gregory xiv

Pope Gregory XIV

Pope Gregory XIV (February 11, 1535 – October 16, 1591), born Niccolò Sfondrati, was Pope from December 5, 1590 to October 16, 1591.

Early life

He was born at Somma Lombardo (now in the province of Varese, then part of the Duchy of Milan), in the highest stratum of Milanese society, but was known for his modest lifestyle and stringent piety. His mother, a Visconti, died in childbirth. His widower father Francesco, a senator of the ancient comune of Milan, was created cardinal by Pope Paul III (1534 – 1549), in 1544.

Church career

Niccolò studied at Perugia and Padua, was ordained as a priest, and swiftly appointed Bishop of Cremona, in 1560, in time to participate in the sessions of the Council of Trent from 1561 – 1563. Pope Gregory XIII (1572–85) made him a Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere on December 12, 1583. He was a close follower of Carlo Borromeo, and when cardinal, he was an intimate friend and a great admirer of Philip Neri, an Italian priest who died in 1595 and was canonized in 1622.

Election

The conclave after the death of Pope Urban VII (September 27, 1590) was a protracted one. At the outset, Olivares presented a list of the seven cardinals who would be acceptable to his master Philip II of Spain (1556 – 1598). Not until December 5, 1590, after two months of deadlock, was Sfondrati elected, one of Philip II's seven. Cardinal Montalto, who came to his cell to inform him that the Sacred College had agreed on his election, found him kneeling in prayer. When on the next day he was elected Pope Gregory XIV he burst into tears and said to the cardinals: "God forgive you! What have you done?" In his bull Cogit nos, (March 21, 1591), he forbade, under pain of excommunication, all bets concerning the election of a Pope, the duration of a pontificate, or the creation of new cardinals.

Papacy

Gregory XIV's brief pontificate was marked by vigorous intervention in favor of the Catholic party in the French Wars of Religion. Instigated by the king of Spain and the duke of Mayenne, he excommunicated Henry IV of France (1589 – 1610) on March 1, 1591, reiterating the declaration of Pope Sixtus V (1585) that as a heretic Henry of Navarre was excluded from the succession to the throne of France, and declaring him to be deprived of his dominions.

Gregory XIV also levied an army for the invasion of France and dispatched his nephew Ercole Sfondrati to France at its head and sent a monthly subsidy of 15,000 scudi to Paris, to reinforce the Catholic League. Thus was abandoned the recent papal policy of trying to maintain a balance between Spain and France, coming down solidly on the side of Spanish interests, in part because Gregory XIV was elected due to the influence of the Spanish cardinals. Gregory XIV created five Cardinals, among whom was his nephew Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, his Secretary of State. He attempted to convince Philip Neri, a long-time friend, to accept the post of Cardinal, but Neri refused, saying that there were many more deserving of the honour than him.

In a decree dated 18 April, 1591, Gregory XIV ordered reparations to be made by Catholics in the Philippines to the natives, who had been forced into slavery by Europeans, and commanded under pain of excommunication that all native slaves in the islands should be set free.

The biographers mention as a curious personal trait of Pope Gregory XIV: a nervous tendency to laughter which occasionally became irresistible, and which manifested itself even at his coronation. Gregory, who was in poor health even before his election to the papacy, was succeeded by Innocent IX after he died due to a large gallstone.

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