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Pope Paul V

Paul V, né Camillo Borghese (Rome, September 17, 1550January 28, 1621) was Pope from May 16, 1605 until his death.

He was born as Camillo Borghese into the noble Borghese family of Siena which had recently fled to Rome, and ROMANUS appears in most of his inscriptions. He was a lawyer educated at Perugia and Padua. In June 1596 he was made cardinal and Cardinal-Vicar of Rome by Pope Clement VIII.

When Pope Leo XI died (May 8, 1605) Cardinal Borghese became Pope over a number of candidates including Caesar Baronius and Robert Bellarmine, his neutrality and distance from factionalism making him an ideal compromise candidate. In character he was very stern and unyielding, a lawyer rather than a diplomat, who defended the privileges of the Church to his utmost. His first act was to send home to their sees the bishops who were sojourning in Rome, for the Council of Trent had insisted that every bishop reside in his diocese.

Paul's insistence of ecclesiastical jurisdiction led to a number of quarrels between the Church and the secular governments of various states, notably Venice, where the exemption of the clergy from the jurisdiction of the civil courts was a sore point. Venice passed two laws obnoxious to Paul, one forbidding the alienation of real estate in favor of the clergy, the second demanding approval of the civil power for the building of new churches. Two priests had been found guilty and committed to prison. Paul insisted that they be released to the Church. The Venetian position was ably defended by a canon lawyer, Paolo Sarpi, who extended the matter to general principles defining separate secular and ecclesiastical spheres. In April 1606 the Pope took the step of excommunicating the entire government of Venice and placed a interdict on the city. All clergy sided with the city, however, with the exception of the Jesuits, the Theatines , and the Capuchins, who were expelled from Venetian territories. Masses continued to be said in Venice, and the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated with outstanding public pomp and magnificence, to the Pope's chagrin. Within a year (March 1607) the disagreement was mediated by France and Spain. The Serenissima refused to retract the laws, but asserted that Venice would conduct herself "with her accustomed piety." The Jesuits, considered subversive Papal agents, remained banned. No more could be expected. The Pope withdrew his censure.

Paul V's hard-edged Catholic diplomacy cut the ground from under moderate Catholics in England. His letter of July 9, 1606 to congratulate James I on his accession to the throne was three years late and seemed to English eyes merely a preamble to what followed, and his reference to the Gunpowder Plot, made against the life of the monarch and all the members of Parliament the previous November, was unfortunate, for papal agents were considered by the English to have been involved. But he prays James not to make the innocent Catholics suffer for the crime of a few. He promises to exhort all the Catholics of the realm to be submissive and loyal to their sovereign— in all things not opposed to the honor of God. Unfortunately the oath of allegiance James demanded of his subjects contained clauses to which no 17th century Catholic could in conscience subscribe: the oath of allegiance was solemnly condemned in a brief published a matter of weeks later (September 22, 1606, extended August 23, 1607). This condemnation served only to divide English Catholics. The other irritant in English relations was Cardinal Robert Bellarmine's letter to the English archpriest Blackwell, reproaching him for having taken the oath of allegiance in apparent disregard of his duty to the pope. The letter received enough circulation to be referred to in one of James's theological essays (1608), and Bellarmine was soon fencing in a pamphlet exchange with the King of England.

Paul met with Galileo Galilei in 1616 after Cardinal Bellarmine had, on his orders, warned Galileo not to hold or defend the heliocentric ideas of Copernicus. Whether there was also an order not to teach those ideas in any way has been a matter for controversy.

In Rome the Pope financed the completion of St. Peter's Basilica, and improved the Vatican Library. He had always encouraged Guido Reni. He canonized Charles Borromeo (November 1, 1610) and Frances of Rome . He beatified a number of individuals, including Ignatius Loyola, Philip Neri, Theresa of Avila, and Francis Xavier. Like many Popes he was also guilty of nepotism, and his nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese wielded enormous power on his behalf, consolidating the rise of the Borghese family.

Paul V was succeeded by Gregory XV.


  • James I, De Triplici Nodo, Triplex Cuneus, (his anonymous pamphlet encouraging loyalty to the Crown, accompanied by letters from Paul V about the Catholic Church's opinion of the Oath of Allegiance, and James' responses to them).
  • Stephen A. Coston, King James VI & I and Papal Opposition, 1998

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Last updated: 05-17-2005 03:48:44