Alexander VII, Pope
Alexander VII, Pope
ALEXANDER VII, POPE
Pontificate: April 7, 1655, to May 22, 1667; b. Fabio Chigi, Siena, Feb. 13, 1599. The Sienese Chigi family had been prominent since the Middle Ages. Fabio was a brilliant boy, given to writing verses; for nine years he studied philosophy, law, and theology at the University of Siena, receiving his doctorate in theology in 1626. After two years more of private study at Rome, where he became acquainted with a number of intellectual leaders, Chigi entered the papal service. He rose steadily from a referendary in 1629 to vice-legate of Ferrara, bishop of Nardo in 1635, and apostolic visitor to Malta. When appointed a bishop he became a priest. His diplomatic ability was to receive a sterner test when Urban VIII sent him to troubled Germany. He spent thirteen years as nuncio to Cologne (1639–51), and also served as the pope's representative at the Peace Conference of Münster. This was a most difficult task and if Chigi did not bring about the success of the papal policy, he did win the esteem of the pope and Curia. Innocent X made him secretary of state in 1651 and a year later he received the red hat. The Conclave of 1655 that followed the death of Innocent X was a long one—January 17 to April 7. Upon election Chigi took the name Alexander VII in memory of the great twelfth-century pope, alexander iii. Alexander suffered from poor health, but he was a hard worker. He was charitable to the poor and was a great help to his people in the plague of 1656. He encouraged scholarship and aided the work of historians by setting up sensible regulations for the use of archival materials. A splendid patron of the arts, Alexander is remembered for commissioning the construction of the great colonnade of Bernini.
Alexander and Louis XIV maintained poor relations, and the king went to some pains to humiliate the pope over a clash between Alexander's Corsican guards and the French embassy. But this was not all the trouble Louis caused Alexander. The pope tried hard to help beleaguered Christians beat back the Turks, but Louis XIV, more interested in weakening the Hapsburgs, did not cooperate; thus, papal plans foundered on Bourbon ambitions. Alexander's relations with Venice were better, and he persuaded the Republic to have the Jesuits, who were earlier expelled, return.
Like his predecessors, Alexander was forced to take action against the Jansenists. Innocent X had condemned the Five Propositions, but then Antoine arnauld, the great Jansenist leader, decided that while the Five Propositions were indeed wrong, and one could accept the pope's condemnation of them, they were not to be found in Cornelius jansen's augustinus. Alexander countered by a bull in which he said that the Five Propositions were contained in Jansen's Augustinus and condemned Jansen's presentation of them.
Alexander welcomed the illustrious convert, Christina, Queen of Sweden, and gently corrected some of her odd ideas. He encouraged foreign missions allowing the Jesuits in China to utilize Chinese rites, and gave increased power to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
Bibliography: l. pastor, The History of the Popes From the Close of the Middle Ages (London-St. Louis 1938–61):1–313. a. l. artaud de montor, The Lives and Times of the Popes, 10 v. (New York 1910–11) 6:71–106. n. j. abercrombie, The Origins of Jansenism, (Oxford 1936). Bullarium Romanum (Magnum), ed. h. mainardi and c. cocquelines, 18 folio v. (Rome 1733–62), v.16–17. j. orcibal, Les Origines du jansénisme, 5 v. (Louvain 1947–62). k. repgen, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:318. h. hemmer, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 1.1:727–747. r. krautheimer, The Rome of Alexander VII (Princeton 1985). e. cropper, Florence and Rome from Grand Duke Ferdinand I to Pope Alexander VII (Bologna 1992).
[j. s. brusher]