Giuseppe Pecci

Giuseppe Pecci

Giuseppe Cardinal Pecci S.J. (13 December 1807—8 February 1890) was a Catholic thomist theologian and Roman Catholic Cardinal and older brother of Vincenzo Cardinal Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII. The Neo-Thomist revival, which Leo XIII and his brother Giuseppe originated in 1879, remained the leading papal theology until Vatican II. Throughout his life, Pecci refused to be photographed, considering painting a far more superior and benevolent presentation of a human being. [Benno Kühne, Papst Leo XIII Unser Heiliger Vater in seinem Leben und wirken, Benzinger, Einsiedeln, 1880]

Early Years

Born in Carpineto Romano, near Rome, he was one of the seven sons of Count Lodovico Pecci and his wife Anna Prosperi Buzi. From 1807 to 1818 he was at home with his family, "in which religion counted as the highest grace on earth, as through her, salvation can be earned for all eternity" [Kühne 7] Together with his younger brother Vincenzo, he studied in the Jesuit College in Viterbo, where he stayed until 1824. [Kühne 12] In 1824 he and Vincenzo were called to Rome where the mother was dying. Pecci Senior wanted his children in his midst after the loss of his wife, and so they stayed with him in Rome, attending the Jesuit Collegium Romanum. In 1828, the question of occupational choice arose for the two brothers, Giuseppe Pecci entered the Jesuit order, while Vincenzo decided in favour of secular clergy. [Kühne 20]

He entered the Jesuit College in Viterbo in 1818. [] In 1825, at the age of 17, he became a member of the Society of Jesus. He taught Thomism at a papal university in Rome. At the request of his brother, the Bishop of Perugia, he became Professor at the theological seminary in Perugia for ten years from 1849-1859. After the city was taken over by Piedmont forces in 1860, Pope Pius IX called him to Rome and offered him a professorship in theology. Pope Pius also called him into the papal commission to prepare the First Vatican Council. Good "Thomist theology" was hard to come by at that time, with the result that young scholars from other countries such as Joseph Gredt were sent to Rome to learn from "Giuseppe Pecci" and Tommaso Maria Zigliara [] In 1870 he resigned from his professsorship, because he refused the anti-papal oath, demanded by the new Italian government. He continued his prominent theological research.

Cardinal Pecci

In 1879, "the College of Cardinals insistently asked Pope Leo XIII to elevate his brother to their ranks." [Schmidlin, Papstgeschichte der Neuesten Zeit, Pustet München 1934, 537] [Acta Leonis XIII PM Romae, 1881, Acta I, 35 ff] [Kühne, 247] Giuseppe Pecci was created Cardinal-Deacon of "Sant'Agata dei Goti" on 12 May 1879 at the age of 72 in his brother's first consistory. He was the last member of a Pope's family elevated to the cardinalate.

The ceremony was described by Ludwig von Pastor in his diary. On May 15 at about 11 A.M. Pope Leo XIII entered in pontifical vestments, before him the College of Cardinals. The Swiss Guards stood attention. After a Papal speech, each of the new Cardinals received the red hat, John Henry Newman, Giuseppe Pecci, Joseph Hergenröther and Tommaso Maria Zigliara, all of them well known scholars. [L. von Pastor, Tagebücher, Heidelberg, 1950 127]


The elevation of the well-known Thomist Pecci at age seventy-two took place in the context of the determined efforts of Leo XIII to foster science and Thomist theology throughout Catholic Church. Thomism had lost its old role as leading theology and Leo attempted to re-establish it "“for the protection of faith, welfare of society and the advancement of science”" [Schmidlin 394] He envisaged not sterile interpretations of it, but a going back to the original sources. This new orientation at the beginning of his pontificate was welcomed by Dominicans, Thomist Jesuits like Pecci and numerous bishops throughout the world. Strong opposition developed as well on several fronts within the Church: Some considered Thomism simply outdated, while others used it for petty condemnations of dissident views, they did not like. [Schmidlin 395] The traditional antagonists Jesuits and Dominicans were both claiming leadership in the renewal of Catholic theology. [Schmidlin 395]

Leo responded by mandating all Catholic Universities to teach Thomism, "and," by creating a papal academy for the training of Thomists professors and re-editing the scholarly editions ofThomas Aquinas. The leadership of this academy he entrusted to his brother, who aided the creation of similar Thomas Aquinas academies in other places such as Bologna, Freiburg (Switzerland), Paris and Lowden. In 1879 Pecci was appointed as first Prefect of the still existing Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas "Pontificia Accademia Di San Tommaso D'Aquino", which Pope Leo founded on October 15, 1879. (It was reoriented to more social issues by Pope John Paul II, not a thomist, in light of his more recent encyclicals on January 28, 1999). [Annuario Pontificio 2005, p.1908] Leo XIII appointed thirty members, ten each from Rome, Italy and the world, and provided generous financial support to attract scholars from everywhere. The Pope personally supported individual Thomist scholars and applauded numerous text-critical editions of the Doctor Angelicus. [Schmidlin 395]

Vatican Library

Pope Leo considered the mostly locked-up and neglected Vatican Library as "a infinite treasure for the Church and a monument of its role in culture and science." [Schmidlin 400] He greatly increased staff and organization and appointed the Jesuits Franz Ehrle and his brother Giuseppe Pecci to head the new undertaking as Prefect and librarian. They in turn opened the Vatican Library to the general public after establishing a consultation library with 300 000 volumes. [Schmidlin 401] to balance his Thomist Jesuit appointments, Leo entrusted the overall responsibility of the works of Thomas Aquinas to the Dominican Order, from which Thomas originated.

Guiseppe Pecci died in 1890, 13 years before his brother.


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