Biography – Pope Clement VIII – The Papal Library

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Clement VIII
1592-1605

Ippolyto Aldobrandini born 1535

Clement VIII, of a very illustrious Florentine family, was born on the 24th of February, 1535, in the city of Fano, where his father, Sylvester Aldobrandini, was pontifical governor, having been driven from Florence, where he had been secretary of state, by the enmity of Duke Alexander de' Medici. Ippolito studied jurisprudence and took the degree of doctor. At an early age he excelled in Greek and Latin poetry. At Rome he became consistorial auditor. Sixtus V –and it was a striking mark of confidence– made him datary on the 17th of May, 1585. On the 18th of December of the same year, the pope created Ippolito cardinal, and sent him as legate to Poland to solicit the liberation of Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, who was held prisoner by the Poles. The Holy See never ceases to take an interest in the sufferings of the unfortunate. The nuncio succeeded in his mission, and restored peace between Austria and Sigismund, who had succeeded Stephen Bathori.

After the funeral of Innocent IX, fifty-two electors entered into conclave on the 10th of January, 1592. In this conclave several parties arose: on the one side, the Montaltists, headed by Cardinal Montalto, nephew of Pope Sixtus V; and on the other side, the Spanish party. The latter showed a preference for Cardinal Santorio, who, on the 11th, was on the point of being elected by adoration. Thirty-five of the electors had given their votes; but cardinals Altemps, Gesualdi, and Colonna put a stop to the tumult which for several hours prevailed in the chapel. They constrained those who were clamoring for the adoration to consent to the ballot. Here Santorio, a fanatical partisan of the Spanish faction, had no more than thirty votes–five too few. But Providence had decreed the tiara to Aldobrandini. A single cardinal was here seen to exercise a sort of power of exclusion. Cancellieri thus relates the fact: "The cardinals were divided into two parties. Ascanius Colonna, desiring the elevation of Santorio, cardinal of San Severino, wished the electors to proceed by way adoration. The excitement of the two parties was so intense that the Spanish party shut themselves up in the hall of scrutiny, while the other party retired to the Pauline chapel, and everything seemed to menace scenes of violence. The tumult was such that the senior cardinals could not count the votes, which at that instant were sufficient–thirty-five. Ascanius received a slip of paper from his relative, Mark Antony Colonna. Ascanius read it, and exclaimed: 'Ascanius will not have San Severino for pope, because he is not the choice of God.' And he rushed from the chapel, in spite of the efforts of the other cardinals to detain him. The effect of this renunciation was so rapid that Santorio (San Severino) was at once excluded by a very great number of votes. Other candidates were proposed, but rejected. A cardinal suddenly named Aldobrandini. He was accepted with acclamation, and elected at noon, on the 19th of January, 1592.

"The electors had been impelled towards that choice, not only by the esteem in which they held Cardinal Aldobrandini, but also from his being only fifty-six years old; for all the cardinals observed that they had had to deplore the death three pontiffs whose united reigns had occupied only sixteen months."

Before accepting the dignity, which he had not contemplated, Aldobrandini demanded permission to approach the altar. Yielding to an impulse of sublime humility, he said, with an emotion that excited universal enthusiasm: "0 my God! let my tongue dry up, that I may not consent to this election, unless it be for the good of thy Church, which I love from the very bottom of my heart, and of Christendom, whose glory and prosperity I desire." This admirable manifestation of modesty greatly impressed the cardinals. They sent for the pontifical vestments. They almost forcibly seized the cardinal and attired him. He kept silence, but, when he saw them remove his red cassock, which he was never to see again, he exclaimed: "Give us back our beads and the office of the Blessed Virgin, which are the witnesses of our devotion." Aldobrandini could no longer withhold his consent, as he had used the papal first person plural: "Give us back our beads"; and he declared that he would take the name of Clement VIII. The name had once been given him by Saint Philip Neri, who predicted that he would one day become pope. On the 2nd of February the pope was ordained bishop by Cardinal Alphonsus Gesualdi, dean of the Sacred College, and then crowned by Cardinal Sforza, first deacon; and on the 12th of April he solemnly took possession of Saint John Lateran. Clement made the distribution (presbyterium) of the pieces of gold and silver, that not been made for some time previously.

When the pope had regulated some urgently important matters, he established a congregation under the title of The Visitation. It was to examine, in detail, all the churches, monasteries, colleges, hospitals, and brotherhoods of Rome. The first visit was made to Saint John Lateran, so that the example should strike all the administrators and warn them to bring under better regulation the affairs intrusted to them. On all sides divine worship was restored, and a strict decorum was re-established; abuses were corrected; the eye of the master was everywhere, and every subaltern knew it. The guardian was ever there, watchful, and determined to maintain order. Every one could make his complaint. There are many other countries where such visitations would be permanently useful. It is not easy to say how much could be profitably borrowed from Rome in the wholesome customs.

The constitution Graves et Diuturnas, of the 25th of November, 1592, instituted the exposition named of the Forty Hours in all the churches of Rome, so that the Holy Sacrament should be exposed day and night on every day in the year.

This pious institution, which Paul V renewed, by granting a great number of indulgences, on the 10th of May, 1606, was adopted in many cities, not only in Italy, but in many other nations. Moreover, it had been already known in many churches of the first order.

Two sons of the Elector of Bavaria at this time visited Rome, to offer, in the name of their father, their veneration to Pope Clement. The pontiff received them with tender affection, and in a consistory seated them next to the cardinals.

At this time died Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, one of the most famous captains of his time, who had commanded armies against Henry IV, King of France. Clement bewailed Farnese, and ordered magnificent funeral ceremonies for him in the Vatican Basilica.

The pontiff was also much afflicted by the death of Alphonsus Gonzaga, lord of Castelgiufredo, which was under pontifical protection.

The fatal custom of dueling, somewhat abated since the Council of Trent, again required the attention of the pope. Clement forbade those combats, under the severest penalties, by his constitution thirty, of the 17th of August, 1592, requiring duelists and seconds to be prosecuted. He also threatened to lay under interdict any places which by their law authorized or even tolerated dueling. He exhorted princes to enforce the execution of the measures prescribed by that bull, and severely to punish delinquents. Many sovereigns promised to put in practice, as far as they had power, those wise instructions; for at that time, in the habits of the people and in some remnants of the feudal law, there were obstacles that only religion could overcome.

About the year 1586 Sixtus V had erected into a religious order the Hospitallers, known as the Fate bene Fratelli. Clement, in 1592, restored the order to the position it held the under the reign of Pius V, so that it no longer was a religious order.

Clement's brief for the suppression was accepted in Italy, but not in Spain, where Philip II refused to give it the royal exequatur. The same occurred in Russia, in 1763, at the suppression of the Jesuits by the brief of Clement XIV. But this state of things did not last. Paul V, by two briefs, in 1611 and 1617, restored them to the dignity of a religious order, and inferred that the Spanish members had not ceased to be religious, although the brief of Clement VIII had not been received in Spain.

Meanwhile, the Holy Father, by letters of the 15th of April, 1592, commanded his legate to the League of Paris, Cardinal Philip Sega, to watch that the faith did not suffer in France, which had recognized a king who was Calvinist. On the other hand, Henry, gently urged by the Roman court, with all the delicacy that such circumstances required, and seeing that he could not easily hold the throne of France if he persisted in the errors of Calvinism, asked his Huguenot ministers if he could be saved in the event of his becoming a Catholic. They replied affirmatively. Then he said to them: "Certainly, then, it will be better that I shall go to heaven as King of France than only as King of Navarre." From that moment the prince received instructions in the dogmas of our religion from David du Perron, a former Calvinist, but sincerely converted to the faith.

The particulars of the negotiation tending to restore Henry to the bosom of the Church naturally find there place here.

We have already mentioned that a French agent, Arnaud d'Ossat, employed in the French king's embassy at Rome, had solicited from Pope Gregory XIV, on behalf of Louise of Lorraine, widow of Henry III, that solemn obsequies should be performed in honor of that prince, and that thus the excommunication should be revoked which had been pronounced against him by Sixtus V.

The papal absolution of King Henry IV "was thwarted," says D'Ossat, "by the Duke of Sesso, the Spanish ambassador, and by the Lorraine princes." The French Huguenots themselves, much attached as they were to Henry IV, whom they had assisted with both sword and purse, did not desire his reconciliation with the Holy See.

Henry IV, whose sincerity was beyond all doubt, attentively read D'Ossat's correspondence, which exposed all the difficulty, and he deemed it so prudent and judicious that he wrote to D'Ossat, announcing the departure of the Duke of Nevers for Rome, and requesting D'Ossat to act in concert with him.

Clement VIII congratulated D'Ossat, and told him that he should be pleased to treat with him, and that the selection of such a plenipotentiary could not but increase the favorable disposition of the Roman court. Meantime the king's ministry at Paris imagined that the French prelates could give absolution to the king at Paris, subject to the authority of the Holy Apostolic See.

The cardinal of Piacenza, legate in France, endeavored to prevent such an invalid absolution by a letter which he addressed to all the Catholics of the kingdom. In that letter the cardinal stated that Henry of , who styles himself King of France and Navarre, having called upon the French prelates to give him absolution, the legate believes it to be his duty to announce that the excommunication pronounced by Sixtus V against Henry is and still remains effectual and that the sovereign pontiff Clement alone can absolve the king from it.

Notwithstanding this notice, Henry IV allowed himself to be persuaded that he could make his abjuration in the hands of the Archbishop of Bourges, in the presence of Cardinal de Vendome and of seven or eight bishops. Chancellor de Chiverny says that the king determined to perform the ceremony in the abbey church of Saint Denis, in testimony that he desired to live and die, like the kings who are buried there, in the bosom of the Roman Church. As to the absolution, the archbishop pronounced it in these terms: "Saving the authority of the Holy See, I absolve thee f