Clement VIII

Clement VIII

Clement VIII, 1536-1605, pope (1592-1605), a Florentine named Ippolito Aldobrandini; successor of Innocent IX. He reversed the policy of his predecessors by allying the Holy See with France rather than with Spain, which had assumed a dictatorial attitude over the papacy. Clement absolved Henry IV of France after his abjuration of Protestantism, and the two rulers were thereafter on most friendly terms. Clement was distinguished for his piety, and he labored for the improvement of the clergy and of the charitable institutions of Rome. His confessors were St. Philip Neri and Baronius, whom he created cardinal. He was succeeded by Leo XI.
Not to be confused with Antipope Clement VIII.

Pope Clement VIII (February 24, 1536March 3, 1605), born Ippolito Aldobrandini, was Pope from January 30, 1592 to March 3, 1605.

Early life and education

Born at Fano to an undistinguished Florentine family, the Aldobrandini, whose fortune he was to make, he studied law under his father, an able jurist; his ecclesiastical career was as a lawyer: successively consistorial advocate, auditor of the Sacra Rota Romana and the Datary.


He was made a cardinal 1585 by Pope Gregory XIII. Pope Sixtus V named him grand penitentiary in January 1586 and in 1588 sent him as legate in Poland. He placed himself under the direction of the reformer Philip Neri, who for thirty years was his confessor. Aldobrandini won the gratitude of the Habsburgs by his successful diplomatic efforts in Poland to obtain the release of the imprisoned Archduke Maximilian, the defeated claimant to the Polish throne.



After the death of Pope Innocent IX (1591), another stormy conclave ensued, where a determined minority of Italian Cardinals were unwilling to be dictated to by Philip II of Spain. Cardinal Aldobrandini's election on January 30, 1592, was received as a portent of more balanced and liberal Papal policy in European affairs. He took the non-politicized name Clement VIII. He proved to be an able Pope, with an unlimited capacity for work and a lawyer's eye for detail, and a wise statesman, the general object of whose policy was to free the Papacy from its dependence upon Spain.

In 1597, he established the Congregatio de Auxiliis which was to settle the theological controversy between the Dominican Order and the Jesuits concerning the respective role of efficacious grace and free will. Although the debate tended toward a condemnation of Molinism's insistence on free will to the detriment of efficacious grace, the important influence of the Jesuit Order — among other considerations — which, beside important political and theological power in Europe, had also various missions abroad (Jesuit Reducciones in South America, missions in China, etc.), led the Pope to abstain from an official condemnation of the Jesuits. In 1611 and again in 1625 a decree prohibited any discussion of the matter, although it was often uniformally avoided by the publication of commentaries of Thomas Aquinas.

Jubilee of 1600

During the jubilee of 1600, three million pilgrims visited the holy places. The Synod of Brest was held 1595 in Lithuania, by which a great part of the Ruthenian clergy and people were reunited to Rome.

Clement VIII presided at the conferences to determine the questions of grace and free will, controverted between the Jesuits and Dominicans, were commenced under him, but he abstained from pronouncing a decision.

On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno, a strong believer of free will, was burned alive due to Clement VIII's approval of a guilty verdict against Bruno.

Canonizations and beatifications

Clement VIII canonized Hyacinth (17 April 1594) and Raymond of Peñafort (1601).

Foreign relations

Reconciliation with France

The most remarkable event of Clement VIII's reign was the reconciliation to the Church of Henry IV of France (1589–1610), after long negotiations, carried on with great dexterity through Cardinal Arnaud d'Ossat, that resolved the complicated situation in France. Henry embraced Catholicism on July 25, 1593. After a pause to assess Henry IV's sincerity, Clement VIII braved Spanish displeasure, and in the autumn of 1595 he solemnly absolved Henry IV, thus putting an end to the thirty years' religious war in France and winning a powerful ally.

Expansion of the Papal States

Henry IV's friendship was of essential importance to the Papacy two years later, when Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, died childless (October 27, 1597), and the Pope resolved to attach the stronghold of the Este family to the states of the Church. Though Spain and the Empire encouraged Alfonso II's illegitimate cousin, Cesare d'Este, to withstand the Pope, they were deterred from giving him any material aid by Henry IV's threats, and a papal army entered Ferrara almost unopposed.

Peace of Vervins

In 1598 Clement VIII won more credit for the papacy by bringing about a definite treaty of peace between Spain and France in the Peace of Vervins which put an end to their long contest, and he negotiated peace between France and Savoy as well. He also lent valuable assistance in men and money to the Emperor in his contest with the Turks in Hungary.

Law enforcement

Clement VIII was as vigorous as Pope Sixtus V (1585–90) in crushing banditry in the papal provinces of Umbria and the Marche and in punishing the lawlessness of the Roman nobility. Upon his ascension to the papal throne in 1592, he immediately had several noble troublemakers put to death, including most famously Troio Savelli, scion of a powerful ancient Roman family. He did not even spare the youthful and noble parricide Beatrice Cenci, who was to become a popular heroine adapted in literature by Stendhal, Giorgio Moravia, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Cenci had murdered her father, who had abused her in many ways. Although popular opinion sided with Cenci, Clement VIII refused to grant her clemency in order to make a moral statement. Although it has been rumored that it was more due to the property he confiscated from the Cenci family that he then passed on to his own family than any moral position.

Clement's strict ways also concerned philosophical and religious matters. In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in the Campo de' Fiori.


Clement VIII was also openly anti-semitic, making the usual link of Jews and usury:

All the world suffers from the usury of the Jews, their monopolies and deceit. They have brought many unfortunate people into a state of poverty, especially the farmers, working class people and the very poor. Then as now Jews have to be reminded intermittently anew that they were enjoying rights in any country since they left Palestine and the Arabian desert, and subsequently their ethical and moral doctrines as well as their deeds rightly deserve to be exposed to criticism in whatever country they happen to live.

Clement VIII's approach towards the Jews had more specific targets. In Cum saepe accidere (February 28, 1592) he forbade the long-established Jewish community of the papal enclave of Avignon to sell new goods, putting them at a disadvantage and fostering the cliché of the Jew as a dealer in secondhand goods. With Caeca et obdurata (February 25, 1593) he confirmed the bull of Pope Paul III (1534–49) that established a ghetto for the ancient community of Jews in Rome, and reiterated the ban on Jews, who had otherwise been formally expelled from the Papal States by Pope Pius V (1566–72) (in Hebraeorum gens, February 26, 1569) dwelling outside of the ghettos of Rome, Ancona, and Avignon, thus ensuring that they remained city-dwellers. Beyond Papal reach, east of Poland, by contrast, farming communities of Jews remained a familiar feature of the landscape. With Cum Haebraeorum malitia a few days later (February 28) he even forbade the reading of the Talmud It is alleged that Clement VIII's reference to the "blind (caeca) obstinacy" of the Jews gave rise to the religious slur "kike", though many etymologies dispute this.

Later life and death

Clement VIII was afflicted by gout, and was forced to spend much of his later life immobilized in bed. He died in March of 1605, leaving a reputation for prudence, munificence,ruthlessness and capacity for business. His reign is especially distinguished by the number and beauty of his medals, and especially tarnished by his role in the brutal execution of Giordano Bruno, one of the great minds of his time. Clement was buried in St. Peter's Basilica, and later Pope Paul V (1605–21) had a mausoleum built for him in the Borghese Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore, where the remains were transferred in 1646.

Clement VIII founded the Collegio Clementino for the education of the sons of the richer classes, and augmented the number of national colleges in Rome by opening the Collegio Scozzese for the training of missionaries to Scotland.


Coffee aficionados claim that the spread of its popularity is due to Pope Clement VIII's influence. Being pressured by his advisers to declare coffee the "bitter invention of Satan" because of its popularity among Muslims, he instead declared that, "This devil's drink is so good... we should cheat the devil by baptizing it." It is not clear whether this is a true story.


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