Benedict XIV, Pope (1675–1758)
Pope Benedict XIV, born Prospero Lambertini of a noble
Italian family, is credited with making the first modern objective
‘‘scientific’’ studies of the paranormal in Italy. Lambertini
became one of the best educated people of his day, attaining
doctorates in both law and theology. Ordained to the priesthood,
he became bishop, cardinal (1728), then archbishop of
Bologna (1731). From 1702 to 1722 he served as the ‘‘devil’s
advocate’’ in a series of cases of people proposed for canonization
by the Roman Catholic Church. Among the issues the
Church investigated in that process were alleged miraculous
occurrences credited to the candidate proposed for sainthood.
Lambertini quickly gained a reputation as one who admitted
the possibility of miracles but took a very skeptical view of
reports of paranormal phenomena. He refused to regard as a
‘‘miracle’’ any event that could result from natural phenomena.
He made independent studies of luminous phenomena, nonconventional
healings, and extrasensory perception (ESP).
He came to see ESP as a natural phenomenon neither spiritually
nor diabolically based. He capped his career with the publication
of a four-volume work, De Canonization Santorum
(1734–38), which had a marked effect upon the thinking of the
Church on miracles in a still very superstitious age.
Lambertini was elected to the papal chair in 1740. He
gained a reputation as an educated and witty leader and earned
the approbation of Voltaire, who dedicated one of his plays to
him.
Sources
Haynes, R. Philosopher King The Humanist Pope Benedict XIV.
London Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1970.

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