Missionary, linguist, educator, and papal diplomat;b. Mantua, 1534; d. Ferrara, Feb. 26, 1611. As a vigorous opponent of the Protestant Reformation, Possevino entered the Society of Jesus in 1559, and one year later was sent to Savoy to preach against the Waldenses. From 1562 to 1572 he preached in France with great success. In 1573 Everard Mercurian, the new Jesuit General, named Possevino as his private secretary
In 1577 Gregory XIII appointed Possevino as his personal representative to John III of Sweden because John had expressed a desire to become Catholic. Possevino arrived in Stockholm in December of 1577 with power to negotiate the matter. In May 1578 John III, without reservations, made his obedentia and was absolved from schism. The king insisted that the conversion of Sweden would be facilitated if the pope would make certain concessions: Mass in the vernacular, communion under both species, and marriage of the clergy. Possevino personally asked Gregory for these during the summer of 1578, but the pope refused. The legate's return to Stockholm in 1579 was anticlimactic, and John III, fearing the loss of his crown, lapsed from the Catholic faith. Possevino left Stockholm in August 1580.
Gregory next appointed Possevino as legate to Russia. Czar Ivan IV (the Terrible), having been decisively defeated by Stephen bÁthory, King of Poland, appealed to the pope for mediation and suggested the possibility of the reunion of the Russian Church. Possevino left Rome in March of 1581 with broad instructions to negotiate these points. He entered Russia in August, and after protracted discussions was able to secure a desired armistice. Once the armistice was signed, Ivan grew cool to the reunion proposals, and in May of 1582, the ambassador left for Rome with his mission only half accomplished.
In October Possevino was accredited as nuncio to Poland, with additional instructions to continue working for reconciliation with Russia, however, Ivan's death in 1584 terminated all official contact between Russia and the papacy. Possevino remained in the North for three additional years, preaching, writing, and founding schools. Although the Pope wished him to remain in Poland as his resident legate, the Jesuit General, Claudius acquaviva, insisted on his recall in 1587.
From 1587 to 1591 Possevino taught theology at the University of Padua where the most famous of his pupils was St. Francis de Sales. In 1595 he was instrumental in obtaining full papal absolution for Henry of Navarre. Possevino's writings include: Moscovia (Vilna 1586), an important early authority on Russian history; Apparatus sacer ad Scripturam Veteris et Novi Test (Venice 1603–06), an analysis of more than 8,000 books treating of Sacred Scripture; and the Biblioteca selecta (Rome 1593), which deals with the method of study, teaching, and practical use of various sciences.
Bibliography: l. karttunen, Antonio Possevino: Un diplomate pontifical au XVI e siècle (Lausanne 1908). h. briandet, Le Saint Siège et la Suède durant la seconde moitié du XIV e siècle, 2v. (Paris 1907–13). c. sommervogel et al., Bibliothéque de la Compagnie de Jésus (Brussels-Paris 1890–1932) 6:1061–93. h. wolter, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 8:640. g. maron, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 5:476–477.
[j. w. rooney]