The Intellectual Activity of Leo XIII
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The Catholic World
APRIL, 1901, TO SEPTEMBER, 1901.
120 WEST 60th STREET.  1901.



WAY beyond the utility of inventions that further the physical comfort and material prosperity of men is the value of the example that teaches them to labor and thus to work, whether for the mere fulfilment of their state of life, or for the perfection of the higher and more spiritual side of their nature. A parable to future generations in this field of noble showing of the way will be Leo XIII. In his eighteenth year he was so frail that he anticipated an early death, as is shown by some Latin verses written by him at the period, and through the successive years he was ever in delicate health and but the " mere shadow of a man," yet the work he has accomplished for public and private good, and for general and individual edification, has been prodigious.

And if, as seems undeniable, the example of Napoleon Banaparte's colossal energy, though employed in furthering human ambitions, has been prolific of good in inducing men to huge endeavors and untiring perseverance, much more powerful and beneficial have been Leo XIII.'s threescore years and ten of tremendous energy directed to the highest good of humanity.

No proof of the amazing breadth of intellect of Leo XIII. is more convincing thin his capacity for keeping abreast of the progress of the world in every domain of science. One would think that the mere fulfilment of the routine duties involved in administering and directing the gigantic and marvellously complex organization of the Roman Catholic Church, would surely be burden enough for the most active of men in the prime of years and vigor. When it is further considered that the Pope must simultaneously keep acquainted with the political and social movements in every corner and quarter of the globe, that he is constantly being consulted and brought into diplomatic negotiations by all the great powers of Europe, and that he his to interest himself in alleviating the poverty of his own unhappily governed countrymen, it would certainly be no wonder if Leo XIII. gave no time or attention to the more subtle and intellectual interests of modern civilization, to the latest progress of mankind in poetry, painting, and sculpture, in journalism, in astronomy, geology, viticulture, medicine, surgery, electricity, magnetism, mechanics, and experimental physics in general, and the like subjects. And yet in no single range, or even detail, of these matters is Leo XIII. willing to remain even one week behind the latest discoveries and developments.

Attached to the Vatican are ecclesiastics and laymen who rank amongst the most cultured and expert in every branch of modern knowledge. It is their duty, within their several departments, to keep in touch with the greatest thinkers of the world, and to advise the Pontiff concerning every novelty and important modification of hitherto accepted theory or tenet. Every important contribution to science that is issued in literary form is immediately forwarded to the Vatican, for ulterior incorporation in its world-famous library, but first of all for submission to the Pope himself, either directly or through his consultors or readers.
Scientists from all quarters of the globe show a tendency, sooner or later, of finding their way to Rome. The Pontiff is frequently under the necessity of refusing audience to the " great ones" of this earth, great in the matter of rank and title; but he invariably has a hospitable open door for the scientist, the thinker, and the discoverer. And the versatility of the man is apparent, when scientists, interested in the most varied and widely separated fields of research, depart from their interview with the Pontiff declaring amazement at the advanced and almost intuitive grasp of each broad and world- interesting subject which His Holiness evinces.


An humble country priest, it sometimes happens, devotes the leisure that the care of souls allows him to study and research of a novel and interesting character, and comes by results that are not only interesting to the scientist, but important and useful to the public. In that case it is the custom of His Holiness to summon the modest pastor and to cover him with honors and with encomiums, even though it may happen that the particular domain of science or art in which he has labored has no proximate connection with the ministry of the altar.

Thus, a village curate in the Island of Sicily has a turn for mechanical invention. He puts together a model for an automatic secret balloting machine; he devises ingenious contrivances for the signalling of trains long before they come in reach of the railway station, and he thinks out a number of other similar pieces of mechanism. All these are important, even though in a minor way, to the progress of civilization, and the Pope calls the young country curate—Father Vito Leto— to Rome, receives him in audience, and congratulates and encourages him on the scientific secular work to which he devotes his leisure.
Father Lorenzo Perosi, another young priest in an obscure parish, reveals a genius for musical composition, and the Pope, holding that the world is profited by the musical creations of men, accords his favors to the young ecclesiastic, and urges him to develop the talent which Providence has accorded him in the interests of mankind.

Father Candeo, another priest, has made a special study on the growth of vines. He has become the greatest expert in the matter in the kingdom of Italy, and possibly even in the entire civilized world. His studies and researches have evolved means of diagnosing and of curing phylloxera and other dread diseases of the vine, and, as a result of his discoveries, the production of grapes is once more facilitated, and an exceedingly important element of his country's agricultural industry and commerce is put in a flourishing condition. Leo XIII. invited the good priest to the Vatican, honored and treated him in the most friendly way, and now has him as a periodical visitor, at every opportunity going abroad with him in the Vatican gardens and discussing the problems and difficulties affecting viticulture, and personally supervising experiments for the purpose of testing the good priest's theories. Father Candeo has asserted that Leo XIII. is at this hour one of the most perfectly equipped and expert of viticulturists, and that, were he not Pope, he would be known to the world by his knowledge in this other direction.


One domain of science, the science of sciences, that from which the greatest things are expected for the enlightenment of human intelligence regarding the great secrets of the laws of nature—the science, namely, of astronomy—has ever been a predominant devotion of Leo XIII. This fact alone ought to be a significant repudiation of the charge not infrequently made by the malignant and the ignorant, that the Catholic Church is rather afraid of science, that Faith might have to suffer by its revelations, and that, in a metaphor taken by an ingenious but unscrupulous modern writer from a pagan authority, "Tame birds are kept in a dim light lest, seeing the light and the freedom in which uncaptured birds exist, they desire to fly away." Astronomy, which is the science of the highest and most serene thinkers, would be the one science from which any one upholding a line of doctrine or dogma that ran any risk from the searchlight of truth, would naturally avoid. But astronomy precisely is the science which deserves best of the Catholic Church. The names of Galileo, Copernicus, and Leverrier need only discursively be mentioned to bring one down to the greatest developments in astronomical research in our own day.

The shining light in the field of astronomy during the century which has just elapsed was Father Pietro Angelo Secchi. The modern and violently anti-clerical Municipal Council of the City of Rome has erected in the most prominent part of the Pincian Hill a marble bust with a tiny perforation through it. Glancing along this perforation the human eye, on bright afternoons, can see the orb of day descending in the west over the cupola of St. Peter's. The bust is that of Secchi, the great Jesuit, who turned an eagle eye on the sun, and by study and research gave to the world the result of his investigations in a book which has become the classic on the subject. Every school-boy who now takes up the subject of astronomy quickly learns the number and character of the elements of which the sun consists—nucleus, photosphere, and chromosphere. But before Father Secchi's time not merely the school-boy, but his professors and masters in the science were unaware- of these facts.

A little after this great scholar's demise Leo XIII. was able to give to the Vatican Observatory a director well worthy to continue the glorious scientific traditions of Father Secchi. This was Father Denza, under whom the observatory erected by the popes in their private gardens behind the Vatican Palace came to be recognized as one of the most important on earth for its magnificent experimental results. The director-general of French astronomical observatories, a former admiral in the navy, and a man who, as far as religious tenets were concerned, was not inclined to be particularly sympathetic towards the Catholic Church, frankly and publicly admitted on visiting the Vatican Observatory that, in his belief, no other observatory on earth was more perfectly equipped or more scientifically conducted.
The death of Father Denza a few years ago was momentarily regarded as an irreparable loss, but when the question of filling his place came to be discussed, it was found that the difficulty actually existed in choosing from the midst of a superabundance of magnificent material. Father J. B. Boccardi, an Italian, was chosen for the position, and at present holds it.

The name of this ecclesiastic is well known to experts in astronomy. Although still comparatively young, the work which he has already done gives him a right to rank among the very foremost astronomers of the day. He it was who four years ago determined the path of a new and important asteroid, which, in honor of Leo XIII.'s observatory, he named the " Vaticanum." He also has done remarkable work in the application of photography to astral phenomena, and to him has been apportioned the preparation of a very important section of the new photographic map of the heavens, which is being prepared under the collaboration of the leading figures in astronomical science. Father Boccardi has also recently been honored with a special invitation to Berlin in order to give advice to the greatest of Germany's astronomers on the most advisable means of perfecting the national observatories and of carrying out astronomical researches.

In all this Leo XIII. has had a direct and controlling hand. Every new discovery and new theory in the region of astronomy is discussed by him with the director of the Vatican Observatory and his assistants, and according to the declaration of Father Lais, the second in command at the Vatican Observatory, Leo XIII. could to-morrow go up to the observatory and, without a word of instruction, take the place of the director and continue with uninterrupted success the business at present in hand.


The field of journalism is another in which Leo XIII. takes an active and constant interest. " In our times," he recently wrote, " the work of Catholic journalism is one of the most useful, nay, one of the most necessary of the whole world" ; and in furtherance of his practice of not only directing and guiding, but, as far as is possible for him, of personally and actively promoting all those things which he considers useful and necessary to the world, Leo XIII. has kept himself to the forefront in the matter of advancing journalistic enterprise. The enemies of the church, he frequently remarks, are armed with newspapers and publications of every description; Catholics must meet their enemies equipped in a like manner, and the Pope is always willing to encourage newspaper editors, and even to advance money for the purpose of giving reliable and modern newspapers to the world, and the Vatican printing- press, over which he keeps a constant personal supervision, is declared by experts to be a model in its kind. School-boys often have the theme set before them of discussing whether newspapers are good or bad, but Leo XIII. trenches the subject with the urgent advice to his flock to read newspapers and periodical literature, but to be careful that those newspapers, reviews, and magazines be of good kind and beneficial to the spiritual welfare of man.

In the domain of sculpture and painting Leo XIII. is admittedly an expert judge, and he is also an enthusiastic patron. Not only does he encourage painters and sculptors in the works which they themselves have conceived and wrought, but he also makes it a point to do the thinking for them and to create new fields for their talent and exertions. Thus, in anticipation of the recent Exposition of Turin, he offered very large money prizes for the best paintings that would be there exhibited on a given subject. The choice of subject is indicative of the originality and keen perceptions of the man. The Holy Family is a subject which has been treated by myriads of artists for centuries back. The idea has been worked out with various degrees of excellence, and few, even of artists, could imagine that there was anything still left to be desired in the matter. And yet when Leo XIII. offered these prizes, and indirectly signified that no existing painting or sculpture of the Holy Family was adequately satisfactory or fitting to be copied and recopied for popular use, the idea seemed an original one, and yet it convinced all those who have given any thought to the matter as being eminently accurate and correct.

In the Vatican galleries, museums, and library there are hundreds of the highest experts in the matter of art, men of all nationalities, laymen, monks, and secular priests, all devoting their best energies to special subjects, and all in more or less direct communication and under the more or less personal guidance of the Pope himself. At intervals he passes amongst them, reviews their work, offers suggestions, and bestows encomiums and congratulations where they are merited. And when any one with a new and important invention comes along, as recently an American company with a perfected biograph, then the Holy Father is willing to go out of his way to lend his practical encouragement and endorsement of the discovery or invention in order that it may be taken up by the civilized world, and that men's intellects may be bent to the continual task of mastering the mysteries of nature, and drawing out from its bounteous abundance such ideas as may tend to further the progress of civilization.

All this work is done by a man who is daily engaged in the field of politics and diplomacy ; in furthering, for instance, the submission of French Catholics to the existing form of government; of opposing Carlist pretensions in Spain; of arguing with the Russian government for the more humane treatment of Catholics in the Muscovite Empire ; of seeking the reunion of dissident and schismatic Catholics of the Austro- Hungarian and Ottoman dominions; of writing personal letters to the potentates of Europe, and to the civilized and semi- civilized rulers of Asia and Africa ; of controlling and supervising the work of the various sacred Roman Congregations ; of keeping account of the state of religion in his own particular diocese—that of Rome—and of attending to myriads of other details, besides giving odd moments to the composition of encyclicals and apostolic letters, and even of Latin verses. All this, again, is performed by a man in his ninety-second year, daily receiving a multitude of visitors from all quarters of the globe, hearing their narratives and querying them, with a minuteness that involves the exercise of a prodigious memory, regarding the details of religion and the progress of civilization in their various districts. The fact assuredly would seem to justify the claim that the man who has accomplished and who accomplishes so much, and who was born in the first and lived through the other nine decades of the past hundred years, so fertile and prolific in great inventions and in the progress of humanity, is undoubtedly the greatest product of the nineteenth century.

Definately one of my favorite Popes. I have a large medal of him on my wall
I should note that the picture is not part of The Catholic World article.
He has a great face.

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