The Council of Trent and the Papacy

  • Robert Bireley
Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)


On 13 October 1534, after a conclave of only two days, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese emerged as pope. As Paul III he governed the church until 1549, with one foot, as it were, in the Renaissance and the other in the movement for reform and renewal. Certainly his greatest achievement was the convocation and then the actual opening of the historic Council of Trent in 1545; this was a major step in the evolution of Catholic confessionalism. Born of a family of the Papal States, Farnese had been named a cardinal at the age of 23 by Pope Alexander VI way back in 1493, perhaps because of this pope’s liaison with his sister, the legendary beauty Giulia Farnese. Earlier popes legitimized several of his children. Even after his ordination to the priesthood in 1519, and a turn to a serious moral life, he continued to enjoy a Renaissance prelate’s style of life. His nepotism was flagrant. Shortly after his election he raised to the cardinalate two of his teen-age grandchildren, and a leading concern of his papacy was the acquisition of the Duchy of Parma in north Italy for his son Pierluigi, which in fact remained in the Farnese family for two centuries. His was the last successful effort of a pope to invest his family with a principality.


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Copyright information

© Robert Bireley, SJ 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Bireley
    • 1
  1. 1.Loyola University ChicagoUSA

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