Part II: Giovanni Pietro Carafa, a.k.a. Pope Paul IV (1476-1559)

As I mentioned yesterday, here are the passages I’ve transcribed from the Catholic scholar Ludwig von Pastor regarding Giovanni Pietro Carafa, who reigned as Pope Paul IV from 1555-1559. This man, and others like him, are among the reasons why the Council of Trent took the radical shape it did. For the most part I’ll let Pastor speak to his fanatical character and absolute inflexibility as the captain of the ship of the Roman Church at one of the most critical points of her journey.

Carafa, interestingly, was a leading member of a faction within the Roman Church which was labeled the Zelanti (Zealots) precisely because of their extreme ascetic practices and inflexibility toward those with whom they disagreed. This is by contrast, of course, to the far more moderate faction, the Spirituali (Spirituals) led by such men as Gasparo Contarini and Reginald Pole, who were willing to make significant overtures of concession to the Protestants in the name of ending the developing schism and restoring peace and unity to the Church.

Unfortunately, the Zelanti appear to have taken over the Council of Trent fairly early in its career, and so it is no wonder that such sweeping condemnations issued forth from that Council in total betrayal of the conciliar spirit which had given rise to it in the first place.

Let’s hear from Pastor, whose 40 volume History of the Popes is a massively researched work of scholarship relying upon hundreds of documents painstakingly assembled and analyzed from the Vatican Archives.

At the time of his election to the pontificate (and being chosen over the much more moderate Reginald Pole), he was 79 years old but quite healthy and vigorous. Relying on contemporary reports, Pastor describes him as

…full of activity, and still so strong and healthy that he seemed scarcely to touch the ground with his elastic step. It was said that he had never taken any medicine in his life; rheumatism and catarrh were the only troubles of which he had sometimes to complain. His massive head was sparsely covered with hair, and his face, framed in a heavy beard, although not beautiful, was of expressive gravity; lines indicative of an unbending will-power lay round about his mouth, while out of his deeply sunk dark eyes shone the glow of the fires of southern Italy. [Vol. XIV, pg. 65]

To those who dealt with him, Paul IV. proved very difficult to manage; the more anyone begged him to do a thing, the less inclined he was to do it, but when he was not urged he would yield quickly and easily. He could endure no contradiction and lost his temper very readily. It was in keeping with the majestic, stern and peremptory manner which was characteristic of him, that he always took the leading part in a conversation, and whoever wished to get anything from him had to be very careful not to interrupt him; on the other hand, he was fond of interrupting others, and in so doing gave free expression to his natural eloquence, which Hosius compared to that of Cicero. [Vol. XIV, pp. 67-68]

Observe Pastor’s description of Carafa’s vision of the papacy—a clearly rigid hierocratic one:

…He had always had a very high idea of the ecclesiastical office, and he had a still higher one of the Papal dignity; now that he sat on the throne of St. Peter, the self-assurance which the remembrance of his always blameless priestly life, and his unswerving severity and activity as a churchman, as well as the experience of many years had given him, was visibly increased. He repeatedly declared that he would rather be torn in pieces than do anything unworthy of his exalted office, and all who knew him could testify that these were not mere words.

Cardinal Pacheco, at a critical moment, drew the attention of the Duke of Alba to the fact that Paul IV. would never allow himself to be influenced by fear, for he was a man who would rather permit the destruction of the city of Rome and suffer death himself than do anything unworthy of his high position. Cardinal Morone expresses himself in similar terms in a letter to his friend Pole. In this he declares that the Pope would rather suffer martyrdom than allow the dignity and honour of the Holy See, for which he felt himself responsible before God and Christendom, to suffer in the slightest degree; in the opinion of Morone, he was so penetrated with the idea of being the representative of Christ, that he considered an offence against his own dignity as an insult to God.

The consciousness that, as the representative of Christ, he stood above everyone, made itself very noticeable in his attitude toward the princes. Fully conscious of his own dignity, he did not regard them as his sons, but as his subjects. He was so far removed from the world in his ideas, that he was accustomed to look at political questions from a very one-sided point of view, and to judge of them very harshly. He told the ambassadors that the place of kings and emperors was at the feet of the pope, from whom they should receive their laws as if they were his pupils. His rigid ecclesiastical principles rebelled against the tendency, at that time very prevalent even among Catholic sovereigns, to assume control even in the domestic concerns of the Church. He declared that he would put an end to the shameful subservience of his predecessors to the princes. He therefore considered it right to make no secret of his deep distrust of them, and to act towards them with increasing irritability, as well as with extreme severity and inflexibility. The conflicts into which such sentiments, joined to the vivacity and impetuosity of his nature, led this old man, who was still filled with youthful ardor, may easily be imagined. [Vol. XIV, pp. 68-69]

Of great interest as well is the stark contrast between his professed extreme ascetism and his actual behavior:

As a true son of Naples, Paul IV. was very susceptible to sudden impressions, hasty and changeable in his decisions, and not infrequently impolitic in his expressions, as well as unnecessarily sharp and abrupt. Just as he bound himself by no fixed rules in his daily life, so was he also fond of giving way to the impulses of the moment, and bestowed his confidence as easily as he withdrew it. The utterances of his volcanic nature were as sudden as the eruptions of Vesuvius; like all his fellow-countrymen, he spoke eagerly and at great length, and the words flowed like a torrent from his lips. Whenever any event stirred his blood, he broke out, after the manner of southern Italians, into the most violent and rough language, which he accompanied with highly descriptive gestures; sometimes he so far forgot his dignity as to permit himself to proceed to actual acts of violence. All his ascetism had not been able to teach him moderation in the expression of his passionate feelings, or calmness and self-possession in his actions. Consequently, as Cardinal, he had had disputes with many people, and had also been at variance with men who, like Ignatius of Loyola, were struggling for the same object as himself, the regeneration of the Church. He grappled with each task with iron energy and passionate fire; there was nothing underhand and no trace of hypocrisy in his character. His piety was genuine, as were his love for Church and country, his wide of life and his idealism; equally genuine were his stormy eloquence and his extensive knowledge. He was well versed in the most varied branches of learning, but above all in theology. He spoke Italian, Greek and Spanish fluently; unusually well read, he remembered everything he had ever learned, and was intimately acquainted with the Latin and Greek classics, while the Scriptures he knew almost by heart. Among theologians his favourite author was St. Thomas Aquinas.

For sixty years Gian Pietro had devoted all the gifts of his intellect, the strength of his iron will, and the firmness of a character which brooked no opposition to one aim alone: to infuse new life into the authority, the power, the purity and the dignity of the Church, which was now so sorely beset by enemies, both from within and without… [Vol. XIV, pp. 69-71]

Some interesting further remarks on Paul IV’s hierocratic conception of the papal office:

The Church, and above all her centre, the Holy See, had for a whole generation suffered unheard-of attacks and great humiliations. Now that he was in possession of the supreme power, Paul IV. meant to reverse this state of affairs, and once more to restore to the Holy See its old position of domination. With his ideas rooted, as were all his views, in the Middle Ages, he saw the ecclesiastical ideal in the century of Innocent III., when the Papal power was at its zenith. Nothing, therefore, was so far opposed to his ideas as the great drifting apart of the spiritual and the temporal which had come to pass in later times; to him, everything should be looked at from the point of view of the Church. He accordingly considered it to be his duty to take up once more the attitude which the Holy See had adopted at that time towards princes and peoples, and again, with all the power of his will, and quite regardless of the consequences to revive it, even in the domain of politics. In his fiery enthusiasm, it quite escaped him that all the rights to which in the course of centuries the Popes had laid claim did not arise from the divine law or from the nature of the primacy, but that many of them, and especially the political ones, were the result of historical development and were human in their origin, and might therefore once more have to be relinquished. No less did it escape the notice of this idealist, who thought only of what ought to be, that the vast changes in the ecclesiastical and political condition of Europe rendered a vindication of such Papal authority over the Christian princes as had existed during the centuries of the Middle Ages an utter impossibility. Untroubled by the falling away of half the world, and regardless of the far-reaching changes which had taken place even in those states which had remained Catholic, Paul IV. lived and worked in those days when the Popes, as fathers and leaders of Christendom, had also exercised a widespread power, even in the sphere of politics. Although there existed no ecclesiastical definition with regard to the power of the Holy See in secular matters, he clung rigidly to all the claims which his predecessors had made under quite different conditions and in quite other circumstances. [Vol. XIV, pp. 75-75; bold face emphasis mine]

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