Pope Innocent XI

Pope Innocent XI (Latin: Innocentius XI; 16 May 1611 – 12 August 1689), born Benedetto Odescalchi, was Pope from 21 September 1676 to his death on August 12, 1689. He is known in Budapest as the "Saviour of Hungary".[3]

Pope Blessed

Innocent XI
Bishop of Rome
Portrait in 1787.
Papacy began21 September 1676
Papacy ended12 August 1689
PredecessorClement X
SuccessorAlexander VIII
Ordination20 November 1650
by Francesco Maria Macchiavelli
Consecration29 January 1651
by Francesco Maria Macchiavelli
Created cardinal6 March 1645
by Innocent X
Personal details
Birth nameBenedetto Odescalchi
Born(1611-05-16)16 May 1611
Como, Lombardy, Duchy of Milan
Died12 August 1689(1689-08-12) (aged 78)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post
MottoAvarus non implebitur ("The covetous man is not (never) satisfied [with money]")
Coat of arms
Feast day
Venerated inCatholic Church
Title as SaintBlessed
Beatified7 October 1956
Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
by Pope Pius XII
Other popes named Innocent

Much of his reign was concerned with tension with Louis XIV of France. A conservative, he lowered taxes in the Papal States during his pontificate and he also produced a surplus in the papal budget. Because of this surplus he repudiated excessive nepotism within the Church. Innocent XI was frugal in matters of governing the Papal States, from dress to leading a life with Christian values. Once he was elected to the Papacy, he applied himself to moral and administrative reform of the Roman Curia. He abolished sinecures and pushed for greater simplicity in preaching as well as greater reverence in worship—requesting this of both the clergy and faithful.[4][5][6]

After a difficult cause for canonization, starting in 1791, which caused considerable controversy over the years and which was stopped on several occasions, he was beatified with no opposition in 1956 by Pope Pius XII.

Early life

Benedetto Odescalchi was born in Como on 16 May 1611, the son of a Como nobleman, Livio Odescalchi, and Paola Castelli Giovanelli from Gandino. His siblings were Carlo, Lucrezia, Giulio Maria, Constantino, Nicola and Paolo. He also had several collateral descendants of note through his sister: her grandson Cardinal Baldassare Erba-Odescalchi, Cardinal Benedetto Erba Odescalchi, and Cardinal Carlo Odescalchi.

The Odescalchi, a family of minor nobility, were determined entrepreneurs. In 1619, Benedetto's brother founded a bank with his three uncles in Genoa which quickly grew into a successful money-lending business. After completing his studies in grammar and letters, the 15-year-old Benedetto moved to Genoa to take part in the family business as an apprentice. Lucrative economic transactions were established with clients in the major Italian and European cities, such as Nuremberg, Milan, Kraków, and Rome.

In 1626 Benedetto's father died, and he began schooling in the humane sciences taught by the Jesuits at his local college, before transferring to Genoa. In 1630 he narrowly survived an outbreak of plague, which killed his mother.

Some time between 1632 and 1636, Benedetto decided to move to Rome and then Naples in order to study civil law. This led to his securing the offices of protonotary apostolic, president of the apostolic chamber, commissary of the Marco di Roma, and governor of Macerata; on 6 March 1645, Pope Innocent X (1644–55) made him Cardinal-Deacon with the deaconry of Santi Cosma e Damiano. He subsequently became legate to Ferrara. When he was sent to Ferrara in order to assist the people stricken with a severe famine, the Pope introduced him to the people of Ferrara as the "father of the poor."

In 1650, Odescalchi became bishop of Novara, in which capacity he spent all the revenues of his see to relieve the poor and sick in his diocese. He participated in the 1655 conclave. With the permission of the pope he resigned as bishop of Novara in favor of his brother Giulio in 1656 and went to Rome. While there he took a prominent part in the consultations of the various congregations of which he was a member.[7] He participated in the 1669-70 conclave.



Odescalchi was a strong papal candidate after the death of Pope Clement IX (1667–69) in 1669, but the French government rejected him (using the now-abolished veto). After Pope Clement X (1670–76) died, Louis XIV of France (1643–1715) again intended to use his royal influence against Odescalchi's election. Instead, believing that the cardinals as well as the Roman people were of one mind in their desire to have Odescalchi as their Pope, Louis reluctantly instructed the French party cardinals to acquiesce in his candidacy.

On 21 September 1676, Odescalchi was chosen to be Clement X's successor and took the name of Innocent XI. He chose this name in honour of Pope Innocent X, who made him a cardinal in 1645. He was formally crowned as pontiff on 4 October 1676 by the protodeacon, Cardinal Francesco Maidalchini.

Papal styles of
Pope Innocent XI
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleBlessed

Reforming the administration of the papacy

Immediately upon his accession, Innocent XI turned all his efforts towards reducing the expenses of the Curia. He passed strict ordinances against nepotism among the cardinals. He lived very parsimoniously and exhorted the cardinals to do the same. In this manner he not only squared the annual deficit which at his accession had reached the sum of 170,000 scudi, but within a few years the papal income was even in excess of the expenditures. He lost no time in declaring and practically manifesting his zeal as a reformer of manners and a corrector of administrative abuses. Beginning with the clergy, he sought to raise the laity also to a higher moral standard of living. He closed all of the theaters in Rome (considered to be centers of vice and immorality) and famously brought a temporary halt to the flourishing traditions of Roman opera. In 1679 he publicly condemned sixty-five propositions, taken chiefly from the writings of Escobar, Suarez and other casuists (mostly Jesuit casuists, who had been heavily attacked by Pascal in his Provincial Letters) as propositiones laxorum moralistarum and forbade anyone to teach them under penalty of excommunication.[7] He condemned in particular the most radical form of mental reservation (stricte mentalis) which authorised deception without an outright lie.

Personally not unfriendly to Miguel de Molinos, Innocent XI nevertheless yielded to the enormous pressure brought to bear upon him to confirm in 1687 the judgement of the inquisitors by which sixty-eight quietist propositions of Molinos were condemned as blasphemous and heretical.

Jewish relations

Innocent XI showed a degree of sensitivity in his dealings with the Jews within the Italian States. He compelled the city of Venice to release the Jewish prisoners taken by Francesco Morosini in 1685. He also discouraged compulsory baptisms which accordingly became less frequent under his pontificate, but he could not abolish the old practice altogether.

More controversially on 30 October 1682, he issued an edict by which all the money-lending activities carried out by the Roman Jews were to cease. Such a move would incidentally have financially benefitted his own brothers who played a dominant role in European money-lending. However ultimately convinced that such a measure would cause much misery in destroying livelihoods, the enforcement of the edict was twice delayed.[8]

Foreign relations

The Battle of Vienna

Innocent XI was an enthusiastic initiator of the Holy League which brought together the German Estates and King John III of Poland who in 1683 hastened to the relief of Vienna which was being besieged by the Turks. After the siege was raised, Innocent XI again spared no efforts to induce the Christian princes to lend a helping hand for the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary. He contributed millions of scudi to the Turkish war fund in Austria and Hungary and had the satisfaction of surviving the capture of Belgrade, 6 September 1688.[9]

Pope-burning in London

During England's Exclusion Crisis (1679-1681), when Parliament sought to exclude the Catholic Duke of York from gaining the throne, the radical Protestants of London's Green Ribbon Club regularly held mass processions culminating with burning "The Pope" in effigy. Evidently, the organizers of these events were unaware that the actual Pope in Rome was involved in a deep conflict with the King of France — and therefore, far from supporting the drive to get the Duke of York crowned, which served Louis XIV's political ambitions.

Relations with France

The pontificate of Innocent XI was marked by the struggle between the absolutism and hegemonic intentions of Louis XIV, and the primacy of the Catholic Church. As early as 1673, Louis had by his own power extended the right of the régale over the provinces of Languedoc, Guyenne, Provence, and Dauphiné, where it had previously not been exercised.

All the efforts of Innocent XI to induce Louis XIV to respect the rights and primacy of the Church proved useless. In 1682, the King convoked an assembly of the French clergy which adopted the four articles that became known as the Gallican Liberties. Innocent XI annulled the four articles on 11 April 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.[7]

To appease the pope, Louis XIV began to act as a zealot of Catholicism. In 1685 he revoked the Edict of Nantes and inaugurated a persecution of French Hugenots. Innocent expressed displeasure at these drastic measures and continued to withhold his approbation from the episcopal candidates.

Innocent XI irritated the King still more that same year by abolishing the much abused right of asylum, by which foreign ambassadors in Rome had been able to harbor in embassies any criminal wanted by the papal court of justice. He notified the new French ambassador, Marquis de Lavardin, that he would not be recognised as ambassador in Rome unless he renounced this right, but Louis XIV would not give it up. At the head of an armed force of about 800 men Lavardin entered Rome in November 1687, and took forcible possession of his palace. Innocent XI treated him as excommunicated and placed under interdict the Church of St. Louis at Rome where he attended services on 24 December 1687.[9]

In January 1688, Innocent XI also received the diplomatic mission which had been dispatched to France and the Vatican by Narai, the King of Siam under Fr. Guy Tachard and Ok-khun Chamnan in order to establish relations.

Cologne controversy

The tension between the pope and the King of France was increased by Innocent's procedure in filling the vacant archiepiscopal see of Cologne. The two candidates for the see were Cardinal William Egon of Fürstenberg, then Bishop of Strasbourg, and Joseph Clement, a brother of Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. The former was a willing tool in the hands of Louis XIV and his appointment as Archbishop and Prince-elector of Cologne would have implied French preponderance in north-western Germany.

Joseph Clement was not only the candidate of Emperor Leopold I (1658–1705) but of all European rulers, with the exception of the King of France and his supporter, King James II of England (1685–88). At the election, which took place on 19 July 1688, neither of the candidates received the required number of votes. The decision, therefore, fell to Innocent XI, who designated Joseph Clement as Archbishop and Elector of Cologne.

Louis XIV retaliated by taking possession of the papal territory of Avignon, imprisoning the papal nuncio and appealing to a general council. Nor did he conceal his intention to separate the French Church entirely from Rome. The Pope remained firm. The subsequent fall of James II in England destroyed French preponderance in Europe and soon after Innocent XI's death the struggle between Louis XIV and the papacy was settled in favour of the Church.[7]

Innocent XI and William of Orange

Innocent XI dispatched Ferdinando d'Adda as nuncio to the Kingdom of England, the first representative of the Papacy to go to England for over a century. Even so, the Pope did not approve the imprudent manner in which James II attempted to restore Catholicism in England. He also repeatedly expressed his displeasure at the support which James II gave to the autocratic King Louis XIV in his measures against the Church. It is not surprising, therefore, that Innocent XI had less sympathy for James than for William of Orange [10] and that he did not afford James help in his hour of trial.[9] Innocent refused to nominate James II's choice as a Cardinal, Sir Edward Petre, 3rd Baronet. In 2007, fiction writers Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti drew popular attention to the claim repeatedly made by historians over the intervening centuries that Innocent XI had secretly funded the resistance of the Protestant hero William of Orange to the French King, and even financed his overthrow of James II of England. This was done using the established Odescalchi family business in money-lending.[11]

Moral theology


Innocent XI issued the papal bull Sanctissimus Dominus in 1679 to condemn 65 propositions that favored a liberal approach to doctrine which included two that related to abortion. He first condemned proposition 34 and countered that it was unlawful to procure abortion. He also condemned proposition 35, which stated: "It seems probable that the fetus (as long as it is in the uterus) lacks a rational soul and begins first to have one when it is born; and consequently it must be said that no abortion is a homicide."[12][13]

Other activities

Innocent XI was no less intent on preserving the purity of faith and morals among all people. He insisted on thorough education and an exemplary lifestyle for all people and he passed strict rules in relation to the modesty of dress among Roman women. Furthermore, he put an end to the ever-increasing passion for gambling by suppressing the gambling houses at Rome. By a decree of 12 February 1679 he encouraged frequent and even daily reception of Holy Communion.[4] On 4 March 1679, he condemned the proposition that "the precept of keeping Holy Days is not obligatory under pain of mortal sin, aside from scandal, if contempt is absent". The document stated that the Church taught it was a mortal sin to intentionally skip Mass attendance on Sunday or a Holy Day without a legitimate excuse. It further stated that the faithful had to attend the Mass on Sunday itself or on the Saturday evening.[14] In 1688, he reiterated a decree of Pope Sixtus V that banned women from singing on stage in all public theatres or opera houses.[15]

He elevated 43 new cardinals into the cardinalate in two consistories. He also canonized two saints: Bernard of Menthon in 1681 and Pedro Armengol on 8 April 1687. He beatified six individuals.

Innocent XI was hostile towards the book "Varia Opuscula Theologica" (Various Theological Brochures) that the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suárez published. He ordered all copies to be burnt in 1679 but his orders went ignored. One of the books was discovered in 2015.[16]

Death and beatification

Final days and death

Innocent XI's health declined in 1689 and he was confined to his bed beginning in June. He cancelled a consistory of cardinals on 19 June for the examination of bishops due to ill health and did not hold meetings on 21 June. The pope suddenly took ill with a fever on 25 June and on 29 June was unable to celebrate Mass for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul; he had Cardinal Chigi celebrate it in his place. The pope's condition worsened on 2 July and led his doctors to lance his left leg which caused fluid release, eventually having an operation on his right leg on 31 July, and two more in the following two days.[17]

The pontiff received the Viaticum on 9 August since doctors were of the belief that the pope had little time left to live. On 11 August Cardinal Leandro Colloredo met with him to remind him that the pope was set to raise ten men into the cardinalate but the pope refused to do so despite the cardinal's insistence. On the morning of 12 August he lost the ability to speak and suffered from breathing difficulties.[17]

Innocent XI died on 12 August 1689 at 22:00 (Rome time) after a long period of ill health due to kidney stones, from which he had suffered since 1682. Following his death, he was buried in St Peter's Basilica beneath his funeral monument near the Clementine Chapel, which his nephew, Livio Odescalchi, commissioned.[18][19] The monument, which was designed and sculpted by Pierre-Étienne Monnot, features the pope seated upon the throne above a sarcophagus with a base-relief showing the liberation of Vienna from the Turks by John III Sobieski, flanked by two allegorical figures representing Faith and Fortitude.[20][21]


The process of Innocent XI's beatification was introduced in 1691 by Pope Innocent XII who proclaimed him a Servant of God and was continued by Clement XI and Clement XII, but French influence and the accusation of Jansenism caused it to be suspended in 1744 by Pope Benedict XIV. In the 20th century it was reintroduced and Pope Pius XII proclaimed him Venerable on 15 November 1955. Pius XII announced his beatification on 7 October 1956.[22]

Following his beatification, his sarcophagus was placed under the Altar of St. Sebastian in the basilica's Chapel of St. Sebastian, where it remained until 8 April 2011 when it was moved to make way for the remains of Pope John Paul II to be relocated to the basilica from the grotto beneath St. Peter's in honor of his beatification and in order to make his resting place more accessible to the public.[23] Innocent's body was transferred to the basilica's Altar of Transfiguration, which is located near the Clementine Chapel and the entombed remains of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590–604).[23] The altar is also across from Innocent XI's monument, which was his original site of burial before his beatification.

The feast day assigned to Innocent XI is 12 August, the date of his death. In the Hungarian calendar, it is commemorated on August 13.

Reports suggest that following the attacks on the United States of America on 9/11, the Church decided to advance the long-suspended cause of Innocent XI to be canonised: as the pope who had prevented the Turks from overrunning Christendom in 1683, thus drawing parallels with aggressive Islamism. However, popular revelations made in the novel, Imprimatur damaged Innocent XI's reputation and thus the planned canonisation of Benedetto Odescalchi was suspended indefinitely.[24]

It was believed that the canonization would have taken place in 2003 but the book's publication halted all plans to canonize Innocent XI.[25]


  • Sollicitudo pastoralis (Fostering and Preserving the Orders of Men Religious)
  • Coelestis Pastor (Condemning the errors of Molinos)

See also


  1. "August 12 - Blessed Pope Innocent XI (in Italian)". Diocese of Novara. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  2. "Cardinal Scola in the Cathedral for the closing of the Year of Innocent (in Italian)". Diocese of Como. 8 May 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  3. Philips, Adrian; Scotchmer, Jo (May 2010). "Budapest: CASTLE HILL". Hungary. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-84162-285-9. Retrieved 6 May 2015. At the square's centre is a statue of Pope Innocent XI, who is known as the 'saviour of Hungary' because of his endeavors in funding the European forces that freed Hungary from Turkish rule.
  4. "Pope Innocent XI". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  5. "Pope Innocent XI". Cultural Catholic. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  6. "Pope Innocent XI". NNDB. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  7. Kelly, 287
  8. Isidore Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia, Varda Books, 2003
  9. Kelly, 288
  10. Crane Brinton, "Italy and the Papacy, 1655 A.D.-1799 A.D." in An Encyclopedia of World History (1941), Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  11. Moore, Malcolm (20 March 2008). "Vatican forced us out of Italy, claim authors". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. "Pope Innocent XI (1611-1689)". The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. 18 March 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  13. Decret de N.S.P. le Pape Innocent XI contre plusieurs propositions de morale, suivant les exemplaires de rome, de l'Imprimerie de la Reverendissime Chambre Apostolique. [Paris] : [F. Muguet]. 1679. p. 12. Retrieved 16 September 2019.
  14. "Is it really a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass?". The New Theological Movement. 21 October 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  15. "The Castrati-Mutilation in the Name of Religion". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  16. "Extremely rare book from 17th century, banned by Pope Innocent XI, resurfaces". Catholic Online. 11 April 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  17. "Sede Vacante 1689". CSUN. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  18. Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand-Book to Italy (1865) describes Innocent XI's tomb as being that of his Monument in St Peter's Basilica, which is near that of Pope Leo XI's monument and tomb. Francis Wey's Rome (1875) and S. Russell Forbes' Rambles in Rome: An Archaeological and Historical Guide (1882) also refer to Innocent XI's Monument as being his tomb.
  19. Cevetello, Joseph F.X., "Blessed Innocent XI," Homiletic & Pastoral Review. New York, NY: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1957. Pp. 331–339.
  20. "Monument to Bl. Innocent XI". SaintPetersBasilica.org. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  21. Reardon, Wendy J. (2004), The Deaths of the Popes, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc. P. 215.
  22. "Blessed Pope Innocent XI". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  23. Kerr, David. "Pope Innocent XI's remains make way for John Paul II". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  24. The Independent, 13 May 2008 at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/a-papal-mystery-827008.html
  25. "The return of Imprimatur in Italy: censorship is over?". Cultora. 9 September 2015. Retrieved 27 September 2015.



Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Clement X
21 September 1676 – 12 August 1689
Succeeded by
Alexander VIII
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