Paul V - A Reformer And Canon Lawyer

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Baronius and St. Robert Bellarmine were among those considered as successors of Leo XI, but finally the cardinals chose Camillo Borghese, who took the name Paul V. Camillo Borghese was born at Rome on September 17, 1550. His family, originally from Siena, claimed relationship with the great mystic, St. Catherine. Trained at Perugia and Padua, Camillo became an expert canon lawyer. In 1596 Clement VIII made him a cardinal and vicar of Rome. No party man, he was agreeable to all factions.

Paul V was a vigorous fifty-two when elected. Pious and learned, charitable and hard-working, he made an excellent pastor. Being a canon lawyer, he believed rules were made to be kept, and his rigorous enforcement of Trent reform decrees caused a deal of rustling in Roman ecclesiastical circles. The same respect for law made him a terror to evildoers. Like Sixtus V he was concerned to put down banditry.

Paul V had a hard time with Venice. The republic's pride seemed to swell in proportion as its power decreased. It had defied church law to forbid the erection of new church buildings and to arrest two clerics. Paul tried to bring the republic to reason, but when the oligarchs stubbornly defied all threats, the Pope excommunicated doge and senate and placed Venice under interdict. The Venetian government defied the interdict by ordering priests to go ahead with services, and when Capuchins, Jesuits, and Theatines refused, the oligarchs expelled them. This quarrel almost flamed into a European war. When Paul tried to raise an army, England and Holland threatened to intervene in favor of Venice. Meanwhile a war of words was bitterly fought. Paolo Sarpi, a Servite who combined brilliant scholarship with a most peculiar notion of Catholic loyalty, wrote furiously against the Pope, while Baronius and St. Robert Bellarmine brought their vast learning into play to defend him. After a year of struggle, shrewd King Henry IV of France mediated to bring peace. Venice gave in as little as possible but enough to justify the Pope in releasing the republic from censure.

Wily King James of England also gave trouble to Paul. He issued a new oath of allegiance which, cunningly worded, was considered acceptable by some Catholics. Paul V had to condemn this oath twice, and even so, it made for division among the English Catholics.

A great patron of art, Paul V succeeded in having Carlo Maderna finally bring the construction of St. Peter's to a grandiose finish. Paul had one defect, nepotism Too fond of his relatives, he made the fortune of the Borghese family. He was, however, a broad-minded and energetic leader in mission activity. He did not discourage the daring innovations of men like Matteo Ricci and Robert de Nobili.

Paul V died of a stroke on January 28,1621.


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

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