Monday, May 23, 2022

Renaissance Popes XV: Marcellus II

 Birth Name: Marcello Cervini degli Spannochi

Lived: 1501-1555

Regnal Name: Marcellus II

Regnal Life: April 1555 - May 1555

Cervini was born in Montalfano, near Macerata, and studied at Siena and Florence. He is said to have started his career in the priesthood through pressure from his father, Ricciardo Cervini, the Apostolic Treasurer of Ancona, who was an enthusiast of astrology and interpreted his son's horoscope as indicating that he would attain high ecclesiastical honors. This was not too difficult; the elder Cervini was a friend of Pope Clement VII, so he was able to get young Marcello a position in the Curia. While there he worked on an off-and-on-again project of the Renaissance papacy, calendar reform. In 1527, Marcello fled Rome at the Sack of Rome, but eventually received a position with Alessandro Cardinal Farnese, who became Pope Paul III in 1534. 

Cervini was ordained in 1535 and made an apostolic protonotary, and in 1539, while he was on a diplomatic mission, Paul III made him a cardinal. He continued to do diplomatic work for the Pope, and became active in Renaissance humanist circles. When Paul III finally managed to get the Council of Trent up and running, Cervini was chosen as papal legate along with Cardinal Pole and Cardinal Del Monte. When the council settled on 'parallel decrees', paralleling doctrinal decrees with reformational decrees,  Del Monte primarily handled the reform side, Cervini largely handled the side of the council devoted to doctrine. Cervini did not have a background that focused all that much on theology, but he had an interest in patristics and played a significant role in the drafting of the decrees on Scripture and justification. Some of his work consisted in helping bishops track down books that they needed consult; his humanist background meant that he already had a strong commitment to going back to original sources, and had connections to facilitate doing so. Thus it is perhaps unsurprising that in 1550 Julius III (who of course was Del Monte) appointed him Librarian of the Holy Roman Church; in that position he oversaw a significant expansion of the library. He also used his position to encourage and aid scholars and artists.

The papal conclave when Julius died was as divided as the several previous conclaves had been, but the cardinals, wanting to avoid the previous deadlock, agreed from the beginning on an election capitulation in which they all agreed that, whoever was elected pope, they would maintain neutrality in European politics and avoid going to war against any of the Christian powers. Once that was agreed, the election became easy. Charles had attempted to exclude Cervini from consideration, but the Imperial faction of the cardinals did not think it worth fighting when the French faction proposed Cervini as an alternative to their first choice, Cardinal Este (who was suspected by Cardinal Carafa of trying to buy votes so lost the vote of the stricter reformers); Cervini was well respected by both sides. So he was elected and became Marcellus II. It was already the beginning of Holy Week when he was elected, so he cut short most of the ceremonial involved in becoming pope in order to participate. The money that was saved from this economy he split into two portions, one for the needs of the Holy See and one to be distributed to the poor. He clearly had an intense ambition to expand the reform of the Church. He set about having all of the reform documents that had been issued before gathered up and collated so that further plans for reform could build on what had already been done, or complete what had not been completed. As further components of his very preliminary plans for reform, he made clear that he intended to enforce residency on bishops, extend the influence of the Jesuits, require Jews to distinguish themselves from Christians, and add sodomy to the list of crimes investigated by the Inquisition. 

How far any of this would have gone, or what further turns and modifications might have been, is unknown. He had had occasional had bouts of sickness in the previous years, and as Holy Week advanced, he grew more and more ill. Others warned him not to overwork himself, but he largely ignored them. He died in the early morning of May 1,1555,  having been pope for less than twenty-two days.

It can be argued that the death of Marcellus was one of the most significant factors for the future course of Renaissance reform. Marcellus was zealous in what he considered the work of reform, but his zeal was often tempered by his humanist background, his love of art and literature. His natural instinct had always been to find ways to cooperate with people. He could also have been counted on to work hard to maintain political neutrality. The pope who succeeded him was from a different mold entirely: a strict reformer with little interest in art or literature, a forceful personality, the kind who is not inclined to be moderate and is not particularly concerned about making enemies, out of an absolute conviction of being right. On the other hand, while Marcellus's reforming plans were big, we do not know if he would have been able to follow through on them. His successor, on the other hand, was the kind of man who would take a sledgehammer to anything that stood in the way of his plans.