Contarini, Gasparo

views updated May 14 2018


CONTARINI, GASPARO (14831542), Venetian statesman, author of philosophical and theological works, proponent of Roman Catholic church reform, and cardinal. Born in Venice on October 16, 1483, he died in Bologna on August 24, 1542. Belonging to an ancient patrician clan, Contarini received a solid education first in Venice and then, from 1501 to 1509, at the University of Padua, where he studied philosophy, mathematics, and theology. In 1511, during a period of inner turmoil and search for personal vocation, he arrived at the conviction that humankind is justified before God by faith, not works. This belief, similar to Martin Luther's, later enabled him to deal sympathetically with Protestantism.

His career in the service of Venice began in 1518. Among its highlights were embassies to Emperor Charles V from 1521 to 1525, and to Pope Clement VII from 1528 to 1530. Dispatches from both missions show the development of Contarini's considerable diplomatic skill. Between 1530 and 1535 he was a member of the Venetian government's inner circle, holding high office almost continuously, including that of the head of the Council of Ten. This period also saw the completion of his best-known work, De magistratibus et respublica Venetorum, which contributed to the widespread diffusion of the idea of Venice as a perfectly ordered state.

On May 21, 1535, Pope Paul III appointed Contarini cardinal. He became the center of a group of reformers at the papal court, heading a commission to propose reforms in the church before the calling of a general council. As a member of subsequent commissions for the reform of various curial offices, he was an insistent spokesman for the necessity of removing abuses and clashed with his conservative colleagues. In January 1541, he was chosen as papal legate to the religious colloquy between Catholics and Protestants in Regensburg. In an unsuccessful effort to break down the differences between the two confessions, Contarini proposed a theory of double justification. It was eventually rejected by both sides. He spent the last months of his life as papal legate in Bologna, suspected by intransigents in Rome of having been too accommodating to Protestants and of leaning toward their ideas. Contarini remains perhaps the most attractive personality among Catholic reform thinkers before the Council of Trent.


Franz Dittrich's Gasparo Contarini (Braunsberg, 1885) is still the fullest biography. Contarini's works have been issued under the titles Gasparis Contarini cardinalis opera (1571; microfilm reprint, Rome, 1964) and Regesten und Briefe des Cardinals Gasparo Contarini, 14831542, edited by Franz Dittrich (Braunsberg, 1881). Useful studies include Hubert Jedin's "Gasparo Contarini," in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. 13 (Paris, 1956), pp. 772784; James B. Ross's "The Emergence of Gasparo Contarini: A Bibliographical Essay," Church History 41 (1972): 2246; and Gigliola Fragnito's "Gasparo Contarini," in Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, vol. 28 (Rome, 1983), pp. 172192.

Elisabeth G. Gleason (1987)

Contarini, Gasparo

views updated May 11 2018


Venetian statesman, lay theologian, and reform cardinal; b. Venice, Oct. 16, 1483; d. Bologna, Aug. 24, 1542. At the University of Padua (150109), he studied philosophy and philology, natural sciences, and theology. In recognition of his scholarship, he was later appointed to the highest post of the university as reformatore dello studio. In spite of his proclivity for scholarship, he entered business life and public service. This descendant of a wealthy and politically prominent family, which had supplied Venice with numerous church dignitaries, magistrates, ambassadors, and six doges, began his public career in 1518 as a surveyor and subsequently held all major offices, except those of procurator and doge.

Diplomatic Skill. He served as an ambassador at the imperial court of Charles V (152025), becoming acquainted

at first hand with German religious problems, and at the papal court of clement vii (152830). In both instances he was charged with the delicate and thankless task of justifying Venice's oppositional policies to the court to which he was accredited. Contarini's common sense and optimism, which enabled him to gloss over contradictions, and his ability to compromise gracefully, inspired confidence in him even on his opponents' side. A grateful Venice bestowed upon him one high position after the other, and Charles V requested his mediating participation, as a papal legate, in the religious talks of Regensburg (1541). Contarini submitted to the Venetian senate the customary comprehensive ambassadorial reports, distinguished by his astute observations and crisp style [see E. Alberi, ed., Le Relazioni degli Ambasciatori veneti al Senato Florence, 1.2 (1840) and 2.3 (1846)]. In 1524 he wrote a noteworthy political science text on his native city, De magistratibus et republica Venetorum (Paris 1543), skillfully combining description with analysis and theory with practice.

Advocate of Church Reform. The Venetian statesman was as articulately loyal to the Church as he was to his city-state. Although he was appalled by the ecclesiastical abuses and the low level to which the Church had fallen, he was convinced, in his optimistic and pragmatic way of thinking, that a reform could effect its complete rehabilitation. A year before Luther posted his 95 theses, Contarini dealt with a major aspect of reform in his De officio episcopi (1516). Written for his friend Pietro Lippomano on becoming bishop of Verona, he listed the shortcomings of the clergy and outlined the ideal behavior of a bishop as a principal factor to remedy such evil conditions. Frankly acknowledging unsavory conditions, and broadmindedly recognizing virtue in certain views of Luther, Contarini defended the divinely ordained office of the pope, whether under attack by Venetian senators (De potestate pontificis, 153035) or by the Protestants (Confutatio articulorum seu quaestionum Lutheranarum, 153035).

This outstanding lay theologian, who spoke more forcefully on behalf of the Church than its own ecclesiastics, was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Paul III on May 21, 1535. He became the center and driving force of reform, and advised the pope on the appointment of other reform-minded men to the cardinalate. He pressed for specific reform measures in the administrative departments of the Curia and ceaselessly urged the calling together of a Church council. As chairman of the newly created Reform Committee (1536), he was responsible for the memorandum Consilium de emendanda Ecclesia, which he read before the pope and cardinals (March 9, 1537). A joltingly frank criticism of prevailing ecclesiastical malpractices, the document made specific disciplinary recommendations to erase them. As bishop of Cividale di Belluno (appointed Nov. 23, 1536), Contarini carried out the recommended reforms in his diocese. He also strongly supported papal recognition of the Jesuit Order (1540) as a means of furthering reform. For reform-minded laymen who, like himself, might be named to administer episcopal sees, he wrote De sacramentis Christianae legis (1540), to impart an understanding of the Sacraments.

Formula of Double Justification. Contarini's patient attempts to mediate the differences between Catholics and Lutherans at the religious talks of Regensburg in 1541the last serious "professional" attempt to settle the German religious cleavage peacefullyended in failure. Despite his diplomatic skill, which led initially to compromises acceptable to both sides, the larger issues concerning dogma (justification), the Sacraments (transubstantiation), and the hierarchical order of the Church could not be resolved. Contarini's compromise formulation of the process of double justification (Epistola de justificatione, 1541), stressing iusticia imputata, as had Luther, over, but without abandoning, iusticia inhaerens, was rejected by both sides. The talks were abandoned on May 22, 1541. Although his stand on justification was severely criticized, Paul III continued to value his counsel and appointed him cardinal legate at Bologna. He remained there until his death, continuing to advocate and work toward a general Church council.

Bibliography: Opera (Paris 1571); Regesten und Briefe des Cardinals Gasparo Contarini, ed. f. dittrich (Braunsberg 1881). h. jedin, ed., Contarini und Camaldoli (Rome 1953); Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:4950; Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 13:771784. f. hÜnermann, ed., Gasparo Contarini, Gegenreformatorische Schriften (Corpus Catholicorum 7; Munich 1923). f. dittrich, Gasparo Contarini (Braunsberg 1885). h. hackert, Die Staatsschrift Contarinis und die politischen Verhältnisse Venedigs im 16. Jahrhundert (Heidelberg 1940). h. rÜckert, Die theologische Entwicklung Gasparo Contarinis (Bonn 1926). r. stupperich, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:1865. a. duval, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947) 3:132.

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Contarini, Gasparo

views updated Jun 08 2018

Contarini, Gasparo (1483–1542). Christian cardinal, who led those proposing reform of the Church to Pope Paul III. By 1511, he had already come to the conclusion that humans are justified by faith, not works, and this conclusion enabled him to view Protestant claims with sympathy. He was papal legate to the Regensburg Colloquy (1541), where Protestants and Roman Catholics sought terms on which to reunify the Church. Both sides rejected his proposal of double justification. He died a year later as papal governor of Bologna.