Antiqua Print Gallery Motu Proprio 1847
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Motu Proprio 1847

A motu proprio (Latin "on his own impulse") is a document issued by the Pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him.

It may be addressed to the whole Church, to part of it, or to some individuals.

The first motu proprio was issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. It continues to be a common form of Papal rescripts, especially when establishing institutions, making minor changes to law or procedure, and when granting favours to persons or institutions.

The reign of Pius IX began at an extremely critical time. The problem of the government of the Papal States, transmitted to him by his predecessor, stood in urgent need of solution, for the actual conditions were altogether intolerable. The irritation of the populace had risen to such a pitch that it found vent in revolts which could only be quelled by the intervention of foreign powers; and the ferment in the dominions of the Church was accentuated by the fact that the revolutionary spirit was in the ascendant in all the states of Europe. The proclamation of a general amnesty for all political offenders made an excellent impression on the people; and Pius at once instituted preparations for a reform of the administration, the judicature and the financial system. The regulations affecting the censorship were mitigated, and a breath of political liberalism vitalized the whole government. Pius at once acquired the reputation of a reforming pope. But the prestige so gained was not sufficient to calm the people permanently, and two demands were urged with ever increasing energy -- a share in the government and a national Italian policy. The problem of giving the people a due share in the government was one of peculiar difficulty in the papal states. It was not simply a question of adjusting the claims of monarch and subject: it was necessary, at the same time, to oust the clergy -- who, until then, had held all the more important offices in their own hands -- from their dominant position, or at least to limit their privileges. That the clerical character of the administration could not be indefinitely retained was plain enough, it would seem, to any clear-thinking statesman: for, since the restoration of the papal state in 1814, the pernicious effects of this confusion of the spiritual and the secular power could no longer be denied. But Pius IX lacked the courage and perspicacity to draw the inevitable conclusions from these premises; and the higher clergy at Rome were naturally opposed to a policy which, by laicizing the administration, would have deprived them of the power and privileges they had so long enjoyed. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the pope, while making concessions to his people, did so with reservations which, so far from restoring peace, served only to aggravate the turmoil.

By a motu proprio of the 2nd of October 1847 the government of the city of Rome was reorganized and vested in a council of 100 members, not more than four of whom were to be clerics. But the pope reserved to himself the right of nominating the first members, and the new senate was only later to have the right of filling up vacancies by co-optation. The institution of a state council (consulta) was announced on the 19th of April 1847; and on the 14th of October it was called into existence by a motu proprio. It consisted of 24 councillors, who were to be selected by the pope from a list of candidates to be submitted by the provincial assemblies. A cardinal and one other prelate were to be at its head. The consulta was to be divided into four sections, dealing with (1) legislation, (2) finance, (3) internal administration, (4) the army and public works. Matters of importance were, however, to be submitted to the College of Cardinals, after being debated in the consulta. A motu proprio of the 29th of December altered the constitution of the ministerial council. Nine mutually independent ministries were formed, and the principle of the responsibility of the ministers was established: but all the positions were filled by clerics.

The agitation for constitutional government was urgent in the demand for further concessions; but they came too late. On the 12th of February a proclamation of the pope transferred three portfolios to the laity; but the impression produced by the news of the revolution in Paris nullified the effect. At the formation of the Antonelli ministry (March 11), only the three departments of foreign affairs, finance and education, were reserved by the clergy; while the remaining six were entrusted to laymen. On the 14th of March 1848 Pius took the last step, and published a constitution (Fundamental Statute for the Secular Government of the States of the Church). Two chambers were to be formed. The first (alto consiglio) consisted of members nominated for life by the pope; the second, of a hundred elected deputies. The laws adopted by these two chambers had first to undergo the scrutiny of the College of Cardinals, before being submitted to the pope for his assent or rejection. Ecclesiastical, or ecclesiastico-political, affairs were exempted from the jurisdiction of the parliament; which was further required to abstain from the enactment of laws conflicting with the discipline of the Church, and from criticism of the diplomatic and religious relations of the Holy See with foreign powers.

The utility of this constitution was never tested; for the demand for an extension of popular rights was now eclipsed by a still more passionate aspiration towards the national unity of Italy.


(Source Wikipedia, NNDB.com)