Paul III

Paul III (1468-1549) was pope from 1534 to 1549. He was a man of keen intelligence, intense energy, and dogged tenacity. His pontificate was somewhat equivocal, stamped at once with a lingering Renaissance mentality and the strong new impulse toward religious renewal.

Alessandro Farnese, who became Paul III, was born on Feb. 29, 1468, in Canino into one of the more powerful Renaissance families of northern Italy. After his education in Rome and in Florence at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici, he entered the service of the Church. Created a cardinal in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, he continued his warm friendships with artists, scholars, and humanists. He was ordained in 1519. In the conclaves of 1521 and 1523 he was almost elected to the papacy. This office he received on Oct. 13, 1534.

During his 15 years as pope, Paul III created a new atmosphere about the papacy. He raised to the College of Cardinals most exemplary men, such as Marcello Cervini (who became Marcellus II), Reginald Pole, Giampietro Carafa (later Paul IV), and Gasparo Contarini. In 1526 Paul inaugurated the incisive review of the central problem of reform in the Church known as the Consilium de emandanda ecclesia. In 1542 he founded the Congregation of the Roman Inquisition, or the Holy Office, as the final court of appeal in trials of heresy. He encouraged many new religious communities and gave papal approbation of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1540 and of the Ursulines in 1544.

Paul's greatest encouragement to the Catholic reform was the opening of an ecumenical council which he tried to inaugurate as early as 1537 at Mantua. Because of immense difficulties, arising in large measure from the international rivalry between the Holy Roman emperor Charles V and the French king Francis I, he succeeded only in December 1545 in getting the council under way at Trent. Further difficulties followed, and Paul transferred the council to Bologna in February 1548 and finally suspended it in September 1549.

Retaining his early enthusiasm for art and scholarship, Paul was ambitious to give Rome the primacy in these fields. He restored the Roman University, which had been utterly destroyed in the sack of Rome (1527), and energetically tried to staff it with outstanding scholars. He arranged for new catalogs in the Vatican Library and for the preservation of damaged manuscripts. He commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and to reconstruct St. Peter's and the Capitol.

Paul marred his reign by the concern, so typical of the Renaissance, for the advancement of his family. He installed Pierluigi Farnese, one of the four natural children he had fathered before he became pope, as the Duke of Parma and Piacenza. After Paul became pope, he made two of his grandsons cardinals. Paul died on Nov. 10, 1549.


Further Reading on Paul III

A good modern comprehensive study of Paul III is in Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, vols. 11 and 12, translated by Ralph F. Kerr (1912), which contains a full bibliography and list of sources. For background consult Alan P. Dolan, Catholicism: An Historical Survey (1968), and Karl H. Dannenfeldt, The Church of the Renaissance and Reformation (1970).