The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. The letter, from 1730, was written during the actually Conclave of 1730 and was, thus, very controversial. It was featured on the fifth episode of the series, Popes of the 17th Century and Earlier.
Here is Father’s Commentary:
This letter is unique in papal history because when cardinals go into conclave, they are locked in the Sistine Chapel for the duration of time it takes to elect the next Pope. Everything and everyone are locked in. They’re not supposed to have any communication with the outside world, but this is a letter written by Cardinal Lambertini, dated 1730, during the actual Conclave.
Lambertini smuggled this out during the Conclave that elected his predecessor, Clement XII. So, in writing this letter and smuggling it out to one of his benefactors while in Conclave, not only was he risking his own future election as Benedict XIV, he was also risking excommunication from the Church. The conclave is held in secret to prevent outside influences from affecting the outcome of the election.
So this is a very interesting piece because of the nature of the details surrounding it—both because it was written during conclave and it was smuggled out of conclave. It’s just something you won’t find very often.
As we’ve talked about the very human side of these guys, we have here an example of that–of one who was actually doing something that was illegal, and contrary to the conclave rules, in order to get some sort of a message to one of his benefactors. So, as we move into earlier papal history we’re seeing that the popes weren’t always totally focused on the spiritual side as much as the worldly, and maybe this letter is just a little hint of that, and of things yet to come.
It is worth noting that the pope had already been elected, but there was still a seal on the conclave as long as the cardinals were there.
Cardinal Lambertini was writing a letter of thanks to someone who had donated money to him upon the election of the new pope.
The letter was signed by him on May 3rd, 1730.