Alessandro Farnese (Paul III) elected Pope

Pope Paul III (29 February 1468 – 10 November 1549), born Alessandro Farnese, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1534 to his death in 1549.

He came to the papal throne in an era following the sack of Rome in 1527 and rife with uncertainties in the Catholic Church following the Reformation. During his reign, and in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, new Catholic religious orders and societies, such as the Jesuits, the Theatines, the Barnabites and the Congregation of the Oratory, attracted a popular following and he convened the Council of Trent in 1545. He was a significant patron of the arts and employed nepotism to advance the power and fortunes of his family.

Born in Canino, Latium (then part of the Papal States), Alessandro Farnese was the oldest son of Pier Luigi Farnese, Signore di Montalto (1435-1487) and his wife Giovanna Caetani, a member of the Caetani family which had also produced Pope Boniface VIII. The Farnese family had prospered over the centuries but it was Alessandro’s ascendency to the papacy and his dedication to furthering family interests which saw the vastly significant increase in the family’s wealth and power.
Alessandro’s humanist education was at the University of Pisa and the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Initially trained as an apostolic notary , he joined the Roman Curia in 1491 and in 1493 Pope Alexander VI appointed him Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Pope Alexander's mistress, Giulia, was Farnese's sister; and he was sometimes mockingly referred to as the "Borgia brother-in-law." Under Pope Clement VII (1523–34) he became Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and dean of the College of Cardinals, and on the death of Clement VII in 1534, was elected as Pope Paul III.

One of the few popes to have fathered children before his election, he had four illegitimate offspring. By Silvia Ruffini, he fathered Pier Luigi Farnese, whom he created Duke of Parma; others included Ranuccio Farnese and Costanza Farnese. His first appointment on the 18 December 1534, was to make cardinals of his grandsons; at the time Alessandro Farnese and Guido Ascanio Sforza were aged fourteen and sixteen years respectively. Subsequent appointments included Gasparo Contarini, Sadoleto, Reginald Pole, and Giovanni Pietro Carafa, who became Pope Paul IV.
One of the most significant artistic works of his reign was the execution of the Last Judgement by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace. Although the commission had originated with Paul’s predecessor it was finished in 1541.
As a cardinal, Alessandro had begun construction of a palace, the Palazzo Farnese, in central Rome. On his election to the papacy, the size and magnificence of this building programme was increased to reflect his change in status. The palace was initially designed by the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, received further architectural refinement from Michelangelo and was completed by Giacomo della Porta. Like other Farnese family building projects, the palace imposes its presence on its surroundings in an expression of the family’s power and wealth and his Villa Farnese at Caprarola has a similar presence. In 1546, following the death of Sangallo, he appointed the elderly Michelangelo to take over the supervision of the building of St. Peters. Michelangelo was also commissioned by the Pope to paint the 'Crucifixion of St. Peter' and the 'Conversion of St. Paul' (1542-50), his last frescoes, in Pauline Chapel in the Vatican Palace.

Pope Paul III with his cardinal-nephew Alessandro Cardinal Farnese (left) and his other grandson (right), Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma
Paul’s artistic and architectural commissions were numerous and varied. The Venetian artist Titian painted a portrait of the Pope in 1543 and the well-known portrait of the Pope with his grandsons Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma (1546), both now in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples. The military fortifications in Rome and the papal states were strenthened during his reign. He had Michelangelo relocate the ancient bronze of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Capitoline Hill where it would become the centrepiece to the Piazza del Campidoglio.
Paul III’s bronze tomb, executed by Giuliegmo della Porta, is in St. Peters

Paul III was in earnest in the matter of improving the ecclesiastical situation, and on 2 June 1536, he issued a papal bull convoking a general council to sit at Mantua in 1537. But at the very start the German Protestant estates declined to send any delegates to a council in Italy, while the duke of Mantua himself set down such large requirements that Paul III first deferred for a year and then discarded the whole project.
On 2 June 1537 Paul III promulgated the papal bull Sublimus Dei against the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the continent of America.
In 1536, Paul III invited nine eminent prelates, distinguished by learning and piety alike, to act in committee and to report on the reformation and rebuilding of the Church. In 1537 they turned in their celebrated Consilium de emendenda ecclesia (in J. le Plat, Monumenta ad historiam Concilii Tridentini, ii. 596–597, Leuven, 1782), exposing gross abuses in the Curia, in the church administration and public worship; and proffering many a bold and earnest word on behalf of abolishing such abuses. This report was printed not only at Rome, but at Strasburg and elsewhere.
But to the Protestants it seemed far from thorough; Martin Luther had his edition (1538) prefaced with a vignette showing the cardinals cleaning the Augean stable of the Roman Church with foxtails instead of brooms. Yet the Pope was in earnest when he took up the problem of reform. He clearly perceived that the emperor, Charles V would not rest until the problems were grappled in earnest, and a council was an unequivocal procedure that should leave no room for doubt of his own readiness to make changes. Yet it is clear that the Concilium bore no fruit in the actual situation, and that in Rome no results followed from the committee's recommendations.
On the other hand, serious political complications resulted. In order to vest his grandson Ottavio Farnese with the dukedom of Camerino, Paul forcibly wrested the same from the duke of Urbino (1540). He also incurred virtual war with his own subjects and vassals by the imposition of burdensome taxes. Perugia, renouncing its obedience, was besieged by Paul's son, Pier Luigi, and forfeited its freedom entirely on its surrender. The burghers of Colonna were duly vanquished, and Ascanio was banished (1541). After this the time seemed ripe for annihilating heresy.
It was not foreseen at Rome in 1540, when the Church officially recognized the young society forming about Ignatius of Loyola, (founder of the Society of Jesus), what large results this new organization was destined to achieve; yet a deliberate and gradual course of action against Protestantism dates from this period. The second visible stage in the process becomes marked by the institution, or reorganization, in 1542, of the Holy Office (see Inquisition).
On another side, the Emperor was insisting that Rome should forward his designs toward a peaceable recovery of the German Protestants. Accordingly the Pope despatched Cardinal Morone as nuncio to Hagenau and Worms, in 1540; while, in 1541, Cardinal Contarini took part in the adjustment proceedings at the Conference of Regensburg. It was Contarini who led to the stating of a definition in connection with the article of justification in which occurs the famous formula "by faith alone are we justified," with which was combined, however, the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works. At Rome, this definition was rejected in the consistory of May 27, and Luther declared that he could accept it only provided the opposers would admit that hitherto they had taught differently from what was meant in the present instance.

The general results of the conference and the attitude of the Curia, including its rejection of Contarini's propositions, shows a definite avoidance of an understanding with the Protestants. All that could henceforth be expected of Paul was that he would co-operate in the violent suppression of heretics in Germany, as he had done in Italy, by creating an arm of the revived Inquisition for their annihilation.
Yet, even now, and particularly after the Regensburg Conference had proved in vain, the Emperor did not cease to insist on convening the council, the final result of his insistence being the Council of Trent, which, after several postponements, was finally convoked by the bull Laetare Hierusalem, March 15, 1545. Meanwhile, after the peace of Crespy (September 1544), the situation had so shaped itself that Emperor Charles V (1519–56) began to put down Protestantism by force. Pending the diet of 1545 in Worms, the emperor concluded a covenant of joint action with the papal legate, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Paul III was to aid in the projected war against the German Evangelical princes and estates. The prompt acquiescence of Paul III in the war project was probably grounded on personal motives. The moment now seemed opportune for him, since the Emperor was sufficiently preoccupied in the German realm, to acquire for his son Pier Luigi the duchies of Parma and Piacenza. Although these belonged to the Papal States, Paul III thought to overcome the reluctance of the Cardinals by exchanging the duchies for the less valuable domains of Camerino and Nepi. The Emperor agreed, because of his prospective compensation to the extent of 12,000 infantry, 500 mounted troops, and considerable sums of money.
In Germany the campaign began in the west, where Protestant movements had been at work in the archbishopric of Cologne since 1542. The Reformation was not a complete success there, because the city council and the majority of the chapter opposed it; whereas on 16 April 1546, Hermann of Wied was excommunicated, his rank forfeited, and he was, in February, 1547, compelled by the Emperor to abdicate.
In the meantime open warfare had begun against the Evangelical princes, estates, and cities allied in the Schmalkaldic League (see Philip of Hesse). By the close of 1546, Charles V succeeded in subjugating South Germany, while the victory at the Battle of Muhlberg, on 24 April 1547, established his imperial sovereignty everywhere in Germany and delivered into his hands the two leaders of the league.
But while north of the Alps, in virtue of his preparations for the Augsburg Interim and its enforcement, the Emperor was widely instrumental in recovering Germany to Roman Catholicism, the Pope now held aloof from him because Charles V himself had stood aloof in the matter of endowing Pier Luigi with Parma and Piacenza, and the situation came to a total rupture when the imperial vice-regent, Ferrante Gonzaga, proceeded forcibly to expel Pier Luigi.
The Pope's son was assassinated at Piacenza, and Paul III believed that this had not come to pass without the emperor's foreknowledge. In the same year, however, and after the death of Francis I of France (1515–47), with whom the Pope had once again sought an alliance, the stress of circumstances compelled him to do the Emperor's will and accept the ecclesiastical measures adopted during the Interim. With reference to the assassinated prince's inheritance, the restitution of which Paul III demanded ostensibly in the name and for the sake of the Church, the Pope's design was thwarted by the Emperor, who refused to surrender Piacenza, and by Pier Luigi's heir in Parma, Ottavio Farnese.
In consequence of a violent altercation on this account with Cardinal Farnese, Paul III, at the age of eighty-one years, became so overwrought that an attack of sickness ensued from which he died, 10 November 1549.
Paul III proved unable to suppress the Protestant Reformation, although it was during his pontificate that the foundation was laid for the Counter-Reformation.

In May-June 1537 Paul issued three documents, the bulls "Sublimus Dei" (also known as Unigenitus and Veritas ipsa), "Altituda divini consolii" along with "Pastorale officium", the latter the brief for the execution of "Sublimus Dei". "Altituda divini consolii" was essentially a bull to settle a difference between the Franciscans and Dominicans over baptism, but "Sublimus Dei" is described by Prein (2008) as the "Magna Carta" for Indian human rights in its declaration that the Indians were human beings and they were not to be robbed of their freedom or possessions. "Pastorale officium" declared automatic excommunication for anyone who failed to abide by the new ruling. Stogre (1992) notes that "Sublimus Dei" is not present in Denzinger, the authoritative compendium of official teachings of the Catholic Church, and that the executing brief for it ("Pastorale officium") was annulled the following year in "Non Indecens Videtur". Davis (1988) asserts it was annulled due to a dispute with the Spanish crown. The Council of The West Indies and the Crown concluded that the documents broke their patronato rights and the Pope withdrew them, though they continued to circulate and be quoted by La Casas and others who supported Indian rights.
According to Falkowski (2002) "Sublimus Dei" had the effect of revoking the bull of Alexander VI "Inter Caetera" but still leaving the colonizers the duty of converting the native people. Prein (2008) observes the difficulty in reconciling these decrees with "Inter Caetra".
Father Gustavo Gutierrez describes "Sublimus Dei" as the most important papal document relating to the condition of native Indians and that it was addressed to all Christians. Maxwell (1975) notes that the bull did not change the traditional teaching that the enslavement of Indians was permissible if they were considered "enemies of Christendom" as this would be considered by the Church as a "just war". He further argues that the Indian nations had every right to self-defense. Stark (2003) describes the bull as "magnificent" and believes the reason that, in his opinion, it has belatedly come to light is due to the neglect of Protestant historians. Falola notes that the bull related to the native populations of the New World and did not condemn the transatlantic slave trade stimulated by the Spanish monarchy and the Holy Roman Emperor.
In 1545 Paul repealed an ancient law that allowed slaves to claim their freedom under the Emperor's statue on Capital Hill, in view of the number of homeless people and tramps in the city of Rome. The decree included those who had become Christians after their enslavement and those born to Christian slaves. The right of inhabitants of Rome to publicly buy and sell slaves of both sexes was affirmed. Stogre (1992) asserts that the lifting of restrictions was due to a shortage of slaves in Rome. In 1548 he authorized the purchase and possession of Muslim slaves in the Papal states.

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.
Many causes contributed to delay the opening of the general council. The extension of power which a re-united Germany would place in the hands of Charles was so intolerable to Francis I, that he, who persecuted heresy in his own realm with such cruelty that the pope appealed to him to mitigate his violence, became the sworn ally of the Smalcaldic League, encouraging them to reject all overtures to reconciliation. Charles himself was in no slight measure to blame, for, notwithstanding his desire for the assembling of a council, he was led into the belief that the religious differences of Germany might be settled by conferences between the two parties. These conferences, like all such attempts to settle differences outside of the normal court of the Church, led to a waste of time, and did far more harm than good. Charles had a false idea of the office of a general council. In his desire to unite all parties, he sought for vague formulæ to which all could subscribe, a relapse into the mistakes of the Byzantine emperors. A council of the Church, on the other hand, must formulate the Faith with such precision that no heretic can subscribe to it. It took some years to convince the emperor and his mediating advisors that Catholicism and Protestantism are as opposite as light and darkness. Meanwhile Paul III set about the reform of the papal court with a vigour which paved the way for the disciplinary canons of Trent. He appointed commissions to report abuses of every kind; he reformed the Apostolic Camera, the tribunal of the Rota, the Penitentiaria, and the Chancery. He enhanced the prestige of the papacy by doing single-handed what his predecessors had reserved to the action of a council. In the constantly recurring quarrels between Francis and Charles, Paul III preserved a strict neutrality, notwithstanding that Charles urged him to support the empire and subject Francis to the censures of the Church. Paul's attitude as a patriotic Italian would have been sufficient to prevent him from allowing the emperor to be sole arbiter of Italy. It was as much for the purpose of securing the integrity of the papal dominions, as for the exaltation of his family, that Paul extorted from Charles and his reluctant cardinals the erection of Piacenza and Parma into a duchy for his son, Pier Luigi. A feud arose with Gonzaga, the imperial Governor of Milan, which ended later in the assassination of Pier Luigi and the permanent alienation of Piacenza from the Papal States.
When the Treaty of Crespi (18 Sept., 1544) ended the disastrous wars between Charles and Francis, Paul energetically took up the project of convening a general council. Meanwhile it developed that the emperor had formed a programme of his own, quite at variance in some important points with the pope's. Since the Protestants repudiated a council presided over by the Roman pontiff, Charles was resolved to reduce the princes to obedience by force of arms. To this Paul did not object, and promised to aid him with three hundred thousand ducats and twenty thousand infantry; but he wisely added the proviso, that Charles should enter into no separate treaties with the heretics and make no agreement prejudicial to the Faith or to the rights of the Holy See. Charles now contended that the council should be prorogued, until victory had decided in favour of the Catholics. Furthermore, foreseeing that the struggle with the preachers of heresy would be more stubborn than the conflict with the princes, he urged the pontiff to avoid making dogmas of faith for the present and confine the labours of the council to the enforcement of discipline. To neither of these proposals could the pope agree. Finally, after endless difficulties (13 Dec., 1545) the Council of Trent held its first session. In seven sessions, the last 3 March, 1547, the Fathers intrepidly faced the most important questions of faith and discipline. Without listening to the threats and expostulations of the imperial party, they formulated for all time the Catholic doctrine on the Scriptures, original sin, justification, and the Sacraments. The work of the council was half ended, when the outbreak of the plague in Trent caused an adjournment to Bologna. Pope Paul was not the instigator of the removal of the council; he simply acquiesced in the decision of the Fathers. Fifteen prelates, devoted to the emperor, refused to leave Trent. Charles demanded the return of the council to German territory, but the deliberations of the council continued in Bologna, until finally, 21 April, the pope, in order to avert a schism, prorogued the council indefinitely. The wisdom of the council's energetic action, in establishing thus early the fundamental truths of the Catholic creed, became soon evident, when the emperor and his semi-Protestant advisers inflicted upon Germany their Interim religion, which was despised by both parties. Pope Paul, who had given the emperor essential aid in the Smalcaldic war, resented his dabbling in theology, and their estrangement continued until the death of the pontiff.

Paul's end came rather suddenly. After the assassination of Pier Luigi, he had struggled to retain Piacenza and Parma for the Church and had deprived Ottavio, Pier Luigi's son and Charles's son-in-law, of these duchies. Ottavio, relying on the emperor's benevolence, refused obedience; it broke the old man's heart, when he learned that his favourite grandson, Cardinal Farnese, was a party to the transaction. He fell into a violent fever and died at the Quirinal, at the age of eighty-two. He lies buried in St. Peter's in the tomb designed by Michelangelo and erected by Guglielmo della Porta. Not all the popes repose in monuments corresponding to their importance in the history of the Church; but few will be disposed to contest the right of Farnese to rest directly under Peter's chair. He had his faults; but they injured no one but himself. The fifteen years of his pontificate saw the complete restoration of Catholic faith and piety. He was succeeded by many saintly pontiffs, but not one of them possessed all his commanding virtues. In Rome his name is written all over the city he renovated. The Pauline chapel, Michelangelo's work in the Sistine, the streets of Rome, which he straightened and broadened, the numerous objects of art associated with the name of Farnese, all speak eloquently of the remarkable personality of the pontiff who turned the tide in favour of religion. If to this we add the favour accorded by Paul to the new religious orders then appearing, the Capuchins, Barnabites, Theatines, Jesuits, Ursulines, and many others, we are forced to confess that his reign was one of the most fruitful in the annals of the Church.