Consecrated into the papacy on the eve of World War I, Pope Benedict XV worked hard to bring peace and restore order to the world at war. He finished and promulgated the first Code of Canon Law that his predecessor, Pius X, had started. While much of his papacy was concerned with the humanitarian and social consequences of the Great War, Pope Benedict XV still found time to write on theological and historical topics.
As a theologian, Benedict XV pursued Mariological studies and promoted the use of the rosary. Several of his encyclicals—Principi Apostolorum Petro and Fausto Appetente Die, among others—exhort the Church to find more time to pray as St. Ephraim and St. Dominic each did. Quod Iam Diu is his encyclical letter that called all Catholics of the world—regardless of what side of the war they are on—to pray for peace and an end to war. Finally, Humani Generis Redemptionem drew attention to the complete ineffectiveness of Christian preaching (evidenced by the moral, political, and ethical failings underpinning World War I). He called out bishops and priests, stating that preaching and hearing confession are the primary duties of the priest and bishop, and that the purpose of the pulpit is not for mere applause, but for the profit of souls.
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Benedict XV (Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa) (1854–1922) reigned as pope from 1914 to 1922.
Born in Genoa, Italy, Giacomo della Chiesa desired early in life to become a priest. After attaining a doctorate in law, he went to Rome to study theology at Collegio Capranica. He later studied at the Pontificia Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici. After joining the priesthood, della Chiesa was assigned as a secretary to Cardinal Mariano Rampolla and helped negotiate international disputes. This eventually earned him the position of Archbishop of Bologna.
As archbishop, della Chiesa reorganized educational curriculum in his diocese, emphasized the preaching aspect of the bishop’s duties, and organized religious pilgrimages. In 1914, he was elevated to Cardinal.
On the eve of World War I, della Chiesa gave frequent speeches on the duty of the Church to remain neutral, despite ministering to and being part of countries on opposite sides. Upon the death of Pope Pius X, the conclave elected della Chiesa, despite being a Cardinal for only three months, for his previous experience negotiating peace and fostering diplomacy. He took the name Benedict XV. Much of his pontificate was involved in diplomatic efforts to bring the war to peace.
His humanitarian efforts were astonishingly successful. During the chaos of war, Pope Benedict XV was able to negotiate the peaceful exchange of prisoners, wounded, and the diseased, using Switzerland as a hub for peaceful agreements. After the war, he focused on reconstructing Europe, overcoming famine, and post-war economic stability. His sudden death from pneumonia in January, 1922, cut short what could have been the most memorable papacy in the twentieth century.