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Julius III - A Reformer Pontiff

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Julius IIIPaul III had moved the ecumenical council from Trent to Bologna. This enraged the Emperor, who forbade his subjects to leave Trent. With some members at Trent and others at Bologna, the council was at a standstill. But after Paul's death the man chosen to succeed him was Cardinal del Monte who, as senior papal legate, had opened the council. Now he ordered the fathers back to Trent and once more the great work of the council went forward. Unfortunately, however, the defeat of the Emperor by the Schmalkaldic army and lack of French cooperation forced the Pope to suspend the council in 1552.

Giovan Maria Ciocchi del Monte was born in Rome on September 10, 1487, the son of a brilliant lawyer. After studies in law and theology he became archbishop of Siponto. He served Clement VII as prefect of Rome and, less agreeably, as a hostage to the wild men who had sacked the city. Indeed, when poor Clement could not keep up the exorbitant payments demanded, the future pope was very close to being hanged! Created cardinal by Paul III, he served on the commission to prepare for the great council and then as the council's first president. His election on February 7, 1550, was the result of a compromise.

He took the name Julius III. Julius was a well-meaning but easy-going man. He favored his relatives, spent money lavishly, and loved good times. But on the other hand, he did continue Paul III's work in favoring the forces of reform. At the instance of St. Ignatius he founded the famous German College to provide zealous and learned priests for the afflicted Empire. Julius showed excellent good sense and tact in his dealings with England. Mary, now on the throne, was negotiating for the return of England to Catholic unity. Julius appointed her kinsman Cardinal Pole to be his legate in the matter and gave him the widest faculties to ease troubled consciences. He did not insist on the return of stolen monastic property. He was rewarded by seeing England once more a Catholic country. Julius III, greatly interested in learning and art, promoted the development of the Vatican Library and of the Roman and various German universities. He favored Michael Angelo and the historian of art, Vasari. Pierluigi Palestrina, the great composer, he placed in charge of St. Peter's choir. Julius might have been more fond of ease and jollification than suited either his state or the times, but it is to his credit that the work of reform did continue. By the time Julius died on March 23, 1555, St. Peter Canisius was spearheading a Catholic reaction in Germany, St. Francis Xavier had died trying to get into China after an epic sweep through the Indies and Japan, and zealous Franciscans and Dominicans were spreading the gospel in the Americas.


Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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