As we prayerfully face today the gravity of a papal election, I thought this excerpt from a longer article on the history of Catholicism and tobacco might offer a little levity…
The Pope’s Nose
…Benedict XIV was also a snuff-taker. He is said to have once offered his snuffbox to the head of some religious order, who declined to take a pinch of snuff, saying, “Your Holiness, I do not have that vice,” to which the pope replied, “It is not a vice. If it were a vice you would have it.”
Pius IX was an inveterate snuff-taker, and was so effusive and constant in it that he often had to change his long white soutane a few times a day—it was white, after all, and the snuff dust would settle on it. He offered snuff, and snuff-boxes to visitors. The Church had established a monopoly on the tobacco trade in the Papal States and, in 1863, during his pontificate, consolidated its tobacco processing operations under the Pontifical Director of Salt and Tobacco in a newly erected building on the Piazza Mastai in the Trastevere district in Rome.
When the representative of Victor Emmanuel came to him to submit conditions that the pontiff believed were unacceptable, the pope “beat on the table with a snuff box, which then broke.” The representative “left so confused he appeared dizzy.” In 1871, the pope also, during the time he was the “prisoner of the Vatican,” offered up his “gold snuff-box, exquisitely carved with two symbolic lambs in the midst of flowers and foliage,” to be offered as the prize in a worldwide lottery to raise money for the Church. (Right: Audience with Pope Pius IX—Library of Congress)
Leo XIII favored snuff. Before he became pope, he had served for a time as papal nuncio in Brussels and enjoyed the conversation and company of the cultured and easy-going aristocrats there. One evening at dinner, a certain Count, who was a Freethinker, thought he would have a little fun at the nuncio’s expense, and he handed him a snuff box to examine, which had on its cover a miniature painting of a beautiful nude Venus. “The men of the party watched the progress of the joke, and as for the Count he was choking with laughter, until the Nuncio deferentially returned the box with the remark: ‘Very pretty, indeed, Count. I presume it is the portrait of the Countess?’” Toward the end of the pope’s life, he suffered when he had to give up tobacco on the advice of his physicians.
How about other modern popes? Pius X took snuff and smoked cigars. Benedict XV did not smoke and did not like others’ smoke. Pius XI smoked an occasional cigar. Pius XII did not smoke. And John XXIII smoked cigarettes.
Paul VI was a non-smoker. So was John Paul I, though Vatican officials appeared to hint—just after his sudden, perplexing death—that his final ill health might be due to heavy smoking.
John Paul II did not smoke, but Pope Benedict XVI reportedly does (or once did), apparently favoring Marlboros.