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Pope Gregory XV

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Born at Bologna, 9 or 15 January, 1554; died at Rome, 8 July, 1623. After completing the humanities and philosophy under Jesuit teachers, partly at the Roman and partly at the German College in Rome, he returned to Bologna to devote himself to the study of jurisprudence. After graduating at the University of Bologna in canon and civil law, he went back to Rome and was appointed judge of the Capitol by Gregory XIII. Clement VIII made him referendary of both signatures and member of the rota, and appointed him vicegerent in temporal affairs of Cardinal Vicar Rusticuccio. In 1612 Paul V appointed him Archbishop of Bologna, and sent him as nuncio to Savoy, to mediate between Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy and King Philip of Spain in their dispute concerning the Duchy of Monferrat. In 1616 the same pope created him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria Transpontina. Henceforth Ludovisi remained at his see in Bologna until he came to Rome after the death of Pope Paul V to take part in the election of a new pope. On 9 February Ludovisi himself was elected successor of Paul V, chiefly through the influence of Cardinal Borghese, and took the name of Gregory XV. Although at his elevation to the papal throne he had already reached the age of 67 years and was, moreover, in a bad state of health, his pontificate of two years and five months was one of remarkable activity. He saw that he needed a strong and energetic man, in whom he could place implicit confidence, to assist him in the government of the Church. His nephew Ludovico Ludovisi, a young man of 25 years, seemed to him to be the right person and, at the risk of being charged with nepotism, he created him cardinal on the third day of his pontificate. On the same day, Orazio, a brother of the pope, was put at the head of the pontifical army. The future revealed that Gregory XV was not disappointed in his nephew. Ludovico, it is true, advanced the interests of his family in every possible way, but he also used his brilliant talents and his great influence for the welfare of the Church, and was sincerely devoted to the pope. Eleven cardinals in all were created by Gregory XV.

One of the most important pontifical acts of Gregory XV, affecting the inner affairs of the Church, was his new regulation concerning papal elections. In his Bull "Aeterni Patris" (15 Nov., 1621) he prescribes that in the future only three modes of papal election are to be allowed: scrutiny, compromise, and quasi-inspiration. His Bull "Decet Romanum Pontificem" (12 March, 1622) contains a ceremonial which regulates these three modes of election in every detail. The ordinary mode of election was to be election by scrutiny, which required that the vote be secret, that each cardinal give his vote to only one candidate and that no one vote for himself. Most of the papal elections during the sixteenth century were influenced by political conditions and by party considerations in the College of Cardinals. By introducing secrecy of vote Pope Gregory XV intended to abolish these abuses. The rules and ceremonies prescribed by Gregory XV are substantially the same as those that guide the papal elections of our day. Gregory XV took great interest in the Catholic missions in foreign countries. These missions had become so extensive and the missionary countries differed so greatly in language, manners, and civilization from the countries of Europe, that it was extremely difficult to keep a proper control over them. At the request of the Capuchin Girolamo da Narni and the Discalced Carmelite Dominicus a Jesu-Maria, the pope established on 6 January, 1622, a special congregation of cardinals who were to have supreme control over all foreign missions (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide). Gregory XIII and Clement VIII had already previously formed temporary congregations of cardinals to look after the interest of particular foreign missions, but Gregory XV was the first to erect a permanent congregation, whose sphere of activity should extend over all foreign missions (see PROPAGANDA). For particulars concerning the rights and duties of the new congregation see the Bull "Inscrutabili" of 22 June, 1622, in "Bullarium Romanum", XII, 690-3.

Both Gregory XV and his nephew Ludovico held the religious orders in high esteem, especially the Jesuits. On 12 March, 1622, he canonized Ignatius of Loyola, their founder, and Francis Xavier, their most successful missionary. He had already permitted them on 2 October, 1621, to recite the office and celebrate the mass in honour of the angelic youth Aloysius of Gonzaga. Other religious orders he honoured in the same way. On 12 March, 1622, he canonized Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians, and Theresa, the reformer of the Carmelites in Spain. In the same year he beatified Albertus Magnus, the great Dominican theologian, and permitted the feast and the office of Ambrogio Sansedoni, another Dominican, to be celebrated as that of a saint. On 18 April, 1622, he beatified the Spanish Minorite, Peter of Alcantara, and on 17 Feb., 1623, he ordered the feast of St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians, to be entered in the Roman Breviary. One layman, the Spanish husbandman Isidore, he canonized on 22 March, 1622. During his short pontificate he approved the famous Maurist Congregation of Bénédictines, the Congregation of the French Benedictine nuns of Calvary (Benedictines de Notre-Dame du Calvaire), the Theatine nuns and the Theatine recluses, the Congregation of Pious Workmen (Pii Operarii), the Priests of St. Briget in Belgium (Fratres novissimi Brigittini), and raised the Piarists and the Priests of the Mother of God (Clerici regulares Matria Dei) to the dignity of a religious order. On 18 March, 1621, he founded at Rome an international college for the Benedictines, the Collegium Gregorianum which was the cradle of the now famous international Benedictine college of St. Anselm. Before passing to the political achievements of Gregory XV, mention must be made of his Constitution "Omnipotentis Dei", issued against magicians and witches on 20 March, 1623. It is the last papal ordinance against witchcraft. Former punishments were lessened, and the death penalty was decreed only upon those who were proved to have entered into a compact with the devil, and to have committed homicide with his assistance.

The great activity which Gregory XV displayed in the inner management of the Church was equalled by his efficacious interposition in the politics of the world, whenever the interests of Catholicity were involved. He gave great financial assistance to Emperor Ferdinand II in regaining the Kingdom of Bohemia and the hereditary dominions of Austria. Gregory XV then sent Carlos Caraffa as nuncio to Vienna, to assist the emperor by his advice in his efforts to suppress Protestantism, especially in Bohemia and Moravia, where the Protestants considerably outnumbered the Catholics. To a great extent it was also due to the influence of Gregory XV that, at a meeting of princes at Ratisbon, the Palatinate and the electoral dignity attached to it were granted to Duke Maximilian of Bavaria in the early part of January, 1623. In order to effect this grant, the pope had previously sent the Capuchin Father Hyacinth, a skilled diplomat, to the imperial court at Vienna. The transfer of the Palatinate Electorate from a Protestant (Frederick V) to a Catholic was of great consequence, since it secured a Catholic majority in the supreme council of the empire. Out of gratitude to Pope Gregory XV, Maximilian presented him with the Palatinate library of Heidelberg, containing about 3500 manuscripts. Early in 1623 Gregory XV sent the Greek theologian Leo Allatius to transport the valuable collection to Rome, where it was put up as the "Gregoriana" in the Vatican Library. Thirty-nine of these manuscripts, which had come to Paris in 1797, were returned to Heidelberg at the Peace of Paris in 1815, and Pius VII returned 852 others as a gift in 1816.

The relations between England and the Roman See assumed a more friendly character during the pontificate of Gregory XV. For a time it seemed probable that, through the intended marriage of the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Charles I) with the Spanish Infanta Maria, Catholicity could be restored in England. Though the pope favored the marriage, it never took place. The treatment, however, of the Catholic subjects of James I became more tolerable and, to some extent at least, they enjoyed religious liberty. In France, the power of the Huguenots was on the decrease, owing to the influence of Gregory XV with King Louis XIII. Here the Capuchins, the Jesuits, and the Franciscans converted large numbers of heretics to Catholicity. Even in the Netherlands, that stronghold of Protestantism, a Catholic reaction set in, despite the fact that the Catholic priests were persecuted and expelled from the country.

The Catholic rulers respected the authority of Gregory XV, not only in religious affairs, but also in matters of a purely political nature. This was noticeable when an international dispute arose concerning the possession of the Valtelline (1620) the Spaniards occupied that district, while the Austrians took possession of the Grisons passes and were in close proximity to the Spaniards. The proximity of the two allied armies endangered the interests of France, Venice, and Savoy. These three powers, therefore, combined to compel the Austrians and Spaniards to evacuate the Valtelline, by force of arms if necessary. Upon request, Pope Gregory XV intervened by sending his brother Orazio at the head of the pontifical troops to take temporary possession of the Valtelline. After a little reluctance on the part of Archduke Leopold of Austria, the disputed territory with its fortresses was yielded to Orazio, and the impending war was thus averted.


RANKE, History of the Popes (London, 1906), II, 202-38; PALATIUS, Gesta Pontificum Romanorum (Venice, 1688), IV, 522-36; CIACONIUS-OLDOINUS, Historioe Rom. Pontif. (Rome, 1677), IV, 465 sq.; BROSCH, Geschichte des Kirchenstaates (Gotha, 1880), I, 371 sq.; L'AREZIO, La politica della Santa Sede risp. alla Valtellina dal concord. d'Avignone alla morte di Gregorio XV (Cagliari, 1899).

About this page

APA citation. Ott, M. (1910). Pope Gregory XV. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Ott, Michael. "Pope Gregory XV." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Janet van Heyst.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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