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from issue no. 05 - 2004

The book launch at the San Luigi dei Francesi Cultural Center

1789-1799. Ten years that changed the relations between the papacy and power

by Pierluca Azzaro

The cover of Gérard Pelletier’s book

The cover of Gérard Pelletier’s book

21 April last saw the launch, at the San Luigi dei Francesi Cultural Center in Rome, in the presence of Pierre Morel, the French Ambassador to the Holy See, of the book by Gérard Pelletier Rome et la Révolution française. La théologie et la politique du Saint-Siège devant la Révolution française (1789-1799), École Française de Rome, 2004. The launch was attended by eminent representatives of the Italian and international scholarly community such as Pierre Blet S.J., Professor emeritus of the Gregorian University and known to the public for his research on Pius XII and the Second World War in the light of the Vatican archives; Agostino Borromeo, Professor of History of the modern and contemporary Church at La Sapienza University of Rome; and finally Andrea Riccardo, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Rome Three.
How did the Holy See react to the French Revolution? What was the attitude of Pius VI and his collaborators faced with the events that followed, first of all the Civil Constitution of the clergy in 1790? These are the basic questions dealt with in the wide-ranging book of Gérard Pelletier, a young parish priest of Saint-Louis en l’Ile in Paris, and to answer them the author does not start «from considerations of a psychological nature» – as Pierre Blet underlined – but from a close examination of an ample range of historical documents, till now «totally neglected or at least alone partially used», as Agostino Borromeo remarked.
The imposing bulk of the historic sources on which Pelletier’s investigation is based covers in fact not only the documents of a more directly politico-diplomatic nature – the correspondence of the Secretariat of State with the various apostolic nuncios – but also the documentary material held in the archives of the various Roman congregations, in particular those of the former Congregation of the Holy Office, until recently closed to historians and now kept and consultable at the Historical Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The events occurring between 1789 and 1799, which the author has reconstructed with great accuracy, were the subject of a debate not merely politico-diplomatic, but also doctrino-theological. And it was precisely the significant dual coverage of Pelletier’s work that Andrea Riccardo took as the starting point for his contribution, which dealt with the great themes and questions that marked the history of the Church in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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