The Tsar and the Papal Nuncio : An Awkward Interconfessional Meeting

Francine-Dominique Liechtenhan

Abstract


As soon as the Apostolic Nuncio Cornelio Bentivoglio heard of Peter I’s arrival in France, he had the idea to meet him. However, without the authorisation of his hierarchy, it was impossible for him to approach this “heretical” or “schismatic” prince. Cardinal Fabrizio Paolucci, in charge of Foreign Affairs at the Roman Curia, warned him to use utmost prudence. Bentivoglio had a “serious” mission to accomplish and was allowed to visit the Russian sovereign so long as he respected etiquette. In those times, an apostolic nuncio had the same rank as a representative of the emperor and was therefore entitled to special considerations. He had to observe a certain reticence towards a non-Catholic prince who did not rank highly, for the Roman Church, in the hierarchy of the great western powers because of his religious practices. Paolucci allowed him to call the tsar “majesty”, but only orally. In this case, how could he write to Peter and ask for an audience? Prudent, the nuncio waited for instructions from Clement XI. He received them on 17 May 1717, when Peter I had been in Paris for nearly two weeks. Cornelio Bentivoglio had orders to approach Kurakin first and to find a manner of meeting the tsar without compromising the order of precedence. According to the instructions, two major subjects were to be mentioned: the freedom of religious practice for all Catholics of the Russian Empire, including Uniates, and the formation of a new Holy League against the Ottomans. After long negotiations with Kurakin, the nuncio met Peter a week before his departure. The tsar attentively listened to Bentivoglio’s remarks on the religious freedom of Catholics, and of Uniates in particular, in Russia. Peter did not, however, deign to reply to the nuncio’s words and sent him to Shafirov. The latter surprised the representative of Clement XI by proposing the establishment of a nunciature in St Petersburg. Without instructions, he could not enter into such considerations. As for Peter I, he did not want to talk to Bentivoglio, too well known for his antipathy to all forms of Protestantism. The nuncio left a remarkable portrait of Peter I but was not able to refrain from criticising him for his unbridled manners. From the pen of an apostolic nuncio, such remarks resulted in a condemnation. Peter was not an interlocutor worthy of the Holy Father, while the tsar himself preferred simple clergymen, who inspired some of his reforms.


Keywords


religious history; etiquette; diplomacy of Clement XI; Catholicism; orthodoxy; Petrine reforms

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2018.3.319

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