Urban VIII (Pope) (Maffeo Barberini; 1568–1644; reigned 1623–1644)
URBAN VIII (POPE) (Maffeo Barberini; 1568–1644; reigned 1623–1644)
URBAN VIII (POPE) (Maffeo Barberini; 1568–1644; reigned 1623–1644), Italian pope. After studies at Jesuit schools in Florence and Rome, he read law in Pisa (doctorate "in utroque jure" [both canon and civil law] in 1588), and entered the Roman prelature, backed by his uncle Francesco Barberini. He worked at the Signatura Tribunal, becoming prothonotary apostolic upon his uncle's resignation (1593) and then clerk of the Apostolic Chamber (1599). In 1592, his countryman Clement VIII appointed him governor of Fano, sending him later on important diplomatic missions. In 1604, he was consecrated titular archbishop of Nazareth and sent as nuncio to Paris. In this capacity, he was able to gain support for the Jesuits in France, but could not secure acceptance of the Tridentine decrees. Created cardinal by Paul V in 1606, he returned to Rome (1607), soon to be appointed bishop of Spoleto, a charge he held until 1617, adding for a time (1611–1614) the legation to Bologna. In both positions, he showed himself a strict administrator and a diligent reformer. In 1617, he resigned his diocese and returned to Rome as prefect of the Signatura Tribunal. A member of several important Roman congregations, he was also active in the intellectual and artistic circles of the city. His election to the papacy in the summer of 1623 was the result of a compromise between the different factions that supported stronger candidates, although he was perceived as favorable to France.
Soon after his elevation to the see of Peter, he manifested his intention to take charge as both a spiritual and a secular leader. This he achieved through nepotism, elevating to the cardinalate his brother Antonio and his nephews Francesco and Antonio, and giving administrative positions to his brother, Carlo, and his nephew Taddeo. As "Cardinal Nephew," administrator of the pontifical state, Francesco Barberini was to exert a great influence under the strict control of his uncle. Urban VIII was an absolute pope who wanted to ignore the college of cardinals, which he viewed as overly influenced by European powers (to compensate, the cardinals received the title of "Eminence" in 1630). In order to foster the independence of the Holy See, he strengthened the Papal States, building the stronghold of Castelfranco near Bologna, reinforcing Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, and fortifying Civitavecchia's harbor. He was able to annex (1625–1631) the duchy of Urbino; however, his attempt to take over neighboring territories in Parma and Piacenza were thwarted by an Italian coalition (1644) that forced him to surrender the cities of Castro and Montalto, which had been occupied by papal forces in 1641.
Urban VIII's pontificate coincided with the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). From the beginning of his pontificate, he had attempted to maintain a strict neutrality between the Habsburg and the Bourbons (Valtelline War, 1624–1626, War of the Mantuan Succession, 1627–1631) as "Common Father" of all Catholics. During the war in Germany, he refused to support the imperial armies, seeking through his representatives to influence and control the process of re-Catholicization. Only in 1632 did he intervene by offering limited financial support and seeking diplomatic action. But the Holy See's efforts were hindered by the French alliance with Protestant powers and Urban's rejection of direct negotiation with heretics; on the eve of his death, the pope was able to foster a peace conference at Münster (1644).
On the religious level, Urban VIII took several important decisions. Probably the most famous one was to have his former friend Galileo Galilei prosecuted by the Roman Inquisition in 1633. He had to recant his heliocentric theories and was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642. By the bull In Eminenti, dated 1642, but published in 1643, Urban initiated a series of papal interventions in the Jansenist conflict, proscribing both Cornelius Jansenius' book Augustinus and the Jesuit theses that attacked it. The Barberini pope is associated with the reform of the liturgical books (Breviary, Martyrologium, Missal, Pontifical); by revising the beatification and canonization processes he rendered sainthood more difficult to achieve. Urban VIII strengthened and expanded the competence of the De Propaganda fide congregation, giving his name to the college established to educate priests for mission territories.
More a prince than a pastor, Urban VIII was criticized during his lifetime for his visions of grandeur as manifested in the art work he commissioned (exemplified by Bernini's baldachin in St. Peter's). He was above all a political pope, whose goal was the independence of the Holy See through a strong papal state and active diplomacy. This goal was not achieved because of Urban VIII's resistance to confessional divisions in Europe and his deep misgivings about Habsburg Spain and Germany.
See also Mantuan Succession, War of the (1627–1631) ; Papacy and Papal States ; Rome ; Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) .
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Jacques M. Gres-Gayer