Monastic reformer, theologian, cardinal; b. Modena, 1483; d. Rome, Sept. 21, 1548. A brilliant student of the humanities and law, Giovanni Andrea Cortese graduated as doctor of laws at 17. After having served Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici and the Curia as a legal adviser, he turned to monastic life in 1507, entering San Benedetto in Polirone and assuming the name Gregorio. There he concentrated on the study of theology without, however, neglecting the humanities. Central to his thoughts was the conviction that the combined influence of the two branches of learning was best suited to achieve monastic reform. While congratulating Giovanni de' Medici on his elevation to the papal throne as leo x in 1513, he also urged him to initiate the overdue reform of the Church. In 1522 he directed a similar missive to adrian vi.
Cortese's monastic reform work began in 1516 at the monastery of Lérins, first as its prior and then as its abbot (1524). Subsequently, he served as a reforming abbot at the Benedictine monasteries in Modena and Perugia, at San Giorgio in Venice, in Praglia, and, coming full circle, in Polirone. Everywhere he raised not only the moral tone but also scholarship to a new height, stressing historical and philological studies side by side with theology. His extensive correspondence reveals his efforts to make the monasteries in his charge centers of learning. The academy that he founded at Lérins acted as a link in the transfer of Italian humanism to France, and to San Giorgio were attracted numerous prominent ecclesiastical and lay reformers.
The reform-minded cardinals Gasparo contarini and Jacopo sadoleto brought Cortese to the attention of paul iii. In 1536 the pope appointed him to the reform committee that drafted the epochal document Consilium de emendanda Ecclesia (1537), which combined a merciless indictment of the abuses of the Church with particulars for their removal. Cortese had been repeatedly visitor general of the Cassinese Congregation, and Pope Paul appointed him apostolic visitor for the whole of Italy. Upon the urging of Sadoleto, the pope created Cortese a cardinal (June 2, 1542) and named him administrator of the bishopric of Urbino (Nov. 6, 1542). On Nov. 19, 1544, he was appointed to the permanent committee of cardinals for conciliar affairs. This committee played an important part in preparing the Council of trent and, during its sessions, as an advisory board to the pope.
Cortese's reputation as a literary figure was high among his contemporaries, who warmly praised his pure Latin style and termed his poetry felicitous. He left a number of short works on a variety of subjects, most of which are of ecclesiastic nature.
Bibliography: Opera, ed. a. comino, with biog. g. a. gradenigo, 2 v. (Padua 1774). a. j. ansart, La Vie de Grégoire Cortez (Paris 1786). e. gothein, Rafael und der Abt Gregorio Cortese (Heidelberg 1912). h. jedin, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new edition Freiburg 1957–65).
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