Catholic Encyclopedia – Pope Gregory XIII

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Ugo Buoncompagni

Born at Bologna, 7 January 1502; died at Rome, 10 April 1585. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Bologna, from which he was graduated at an early age as doctor of canon and of civil law. Later, he taught jurisprudence at the same university, and had among his pupils the famous future cardinals, Alessandro Farnese, Cristoforo Madruzzi, Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Reginald Pole, Carlo Borromeo, and Stanislaus Hosius. In 1539 he came to Rome at the request of Cardinal Parizzio, and Paul III appointed him judge of the Capitol, papal abbreviator, and referendary of both signatures. In 1545 the same pope sent him to the Council of Trent as one of his jurists. On his return to Rome he held various offices in the Roman Curia under Julius III (1550-1555), who also appointed him prolegate of the Campagna in 1555. Under Paul IV (1555-1559) he accompanied Cardinal Alfonso Caraffa on a papal mission to Philip II in Flanders, and upon his return was appointed Bishop of Viesti in 1558. Up to this time he had not been ordained a priest. In 1559 the newly-elected pope, Pius IV, sent him as his confidential deputy to the Council of Trent, where he remained till its conclusion in 1563. Shortly after his return to Rome, the same pope created him Cardinal Priest of San Sisto in 1564, and sent him as legate to Spain to investigate the case of Archbishop Bartolomé Carranza of Toledo, who had been suspected of heresy and imprisoned by the Inquisition. While in Spain he was appointed secretary of papal Briefs, and after the election of Pius V, 7 Jan., 1566, he returned to Rome to enter upon his new office. After the death of Pius V on 1 May, 1572, Ugo Buoncompagni was elected pope on 13 May, 1572, chiefly through the influence of Cardinal Antoine Granvella, and took the name of Gregory XIII. At his election to the papal throne he had already completed his seventieth year, but was still strong and full of energy.

His youth was not stainless. While still at Bologna, a son, named Giacomo, was born to him of an unmarried woman. Even after entering the clerical state he was worldly-minded and fond of display. But from the time he became pope he followed in the footsteps of his holy predecessor, and was thoroughly imbued with the consciousness of the great responsibility connected with his exalted position. His election was greeted with joy by the Roman people, as well as by the foreign rulers. Emperor Maximilian II, the kings of France, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, the Italian and other princes sent their representatives to Rome to tender their obedience to the newly-elected pontiff. At the first consistory he ordered the Constitution of Pius V, which forbade the alienation of church property, to be read publicly, and pledged himself to carry into execution the decrees of the Council of Trent. He at once appointed a committee of cardinals, consisting of Borromeo, Palcotti, Aldobrandini, and Arezzo, with instructions to find out and abolish all ecclesiastical abuses; decided that the cardinals who were at the head of dioceses were not exempt from the Tridentine decree of episcopal residence; designated a committee of cardinals to complete the Index of Forbidden Books, and appointed one day in each week for a public audience during which everyone had access to him. In order that only the most worthy persons might be vested with ecclesiastical dignities, he kept a list of commendable men in and out of Rome, on which he noted their virtues and faults that came to his notice. The same care he exercised in the appointment of cardinals. Thirty-four cardinals were appointed during his pontificate, and in their appointment he always had the had the welfare of the Church in view. He cannot be charged with nepotism. Two of his nephews, Filippo Buoncompagni and Filippo Vastavillano, he created cardinals because he considered them worthy of the dignity; but when a third one aspired after the purple, he did not even grant him an audience. His son Giacomo he appointed castellan of Saint Angelo and gonfalonier of the Church, but refused him every higher dignity, although Venice enrolled him among its nobili and the King of Spain appointed him general of his army.

Like his holy predecessor, Gregory XIII spared no efforts to further an expedition against the Turks. With this purpose in view he sent special legates to Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and other countries, but the discord of the Christian princes among themselves, the peace concluded by the Venetians with the Turks, and the treaty effected by Spain with the Sultan, frustrated all his exertions in this direction.

For stemming the tide of Protestantism, which already had wrested entire nations from the bosom of the Church, Gregory XIII knew of no better means than a thorough training of the candidates for holy priesthood in Catholic philosophy and theology. He founded numerous colleges and seminaries at Rome and other suitable places and put most of them under the direction of the Jesuits. At least twenty-three such institutions of learning owe their existence or survival to the munificence of Gregory XIII. The first of these institutions that enjoyed the pope’s liberality was the German College at Rome, which for lack of funds was in danger of being abandoned. In a Bull dated 6 August, 1573, he ordered that no less than one hundred students at a time from Germany and its northern borderland should be educated in the German College, and that it should have an annual income of 10,000 ducats, to be paid, as far as necessary, out of the papal treasury. In 1574 he gave the church and the palace of Sant’ Apollinare to the institution, and in 1580 united the Hungarian college with it. The following Roman colleges were founded by Gregory XIII: the Greek college on 13 Jan., 1577; the college for neophytes, i.e. converted Jews and infidels, in 1577; the English college on 1 May, 1579; the Maronite college on 27 June, 1584. For the international Jesuit college (Collegium Romanum) he built in 1582 the large edifice known as the Collegio Romano which was occupied by the faculty and students of the Collegium Romanum (Gregorian University) until the Piedmontese Government declared it national property and expelled the Jesuits in 1870. Outside of Rome the following colleges were either founded or liberally endowed by Gregory XIII: the English college at Donai, the Scotch college at Pont-√†-Mousson, the papal seminaries at Graz, Vienna, Olmutz, Prague, Colosvar, Fulda, Augsburg, Dillingen, Braunsberg, Milan, Loreto, Fribourg in Switzerland, and three schools in Japan. In these schools numerous missionaries were trained for the various countries where Protestantism had been made the state religion and for the missions among the pagans in China, India, and Japan. Thus Gregory XIII at least partly restored the old faith in England and the northern countries of Europe, supplied the Catholics in those countries with their necessary priests, and introduced Christianity into the pagan countries of Eastern Asia. Perhaps one of the happiest events during his pontificate was his arrival at Rome of four Japanese ambassadors on 22 March, 1585. They had been sent by the converted kings of Bungo, Arima, and Omura, in Japan, to thank the pope for the fatherly care he had shown their country by sending them Jesuit missionaries who had taught them the religion of Christ.

In order to safeguard the Catholic religion in Germany, he instituted a special Congregation of Cardinals for German affairs, the so-called Congregatio Germanica, which lasted from 1573-1578. To remain informed of the Catholic situation in that country and keep in closer contact with its rulers, he erected resident nunciatures at Vienna in 1581 and at Cologne in 1582. By his Bull “Provisionis nostrae” of 29 Jan., 1579, he confirmed the acts of his predecessor Pius V, condemning the errors of Baius, and at the same time he commissioned the Jesuit, Francis of Toledo, to demand the abjuration of Baius. In the religious orders Gregory XIII recognized a great power for the conversion of pagans, the repression of heresy and the maintenance of the Catholic religion. He was especially friendly towards the Jesuits, whose rapid spread during the pontificate was greatly due to his encouragement and financial assistance. Neither did he neglect the other orders. He approved the Congregation of the Oratory in 1574, the Barnabites in 1579, and the Discaleed Carmalites in 1580. The Premonstratensians he honoured by canonizing their founder, Saint Norbert, in 1582.

Gregory XIII spared no efforts to restore the Catholic Faith in the countries that had become Protestant. In 1574 he sent the Polish Jesuit Warsiewicz to John III of Sweden in order to convert him to Catholicity. Being then unsuccessful, he sent another Jesuit, the Norwegian Lawrence Nielssen in 1576, who succeeded in converting the king on 6 May, 1578. The king, however, soon turned Protestant again from political motives. In 1581, Gregory XIII dispatched the Jesuit Antonio Possevino as nuncio to Russia, to mediate between Tsar Ivan IV and King Bathory of Poland. He not only brought about an amicable settlement between the two rulers, but also obtained for the Catholics of Russia the right to practice their religion openly. Gregory’s efforts to procure religious liberty for the Catholics of England were without avail. The world knows of the atrocities committed by Queen Elizabeth on many Catholic missionaries and laymen. No blame, therefore, attaches to Gregory XIII for trying to depose the queen by force of arms. As early as 1578 he sent Thomas Stukeley with a ship and an army of 800 men to Ireland, but the treacherous Stukeley joined his forces with those of King Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdulmelek of Morocco. Another papal expedition which sailed to Ireland in 1579 under the command of James Fitzmaurice, accompanied by Nicholas Sanders as papal nuncio, was equally unsuccessful. Gregory XIII had nothing whatever to do with the plot of Henry, Duke of Guise, and his brother, Charles, Duke of Mayenne, to assassinate the queen, and most probably knew nothing whatever about it.

Some historians have severely criticized Gregory XIII for ordering that the horrible massacre of the Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 be celebrated in Rome by a “Te Deum” and other marks of rejoicing. In defence of Gregory XIII it must be stated that he had nothing whatever to do with the massacre itself, and that he as well as Salviati, his nuncio in Paris, were kept in ignorance concerning the intended slaughter. The pope indeed participated in the Roman festivities, but he was probably not acquainted with the circumstances of the Parisian horrors and, like other European rulers, had been informed that the Huguenots had been detected in a conspiracy to kill the king and the whole royal family, and had been thus punished for their treacherous designs. But even if Gregory XIII was aware of all the circumstances of the massacre (which has never been proven), it must be borne in mind that he did not rejoice at the bloodshed, but at the suppression of a political and religious rebellion. That Gregory XIII did not approve of the massacre, but detested the cruel act and shed tears when he was apprised of it, is expressly stated even by the apostate Gregario Leti in his “Vita di Sisto V”, and by Beautome, a contemporary of Gregory XIII, in his “Vie de M. l’Amiral de Chastillon”. The medal which Gregory XIII had struck in memory of the event bears his effigy on the obverse, which ion the reverse under the legend Vgonotiorum Strages (overthrow of the Huguenots) stands an angel with cross and drawn sword, killing the Huguenots.

No other act of Gregory XIII has gained for him a more lasting fame than his reform of the Julian calendar which was completed and introduced into most Catholic countries in 1578. Closely connected with the reform of the calendar is the emendation of the Roman martyrology which was ordered by Gregory XIII in the autumn of 1580. The emendation was to consist chiefly in the restoration of the original text of Usuard’s martyrology, which was in common use at the time of Gregory XIII. He entrusted the learned Cardinal Sirleto with the difficult undertaking. The cardinal formed a committee, consisting of ten members, who assisted him in the work. The first edition of the new martyrology, which came out in 1582, was full of typographical errors; likewise the second edition of 1583. Both editions were suppressed by Gregory XIII, and in January, 1584, appeared a third and better edition under the title of “Martyrologium Romanum Gregorii XIII jussu editum” (Rome, 1583). In a brief, dated 14 January, 1584, Gregory XIII ordered that the new martyrology should supersede all others. Another great literary achievement of Gregory XIII is an official Roman edition of the Corpus juris canonici. Shortly after the conclusion of the Council of Trent, Pius IV had appointed a committee which was to bring out a critical edition of the Decree of Gratian. The committee was increased to thirty-five members (correctores Romani) by Pius V in 1566. Gregory XIII had been a member of it from the beginning. The work was finally completed in 1582. In the Briefs “Cum pro munere”, dated 1 July, 1580, and “Emendationem”, dated 2 June, 1582, Gregory XIII ordered that henceforth only the emended official text was to be used and that in the future no other text should be printed.

It has already been mentioned that Gregory XIII spent large sums for the erection of colleges and seminaries. No expense appeared too high to him, if only it was made for the benefit of the Catholic religion. For the education of poor candidates for the priesthood he spent two million sendi during his pontificate, and for the good of Catholicity he sent large sums of money to Malta, Austria, England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. In Rome he built the magnificent Gregorian chapel in the church of Saint Peter, and the Quirinal palace in 1580; a capacious granary in the Thermae of Diocletian in 1575, and fountains at the Piazza Navona, the Piazza del Pantheon, and the Piazza del Popolo. In recognition of his many improvements in Rome the senate and the people erected a statue in his honour on the Capitoline Hill, when he was still living.

The large sums of money spent in this manner necessarily reduced the papal treasury. Acting on the advice of Bonfigliuoto, the secretary of the Camera, he confiscated various baronial estates and castles, because some forgotten feudal liabilities to the papal treasury had not been paid, or because their present owners were not the rightful heirs. The barons were in continual fear lest some of their property would be wrested from them in this way. The result was that the aristocracy hated the papal government, and incited the peasantry to do the same. The papal influence over the aristocracy being thus weakened, the barons of the Romagna made war against each other, and a period of bloodshed ensued which Gregory XIII was helpless to prevent. Moreover, the imposition of port charges at Aneona and the levy of import taxes on Venetian goods by the papal government, crippled commerce to a considerable extent. The banditti who infested the Campagna were protected by the barons and the peasantry and became daily more bold. They were headed by young men of noble families, such as Alfonso Piccolomim, Roberto Malatesta, and others. Rome itself was filled with these outlaws, and the papal officers were always and everywhere in danger of life. Gregory was helpless against these lawless bands. Their suppression was finally effected by his rigorous successor, Sixtus V.

MLA Citation

  • Michael Ott. “Pope Gregory XIII”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 5 May 2012. Web. 23 September 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-pope-gregory-xiii/>