Gregory XIV, Pope
GREGORY XIV, POPE
Pontificate: Dec. 5, 1590, to Oct. 16, 1591; b. Niccolò Sfondrati, Somma (near Milan), Feb. 11, 1535, of an ancient noble family from Cremona, which transferred to Milan. His father, Francesco, after the death of his wife, Anna Visconti, entered religion and in 1550 was named cardinal by Pope Paul III. Niccolò studied law at Perugia and Padua, received his doctorate at Pavia, and then entered clerical life. He was a follower of (St.) Charles Borromeo, who had an important influence upon him. At the age of 25 he was named bishop of Cremona by Pius IV (March 12, 1560). As bishop he participated in the third period of the Council of Trent (1561–63) and sought to execute its decrees in his diocese. He was named cardinal of St. Cecilia by Pope Gregory XIII on Dec. 12, 1583; as a cardinal he was a close friend of (St.) Philip Neri, whom he tried to imitate. On Dec. 5, 1590, after a conclave lasting for more than two months and marked by intrigue, Niccolò was elected to succeed Urban VII, largely because he was favored by the Spanish party. Though honest and pious, Gregory was not suited by disposition or by experience for the heavy burden of the pontificate; moreover, he was often in bad health. Most unwisely he chose his nephew Paolo Emilio sfondrati as his secretary of state, creating him a cardinal at the age of 29 on Dec. 19, 1590. Both the pope and his secretary were ignorant of political affairs.
Gregory tried to free Rome from the triple scourge of epidemic, scarcity of food, and brigandage. During the pestilence of 1590 he received the aid of (St.) Camillus de Lellis, whose congregation he erected into a religious order the next year. He gave his support to the French League, which was guided by the Guise family and Spain, and took measures against Henry of Navarre, renewing on March 1, 1591, the sentence of excommunication of Sixtus V and ordering the French to renounce him (see henry iv, king of france). In this action he was influenced by his nephew Paolo Emilio, who was pro-Spanish and quite dependent on the Spanish ambassador in Rome. The pope granted a monthly subsidy of 15,000 gold scudi to the city of Paris and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at the head of the papal troops, followed by Marsilio Landriano as special nuncio to unite the Catholics against the Protestant Henry. The French, however, rejected the papal edicts; Landriano was not permitted to present the papal brief either to Cardinal Philippe de Lenoncourt or to Cardinal Charles Bourbon. At this time the pope was taken ill and removed to the Quirinal. Although still sick in August 1591, he moved to the Palace of S. Marco to discuss with Duke Alfonso II of Ferrara the succession to the throne of Ferrara, since the duke had no children. This question and its connection with the bull of Pius V on the alienation of the fiefs of the Church disturbed the pope until his death.
The pontificate of Gregory XIV, though brief, was important in furthering the internal reform of the Church. Gregory enforced more strictly the rules of episcopal residence and visitations of religious houses, and required an examination of the worthiness of those aspiring to episcopal office. He forbade the celebration of Mass in private homes and the making of wagers on papal elections. He assigned commissions to revise the Pian Breviary and the Sistine Vulgate. The latter had been edited by his predecessor, Sixtus V, but withdrawn from circulation because of errors. On May 24, 1591, he published a constitution regulating the right of sanctuary, suspending all previous enactments. He also gave orders for the completion of the work at St. Peter's and for the erection of a chapel at St. Mary Major for his own tomb. His friend Giovanni Pierluigi da palestrina dedicated several of his musical works to the pope's memory. However, his nepotism disturbed the cardinals while the masses in the Papal State resented the prevailing lawlessness.
Bibliography: m. facini, Il Pontificato de Gregorio XIV (Rome 1911). l. castano, Nicolò Sfondrati, vescovo di Cremona al concilio di Trento 1561–1563, (Turin 1939). l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, (London–St. Louis 1938–61) 22:351–408 and passim. g. schwaiger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 4:1190. p. partner, "Papal Financial Policy in the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation" Past and Present (August 1980) 17–62. m. caravele and a. caracciolo, Lo stato pontificio de Martino V a Pio IX (Turin 1978).
[r. l. foley]