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Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros

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(Sometimes spelled JIMÉNEZ).

Franciscan, cardinal, and Primate of Spain, born at Torrelaguna in New Castile, 1436; died at Roa, near Valladolid, 1517. He was educated at Alcalá and Salamanca and, having graduated in canon and civil law, went to Rome in 1459 where he practised for some years as a consistorial advocate. Having attracted the notice of Sixtus V, that pope promised him the first vacant benefice in his native province. This proved to be that of Uzeda, which Carillo, Archbishop of Toledo, wished to bestow upon one of his own followers. Ximénez asserted his claim to it and for doing so was imprisoned by the archbishop, first at Uzeda and afterwards in the fortress of Santorcaz. He was released in 1480, after six years' confinement, and transferring to the Diocese of Sigüenza, became grand vicar to Cardinal Gonzalez, the bishop of that see. In 1484 he resigned this office to become a Franciscan of the Observantine Congregation in the Friary of St. John at Toledo. From there, after his profession, he was sent to Salzeda, where he was later elected guardian.

In 1492, on the recommendation of Cardinal Mendoza, Archbishop of Toledo, he was appointed confessor to Queen Isabella, which post he accepted on condition that he might still live in his monastery and follow the religious life, only appearing at Court when sent for. About the same time he was elected provincial of his order in Castile, which office he held for three years. In 1495 he was chosen to succeed Mendoza as Archbishop of Toledo, to which post the chancellorship of Castile had been joined by Ferdinand and Isabella. Ximénez refused the dignity out of humility, and persisted in his refusal for six months, only consenting at length to accept the position in obedience to the express command of the pope. As archbishop he continued to live as a simple Franciscan, devoting a large portion of his vast revenues to the relief of the poor and the ransom of captives. This mode of life was misunderstood by many, and, in consequence of reports that reached Alexander VI, that pontiff reprimanded him for neglecting the external splendour that belonged to his rank; but Ximénez would only consent to wear the episcopal dress in such a way that his friar's habit underneath might remain visible. His zeal found scope in an endeavour to reform the Franciscans and canons of Toledo. He obliged his own religious brethren to observe the rule against the holding of property, and many friars left Spain in consequence. As chancellor he was obliged to take a prominent part of the affairs of the State, where his prudence and wisdom were of great value to his country.

He gained renown also as a patron of learning, and about the year 1504 founded the University of Alcalá, to fill the professorial chairs of which he procured some of the most distinguished scholars from Paris, Bologna, and Salamanca. Such was the esteem in which this new university was held that all the religious orders in Spain, except the Benedictines and Hieronymites, established houses at Alcalá in connection with it. King Ferdinand visited the university in 1514 and highly approved of all that Ximénez had done. In 1502 the archbishop undertook the publication of the first Polyglot Bible, called the Complutesian, Complutum being the Latin name for Alcalá. This Bible had a great influence on subsequent biblical study; it was dedicated to Leo X, and its compilation occupied Ximénez fifteen years, being completed in 1517, only four months before his death, and costing him about £25,000 ($125,000). The restoration of the ancient Mozarabic Rite at Toledo was another of his projects. For its celebration he added, in 1500, a special chapel to his cathedral and established a college of priests to serve it. Later on similar institutions arose at Valladolid and Salamanca; at Toledo its use continues to the present day.

In 1499 Ximénez accompanied Ferdinand and Isabella on their visit to the newly-conquered province of Granada, and his labours there for the conversion of the Moors met with considerable success. On the death of Isabella (1504) he was again drawn into politics in connection with the disputed succession to the throne of Castile. Philip of Burgundy died in 1506, and, Ferdinand being absent in Italy, Ximénez was appointed viceroy of the kingdom and guardian of Juana, Philip's widow, who had lost her reason. In the following year Ferdinand became regent of Castile, and one of his first acts was to procure from Julius II the cardinal's hat for Ximénez, who was at the same time named Grand Inquisitor of Castile and Leon. The establishment of the Inquisition in Spain has been wrongly attributed to him; it had been in existence fully ten years before his first appearance at Court. As grand inquisitor he initiated several reforms in its working and used every endeavour to reduce the number of cases reserved for its tribunal. He carefully watched the various officers of the Inquisition, lest they should abuse their power by undue violence or oppression, and he arranged and circumscribed the limits of their jurisdiction. He protected scholars and professors from the examination and supervision of the Inquisitors, and issued beneficient regulations regarding the instruction and conduct of new converts, so as to guard them against superstition and blasphemy. An examination of some of the various cases investigated and adjudged by Zimenez shows the care and diligence he exercised in discharging the duties of an office which has been much calumniated and misunderstood. Severe he certainly was, but always straightforward and just in the wielding of his authority as grand inquisitor.

In 1509, at his repeated request, Ferdinand fitted out an expedition against the Moors, and, accompanied by two canons of his cathedral, Ximénez himself led the army. Inspired by his example and exhortations, the Spanish forces took the city of Oran by assault. In his untiring zeal for the propagation of the Faith, Ximénez endeavoured to make the victory a religious one; numbers of Christian captives were liberated, and several mosques turned into Christian churches. On his return to Spain the cardinal was received as a conquering hero both at Alcalá and Toledo. About this time a serious rupture occurred in the relations between France and the Holy See, owing to the growing power of Louis XII, which Julius II feared might endanger the authority of the Church. To counteract it, the pope took sides with the Venetian Republic against France, notwithstanding the fact that only a short time previously, when the Venetians had taken possession of part of the Papal States, it was by the help of Louis that they had been restored to the Church. For this ingratitude on the part of Julius, Louis vowed vengeance and, if possible, the overthrow of the pope. He attacked the spiritualities of the Church with regard to benefices, and the French army took possession of Bologna, which belonged to the pope. At the same time Louis and the Emperor Maximilian, supported by seven cardinals, chiefly French, took upon themselves to convene a council at Pisa, summoning Julius to attend. They accused him of having disturbed the peace of Europe, of having obtained the papacy by means of simony, and of having failed to keep his promise to convoke a general council of the Church. Julius determined to free Italy of the French and appealed to Ferdinand for help against Louis. By the advice of Ximénez Ferdinand agreed to suspend operations in Africa and to send his forces to assist the pope, and by the end of 1512 the French had been driven out of Italy. The schismatical Synod of Pisa was opened on 1 Nov., 1511, seven cardinals and about twenty bishops being present. the clergy of Pisa refused to have anything to do with it, as Julius had threatened them with excommunication if they did. The assembled prelates thereupon took fright and moved to Milan, so as to be under the protection of France. There they declared the pope deposed. Meanwhile Julius, whose ill health had caused delay, summoned the Fifth General Council of the Lateran to meet at Easter, 1512, at the same time pronouncing the Synod of Pisa and Milan to be null and void. Ximénez supported the pope throughout this affair, and his attitude doubtless went far towards preserving the unity of the Church in Spain. He also took an active part in procuring the publication of the Bull convening the council.

Ferdinand died in 1516, having nominated Ximénez to the regency pending the arrival of Charles V from Flanders. Adrian, dean of Louvain, also claimed the appointment on the authority of a document previously signed by Charles. The jurists who were consulted decided in favour of Ximénez, but he magnanimously proposed that he and Adrian should act jointly until further instructions should be received from Charles. Suspecting that the cardinal would be more acceptable to the Spanish people than a foreigner like Adrian, Charles confirmed Ximénez in the regency, whilst Adrian was consoled with the Bishopric of Tortona and the post of Grand Inquisitor of Aragon. The important position of regent gave full scope to the cardinal's powers of administration and his solicitude for the peace and security of the kingdom. Jealousy and intrigues amongst the grandees, detrimental to order in the state, caused him to transfer the seat of government from Guadalupe to Madrid, as being more central, and his choice of a capital was confirmed by subsequent sovereigns. Whilst acting as regent he greatly improved the condition of both army and navy, and he forced several rebellious cities and individuals to acknowledge his authority as Charles's representative. He initiated a new system of taxation and brought about various other internal reforms. His diplomacy successfully prevented a proposed alliance between France and Portugal which would have been detrimental to Castile, and when Jean d'Albret, the exiled king of Navarre, endeavoured to recover his lost kingdom, Ximénez joined forces with Francis I of France and defeated him. Both as regent during the absence of Charles and previously as guardian of Queen Juana, his wisdom and rectitude as well as his strength of character did much towards maintaining the integrity of the Spanish Throne. He took a prominent part in the efforts made for the spiritual welfare of the Spanish possessions in America and organized a band of missioners for the evangelization of the New World. Columbus had proved himself unfit to govern the newly-acquired territory by treating the conquered Indians as slaves, and this method of action called forth the severest condemnation from Ximénez. After he became regent further information of slavery reached Spain, and he took strong measures to repress it. He drew up a code of instructions for the well-being of the natives and used every effort to shield them from oppression and convert them to the Christian Faith.

Broken health and advancing age at length necessitated his retirement from public life, and his end is said to have been hastened by the ingratitude of Charles V for his many services to Spain. He was eighty-one when he died, and he was buried with great honours at Alcalá. Efforts were subsequently made for his canonization, but without result, though he has been honoured as a saint in many parts of Spain. The greater part of his wealth he left to his beloved University of Alcalá. His character, which has been much misunderstood, was remarkable for its great versatility. He was as much a soldier as a priest, as is shown by the share he took in the conquest of Oran. In his public life he was sternly conscientious, and fearless of the consequences to himself, in the performance of what he thought to be his duty, whilst in private he carried his austerities and mortifications so far as to endanger his health. In morals he was above reproach and most exact in all the observances of his religious state.



The earliest lives of Ximénez, on which almost all others have been based, are those of GOMEZ (Alcalá, 1569), ROBLES (Toledo, 1604), and QUINTANILLA (Palermo, 1633). Of the later ones the following deserve mention: FLECHIER, Hist. du Cardinal Ximénez (Paris, 1700); BARRETT, Life of Cardinal Ximénez (London, 1813); HEFELE, Der Cardinal Ximénez (Tübingen, 1844), tr. DALTON (London, 1885). Further information may be found in: WADDING, Annales minorum, XV (Rome, 1736); IDEM, Script. ord. min. (Rome, 1806); JAMES, Lives of Eminent Foreign Statesmen, I (London, 1832); ROBERTSON, Life of Charles V (London, 1856); PRESCOTT, History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella (London, 1849), but in reading the last-mentioned two, allowance must be made for their Protestant prejudices.

About this page

APA citation. Alston, G.C. (1912). Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Alston, George Cyprian. "Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to Matthew Bettger.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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