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NEVER before, since a bishop's See was first established in Rome, whether by St. Peter or another, has the world at the period of the election of one Pope had so long a time in which to forget the election of his predecessor. St. Peter is said by tradition to have been bishop at Rome for twenty-five years. And no Pope of all the two hundred and sixty who occupied the See between
his death and the election of Pius IX. ever reigned so 6 long as Peter, the longest reign having been that of € Pius VI., who died in 1799, after an incumbency of twenty-four years and eight months.
The present Pope has already reigned more than thirty years; and in the course of nature it cannot be long before the world will see yet one more Conclave. But not only will the coming Conclave be a newer thing to the world than ever was a Conclave before; it will take place under circumstances very essentially differing from those under which all former Conclaves have been held, for the Pope is no longer a temporal sovereign.
There exists no controlling cause why the Conclave which will elect the successor to Pius IX. should not
be in every external circumstance the exact counterpart of the Conclaves which have in these latter days preceded it. There is nothing, and it may safely be predicted that there will be nothing, to prevent the enactment of all the pride, pomp, circumstance of a Conclave according to the description of the institution given in the following pages. The Italian Government, unless it be changed in spirit very much more entirely than appears in any degree likely to be the case, will most scrupulously respect and protect the perfect independence of the electoral proceedings of the Sacred College, and would respect and protect all the exterior ceremonial of the occasion, if the princes of the Church should think fit to give the world the spectacle of it. But such will not be the case. And such a change of spirit as would lead them to do so is quite as improbable as such a change in the disposition of the Italian Government as was just now alluded to. The Church is undeniably under a cloud at present (to shine forth in her own opinion in undiminished splendour, when that temporary cloud shall have passed); and in her displeasure she chooses, probably more from policy than from temper, to pretend that the cloud is much heavier on her than it really is. She considers herself to be sitting in mourning and in captivity, and professes to be unable to "sing the Lord's song in so strange a land” as her own Rome has become to her. At least, she will not sing any portion of it with the wonted accompaniments of stately splendour and ceremonial pomp. Rome will not, therefore, see the old external circumstances and surroundings of a Conclave.
But the internal and essential business of the election will, there can be little doubt, be transacted strictly according to the prescribed forms. And if any difference shall be observed to exist in those respects which have any real influence on the election, it will be found in this, that the civil governments of Europe will have to use a vulgar but expressive phrase—much less say in the matter than has heretofore been the case, and much less means of making any say which they may wish to utter, heard or attended to. The election will be, it may be predicted, an especially pure one—that is to say, it will be the real object of probably all the electors to choose the man whom they think to be the most fitted and the most capable of serving the interests of the Church as they are understood by the Romisḥ hierarchy. That there may be great differences of opinion among men all equally desirous of serving those interests, is exceedingly probable. But if there be, as it may be with tolerable certainty conjectured that there are, two currents of opinion in the Sacred College on the great subject of the earnest desires of all its members, it is wholly impossible for the lay world—nay, it is probably impossible for their Eminences themselves—to predict which of these two currents is likely to prove the stronger in the Conclave.
It is very possible that the future may have disclosed what it has in store for us in this respect before these pages come beneath the eye of the reader. But be that as it may, and be the result of the election which gives a successor to Pius IX. what it may, the election of a Pope is still one of the most important events of contemporary history, and one of the most pregnant with consequences of deep moment to a very large portion of the human race. And it can hardly be, therefore, but that some sufficient account of the mode in which a Pope becomes such, must have an interest for those who witness the close of the present, in all respects, exceptional papacy.
It can hardly be necessary to tell any reader that to attempt to write, or to pretend to have written, a history of all the Conclaves which have elected Popes within the compass of such a volume as the present, or of a dozen such, would be preposterous. The present writer has made no such attempt. What he has endeavoured to do has been to give an intelligible account of the progress and growth of those abuses and encroachments, which led to the institution of the Conclave; to sketch the successive modifications which have built up Conclave law, as it now exists ; to show the impotence of all those modifying regulations to attain with any reality the objects they had in view; to point out the reciprocal action of Popes and Conclaves on each other, and the influence of the general tendencies of the times on both; to indicate very generally and summarily the successive changes which have passed over the spirit of the Papacy itself; to give such a detailed account of two or three selected Conclaves as might serve as specimens of the Conclaves of the ages from which they have been taken; and, lastly, to give a brief account of the present method of proceeding in holding a Conclave.
Possibly the subject is one in which the English reader may be interested to such an extent; but I