Pope Alexander VII (1655-67)
Who was Pope Alexander VII?
Pope Alexander VII was born Fabio Chigi at Sienna, 13 February, 1599; elected 7 April, 1655; died at Rome, 22 May, 1667. The Chigi of Sienna were among the most illustrious and powerful of Italian families. In the Rome of Renaissance times, an ancestor of Alexander VII was known as the "Magnificent".
The future Pope's father, Flavio Chigi, nephew of Pope Paul V, though not as prosperous as his forebears, gave his son a suitable training. The latter owed much also to his mother, a woman of singular power and skill in the formation of youth. The youth of Fabio was marked by continued ill-health, consequent upon an attack of apoplexy in infancy. Unable to attend school, he was taught first by his mother, and later by able tutors, and displayed remarkable precocity and love of reading. In his twenty-seventh year, he obtained the doctorates of philosophy, law, and theology in the University of Sienna, and in December, 1626, he entered upon his ecclesiastical career at Rome.
In 1627 he was appointed by Urban VIII Vice-Legate of Ferrara, and he served five years under the Cardinals Sacchetti and Pallotta, whose commendations won for him the important post of Inquisitor of Malta, together with the episcopal consecration. In 1639 he was promoted to the nunciature of Cologne; and in 1644 was made envoy extraordinary of Innocent X to the conference of Münster, in which post he energetically defended papal interests during the negotiations that led, in 1648, to the Peace of Westphalia. (See THIRTY-YEARS WAR.)
Innocent X called him to Rome in 1651 to be his secretary of state, and in February, 1652, made him Cardinal. In the conclave of 1655, famous for its duration of eighty days, and for the clash of national and factional interests, Cardinal Chigi was unanimously elected Pope. The choice was considered providential. At a time when churchmen were being forced to realize the deplorable consequences, moral and financial, of nepotism, there was needed a pope who would rule without the aid of relatives. For a year the hopes of Christendom seemed to be realized. Alexander forbade his relatives to come to Rome. His own sanctity of life, severity of morals, and aversion to luxury made more resplendent his virtues and talents.
But in the consistory of 24 April, 1656, influenced by those who feared the weakness of a papal court unsustained by ties of family interest, he proposed to bring his brother and nephews to assist him. With their advent came a marked change in the manner of life of the pontiff. The administration was given largely into the hands of his relatives, and nepotic abuses came to weigh as heavily as ever upon the papacy. The endeavours of the Chigi to enrich their family were too indulgently regarded by the Pope; but, ever pious and devout, he was far from having a share in the excesses of his luxury-loving nephews. His burden being in this way lightened, he passed much of his time in literary pursuits and in the society of the learned; but the friends whom he favoured were those who could be best relied on as counsellors.
The pontificate of Alexander VII was shadowed by continual difficulties with the young and ill-advised Louis XIV of France, whose representatives were a constant source of annoyance to the Pope. The French prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, had not forgiven the legate who resolutely opposed him at the conferences of Munster and Osnabrück, or the papal secretary of state who stood in the way of his anti-Roman policy. During the conclave he had been bitterly hostile to Chigi, but was in the end compelled to accept his election as a compromise. However, he prevented Louis XIV from sending the usual embassy of obedience to Alexander VII, and, while he lived, hindered the appointment of a French ambassador to Rome, diplomatic affairs being meantime conducted by cardinal protectors, generally personal enemies of the Pope.
In 1662 the equally hostile Duc de Crequi was made ambassador. By his high-handed abuse of the traditional right of asylum granted to ambassadorial precincts in Rome, he precipitated a quarrel between France and the papacy, which resulted in the Pope's temporary loss of Avignon and his forced acceptance of the humiliating treaty of Pisa in 1664. (See LOUIS XIV.) Emboldened by these triumphs, the French Jansenists, who recognized in Alexander an old enemy, became insolently assertive, professing that the propositions condemned in 1653 were not to be found in the "Augustinus" of Cornelius Jansen. (See JANSENIUS.)
Alexander VII, who as adviser of Innocent X had vigorously advocated the condemnation, confirmed it in 1665 by the Bull "Ad Sacram" declaring that it applied to the aforesaid work of Jansen and to the very meaning intended by him; he also sent to France his famous "formulary", to be signed by all the clergy as a means of detecting and extirpating Jansenism. His reign is memorable in the annals of moral theology for the condemnation of a number of erroneous propositions. Cardinal Hergenröther praises (Kirchengesch. III,414) his moderation in the heated dogmatic controversies of the period. During his reign occurred the conversion of Queen Christina of Sweden, who, after her abdication, came to reside in Rome, where on Christmas Day, 1655, she was confirmed by the Pope, in whom she found a generous friend and benefactor. He assisted the Venetians in combating the Turks who had gained a foothold in Crete, and obtained in return the restoration of the Jesuits, exiled from Venice since 1606. (See SARPI, VENICE.)
The inimical relations between Spain and Portugal occasioned by the latter's establishment of independence (1640) were a source of grave trials for Alexander, as for other popes before and after him. Alexander VII did much to beautify Rome. Houses were levelled to make way for straighter streets and broad piazzas, the Collegio Romano. The decorations of the church of Sta. Maria del Popolo, titular church of more than one of the Chigi cardinals, the Scala Regia, the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica, and the great colonnade before that edifice bespeak alike the genius of Bernini and the munificence of his papal patron. He was also a patron of learning, modernized the Roman University, known as Sapienza, and enriched it with a magnificent library. He also made extensive additions to the Vatican Library. His tomb by Bernini is one of the most beautiful monuments in St. Peter's.
- Catholic Encyclopedia