Pope Paul V (1550-1621) served as leader of the Roman Catholic Church for almost 16 years (1605-1621). Educated as a lawyer, he was a renowned expert on canon law. As pope, he often mediated political conflicts and sometimes was at the center of disputes, such as one with Venice in 1606 that almost escalated into a war. One of his major accomplishments was completing the construction of the Vatican. He was most famous for clashing with Galileo, forbidding him to publicly support the Copernican theory of the universe.
Pope Paul V was born as Camillo Borghese in Rome, Italy, on September 17, 1550. He was a descendent of an influential noble family of Siena. Family members claimed they were related to Saint Catherine, the great mystic. Paul V studied philosophy and law at Perugia and Padua and became an expert canon lawyer. In 1588, he was sent by Pope Sixtus V to Bologna as vice-legate.
His rise through the ecclesiastical ranks was slow but steady. In 1596, he was made cardinal and vicar of Rome by Pope Clement VIII. Paul V became known for showing no favoritism to any particular faction. Politically, that was a liability.
When Pope Leo XI died on May 8, 1605, Borghese was one of several candidates to succeed him. The others included Cardinals Baronius and Robert Bellarmine. Paul V's neutral stance toward the Church and society seemed to make him the logical choice. Still, some cardinals favored Cardinal Toschi of Modena. However, Cardinal Baronius said Toschi's lack of education and eloquence would be detrimental to the church. Thirty-two cardinals declared for Baronius. However, Paul V's neutrality made him more acceptable, and he was named Pope on May 16, 1605, becoming Pope Paul V when he was 55 years old.
When he took the reins of the church, he was under no obligation to anyone, and he refused to dispense any special favors. In one of his first acts, he ordered all bishops in Rome to return to their dioceses. He also saw it as his duty to ensure that every right earned by his predecessors was not violated. When he became pope, he immediately sought to restore any such privileges that had been taken away.
The new pope was described as vigorous and youthful for his age. His tall, commanding presence and his dignified bearing made him a charismatic figure, and he gained the respect and admiration of the people. But Paul was criticized for nepotism. It was said that he dispensed favors on his relatives and that he made the Borghese family wealthy while he was pope. However, many popes before him had done similar things.
Paul's reign as pope lasted nearly 16 years. He served from May 16, 1605, until his death on January 28, 1621. During his reign, he canonized St. Charles Borromeo and St. Frances of Rome. He also beatified Sts. Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, Theresa the Carmelite, Louis Bertrand, Thomas of Villanova, and Isidore of Madrid. Beatification is the last step toward canonization.
As in his previous positions, Paul V proved to be uncompromising. He enforced rules strictly, contributing to a number of disputes with various states. The dispute with the city of Venice in 1606 was the most serious, almost leading to a war throughout Europe. The controversy involved matters of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and relations between church and state.
There were two major issues. First, Venice defied church law that forbade the erection of new church buildings. Second, it arrested two clerics: Scipio Saraceni, canon of Vicenza, and Brandolini Valmarino, abbot of Narvasa. The oligarchs of the city wanted to put the clerics on trial in a secular rather than an ecclesiastical court. The two men were accused of crimes that included rape and homicide. When they were tried and imprisoned without notification to the Roman court, Paul protested. A staunch defender of ecclesiastical immunities, Pope Paul ordered his nephew, Horace Mattis, to secure the release of the imprisoned clerics. Paul intervened himself on their behalf with the Venetian ambassador in Rome. However, Venice denied the request, refusing to excuse the clerics from the jurisdiction of the civil courts.
Paul then demanded that Venice repeal its anti-clerical ordinances and further insisted the clerics be released from prison and given over to the ecclesiastical court. Venice refused to acknowledge his authority in the matter and Paul responded by placing the city under interdict that forbade services. The Venetian government defied the interdict by ordering priests to go ahead with church services. Some clerics refused, and they were expelled from the city. However, many other clerics sided with the city. Venice countered by expelling any papal representatives who tried to enforce Paul's ruling.
The dispute grew quite harsh and almost developed into a war. Paul even tried to raise an army, but he backed down when England and Holland threatened to intervene on behalf of Venice. The dispute then became a war of words. Cardinals Baronius and Bellarmine stated the case for the church, while Paolo Sarpi, a Servite who was a sworn enemy of the Roman Court, attacked the pope.
Finally, in 1607, King Henry IV of France mediated and settled the matter peacefully. However, it turned out to be a victory for Venice. The city ceded very little and the Pope released it from censure. Still, Paul was extremely grateful to Henry IV for his intervention, and he would develop affection for the king. When Henry IV was assassinated in May of 1610 by a fanatic, Paul was deeply saddened and experienced a period of intense depression.
Paul V also had a dispute with King James of England. At issue was a new oath of allegiance required by the king. Paul felt the oath contained some clauses that would be impossible for Catholics, in good conscience, to accept. Paul wrote a friendly letter to the king in July of 1606, first congratulating him on his accession to the throne and then asking him to revise the oath. (Essentially the oath required that Catholics be loyal to the king above all else.) Paul condemned the oath twice in written briefs, first in September 1606 and then in August 1607. The matter was serious enough to create division among Catholics in England.
Sometimes, during his reign, Paul himself was called upon to act as a mediator. The best example is when he helped establish a pace between France and Spain. He also settled disputes involving the Emperor Rudolph II and the Archduke Matthias.
Perhaps Paul's most historically significant dispute involved a matter of science rather than the affairs of nations. At issue were beliefs advanced by the famous scientist Galileo. Paul opposed Galileo's opinions about the Copernican theory of the universe, which clerics tended to view as heresy.
In the late 15th century, Galileo came to accept the Copernican model of the universe, which states that the Sun is the center of the universe and that the earth experiences annual motion. In the early 16th century, he began experimenting with telescopes and made some important discoveries that supported the theory, including the moons of Jupiter, Saturn's rings, and the phases of Venus. He also began observing sunspots. In 1611, Cardinal Bellarmine asked Jesuit mathematicians to confirm Galileo's discoveries. Even though they did, they offered different interpretations for the discoveries. In 1613, clerics started attacking the Copernican theory. Two years later, Cardinal Bellarmine told contemporary scientists to treat Copernican views only as a theory. Meanwhile, a Dominican friar, Niccolo Lorini, who had earlier criticized Galileo's view in private conversations, filed a written complaint with the Roman Inquisition against Galileo's views. Galileo wrote to Rome to defend his beliefs about the Copernican theory.
In 1616, a committee of advisors to the Roman Inquisition declared that the Copernican model of the universe was heresy. Galileo would even visit Roman to defend the theory. About Galileo's visits, Guicciardini, ambassador from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, wrote that, "Galileo insisted on obtaining from the pope and the Holy Office a declaration that the system of Copernicus was founded on the Scriptures. He haunted the antechambers of the court and the palaces of the cardinals; he composed memorial after memorial. Galileo thought more of his own opinions than of those of his friends. After having persecuted and wearied many other cardinals, he at length won over Cardinal Orsini. The latter, with more warmth than prudence, urged His Holiness to favor the wishes of Galileo. The pope, tiring of the conversation, broke it off. Galileo carried into all these proceedings an extreme heat, which he had neither the strength nor the prudence to control. He might throw us all into great embarrassment, and I cannot see what he is likely to gain by a longer stay here."
Paul then told Cardinal Bellarmine to order Galileo not to advocate the Copernican theory. Specifically, the cardinal told the scientist not to hold, teach, or defend the theory. At the same time, however, both the pope and cardinal assured Galileo that he would not be put on trial or condemned by the Roman Inquisition.
But in 1633, 12 years after Paul's death, Galileo was interrogated by the Inquisition for 18 days. In April of that year, he admitted that he might have stated his case too strongly. He even offered to refute the theory in a book. Pope Urban VII was not impressed with either the admittance or the offer; he decided that Galileo should be imprisoned for an indefinite period of time. The Inquisition sentenced him to prison and religious penances. Later, at a ceremony at the church of Santa Maria Sofia Minerva, Galileo disavowed his acceptance of his previous beliefs, and he was placed in house arrest in Sienna, where he remained until 1642. (More than 300 years later, in 1983, the Church finally admitted that Galileo might have been right.)
During his papacy, Paul V demonstrated a great love of art. A patron of artists, he commissioned Carlo Maderno to finalize the construction of the Vatican. The Basilica, which had been initiated by Julius II, was not yet complete. As part of the completion project, Paul ordered the construction of some chapels, the choir, the lower portico, a church, and the upper portico for the papal benediction.
During his Papacy, Paul also ordered new institutes for education and charity. He claimed that the increased construction provided two advantages: not only did it improve Rome, it also provided employment for artists and craftsmen who needed the work.
Paul V died of a stroke on January 28, 1621, in Rome. He was 70 years old. He was pope for fifteen years, seven months, and thirteen days. He was succeeded by Pope Gregory XV. His remains were interred in the Vatican, in the Borghese chapel in St. Mary Major's, where his monument was erected.
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