660), and Vienna (1668). He fell into disfavour under Clement X, who sent him to Lecce as bishop, though with the personal title of archbishop. Recalled to Rome in 1673 to become secretary of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, he was created cardinal priest of San Pancrazio by Innocent XI (1 Sept 1681), then bishop of Faenza, legate of Bologna, and finally archbishop of Naples (1687).

Devout and charitable, simple in his personal life, he adopted Innocent XI's name and took him as his model. He at once embarked on a programme of reform in Rome and the papal states, insisting on economical administration and completely impartial justice. He drastically reduced the sale of offices, compensating the treasury for the resulting loss by cutting court expenses to the bone, and also by enlarging the harbours of Civitavecchia and Nettuno to promote trade. He developed charitable institutions like the Hospital of S. Michele for poor youths, and opened the Lateran as a refuge for people incapacitated for work; the poor and needy, he claimed, were his nephews. To raise the level of the clergy he founded (1694) the Congregation for the Discipline and Reform of Regulars, and prohibited (1695) the practice, common in Germany, of electoral chapters nominating to bishoprics and monasteries. Most revolutionary of all, he struck at the roots of nepotism, decreeing (Romanum decet pontificem: 22 June 1692) that the pope should never grant estates, offices, or revenues to relatives; if they were poor, he should treat them like others in need. Further, only one relative should be eligible, if otherwise suitable, for the purple, and his income should have a modest ceiling. After resistance from several cardinals, he persuaded them all to sign the decree.

With Louis XIV of France (1643–1715), whose political situation after the formation of the Grand Alliance made a rapprochement with Rome desirable, Innocent reached a compromise which broke the 50-year politico-religious deadlock between France and the holy see. First, he ratified the appointment of bishops nominated by the king since 1682 who had not taken part in the Assembly of the Clergy of that year. Louis then (14 Sept. 1693) promised to revoke the Declaration of the French Clergy which obliged French bishops to subscribe the four Gallican Articles, and the bishops who had attended the 1682 assembly wrote retracting their signatures. Innocent now granted the bishops canonical institution, and by the end of 1693 the French hierarchy was restored. Against these apparent gains the pope had to accept Louis's extension of the right to the regalia to his entire realm, and the king's concession left the Gallican Articles themselves intact; Gallicanism was to govern church affairs in France until the Revolution and Napoleon. This accommodation, however, between France and Rome was viewed with suspicion in Vienna, and although Innocent at first gave liberal support to Emperor Leopold I (1688–1705) for defence against the Turks, tension between the two courts gradually increased, being greatly exacerbated by the arrogant conduct of the imperial ambassadors. A crisis came when the emperor, instigated by ambassador Count Martinitz, decreed that all who owed feudal allegiance to the empire in Italy should produce proof of tenure, and the pope felt obliged to annul the decrees so far as they affected the papal state as a gross intrusion on his sovereignty. The French ambassador was quick to take advantage of the resulting tension. To prevent frivolous charges being brought against suspected Jansenists in Belgium, Innocent forbade (6 Feb. 1694) the bishops to demand additions to Alexander VII's constitution of 1665 condemning the five propositions extracted from Cornelius Jansen's Augustinus in the sense the author had intended. As the Jansenists regarded this as a favourable signal, he issued another brief (25 Nov. 1696) declaring that nothing was further from his intention than to modify the teaching of his predecessor on the Jansenist heresy. Towards the end of his life he was called upon, much against his will but under strong pressure from Louis XIV, to pass judgement on the mystical doctrines taught by Madame de Guyon (1648–1717) and supported by Archbishop François Fénelon of Cambrai (1651–1715) and opposed by Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, the bishop of Meaux (1627–1704). On 12 Mar. 1699 he published the brief Cum alias denouncing 23 sentences from Fénelon's Explications des maximes des saints; Fénelon swiftly submitted. He declined, however, to censure Celestino Sfondrati's book on predestination, which Bishop Jacques Bénigue Bossuet had accused of Quietism in 1697.


Subjects: Christianity.

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