1902 Encyclopedia > Pope Paul III

Pope Paul III

PAUL III., Alessandro Farnese, pope from 1534 to 1549, was born 28th February 1468, of an ancient and noble Roman family. He received an excellent education, but his youth was dissolute and stormy, and he owed his promotion to the cardinalate (September 1493) to the ad-miration of Alexander VI. for his beautiful sister Giulia, whence he was derisively nicknamed Cardinal Petticoat. He soon showed himself, however, to be a man of ability and character, and his reputation and influence went on steadily increasing until, upon the death of Clement VII., being at the time senior cardinal of the sacred college, he was unanimously elected pope after a conclave of only two days, having been in a manner nominated by his prede-cessor (13th October 1534).

Succeeding the most unfortunate of the popes, at the most critical period in the history of the church, the part assigned to Paul III. was one of no common difficulty. But he also possessed no common qualifications,—prudence increased and vigour tempered by age, learning, modera-tion, and a prolonged experience of affairs. It was his misfortune to be not altogether a man of his own day : deeply penetrated with the ambitious, luxurious, and secular spirit of the Benaissance, he found it difficult to adapt himself personally to the changed circumstances of the times by entering into the Catholic Puritanism which, however disagreeable to a man of taste and refinement, was an indispensable necessity in combating the Reforma-tion. The want was in a manner supplied by the men whom, conscious perhaps of his own deficiencies, he called around him. No pope has made so many distinguished cardinals, and his promotions included both men of evan-gelical piety inclined to the new doctrines like Contarini, and fanatical devotees of the old system like Caraffa. The latter group, though Paul had probably little personal inclination for them, triumphed in his councils. The bull instituting the order of the Jesuits (1540) marks the commencement of the Roman counter-reformation; two years afterwards the Roman Inquisition was established, Contarini died with strong suspicions of poison, Ochino was hunted from Italy, and a persecution broke out which soon exterminated Protestantism inside the Alps. Another memorable measure extorted from Paul by the necessities of his position was the convocation of the council of Trent in 1545; but he soon found means to suspend its sittings, which were not resumed for many years. His brief condemning slavery (1537) ranks among the most honourable actions of his reign. As a politician Paul con-tinually strove to trim between Charles V. and Francis I., and to preserve the peace of Italy as far as compatible with his darling aim of procuring an establishment for his natural son. All these objects were accomplished. Paul's contemporaries respected and courted him, Italy in general enjoyed tranquillity, and the monster who brought such disgrace upon him acquired the principalities of Parma and l'iacenza. After, however, the murder of this unworthy son, the ingratitude of his grandsons broke Paul's heart, and, overcome by a sudden fit of passion, he expired on 10th November 1549,—enjoying the rare distinction of being one of the very few popes who have died lamented by their subjects. His character was in many respects a very fine one, but in every respect the character of a prince and a scholar, not of an ecclesiastic. He was a munificent patron of learning, was versed in science, and had an especial weakness for judicial astrology. The arts also owed much to him. Michelangelo's Last Judgment and other works of the first rank were completed under his auspices, and he greatly improved and beautified the city of Rome. Julius III. was his successor.

The above article was written by: Richard Garnett.

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