Innocent XI. (Benedetto Odescalchi), pope from 1676 to 1689, was born at Como on the 16th of May 1611. He studied law in Rome and Naples, entered the Curia under Urban VIII. (his alleged military service seems to be questionable), and became successively protonotary, president of the Apostolic Chamber, governor of Macerate and commissary of Ancona. Innocent X. made him a cardinal (1647), legate to Ferrara, and, in 1650, bishop of Novara. His simple and blameless life, his conscientious discharge of duty, and his devotion to the needs of the poor had won for him such a name that, despite the opposition of France, he was chosen to succeed Clement X. on the 21st of September 1676. He at once applied himself to moral and administrative reform; declared against nepotism, introduced economy, abolished sinecures, wiped out the deficit (at the same time reducing rents), closed the gaming-houses, and issued a number of sumptuary ordinances. He held monks strictly to the performance of their vows; took care to satisfy himself of the fitness of candidates for bishoprics; enjoined regular catechetical instruction, greater simplicity in preaching, and greater reverence in worship. The moral teaching of the Jesuits incurred his condemnation (1679) (see Liguori), an act which the society never forgave, and which it partially revenged by forcing, through the Inquisition, the condemnation of the quietistic doctrines of Molinos (1687), for which Innocent entertained some sympathy (see Molinos).
The pontificate of Innocent fell within an important period in European politics, and he himself played no insignificant role. His protest against Louis XIV.’s extended claim to regalian rights called forth the famous Declaration of Gallican Liberties by a subservient French synod under the lead of Bossuet (1682), which the pope met by refusing to confirm Louis’s clerical appointments. His determination to restrict the ambassadorial right of asylum, which had been grossly abused, was resented by Louis, who defied him in his own capital, seized the papal territory of Avignon, and talked loudly of a schism, without, however, shaking the pope in his resolution. The preponderance of France Innocent regarded as a menace to Europe. He opposed Louis’s candidate for the electorate of Cologne (1688), approved the League of Augsburg, acquiesced in the designs of the Protestant William of Orange, even in his supplanting James II., whom, although a Roman Catholic, he distrusted as a tool of Louis. The great object of Innocent’s desire was the repulse of the Turks, and his unwearying efforts to that end entitled him to share in the glory of relieving Vienna (1683).
Innocent died on the 12th of August 1689, lamented by his subjects. His character and life were such as to suggest the propriety of canonization, but hostile influences have defeated every move in that direction.
The life of Innocent has been frequently written. See Guarnacci, Vitae et res gestae Pontiff. Rom. (Rome, 1751), i. 105 sqq.; Palazzi, Gesta Pontiff. Rom. (Venice, 1690); also the lives by Albrizzi (Rome, 1695); Buonamici (Rome, 1776); and Immich (Berlin, 1900). Particular phases of Innocent’s activity have been treated by Michaud, Louis XIV. et Innoc.XI. (Paris, 1882 sqq., 4 vols.) ; Dubruel, La Correspond. . . . du Card. Carlo Pio, &c. (see Rev. des quest, hist. Ixxv. (1904) 602 sqq.); and Gerin, in Rev. des quest. hist., 1876, 1878, 1886. For correspondence of Innocent see Colombo, Notizie biogr. e lettere di P. Innoc. XI. (Turin, 1878); and Berthier, Innoc. PP. XI. Epp. ad Principes (Rome, 1890 sqq.). An extended bibliography may be found in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie, s.v. “Innocenz XI.”