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Gasparo Contarini

Venetian statesman and cardinal (1483-1542)

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Contarini, GASPARO, Venetian statesman and cardinal, b. October 16, 1483, of an ancient and noble family in Venice; d. at Bologna, August 24, 1542. He received his elementary training in his native city; and afterwards, from 1501 to 1509, he frequented the University of Padua, where he studied Greek, mathematics, Aristotelian philosophy, and theology. He was a close student and acquired the reputation of a great philosopher. After his return to Venice he became, like all the sons of patrician families, a member of the Great Council, and afterwards was named to a commission which administered the debt of the republic. In September, 1520, he was appointed orator or ambassador to the court of the Emperor Charles V (1519-56), with instructions to defend the alliance of his Government with Francis I of France (1515-47), and to prevent all hostile measures of the emperor. In Worms, where he arrived in April, 1521, he heard much about Luther and his errors; but, not being concerned with the matter, he refrained from all interference, and never saw Luther nor spoke to him. From Worms he went with the imperial court to the Netherlands, thence to England, and finally to Spain. In August, 1525, he returned to Venice. A report of his experiences was presented to the Senate November 16 following. During his absence he was named “Savio di terra ferma”, i.e. president of a commission charged with the affairs of the Continental possessions of Venice, and he assumed the duties of this office. In 1527 he represented the Republic of Venice in the Congress of Ferrara, where the Duke of Ferrara joined the league, formed against the Emperor Charles V, between France and several states of Italy. In 1528 he was sent as ambassador to the court of Clement VII (1523-34), with instructions to retain the pope in the above mentioned league, and to defend the action of the republic in withholding from the pope the cities of Ravenna and Cervia, seized during the late invasion of the Constable Bourbon. Contarini failed in both objects. Venice was forced not only to surrender the aforesaid cities, but also to make peace with the emperor; it was concluded through Contarini in January, 1530, at Bologna. On February 24 following, Contarini assisted at the solemn coronation of Charles V in Bologna, and then returned to Venice, where he presented the usual report to the Senate on March 9. In compensation for his services he was appointed to several high positions in the government of the republic, and ultimately became a member of the Senate.

Contarini was created cardinal by Paul III in 1535. He accepted the honor and went to Rome (October, 1535). He used his influence with the pope to suppress abuses in the papal government and to secure virtuous men for the Sacred College. Contarini was the president of a commission appointed by the pope in 1536 to submit plans for a reform of evils in the Roman Curia or in other parts of the Church. It was largely due to him that, early in 1537, the commission could present its program, the “Consilium de emendanda ecclesia”. He advised the pope not to abuse the great jurisdiction placed in his hands; and encouraged his friends among the bishops to take appropriate measures for discipline and good order in their dioceses, setting an example in his own Diocese of Cividale di Belluno, to which he was appointed in October, 1536. St. Ignatius acknowledged that Contarini was largely responsible for the papal approbation of his society (1540). At the desire of Charles V, Contarini was sent as papal legate to Germany in 1541, and took part in the conference held at Ratisbon between Catholics and Protestants in hope of conciliating the latter. As it gradually became evident that the differences in doctrine could not be bridged over, the conference was broken off; Contarini remitted the final decision of all articles of faith to the pope, and returned to Rome. In January, 1542, he was appointed cardinal legate at Bologna, where, after a few months, death put an end to his career. His remains were interred, first in the church of San Petronio, then transferred to the church of the monastery of San Proculo, and finally, in December, 1565, to the family tomb in a chapel of the church of Santa Maria dell’ Orto in Venice.

Contarini’s principal works are the following: (I) “Libri duo de immortalitate animie”; (2) “De officio episcopi libri duo”; (3) “De magistratibus et republics Venetorum libri V”; (4) “Compendii primae philosophiae libri VIII”; (5) “De potestate Pontificis”; (6) “De elementis libri V”; (7) “Confutatio articulorum seu quaestionum Lutheri”; (8) “De libero arbitrio”; (9) “Conciliorum magis illustrium summa”; (10) “De Sacramentis christianse legis et catholicae ecclesise libri IV”; (11) “De justifications”; (12) “Cathechismus”; (13) “De Prsedestinatione”; (14) “Scholia in epistolas divi Pauli”. In many of these writings Contarini touched upon the questions raised by Luther and other reformers; in stating the Catholic view, however, he was not always fortunate. Thus, in describing the process of justification, he attributes the result largely to faith—not to faith with incipient charity in the Catholic sense, but to faith in the sense of confidence. How.—ever, he departs again from the Protestant view by including in the preparatory stage a real breaking away from sin and turning to good, a repentance and detestation of sin. Thus also, in describing the essence or the causa formalis of justification, he requires not only the supernatural quality inherent in the soul, by which man is constituted just, but, in addition to that, the outward imputation of the merits of Christ, believed to be necessary owing to the deficiency of our nature. It would be unjust, nevertheless, to class Contarini among the partisans of the Reformation. The above-mentioned views were taken only in part from the teaching of the Protestants; as yet the Church had given no definite decision on these matters. Moreover, Contarini wished always to remain a Catholic; at the Conference of Ratisbon he protested repeatedly, that he would sanction nothing contrary to the Catholic teaching, and he left the final decision of all matters of faith to the pope.


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