I am not Catholic. Why do I make a blog entry about a pope who died 254 years ago? Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini) deserves our attention for many reasons but there is one special reason. As soon as he became the pope he authorized the publications of the scientific works of Galileo Galilei in 1741. He was probably the best scholar among the popes. He is known as the Enlightenment Pope.
His rise to papacy is a clear case of how fate plays a role in our lives. This is the story of his election according to Catholic encyclopedia:
“When Clement XII died (6 February, 1740) the fame of Lambertini was at its highest. Through intrigues of various kinds the conclave which commenced on 17 February lasted for six months. It was composed of fifty-four cardinals of whom forty-six were Italians, three French, four Spanish, and one German. These were split into several parties. One was composed of those who had been appointed by Clement XI, Innocent XIII, and Benedict XIII; another of those appointed by Clement XII who were known as the new college. The long, tedious session and the intense heat did not improve the temper of the cardinals; after six months of fruitless effort and constant intrigue, the election seemed no nearer than in the beginning. Various expedients were suggested, such as the withdrawal of the names of the leading candidates and the substitution of others, but without avail. After several plans had been tried to end the deadlock, Lambertini, whose name had been proposed as a compromise, addressed the conclave, saying: “If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldobrandini; an honest man, elect me.” These words spoken as much perhaps in jest as in earnest helped to end the difficulty. Lambertini was chosen and took the name of Benedict XIV in honour of his friend and patron Benedict XIII. As pope, Lambertini was no less energetic, brave, and unassuming than before his election. His great learning placed him in a position to deal successfully with ecclesiastical situations that needed reformation, and the broad Christian spirit which animated his dealings with foreign powers removed the pressure and hostility of even Protestant courts and rulers. He was undoubtedly liberal in his political dealings, though he never lost sight of the essential interests of the Church and religion.”