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 Protestant Reformation. During his pontificate, and in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, new Catholic religious orders and societies, such as the Jesuits, the Barnabites, and the Congregation of the Oratory, attracted a popular following.
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. It is to Pope Paul III that Nicolaus Copernicus dedicated De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres).
|Bishop of Rome|
|Papacy began||13 October 1534|
|Papacy ended||10 November 1549|
|Ordination||26 June 1519|
2 July 1519|
by Leo X
20 September 1493 |
by Alexander VI
|Birth name||Alessandro Farnese|
29 February 1468|
Canino, Lazio, Papal States
10 November 1549 (aged 81)|
Rome, Papal States
|Partner||Silvia Ruffini (Mistress)|
Pier Luigi II Farnese|
|Coat of arms|
|Other popes named Paul|
|Papal styles of|
Pope Paul III
|Reference style||His Holiness|
|Spoken style||Your Holiness|
|Religious style||Holy Father|
Born in 1468 at Canino, Latium (then part of the Papal States), Alessandro Farnese was the oldest son of Pier Luigi I 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 family interests which brought about the most 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. 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. Farnese’s sister, Giulia was reputedly a mistress of Alexander VI and might have been instrumental in securing this appointment for her brother. For this reason, he was sometimes mockingly referred to as the "Borgia brother-in-law," just as Giulia was mocked as "the Bride of Christ." More disparagingly he was referred to as "Cardinal Fregnese" (translated as Cardinal Cunt). As Bishop of Parma, he came under the influence of his vicar-general, Bartolomeo Guidiccioni. This led to the future pope breaking off the relationship with his mistress and committing himself to reform in his Parma diocese. 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.
As a young cleric, Alessandro lived a notably dissolute life, taking for himself a mistress and having three sons and two daughters with her. By Silvia Ruffini, he fathered Pier Luigi Farnese, whom he created Duke of Parma; others included Ranuccio Farnese and Costanza Farnese. The elevation to the cardinalate of his grandsons, Alessandro Farnese, aged fourteen, and Guido Ascanio Sforza, aged sixteen, displeased the reform party and drew a protest from the emperor, but this was forgiven when, shortly after, he introduced into the Sacred College Reginald Pole, Gasparo Contarini, Jacopo Sadoleto, and Giovanni Pietro Caraffa, who became Pope Paul IV.
The fourth pope during the period of the Protestant Reformation, Paul III became the first to take active reform measures in response to Protestantism. Soon after his elevation, 2 June 1536, Paul III summoned a general council to meet at Mantua in the following May; but the opposition of the Protestant princes and the refusal of the Duke of Mantua to assume the responsibility of maintaining order frustrated the project. Paul III first deferred for a year and then discarded the whole project.
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, 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 Strasbourg 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 Emperor Charles V would not rest until the problems were grappled with 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. As a consequence of the extensive campaign against "idolatry" in England, culminating with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury, the Pope excommunicated Henry VIII on 17 December 1538 and issued an interdict.
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.
The second visible stage in the process becomes marked by the institution, or reorganization, in 1542, of the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
On another side, the Emperor was insisting that Rome should forward his designs towards a peaceable recovery of the German Protestants. Accordingly, the Pope despatched Giovanni Morone (not yet a cardinal) as nuncio to Hagenau and Worms, in 1540; while, in 1541, Cardinal Gasparo 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 27 May, 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.
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, on 15 March 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 Worms in 1545, 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 Protestant 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 cavalry, and considerable sums of money for the German war.
In Germany the campaign began in the west, where Archbishop of Cologne Hermann of Wied had converted to Protestantism in 1542. Emperor Charles began open warfare against the Protestant princes, estates, and cities allied in the Schmalkaldic League (see Philip of Hesse). Hermann was excommunicated on 16 April 1546, and was compelled by the Emperor to abdicate in February 1547. By the close of 1546, Charles V had subjugated South Germany. The victory at the Battle of Mühlberg, on 24 April 1547, established his imperial sovereignty everywhere in Germany, and the two leaders of the league were captured.
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.
In 1547 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. He decreed the second and final excommunication of King Henry VIII of England in December 1538. His efforts in Parma led to the War of Parma two years after his death.
In May–June 1537 Paul issued three documents: the bulls Sublimus Dei (also known as Unigenitus and Veritas ipsa); Altituda divini consolii; and Pastorale officium, 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 the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas 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. 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". Davis (1988) asserts it was annulled due to a dispute with the Spanish crown. 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 Las Casas and others who supported Indian rights.
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. Prein (2008) observes the difficulty in reconciling these decrees with "Inter Caetera".
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". 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-defence. 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. 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.
In 1537, he also issued In nomine Sancte, a bull in which he talks about evangelism and conversion tasks.
In 1545 Paul repealed an ancient law that allowed slaves to claim their freedom under the Emperor's statue on Capitoline Hill, in view of the number of homeless people and tramps in the city of Rome. 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. Stogre (1992) asserts that the lifting of restrictions was due to a shortage of slaves in Rome. In 1548 Paul authorized the purchase and possession of Muslim slaves in the Papal states.
Arguably the most significant artistic work produced during Paul's reign was Last Judgement by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Palace. Although the work was commissioned by Paul III’s predecessor, Pope Clement VII, following the latter's death in 1534 Paul renewed the commission and oversaw the project's completion 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 buildings, the palace imposes its presence on its surroundings in an expression of the family’s power and wealth. Alessandro's Villa Farnese at Caprarola has a similar presence. In 1546, after the death of Sangallo, Paul appointed the elderly Michelangelo to take over the supervision of the building of St. Peter's Basilica. Michelangelo was also commissioned by Paul to paint the 'Crucifixion of St. Peter' and the 'Conversion of St. Paul' (1542–50), Michelangelo's last frescoes, in the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican.
Paul III's artistic and architectural commissions were numerous and varied. The Venetian artist Titian painted a portrait of the Pope in 1543, and in 1546, the well-known portrait of Paul III with his grandsons Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma. Both are now in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples. The military fortifications in Rome and the Papal States were strengthened during his reign. He had Michelangelo relocate the ancient bronze of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Capitoline Hill, where it became the centerpiece to the Piazza del Campidoglio.
Paul III’s bronze tomb, executed by Guglielmo della Porta, is in St. Peter's.
|Ancestors of Pope Paul III|
Stendhal's novel La Chartreuse de Parme was inspired by an inauthentic Italian account of the dissolute youth of Alessandro Farnese. The character of Pope Paul III, played by Peter O'Toole in the Showtime series The Tudors, is loosely inspired by him. The young Alessandro Farnese is played by Diarmuid Noyes in the StudioCanal serial Borgia, and Cyron Melville in Showtime's The Borgias.
|Catholic Church titles|
Philippe de Luxembourg
| Cardinal-bishop of Frascati
François Guillaume de Castelnau-Clermont-Ludève
| Cardinal-bishop of Palestrina
Antonio Maria Ciocchi del Monte
| Cardinal-bishop of Sabina
| Cardinal-bishop of Porto
Antonio Maria Ciocchi del Monte
| Cardinal-bishop of Ostia
| Dean of the College of Cardinals
13 October 1534 – 10 November 1549