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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Urban Viii

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VIII. (Maffeo Barberini), pope from 1623 to 1644, was born in 1568, of a wealthy Florentine family. He early entered the prelacy, became prefect of Spoleto, twice nuncio to France, cardinal (1606), and finally, on the 6th of August 1623, succeeded Gregory XV. as pope. Urban was vain, self-willed and extremely conscious of his position; he accepted the papacy chiefly as a temporal principality, and made it his first care to provide for its defence and to render it formidable. He built Castelfranco on the northern frontier; fortified the port of Civita Vecchia; and strengthened the Castel Sant' Angelo, equipping it with cannon made from the bronze of the Pantheon, an act of vandalism which the Romans punished by the epigram, "Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini." He also established an arsenal and a factory of arms. But all this provision was to no purpose. The only territory gained during Urban's pontificate, the duchy of Urbino, the last addition to the papal states, was acquired by reversion (1631); and in his one war, with the duke of Parma, for the district of Castro, he met defeat and humiliation (1644). The Thirty Years' War Urban professed to regard as waged for political, not for religious, ends. He therefore took counsel merely with his interest as a temporal prince, threw in his lot with France, supported the duke of Nevers in the Mantuan Succession, and, under stress of ' fear of Habsburg supremacy, suffered himself to be drawn into closer relations with the Protestants than beseemed his office, and incurred the reproach of rejoicing in the victories of heretics. Later, in keeping with his position, he opposed all concessions to the Protestants; but still showed himself so vacillating that the papacy ceased to be regarded as a serious political factor, and was entirely ignored in the final settlement of Westphalia, 1648.

Urban was the last pope to practise nepotism on a grand scale. He failed to found a princely house; but he enriched his family to an extent that astonished even the Romans. Urban bore a hand in the condemnation of Galileo. He acknowledged the genius of the astronomer, and had not approved of the action of the Inquisition in 1616; but subsequently, believing himself to have been caricatured in the Dialogo, he permitted the Inquisition to have its way and to compel an abjuration (1633). Urban also denounced the doctrines of Jansen, 1644 (see Jansenism). He promulgated the famous bull In Coena Domini in its final form, 1627; published the latest revision of the Breviary, 1631; founded the College of the Propaganda for the education of missionaries, 1627; and accorded the title of "eminence" to the cardinals, 1630. Urban did much to embellish the city. Conspicuous among his works are the Barberini Palace, the College of the Propaganda, the Fountain of the Triton, and the baldachin of St Peter's. His hymns and poems, which have frequently been published, are evidence of his literary taste and ability. Urban died on the 29th of July 1644, and was succeeded by Innocent X.

For contemporary accounts of Urban see: Tommasucci, in Platina, De vitas Pontiff. Rom.; Oldoin, continuator of Ciaconius, Vitae et res gestae summorum Pontiff. Rom.; and Simonin, Gesta Urbani (Antwerp, 1637). A rich collection of materials was made by Andrea Niccoletti, Della vita di Papa Urbano VIII. e storia del suo pontificato, never published, but extensively used by Ranke. and others. See also Ranke, Popes (Eng. trans., Austin), ii. 552 seq., iii. 1 seq., 21 seq.; v. Reumont, Gesch. der Stadt Rom, iii. 2, 611 seq., 702 seq.; Santa Pieralisa, Urbano VIII. e Galileo Galilei (Rome, 1875); Gregorovius, Urban VIII. im Widerspruch zu Spanien U. dem Kaiser (Stuttgart, 1879); and Weech, Urban VIII. (London, 1905). (T. F. C.)


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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Urban Viii'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/u/urban-viii.html. 1910.

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