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Marcello Cervini and Ecclesiastical Government in Tridentine Italy.

Marcello Cervini (1501-1555) was a prominent figure in the Catholic church of the sixteenth century. A client and friend of the powerful Farnese family, he was created a Cardinal in 1539 and served in the positions of papal legate to the Council of Trent (1545-1549), administrator of a succession of three dioceses, and for the last three weeks of his life Pope under the name Marcellus II. Historical interpretations of his career have varied widely, from early depictions of him as a zealous, spiritually minded prelate, carried off before he could implement a true reform of the church, to more recent assessments which place him with Gian Pietro Carafa and an "intransigent" group of cardinals who were intent on closing off all dialogue with the Protestants, and chose instead the methods of confrontation and domination. In this biography, William V Hudon draws on the letters and papers of Cervini, which occupy seventy volumes in the state archive of Florence, and on his extensive reading into the history of Tridentine Italy to provide a more balanced and nuanced portrait of the prelate and reformer.

Hudon details the work of Cervini during the various phases of his career: his education in humanist studies, his service as tutor then secretary to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, his missions to the imperial court and to France, his work as legate to the Council of Trent, his administration of the dioceses of Nicastro, Reggio Emilia, and Gubbio, and his service as a director of the Roman Inquisition. In the process Hudon develops a number of themes. One is that Cervini's humanist training and Renaissance culture bore directly on his concept of reform: he believed reform could only be realized if the church returned to the model of Apostolic times, to be uncovered by studying the scriptures, patristic authors, and the decrees of ancient councils. In this Cervini shared the ideas and hopes of the party of "spiritual" cardinals, which included Gasparo Contarini and Giovanni Morone.

At the same Hudon describes Cervini as a pragmatist who sought to achieve results by relying on papal authority within the church as a whole and on episcopal authority within specific dioceses. The conflicting demands of the papal curia and his episcopal offices frequently created tension within Cervini, torn between his belief in the necessity of episcopal residence and the demands placed on his time by Pope Paul III and his successor Julius III. Nevertheless, Cervini's efforts as a bishop place him among prelates who exercised pastoral care on the diocesan level before this was fully mandated by the Council of Trent (p. 128). Pragmatism and moderation also characterized Cervini's activity for the Roman Inquisition. As one of the directors of the Inquisition he supported, at least in theory, the use of force against heresy. In practice, however, he attempted to mitigate inquisitorial procedures and indeed to bypass them completely if the situation warranted. Pragmatism was also evident in Cervini's efforts to curb fiscal abuses during his few weeks as Pope.

Hudon's portrait of Cervini is thorough and balanced. He notes deficiencies in his personality and work: his lack of humour, his failure to leave written works of his own, and his "singular, restrictive, and probably unbalanced focus upon his duties" (p. 162). Nevertheless the total picture is favourable to Cervini. Hudon argues that his activities as an administrator were so extensive and varied that simplistic accounts of his life must be rejected, especially those which attempt to rank him exclusively with the "spiritual" or with the "intransigent" forces at Rome. Indeed one of Hudon's conclusions is that the very terms "spiritual" and "intransigent" are so loaded and misleading that they should be rejected. Hudon's study of Cervini provides more than a portrait of the man, but a valuable reinterpretation of the reform movement during the era of the Council of Trent.
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Author:Deutscher, Thomas
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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