Leopold von Ranke
Portrait of Pope Paul IV

Lord Acton dismissed Ranke as a mere burrower into archives; a dryasdust without ideas. Heinrich Heine dismissed Ranke as a mere painter of miniatures. The reader of Ranke may have the opposite impression; may indeed find his style as a writer of history too colorful, too dramatic, too imbued with large ideas. Here is an extract, as an aid to forming one's own opinion on the matter.

The extract is from the panoramic and ironic portrait of Giovanni Pietro Careffa, Pope Paul IV, from Ranke's admired History of the Papacy. This is the work which made Ranke's international reputation. In it, to speak of no other large ideas, he coined the term Counter-Reformation. The translation is based on that in Roger Wines, Leopold von Ranke: The Secret of World History (1981), which in turn is taken from Elizabeth Foster, Ranke: The Popes of Rome (1847), a translation made not long after the appearance of the German original, and by its very existence testifying to the international interest which Ranke's work aroused. This was the first time that the Papacy had been treated in an objective way, as itself a force in history.

We join the portrait at its turning-point:

Pope Paul IV

His hatred of the Spaniards, and the hope of becoming the liberator if Italy, had hurried even Paul IV into designs and practices utterly worldly, had led him to the endowment of his kinsmen with the lands of the Church, had caused the elevation of mere soldiers to the administration even of ecclesiastical affairs, had plunged him into deadly feuds and sanguinary hostilities. Events had compelled him to abandon that hope, and to suppress that hatred, and at that point his eyes were gradually opened to the reprehensible conduct of those about him. Against these offenders, after a painful struggle with himself, Paul and his stern sense of justice prevailed. He now began to reign in the the manner that had first been expected of him. With the impetuous energy which he had earlier displayed in his enmities and his wars, he turned to the reform of the State, and above all, to that of the Church.

All secular offices, from the highest to the lowest, were transferred to other hands. The existing podestas and governors lost their places, and the manner in which this was done was sometimes very singular. In Perugia, for example, the newly appointed governor arrived during the night, and without waiting for daylight, he ordered the anziani to be called together, produced his credentials, and commanded them forthwith to arrest the former governor, who was present. From time immemorial, there had been no Pope who governed without nepotism; Paul IV now provided an example. The places hitherto monopolized by his kinsmen were bestowed on Cardinal Carpi, on Camillo Orsini, who had held such broad powers under Paul III, and on others. Not only were the persons changed, the whole system and character of the administration were changed as well. Important economies were made, and taxes were proportionately remitted. The pontiff established a chest, of which only he held the key, for the purpose of receiving all complaints that any man desired to make. He demanded a daily report from the Governor. Public business in general was conducted with great circumspection, and none of the old abuses were suffered to remain.

Amid all the commotions of the early part of his pontificate, Paul IV had never lost sight of his reforming projects; now he resumed them with earnest zeal and undivided attention. A more severe discipline was introduced into the churches. All begging was forbidden. Even the collection of alms for Masses, which had previously been made by the clergy, was discontinued, and pictures whose subjects were not appropriate to the Church were removed. A medal was struck in his honor, representing Christ driving the money changers from the Temple. Monks who had left their monasteries were expelled from the city and from the Papal States. The court was enjoined to keep the regular fasts; and all were commanded to solemnize Easter by receiving Holy Communion. The cardinals were even compelled to do occasional preaching; Paul himself preached. Many abuses profitable to the Curia he did his best to correct. He would hear no talk of marriage dispensations, or of the resources which they furnished to the treasury. A host of positions which, up to his time, had been regularly sold, even the Clerkships of the Chamber (chiericati de camera), he would now allow to be assigned only by merit. Still more rigidly did he insist on the character and clerical commitment of all on whom he bestowed purely ecclesiastical employment. He would no longer tolerate the agreements by which one man had been allowed to enjoy the revenues of an office while delegating its duties to another, by whom, for some miserable sum, they were performed, either well or ill as it might happen. He also formed the idea of reinstating the bishops in many of the rights which had been wrongfully withheld from them, and considered it highly culpable that everything which could in any way be made to yield either profit or influence should be absorbed by Rome.

Nor were Paul's reforms confined to the abolition of abuses. Not content with a merely negative effect, he proceeded to positive amendments. The services of the Church were performed with increased pomp. It is to him that we are indebted for the rich ornaments of the Sistine Chapel, and for the solemn representation of the Holy Sepulchre. There is an ideal of the modern Catholic service of the altar, full of dignity, devotion, and splendor; this ideal it was which floated before Paul's eyes, and which he sought to bring about.

He permitted no day to pass, as he boasts, without the promulgation of some edict tending to restore the Church to its original purity. Many of his decrees present, in outline, ordinances which were later sanctioned by the Council of Trent.

In the course which he now adopted, Paul displayed, as might have been expected, all the inflexibility of nature which was peculiar to him.

Above all other institutions, he favored the Inquisition, which he himself had re-established. The days appointed for Segnatura and the consistory he would often allow to pass unnoticed, but never did he miss a Thursday, the day set aside for the Congregation of the Inquisition to assemble before him. He wished the powers of this office to be exercised with the utmost rigor. He assigned new classes of offenses to its jurisdiction, and conferred on it the barbarous prerogative of applying torture for the detection of accomplices. He permitted no respect of persons. The most distinguished nobles were summoned before the tribunal, and cardinals such as Morone and Foscherari were now thrown into prison, because he entertained doubts about the soundness of their opinions, in spite of the fact that these very men had previously been appointed to examine the contents, and determine the orthodoxy, of such important books as the Spiritual Exercises of Iganatius Loyola. It was Paul IV who established the Feast of St Dominic, in honor of that great Inquisitor.

Thus a rigid austerity and an earnest zeal for the restoration of primitive habits became the dominant tendency of the Papacy.

Paul IV seemed almost to have forgotten that he had ever pursued purposes other than those which now occupied him; the memory of past times seemed to be extinguished. He lived and moved in his reforms and his Inquisition, passed laws, imprisoned, excommunicated, and held autos-da-fé; these occupations filled his life. At length, when laid prostrate by a disease such as would have caused the death of even a younger man, he called his cardinals about him, commended his soul to their prayers, and the Holy See with the Inquisition to their earnest care. One more time he would fain have gathered his energies: he sought to raise himself, but the disease prevailed; his strength had failed him, and he fell back and died (18 August 1559).

In one respect at least are these determined and passionate characters more fortunate than men of feebler mold: they are perhaps blinded by the force of their feelings - the violence of their prejudices - but they are also steeled by this force, this violence, which renders them invincible.

The Roman people did not forget, as readily as he had, what they had suffered under Paul IV. They could not forgive him for the war he had brought on the State. Nor, though his nephews were abhorred, did their disgrace suffice to allay the resentment of the multitude. At the news of his death, large crowds assembled in the capital, and resolved that, since he had deserved well neither of Rome nor of the world, they would destroy his monuments. Others attacked the buildings of the Inquisition, set fire to them, and roughly handled the servants of the Holy Office; they even threatened to burn the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria alla Minerva. The Colonnas, Orsini, Cesarini, Massimi, and other nobles whom Paul had mortally offended, took part in these tumults. The statue which had been erected to this Pope was torn from its pedestal and broken in pieces, and the head, bearing the triple crown, was dragged through the streets.

It would have been fortunate for the Papal See had it met with no more serious reaction against the enterprise of Paul IV than was intimated by this outbreak . . .

It will have become obvious to the reader that the earlier dissensions between the Papacy and the Imperial or Spanish power had contributed more than any other cause to the establishment of Protestantism in Germany. Yet a second breach was not avoided, and this produced results still more comprehensive and important.

The recall of the Papal troops from the Imperial army by Paul III and his transfer of the Council from Trent to Bologna may be considered the preliminary steps. Their importance at once became evident: there was no impediment to the subjugation of the Protestants so effective as that presented by the policy, both active and passive, of Paul III at that period.

But the greater and more permanent results were not obvious until after the death of the pontiff. The connection with France into which he led his nephews occasioned a general war, and in this the German Protestants not only achieved the memorable victory by which they secured themselves forever from Pope, Emperor, and Council, they also gained important advances for their opinions by the contact into which the Protestant soldiers, who fought on both sides, were forced with those of France and the Netherlands. This contact brought about extensive acceptance of the new doctrines in those countries, their introduction being favored by the widespread confusion occasioned by the war, which rendered strict precautions impossible.

Paul IV ascended the Papal throne. It was for him to have taken a clear view of things as they appeared before him. Above all, his first efforts should have been turned to the restoration of peace. But with all the blindness of passion, he plunged himself instead into the tumult, and thus it came to pass that he, the most furious of zealots, became in the end a more effective promoter of Protestantism than any of his predecessors.

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