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Paul III
Tizian 083b.jpg
Papacy began 13 October 1534
Papacy ended 10 November 1549
Predecessor Clement VII
Successor Julius III
Personal details
Birth name Alessandro Farnese
Born 29 February 1468(1468-02-29)
Canino, Lazio, Papal States
Died 10 November 1549 (aged 81)
Rome, Papal States
Other Popes named Paul

Pope Paul III (29 February 1468 – 10 November 1549), born Alessandro Farnese, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1534 to his death in 1549. He came to the papal throne in an era following the sack of Rome in 1527 and rife with uncertainties in the Catholic Church following the Reformation. During his reign, and in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, new Catholic religious orders and societies, such as the Jesuits, the Theatines, the Barnabites and the Congregation of the Oratory, attracted a popular following and he convened the Council of Trent in 1545. He was a significant patron of the arts and employed nepotism to advance the power and fortunes of his family.

Early life and career


Alessandro Farnese as a cardinal, by Raphael, 1509-1511 (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples).

Born in Canino, Latium (then part of the Papal States), Alessandro Farnese was the oldest son of Pier Luigi Farnese, Signore di Montalto (1435-1487) and his wife Giovanna Caetani, a member of the Caetani family which had also produced Pope Boniface VIII. The Farnese family had prospered over the centuries but it was Alessandro's ascendency to the papacy and his dedication to furthering family interests which saw the vastly significant increase in the family's wealth and power.

Alessandro's humanist education was at the University of Pisa and the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici.[1] Initially trained as an apostolic notary, he joined the Roman Curia in 1491 and in 1493 Pope Alexander VI appointed him Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano.[2] Pope Alexander's mistress, Giulia, was Farnese's sister; and he was sometimes mockingly referred to as the "Borgia brother-in-law." Under Pope Clement VII (1523–34) he became Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and dean of the College of Cardinals, and on the death of Clement VII in 1534, was elected as Pope Paul III.

A patron of the arts and family interests

File:Ascanio Maria Sforza Visconti.jpg

Cardinal Ascanio Sforza

One of the few popes to have fathered children before his election, he had four illegitimate offspring. By Silvia Ruffini, he fathered Pier Luigi Farnese, whom he created Duke of Parma; others included Ranuccio Farnese and Costanza Farnese. His first appointment on the 18 December 1534, was to make cardinals of his grandsons; at the time Alessandro Farnese and Guido Ascanio Sforza were aged fourteen and sixteen years respectively. Subsequent appointments included Gasparo Contarini, Sadoleto, Reginald Pole, and Giovanni Pietro Carafa, who became Pope Paul IV.

One of the most significant artistic works of his reign was the execution of the Last Judgement by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace. Although the commission had originated with Paul's predecessor it was finished in 1541.

As a cardinal, Alessandro had begun construction of a palace, the Palazzo Farnese, in central Rome. On his election to the papacy, the size and magnificence of this building programme was increased to reflect his change in status. The palace was initially designed by the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, received further architectural refinement from Michelangelo and was completed by Giacomo della Porta. Like other Farnese family building projects, the palace imposes its presence on its surroundings in an expression of the family's power and wealth and his Villa Farnese at Caprarola has a similar presence. In 1546, following the death of Sangallo, he appointed the elderly Michelangelo to take over the supervision of the building of St. Peters. Michelangelo was also commissioned by the Pope to paint the 'Crucifixion of St. Peter' and the 'Conversion of St. Paul' (1542–50), his last frescoes, in Pauline Chapel in the Vatican Palace.

Pope Paul III with his cardinal-nephew Alessandro Cardinal Farnese (left) and his other grandson (right), Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma

Paul's artistic and architectural commissions were numerous and varied. The Venetian artist Titian painted a portrait of the Pope in 1543 and the well-known portrait of the Pope with his grandsons Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma (1546), both now in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples. The military fortifications in Rome and the papal states were strengthened during his reign.[3] He had Michelangelo relocate the ancient bronze of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Capitoline Hill where it would become the centrepiece to the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Paul III's bronze tomb, executed by Giuliegmo della Porta, is in St. Peters

Politics and religion during the papacy of Paul III

Styles of
{{{papal name}}}
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Paul III was in earnest in the matter of improving the ecclesiastical situation, and on 2 June 1536, he issued a papal bull convoking a general council to sit at Mantua in 1537. But at the very start the German Protestant estates declined to send any delegates to a council in Italy, while the duke of Mantua himself set down such large requirements that Paul III first deferred for a year and then discarded the whole project.

On 2 June 1537 Paul III promulgated the papal bull Sublimus Dei against the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the continent of America.

In 1536, Paul III invited nine eminent prelates, distinguished by learning and piety alike, to act in committee and to report on the reformation and rebuilding of the Church. In 1537 they turned in their celebrated Consilium de emendenda ecclesia (in J. le Plat, Monumenta ad historiam Concilii Tridentini, ii. 596–597, Leuven, 1782), exposing gross abuses in the Curia, in the church administration and public worship; and proffering many a bold and earnest word on behalf of abolishing such abuses. This report was printed not only at Rome, but at Strasburg and elsewhere.

But to the Protestants it seemed far from thorough; Martin Luther had his edition (1538) prefaced with a vignette showing the cardinals cleaning the Augean stable of the Roman Church with foxtails instead of brooms. Yet the Pope was in earnest when he took up the problem of reform. He clearly perceived that the emperor, Charles V would not rest until the problems were grappled in earnest, and a council was an unequivocal procedure that should leave no room for doubt of his own readiness to make changes. Yet it is clear that the Concilium bore no fruit in the actual situation, and that in Rome no results followed from the committee's recommendations.

On the other hand, serious political complications resulted. In order to vest his grandson Ottavio Farnese with the dukedom of Camerino, Paul forcibly wrested the same from the duke of Urbino (1540). He also incurred virtual war with his own subjects and vassals by the imposition of burdensome taxes. Perugia, renouncing its obedience, was besieged by Paul's son, Pier Luigi, and forfeited its freedom entirely on its surrender. The burghers of Colonna were duly vanquished, and Ascanio was banished (1541). After this the time seemed ripe for annihilating heresy.

It was not foreseen at Rome in 1540, when the Church officially recognized the young society forming about Ignatius of Loyola, (founder of the Society of Jesus), what large results this new organization was destined to achieve; yet a deliberate and gradual course of action against Protestantism dates from this period. The second visible stage in the process becomes marked by the institution, or reorganization, in 1542, of the Holy Office (see Inquisition).

On another side, the Emperor was insisting that Rome should forward his designs toward a peaceable recovery of the German Protestants. Accordingly, the Pope despatched Cardinal Morone as nuncio to Hagenau and Worms, in 1540; while, in 1541, Cardinal Contarini took part in the adjustment proceedings at the Conference of Regensburg. It was Contarini who led to the stating of a definition in connection with the article of justification in which occurs the famous formula "by faith alone are we justified," with which was combined, however, the Roman Catholic doctrine of good works. At Rome, this definition was rejected in the consistory of May 27, and Luther declared that he could accept it only provided the opposers would admit that hitherto they had taught differently from what was meant in the present instance.

Ranuccio Farnese was made cardinal by Paul III at the age of 15.

The general results of the conference and the attitude of the Curia, including its rejection of Contarini's propositions, shows a definite avoidance of an understanding with the Protestants. All that could henceforth be expected of Paul was that he would co-operate in the violent suppression of heretics in Germany, as he had done in Italy, by creating an arm of the revived Inquisition for their annihilation.

Yet, even now, and particularly after the Regensburg Conference had proved in vain, the Emperor did not cease to insist on convening the council, the final result of his insistence being the Council of Trent, which, after several postponements, was finally convoked by the bull Laetare Hierusalem, March 15, 1545. Meanwhile, after the peace of Crespy (September 1544), the situation had so shaped itself that Emperor Charles V (1519–56) began to put down Protestantism by force. Pending the diet of 1545 in Worms, the emperor concluded a covenant of joint action with the papal legate, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Paul III was to aid in the projected war against the German Evangelical princes and estates. The prompt acquiescence of Paul III in the war project was probably grounded on personal motives. The moment now seemed opportune for him, since the Emperor was sufficiently preoccupied in the German realm, to acquire for his son Pier Luigi the duchies of Parma and Piacenza. Although these belonged to the Papal States, Paul III thought to overcome the reluctance of the Cardinals by exchanging the duchies for the less valuable domains of Camerino and Nepi. The Emperor agreed, because of his prospective compensation to the extent of 12,000 infantry, 500 mounted troops, and considerable sums of money.

In Germany the campaign began in the west, where Protestant movements had been at work in the archbishopric of Cologne since 1542. The Reformation was not a complete success there, because the city council and the majority of the chapter opposed it; whereas on 16 April 1546, Hermann of Wied was excommunicated, his rank forfeited, and he was, in February, 1547, compelled by the Emperor to abdicate.

The Farnese coat of arms or stemma on the facade of the Farnese Palace in Rome

In the meantime open warfare had begun against the Evangelical princes, estates, and cities allied in the Schmalkaldic League (see Philip of Hesse). By the close of 1546, Charles V succeeded in subjugating South Germany, while the victory at the Battle of Muhlberg, on 24 April 1547, established his imperial sovereignty everywhere in Germany and delivered into his hands the two leaders of the league.

But while north of the Alps, in virtue of his preparations for the Augsburg Interim and its enforcement, the Emperor was widely instrumental in recovering Germany to Roman Catholicism, the Pope now held aloof from him because Charles V himself had stood aloof in the matter of endowing Pier Luigi with Parma and Piacenza, and the situation came to a total rupture when the imperial vice-regent, Ferrante Gonzaga, proceeded forcibly to expel Pier Luigi.

The Pope's son was assassinated at Piacenza, and Paul III believed that this had not come to pass without the emperor's foreknowledge. In the same year, however, and after the death of Francis I of France (1515–47), with whom the Pope had once again sought an alliance, the stress of circumstances compelled him to do the Emperor's will and accept the ecclesiastical measures adopted during the Interim. With reference to the assassinated prince's inheritance, the restitution of which Paul III demanded ostensibly in the name and for the sake of the Church, the Pope's design was thwarted by the Emperor, who refused to surrender Piacenza, and by Pier Luigi's heir in Parma, Ottavio Farnese.

In consequence of a violent altercation on this account with Cardinal Farnese, Paul III, at the age of eighty-one years, became so overwrought that an attack of sickness ensued from which he died, 10 November 1549.

Paul III proved unable to suppress the Protestant Reformation, although it was during his pontificate that the foundation was laid for the Counter-Reformation.

Pope Paul III and slavery

In May-June 1537 Paul issued three documents, the bulls "Sublimus Dei" (also known as Unigenitus and Veritas ipsa), "Altituda divini consolii" along with "Pastorale officium", the latter the brief for the execution of "Sublimus Dei". "Altituda divini consolii" was essentially a bull to settle a difference between the Franciscans and Dominicans over baptism, but "Sublimus Dei" is described by Prein (2008) as the "Magna Carta" for Indian human rights in its declaration that the Indians were human beings and they were not to be robbed of their freedom or possessions. "Pastorale officium" declared automatic excommunication for anyone who failed to abide by the new ruling.[4] Stogre (1992) notes that "Sublimus Dei" is not present in Denzinger, the authoritative compendium of official teachings of the Catholic Church, and that the executing brief for it ("Pastorale officium") was annulled the following year in "Non Indecens Videtur".[5] Davis (1988) asserts it was annulled due to a dispute with the Spanish crown.[6] The Council of The West Indies and the Crown concluded that the documents broke their patronato rights and the Pope withdrew them, though they continued to circulate and be quoted by La Casas and others who supported Indian rights.[7]

According to Falkowski (2002) "Sublimus Dei" had the effect of revoking the bull of Alexander VI "Inter Caetera" but still leaving the colonizers the duty of converting the native people.[8] Prein (2008) observes the difficulty in reconciling these decrees with "Inter Caetra".[9]

Father Gustavo Gutierrez describes "Sublimus Dei" as the most important papal document relating to the condition of native Indians and that it was addressed to all Christians.[10] Maxwell (1975) notes that the bull did not change the traditional teaching that the enslavement of Indians was permissible if they were considered "enemies of Christendom" as this would be considered by the Church as a "just war". He further argues that the Indian nations had every right to self-defense.[11] Stark (2003) describes the bull as "magnificent" and believes the reason that, in his opinion, it has belatedly come to light is due to the neglect of Protestant historians.[12] Falola notes that the bull related to the native populations of the New World and did not condemn the transatlantic slave trade stimulated by the Spanish monarchy and the Holy Roman Emperor.[13]

In 1545 Paul repealed an ancient law that allowed slaves to claim their freedom under the Emperor's statue on Capital Hill, in view of the number of homeless people and tramps in the city of Rome.[14] The decree included those who had become Christians after their enslavement and those born to Christian slaves. The right of inhabitants of Rome to publicly buy and sell slaves of both sexes was affirmed.[15] Stogre (1992) asserts that the lifting of restrictions was due to a shortage of slaves in Rome.[16] In 1548 he authorized the purchase and possession of Muslim slaves in the Papal states.[17]

In fiction

In the Showtime series The Tudors, Peter O'Toole plays Pope Paul III.[18]


  • "The problem of slavery in Western culture", David Brion Davis, Oxford University Press US, 1988, ISBN 0195056396
  • "Indigenous peoples and human rights", Patrick Thornberry, Manchester University Press, 2002, ISBN 0719037948
  • "Slavery and the Catholic Church,The history of Catholic teaching concerning the moral legitimacy of the institution of slavery", John Francis Maxwell, 1975 , Chichester Barry-Rose, ISBN 0859920151
  • "The Popes and Slavery", Father Joel S Panzer, The Church In History Centre, 22 April 2008 [1], retrieved 9 August 2009
  • "That the world may believe: the development of Papal social thought on aboriginal rights", Michael Stogre S.J, Médiaspaul, 1992, ISBN 2890395499
  • "The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery", Rodney Stark, Christianity Today, 7 January 2003 [2]
  • "Encyclopedia of the middle passage", Toyin Falola, Amanda Warnock,Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 0313334803
  • "The problem of slavery in Western culture", David Brion Davis, Oxford University Press US, 1988, ISBN 0195056396
  • "That the world may believe: the development of Papal social thought on aboriginal rights", Michael Stogre S.J, Médiaspaul, 1992, ISBN 2890395499
  • "Religions and the abolition of slavery - a comparative approach", W. G. Clarence-Smith [3], Professor of the Economic History of Asia and Africa, University of London, retrieved 11 August 2009 [4]
  • "The Encyclopedia Of Christianity", Volume 5, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, ISBN 080282417X
  • "Christianity in the Caribbean: essays on church history", Armando Lampe, 2001,University of the West Indies Press,ISBN 9766400296
  • "Slavery and the Catholic Church", John Francis Maxwell, Barry Rose Publishers, 1975


  1. Verellen Till R. Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) Oxford Art Online
  2. Farnese’s sister, Giulia was reputedly a mistress of Alexander VI and may have been instrumental in securing this apppointment for her brother.
  3. Verellen Till R. , ibid.
  4. "The Encyclopedia Of Christianity", p. 212
  5. Stogre, p. 115, fn. 133
  6. "The problem of slavery in Western culture, P. 170, fn. 9"
  7. Lampe, p. 17
  8. Thornberry 2002, p. 65, fn. 21
  9. "The Encyclopedia Of Christianity", p. 212
  10. Father Joel S Panzer, 2008
  11. Stogre, p. 115-116
  12. Stark 2003
  13. Falola, p. 107, see also Maxwell , p. 73
  14. "The problem of slavery in Western culture, P. 56"
  15. Noonan, p. 79, Stogre, p. 116
  16. Stogre, p. 116
  17. Clarence-Smith
  18. Pope Paul III played by Peter O'Toole

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Philippe de Luxembourg
Cardinal-bishop of Frascati
Succeeded by
François Guillaume de Castelnau-Clermont-Ludève
Preceded by
Francesco Soderini
Cardinal-bishop of Palestrina
Succeeded by
Antonio Maria Ciocchi del Monte
Preceded by
Niccolò Fieschi
Cardinal-bishop of Sabina
Succeeded by
Pietro Accolti
Preceded by
Domenico Grimani
Cardinal-bishop of Porto
Succeeded by
Antonia Maria Ciocchi del Monte
Preceded by
Niccolò Fieschi
Cardinal-bishop of Ostia
Succeeded by
Giovanni Piccolomini
Preceded by
Niccolo Fieschi
Dean of the College of Cardinals
Succeeded by
Giovanni Piccolomini
Preceded by
Clement VII
Succeeded by
Julius III

Popes of the Roman Catholic Church
PeterLinusAnacletusClement IEvaristusAlexander ISixtus ITelesphorusHyginusPius IAnicetusSoterEleuterusVictor IZephyrinusCallixtus IUrban IPontianAnterusFabianCorneliusLucius IStephen ISixtus IIDionysiusFelix IEutychianCaiusMarcellinusMarcellus IEusebiusMiltiadesSilvester IMarkJulius ILiberiusDamasus ISiriciusAnastasius IInnocent IZosimusBoniface ICelestine ISixtus IIILeo IHilariusSimpliciusFelix IIIGelasius IAnastasius IISymmachusHormisdasJohn IFelix IVBoniface IIJohn IIAgapetus ISilveriusVigiliusPelagius IJohn IIIBenedict IPelagius IIGregory ISabinianBoniface IIIBoniface IVAdeodatus IBoniface VHonorius ISeverinusJohn IVTheodore IMartin IEugene IVitalianAdeodatus IIDonusAgathoLeo IIBenedict IIJohn VCononSergius IJohn VIJohn VIISisinniusConstantineGregory IIGregory IIIZacharyStephen IIPaul IStephen IIIAdrian ILeo IIIStephen IVPaschal IEugene IIValentineGregory IVSergius IILeo IVBenedict IIINicholas IAdrian IIJohn VIIIMarinus IAdrian IIIStephen VFormosusBoniface VIStephen VIRomanusTheodore IIJohn IXBenedict IVLeo VSergius IIIAnastasius IIILandoJohn XLeo VIStephen VIIJohn XILeo VIIStephen VIIIMarinus IIAgapetus IIJohn XIILeo VIIIBenedict VJohn XIIIBenedict VIBenedict VIIJohn XIVJohn XVGregory VSilvester IIJohn XVIIJohn XVIIISergius IVBenedict VIIIJohn XIXBenedict IXSilvester IIIBenedict IXGregory VIClement IIBenedict IXDamasus IILeo IXVictor IIStephen IXNicholas IIAlexander IIGregory VIIVictor IIIUrban IIPaschal IIGelasius IICallixtus IIHonorius IIInnocent IICelestine IILucius IIEugene IIIAnastasius IVAdrian IVAlexander IIILucius IIIUrban IIIGregory VIIIClement IIICelestine IIIInnocent IIIHonorius IIIGregory IXCelestine IVInnocent IVAlexander IVUrban IVClement IVGregory XInnocent VAdrian VJohn XXINicholas IIIMartin IVHonorius IVNicholas IVCelestine VBoniface VIIIBenedict XIClement VJohn XXIIBenedict XIIClement VIInnocent VIUrban VGregory XIUrban VIBoniface IXInnocent VIIGregory XIIMartin VEugene IVNicholas VCallixtus IIIPius IIPaul IISixtus IVInnocent VIIIAlexander VIPius IIIJulius IILeo XAdrian VIClement VIIPaul IIIJulius IIIMarcellus IIPaul IVPius IVPius VGregory XIIISixtus VUrban VIIGregory XIVInnocent IXClement VIIILeo XIPaul VGregory XVUrban VIIIInnocent XAlexander VIIClement IXClement XInnocent XIAlexander VIIIInnocent XIIClement XIInnocent XIIIBenedict XIIIClement XIIBenedict XIVClement XIIIClement XIVPius VIPius VIILeo XIIPius VIIIGregory XVIPius IXLeo XIIIPius XBenedict XVPius XIPius XIIJohn XXIIIPaul VIJohn Paul IJohn Paul IIBenedict XVIFrancis

This article includes content derived from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1914, which is in the public domain.

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