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Paul IV - A Hot Tempered Pontiff

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linocut of Paul IVUnder Marcellus reform had begun to stir Rome like an insistent but gentle breeze. Under his successor reform roared through the city with all the violence and some of the freakishness of a tornado.

Giovanni Pietro Caraffa was born near Benevento on June 28,1476, of a noble Neopolitan family. With his connections advancement was easy. He served Leo X as diplomat in England and Spain. He was a zealous bishop of Chiete; but dissatisfied with the comfortable life of a Renaissance prelate, he yearned to be a Camaldolese monk or a Dominican friar. He finally persuaded Clement VII to let him join the new order of Theatines founded by his friend St. Cajetan. Caraffa became general of the order, the object of which was to promote the welfare of the secular clergy. Paul III used both the order and Caraffa to further his reform projects. Indeed Caraffa became Paul's right- hand man in matters of reform. Created cardinal in 1536, and archbishop of Naples soon after Caraffa worked furiously to carry out the reform plans of his chief.

Caraffa was chosen Pope after a stubborn election May 23, 1555. He was an old man of seventy-nine, but a vigorous old man, full of fire and fight. He took the name Paul IV. Though deeply religious, Paul IV was hot-tempered, had small understanding of human nature, and was too fond of his relatives. These relatives caused him grief, for they disgraced the high positions he gave them. But to do Paul justice, when his eyes were opened, he ruthlessly disgraced them.

Paul was extremely anti-Spanish, and soon was involved in a disastrous war with Philip II. By 1557 the Pope was soundly beaten, and when let off with easy terms, he prudently decided to spend more time on spiritual activities. Paul IV had already begun to work on reform. With furious zeal he swung the ax, cutting down expenses and his own revenues. He gave good example too by his private life, which was pious and austere.

Paul had a horror of heresy which surpassed even his horror of abuses. As cardinal he had urged Paul III to reestablish the Roman Inquisition, and now under his eager hands it leaped into high gear. When he extended its competence to cover moral cases as well as heresy, Rome trembled. When it came to heresy, Paul had an enormous capacity for suspicion. He jailed Cardinal Morone, a truly great prelate, on suspicion of heresy. He recalled Cardinal Pole from England where he had just reconciled that country with the Church to answer the same charge! Small wonder ordinary men shook.

Paul IV died August 18, 1559, admitting his faults. But in spite of them, he did much for the Church. Many of his reform decrees were adopted by the Council of Trent. His harshness was resented by the Romans, who threw down his statue and attacked the Inquisition Office to celebrate his death. But this very harshness cleared away any last remnants of the pagan miasma which afflicted Renaissance Rome. The best epitaph for the fierce old reformer was the statement of the Venetian ambassador--that in his reign Rome had been turned into a monastery.

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


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