CHAPTER IV. THE COUNTER-REFORMATION
Clement VII. (1523-34), one of the de' Medici family, succeeded to the Papacy at a most critical period in the civil and religious history of Europe. The time that he spent at the court of his cousin, Leo X., and the traditions of his family and of his native city of Florence made it almost impossible for him to throw himself into the work of reform or to adopt the stern measures that the situation demanded. Instead of allying himself closely with Charles V. or Francis I. of France, or better still of preserving an attitude of strict neutrality towards both, he adopted a policy of vacillation joining now one side now the other, until the terrible sack of Rome by the infuriated and half- savage soldiery of Germany forced him to conclude an agreement with the Emperor. During the earlier years of Clement VII.'s reign the German people, Catholic as well as Lutheran, demanded the convocation of a general or at least a national council, and their demands met with the approval of Charles V. The naturally indolent temperament of the Pope, the fear that the eagerness for reform might develop into a violent revolution, and the danger that a council dominated by the Emperor might be as distasteful to France and England as dangerous to the rights and prerogatives of the Holy See, made him more willing to accept the counsels of those who suggested delay. When peace was at last concluded between the Pope and the Emperor (1529) Charles V. had changed his mind about the advisability of a General Council, having convinced himself in the meantime that more could be done for the cause of peace in his territories by private negotiations between the different parties.
It was only on the accession of Paul III. (1534-49) that a really vigorous effort was made to undertake the work of reform. The new Pope, a member of the Farnese family, was himself a brilliant Humanist, a patron of literature and art, well known for his strict and exemplary life as a priest, and deservedly popular both with the clergy and people of Rome. His one outstanding weakness was his partiality towards his own relatives, on many of whom he conferred high positions both in church and state. In justice to him it should be said, however, that the position of affairs in Rome and in Italy made such action less reprehensible than it might seem at first sight, and that he dealt severely with some of them, as for example, the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, once he discovered that they were unworthy of the confidence that had been reposed in them. He signalised his pontificate by the stern measures he took for the reform of the Roman Curia, by the appointment of learned and progressive ecclesiastics like Reginald Pole, Sadoleto, Caraffa, and Contarini to the college of cardinals, and by the establishment of special tribunals to combat heresy.
After a preliminary agreement with the Emperor, Paul III. convoked the General Council to meet at Mantua in 1537; but the refusal of the Lutheran princes to send representatives, the prohibition issued by Francis I. against the attendance of French bishops, and the unwillingness of the Duke of Mantua to make the necessary arrangements for such an assembly in his territory unless under impossible conditions, made it necessary to prorogue the council to Vicenza in 1538. As hardly any bishops had arrived at the time appointed it was adjourned at first, and later on prorogued indefinitely. Negotiations were, however, continued regarding the place of assembly. The Pope was anxious that the council should be held in an Italian city, while Charles V., believing that the Lutherans would never consent to go to Italy or to accept the decrees of an Italian assembly, insisted that a German city should be selected. In the end as a compromise Trent was agreed upon by both parties, and the council was convoked once more to meet there in 1542. The refusal of the Lutherans to take part in the proposed council, the unwillingness of Francis I. to permit any of his subjects to be present, and the threatened war between France and the Empire, made it impossible for the council to meet. Finally, on the conclusion of the Peace of Crepy (1544), which put an end to the war with France, the council was convoked to meet at Trent in March 1545, and Cardinals del Monte, Reginald Pole, and Marcello Cervini were appointed to represent the Pope. When the day fixed for the opening ceremony arrived, a further adjournment was rendered imperative owing to the very sparse attendance of bishops. The First Session was held on the 13th December 1545, and the second in January 1546. There were then present in addition to the legates and theologians only four archbishops, twenty-one bishops, and five generals of religious orders.