Pope Paul III (1534-49)

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Who was Pope Paul III?

Pope Paul III was born at Rome or Canino, 29 Feb., 1468; elected, 12 Oct., 1534; died at Rome, 10 Nov., 1549. The Farnese were an ancient Roman family whose possessions clustered about the Lake at Bolsena. Although counted among the Roman aristocrats, they first appear in history associated with Viterbo and Orvieto.

Among the witnesses to the Treaty of Venice between Barbarossa and the pope, we find the signature of a Farnese as Rector of Orvieto; a Farnese bishop consecrated the cathedral there. During the interminable feuds which distracted the peninsula, the Farnese were consistently Guelph. The grandfather of the future pontiff was commander-in-chief of the papal troops under Eugenius IV; his oldest son perished in the battle of Fornuovo; the second, Pier Luigi, married Giovannella Gaetani, sister to the Lord of Sermoneta.

Among their children were the beautiful Giulia, who married an Orsini, and Alessandro, later Paul III. Alessandro received the best education that his age could offer; first at Rome, where he had Pomponio Leto for a tutor; later at Florence in the palace of Lorenzo the Magnificent, where he formed his friendship with the future Leo X, six years his junior. His contemporaries praise his proficiency in all the learning of the Renaissance, especially in his mastery of classical Latin and Italian. With such advantages of birth and talent, his advancement in the ecclesiastical career was assured and rapid.

On 20 Sept., 1493 (Eubel), he was created by Alexander VI cardinal-deacon with the title SS. Cosmas and Damian. He wore the purple for over forty years, passing through the several gradations, until he became Dean of the Sacred College. In accordance with the abuses of his time, he accumulated a number of opulent benefices, and spent his immense revenue with a generosity which won for him the praises of artists and the affection of the Roman populace. His native ability and diplomatic skill, acquired by long experience, made him tower above his colleagues in the Sacred College, even as his Palazzo Farnese excelled in magnificence all the other palaces of Rome. That he continued to grow in favour under pontiffs so different in character as the Borgia, Rovera, and Medici popes is a sufficient proof of his tact.

He had already on two previous occasions, come within measurable distance of the tiara, when the conclave of 1534, almost without the formality of a ballot, proclaimed him successor to Clement VII. It was creditable to his reputation and to the good will of the cardinals, that the factions which divided the Sacred College were concordant in electing him. He was universally recognized as the man of the hour, and the piety and zeal, which had characterized him after he was ordained priest, caused men to overlook the extravagance of his earlier years.

The Roman people rejoiced at the election to the tiara of the first citizen of their city since Martin V. Paul III was crowned 3 Nov., and lost no time in setting about the most needed reforms. No one, who has once studied his portrait by Titian, is likely to forget the wonderful expression of countenance of that worn-out, emaciated form. Those piercing little eyes, and that peculiar attitude of one ready to bound or to shrink, tell the story of a veteran diplomat who was not to be deceived or taken off guard. His extreme caution, and the difficulty of binding him down to a defininte obligation, drew from Pasquino the facetious remark that the third Paul was a "Vas dilationis." The elevation to the cardinalate of his grandsons, Alessandro Farnese, aged fourteen, and Guido Ascanio Sforza, aged sixteen, displeased the reform party and drew a protest from the emperor, but this was forgiven, when shortly after, he introduced into the Sacred College men of the calibre of Reginald Pole, Contanini, Sadoleto, and Caraffa.

Soon after his elevation, 2 June, 1536, Paul III summoned a general council to meet at Mantua in the following May; but the opposition of the Protestant princes and the refusal of the Duke of Mantua to assume the responsibility of maintaining order frustrated the project. He issued a new bull, convoking a council at Vicenza, 1 May, 1538; the chief obstacle was the renewed enmity of Charles V and Francis I. The aged pontiff induced them to hold a conference with him at Nizza and conclude a ten years' truce. As a token of good will, a granddaughter of Paul was married to a French prince, and the emperor gave his daughter, Margaret, to Ottavio, the son of Pier Luigi, founder of the Farnese dynasty of Parma.


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia