Pope Urban VIII
Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644)
The Barberini were a powerful family, with branches
in Rome and Florence, which had produced several
cardinals up to that point.
Maffeo was born into the Florentine branch of the family in 1568. His
father died when Maffeo was only three years old; his mother insisted
that he be educated by the Jesuits--first
in Florence, and later in Rome at the Jesuit Collegio
Romano. Here he lived with his uncle, Francesco Barberini, who held
the high church office of Protonotary
Apostolic. In 1589 he took the degree of doctor of law from the University
Maffeo Barberini' s rise in the church hierarchy was rapid. In 1601 he
served as papal legate
to the court of Henri IV, king of France; in 1604 he became archbishop
of Nazareth (an office he obviously fulfilled in absentia since the Holy
Land was under Moslem rule) and took up the post of papal nuncio (lit.
messenger, the papal legate permanently accredited to a civil government)
to the French king; in 1606 he was made a cardinal with the titular church
of St. Peter in Montorio and later St. Onofrio; in 1608 he became bishop
of Spoleto. As bishop, Barberini convened a synod,
completed the construction of one seminary and built two others, and served
as legate of Bologna and prefect
of the Segnatura di Giustizia. Upon the death of Pope Gregory XV, in1623,
Maffeo Barberini was elected Pope, taking the name of Urban VIII.
During his long papacy, Urban VIII promoted missionary work. He formed
dioceses and vicariats
in various missionary terrritories and founded a college for the training
of missionaries. He also repealed the monopoly on missionary work in China
and Japan given to the Jesuits in 1585, opening these countries to missionaries
of all orders. In 1639 he prohibited slavery among the Indians of Brazil,
Paraguay, and the West Indies.
During this period the temporal power of the papacy was in greatest danger
from the Hapsburg dynasty which ruled much of the German speaking region
of Europe, the Southern Netherlands, and Spain. Spanish influence in Italy
has been on the rise for a century, and the kingdom of Naples and Sicily,
under Spanish rule, lay immediately to the South of the Papal State. For
this reason, Urban VIII favored the anti-Hapsburg policy of the French,
neglecting to support the catholic cause in Germany.
Urban VIII saw to it that the Barberini family benefited from his papacy.
His brother and two nephews were made cardinals and given high church
offices. Other family members were helped by the Pope in the acquisition
of property and titles . He even went so far as to make war on Parma,
Tuscany, Modena, and Venice over a matter
of protocol involving his nephew-cardinals. Pope Urban strenghtened fortifications
and armaments in the papal territories. He lavishly supported artists,
chief among whom was Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, who beautified St. Peter's
cathedral. Urban had the bronze supporting girders of the Roman Pantheon
melted down and made into cannon and and other objects. This prompted
the epigram: `` What the barbarians did not do the Barberini's did.''
Maffeo Barberini was an accomplished man of letters, who published several
volumes of verse. Upon Galileo' s return to Florence, in 1610, Barberini
came to admire Galileo' s intelligence and sharp wit. During a court dinner,
in 1611, at which Galileo defended his view on floating bodies, Barberini
supported Galileo against Cardinal Gonzaga. From this point, their patron-client
relationship flourished until it was undone in 1633. Upon Barberini' s
ascendance of the papal throne, in 1623, Galileo came to Rome and had
six interviews with the new Pope. It was at these meetings that Galileo
was given permission to write about the Copernican
theory, as long as he treated it as a hypothesis. After the publication
of Galileo' s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World,
in 1632, the patronage relationship was broken. It appears that the Pope
never forgave Galileo for putting the argument of God's omnipotence (the
argument he himelf had put to Galileo in 1623) in the mouth of Simplicio,
the staunch Aristotelian whose arguments had been systematically destroyed
in the previous 400-odd pages. At any rate, the Pope resisted all efforts
to have Galileo pardoned.
Sources: New Catholic Encyclopedia
Images: Giorgio di Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (University of Chicago Press, 1955), p. 172.