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Pope Clement XII
Born at Florence, 7 April, 1652; elected 12 July, 1730; died at Rome 6 February, 1740. The pontificate of the saintly Orsini pope, Benedict XIII, from the standpoint of the spiritual interests of the Church, had left nothing to be desired. He had, however, given over temporal concerns into the hands of rapacious ministers; hence the finances of the Holy See were in bad condition; there was an increasing deficit, and the papal subjects were in a state of exasperation. It was no easy task to select a man who possessed all the qualities demanded by the emergency. After deliberating for four months, the Sacred College united on Cardinal Corsini, the best possible choice, were it not for his seventy-eight years and his failing eyesight.
A Corsini by the father's side and by the mother's a Strozzi, the best blood of Florence coursed through his veins. Innumerable were the members of his house who had risen to high positions in Church and State, but its chief ornament was St. Andrew Corsini, the canonized Bishop of Fiesole. Lorenzo made a brilliant course of studies, first in the Roman College, then at the University of Pisa, where, after five years, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws. Returning to Rome, he applied himself to the practice of law under the able direction of his uncle, Cardinal Neri Corsini, a ma of the highest culture. After the death of his uncle and his father, in 1685, Lorenzo, now thirty-three years old, resigned his right of primogeniture and entered the ecclesiastical state. From Innocent XI he purchased, according to the custom of the time, for 30,000 scudi (dollars) a position of prelatial rank,and devoted his wealth and leisure to the enlargement of the library bequeathed to him by his uncle. In 1691 he was made titular Archbishop of Nicomedia and chosen nuncio to Vienna. He did not proceed to the imperial court, because Leopold advanced the novel claim, which Pope Alexander VIII refused to admit, of selecting a nuncio from a list of three names to be furnished by the pope. In 1696 Corsini was appointed to the arduous office of treasurer-general and governor of Castle Sant' Angelo. His good fortune increased during the pontificate of Clement XI, who employed his talents in affairs demanding tact and prudence. On 17 May, 1706, he was created Cardinal-Deacon of the Title of Santa Susanna, retaining the office of papal treasurer. He was attached to several of the most important congregations and was made protector of a score of religious institutions. He advanced still further under Benedict XIII, who assigned him to the Congregation of the Holy Office and made him prefect of the judicial tribunal known as the Segnatura di Giustizia. He was successively Cardinal-Priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli and Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.
He had thus held with universal applause all the important offices of the Roman Court, and it is not surprising that his elevation to the papacy filled the Romans with joy. In token of gratitude to his benefactor, Clement XI, and as a pledge that he would make that great pontiff his model, he assumed the title of Clement XII. Unfortunately he lacked the important qualities of youth and physical strength. The infirmities of old age bore heavily upon him. In the second year of his pontificate he became totally blind; in his later years he was compelled to keep his bed, from which he gave audiences and transacted affairs of state. Notwithstanding his physical decrepitude, he displayed a wonderful activity. He demanded restitution of ill-gotten goods from the ministers who had abused the confidence of his predecessor. The chief culprit, Cardinal Coscia, was mulcted in a heavy sum and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. Clement surrounded himself with capable officials, and won the affection of his subjects by lightening their burdens, encouraging manufacture and the arts, and infusing a modern spirit into the laws relating to commerce. The public lottery, which had been suppressed by the severe morality of Benedict XIII, was revived by Clement, and poured into his treasury an annual sum amounting to nearly a half million of scudi (dollars), enabling him to undertake the extensive buildings which distinguish his reign. He began the majestic façade of St. John Lateran and built in that basilica the magnificent chapel of St. Andrew Corsini. He restored the Arch of Constantine and built the governmental palace of the Consulta on the quirinal. He purchased from Cardinal Albani for 60,000 scudi the fine collection of statues, inscriptions, etc. with which he adorned the gallery of the Capitol. He paved the streets of Rome and the roads leading from the city, and widened the Corso. He began the great Fontana di Trevi, one of the noted ornaments of Rome.
In order to facilitate the reunion of the Greeks, Clement XII founded at Ullano, in Calabria, the Corsini College for Greek students. With a similar intent he called to Rome Greek-Melchite monks of Mt. Lebanon, and assigned to them the ancient church of Santa Maria in Domnica. He dispatched Joseph Simeon Assemani to the East for the twofold purpose of continuing his search for manuscripts and presiding as legate over a national council of Maronites. We make no attempt to enumerate all the operations which this wonderful blind-stricken old man directed from his bed of sickness. His name is associated in Rome with the foundation and embellishment of institutions of all sorts. The people of Ancona hold him in well-deserved veneration and have erected on the public square a statue in his honour. He gave them a port which excited the envy of Venice, and built a highway that gave them easy access to the interior. He drained the marshes of the Chiana near Lake Trasimeno by leading the waters through a ditch fourteen miles long into the Tiber. He disavowed the arbitrary action of his legate, Cardinal Alberoni, in seizing San Marino, and restored the independence of that miniature republic. His activity in the spiritual concerns of the Church was equally pronounced. His efforts were directed towards raising the prevalent low tone of morality and securing discipline, especially in the cloisters. He issued the first papal decree against the Freemasons (1738). He fostered the new Congregation of the Passionists and gave to his fellow-Tuscan, St. Paul of the Cross, the church and monastery of Sts. John and Paul, with the beautiful garden overlooking the Colosseum. He canonized Sts. Vincent de Paul, John Francis Regis, Catherine Fieschi Adorni, Juliana Falconieri, and approved the cult of St. Gertrude. He proceeded with vigour against the French Jansenists and had the happiness to receive the submission of the Maurists to the Constitution Unigenitus. Through the efforts of his missionaries in Egypt 10,000 Copts, with their patriarch, returned to the unity of the Church. Clement persuaded the Armenian patriarch to remove from the diptychs the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and St. Leo I. In his dealings with the powers of Europe, he managed by a union of firmness and moderation to preserve or restore harmony; but he was unable to maintain the rights of the Holy See over the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza. It was a consequence of his blindness that he should surround himself with trusted relatives; but he advanced them only as they proved their worth, and did little for his family except to purchase and enlarge the palace built in Trastevere for the Riarii, and now known as the Palazzo Corsini (purchased in 1884 by the Italian Government, and now the seat of the Regia Accademia dei Lincei). In 1754, his nephew, Cardinal Neri Corsini, founded there the famous Corsini Library, which in 1905 included about 70,000 books and pamphlets, 2288 incunabula or works printed in the first fifty or sixty years after the discovery of printing, 2511 manuscripts, and 600 autographs. Retaining his extraordinary faculties and his cheerful resignation to the end, he died in the Quirinal in his eighty-eighth year. His remains were transferred to his magnificent tomb in the Lateran, 20 July, 1742.
FABRONIUS, De vita et rebus gestis Clementis XII (Rome, 1760), also in FASSINI, Supplemento to the Historia Ecclesiastica of NATALIS ALEXANDER (Bassano, 1778); PASSERINI, Genealogia e Storia della famiglia Corsini (Florence, 1858); VON REUMONT, Gesch. d. Stadt Rom (Berlin, 1867), III, iii, 653-55; NOVAES, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici (Rome, 1821-25); HERGENRÖTHER-KIRSCH, Kirchengeschichte (4th ed., Freiburg, 1907) III (bibliography); ARTAUD DE MONTOR, History of the Roman Pontiffs (New York, 1867), II.
JAMES F. LOUGHLIN