Cardinal, statesman, and man of letters; b. Fossombrone, Italy, Dec. 4, 1682; d. Camaldoli di Frascati, Italy, July 5, 1761. When 13 years old he attended the Clementine College at Rome, conducted by the somascan fathers. Under the guidance of his uncle Msgr. Guido Passionei he completed his studies with distinction and won the friendship of the scholars Antonio Magliabechi and Giusto Fontanini and the Cardinals Henry noris and Tommaso Ferrari. Through them he was introduced to the maurists and the highest cultural circles. Family tradition more than vocation (so he writes in a letter to Cardinal Neri Corsini) initiated him into an ecclesiastical career, and he studied dogmatic theology and Church history under the direction of Giuseppe tomas. Clement XI commissioned him to take the cardinal's hat to Ludovico Gualtieri, nuncio to France; Passionei remained in France from 1706 to 1708.
From his friends Jean mabillon, Bernard de mont-faucon, Eusèbe Renaudot, and Cardinals Cesar d'Estrées and Louis Antoine de noailles, he learned a great love of books and with them he frequented the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which had become the meeting place of French intellectuals. His initiative and desire to excel annoyed Msgr. Agostino Cusani, the new nuncio to France. He was ordered to leave, and with resentment went first to Brussels, then to Holland, where he remained from 1708 to 1713. As the representative of Clement XI, he showed diplomatic skill at the Treaty of Utrecht (1713–14) and the Congress of Baden (1714), which ended the conflict between France and Spain over the Spanish succession. At Solette he presided at the renewal of the alliance between France and the Catholic Swiss cantons, and in 1715 he returned to Fossombrone.
Passionei became secretary of the Propagation of the Faith in 1720 and played a notable role in the conversion to Catholicism of the Protestant historian Johann Georg von Eckart. He was made bishop of Ephesus in partibus by Innocent XIII (1721) and sent to Switzerland as nuncio. Transferred to the nunciature of Vienna (1730), he became the friend of Eugene of Savoy; Prince Ludwig von Würtenburg, whom he converted to Catholicism; and the Venetian ambassador, Marco Foscarini. Later, in Rome, Foscarini stole from him the MSS Arcana Papatus of Paolo Sarpi and a dossier of Sarpi's letters. At Vienna Passionei tutored the daughters of Charles VI; he also blessed the marriage of Francis of Lorraine with Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. In 1738 he was appointed to the secretariate of briefs by Clement XII and created cardinal, first of S. Bernardo alle Terme and later of S. Lorenzo in Lucina. In 1755 Benedict XIV named him prefect of the Vatican Library. In the palace of the Consulta on the Quirinal Passionei amassed a rich private library of 40,000 volumes. After his death this library was bought by the Augustinians, and later added to the Angelica Library in Rome, except for about 6,000 volumes that made up the first nucleus of the Civic Library of Fossombrone (April 19, 1784). Among his writings are Universae philosophiae studia (Rome 1701) and Acta legationis helveticae ab anno 1723 ad annum 1729 (Zug 1729; 2d ed. Rome 1738).
Passionei remains a figure of controversy. He has been considered an enemy of the Jesuits because he rejected Molinism and probabilism; and because he opposed the beatification of Robert Bellarmine, but voted for that of Juan de Palafox. This antipathy is alleged as the chief cause of his failure to win the papal election in the conclave of 1758. He is also censured as a Roman Jansenist because of his association with scholars, themselves suspected of Jansenistic sympathies, who gathered at the "Hermitage" at Camaldoli da Frascati. Here he presided, seated beneath a portrait of Antoine Arnauld and holding the Lettres provinciales of Blaise Pascal. G.V. Vella calls him a bibliophile with "library kleptomania," who used his position as papal nuncio to visit monasteries with the intent of finding and receiving as gifts precious MSS and rare books. His critics seem in agreement, however, on his skills in his various diplomatic posts. Regarding his alleged Jansenistic sympathies, it can be said that Passionei shared the anti-Jesuitism of the transalpine Jansenists, but remained substantially orthodox in his theology and loyalty to Rome.
Bibliography: m. riollet, Correspondance, 1724–1727 de Valbonnais avec Mgr. Passionei (Grenoble 1933). p. l. galletti, Memorie per servir alla storia della vita del Card. Domenico Passionei (Rome 1762). f. m. torricelli, comp., Antologia, 4 v. (Fossombrone, Italy 1842–46). a. vernarecci, Fossombrone dai tempi antichissimi ai nostri, 2 v. (Fossombrone 1907–14). e. rosa, "La causa del ven. card. Bellarmino e l'oppozione del card. Passionei," La civiltá cattolica 69, (1918) 2:336–346; "Carteggio inedito del card. de Tencin a Benedetto XIV intorno al ven. card. Bellarmino" ibid. 4:48–55; "Le Memorie della città di Fossombrone e il card. Domenico Passionei," ibid. 2: 254–261. m. costelbarco-albani, Della Somaglia, un grande bibliofilo del secolo XVIII (Florence 1937). e. dammig, Il movimento giansenista a Roma nella seconda metà del secolo XVIII (Vatican City 1945). a. mercati, Note per la storia di alcune biblioteche romane nei secoli XVI–XIX (Vatican City 1952). g. v. vella, "L’abate Domenico Passionei e le sue missioni diplomatiche dal 1708–1716," Nuova Rivista Storica 33, 302–341; 34 (1950) 197–234; Il Passionei e la politica di Clemente XI, 1708–1716 (Biblioteca della Nuova Rivista Storica 19). e. sgreccia, Il fondo card. Passionei della Biblioteca civica di Fossombrone (Fano, Italy 1963), extract from Studia Picena, v. 31.