Page images
PDF
EPUB

As Capella was of the order of the Servites, his scholar was induced, by his acquaintance with him, to engage in the same profession, though his uncle and his mother represented to him the hardships and austerities of that kind of life, and advised him with great zeal against it. But he was steady in his resolutions, and in 1566 took the habit of the order, being then only in his 14th year, a time of life in most persons very improper for such engagements, but in him attended with such maturity of thoughts, and such a settled temper, that he never seemed to regret the choice he then made, and which he confirmed by a solemn public profession in 1572.

At a general chapter of the Servites, held at Mantua, Paul' (for so we shall now call him) being then only twenty years old, distinguished himself so much in a public disputation by his genius and learning, that William duke of Mantua, a great patron of letters, solicited the consent of his superiors to retain him at his court, and not only made him publick professor of divinity in the cathedral, but honoured him with many proofs of his esteem.

But Father Paul, finding a court life not agreeable to his temper, quitted it two years afterwards, and retired to his beloved privacies, being then not only acquainted with the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee languages, but with philosophy, the mathematicks, canon and civil law, all parts of natural philosophy, and chymistry itself; for his application was unremitted, his head clear, his apprehension quick, and his memory retentive.

Being made a priest at twenty-two, he was distinguished by the illustrious cardinal Borromeo with his confi. dence, and employed by him on many occasions, not without the envy of persons of less merit, who were so far exasperated as to lay a charge against him, before the Inquşition, for denying that the Trinity could be proved from the first chapter of Genesis; but the accusation was too ridiculous to be taken notice of.

After this he passed successively through the dignities of his order, and in the intervals of his employment applied himself to his studies with so extensive a capacity, as left no branch of knowledge untouched. By bim, Acquapendente, the great anatomist, confesses that he was informed how vision is performed; and there are proofs that he was not a stranger to the circulation of the blood. He frequently conversed upon astronomy with mathematicians, upon anatomy with surgeons, upon medicine with physicians, and with chymists upon the analysis of metals, not as a superficial enquirer, but as a complete master.

But the hours of repose, that he employed so well, were interrupted by a new information in the Inquisition, where a former acquaintance produced a letter written by him in cyphers, in which he said, “ that he detested “the court of Rome, and that no preferment was obtain"ed there but by dishonest means. .” This accusation, however dangerous, was passed over on account of his great reputation, but made such impression on that court, that he was afterwards denied a bishoprick by Clement VIII. After these difficulties were sur

armounted, Father Paul again retired to his solitude,

where he appears, by some writings drawn up by him at that time, to have turned his attention more to improvements in piety than learning. Such was the care with which he read the Scriptures, that, it being his custom to draw a line under any passage which he intended more nicely to consider, there was not a single word in his New Testament but was underlined; the same marks of attention appeared in his Old Testament, Psalter, and Breviary.

But the most active scene of his life began about the year 1615, when Pope Paul Vth, exasperated by some decrees of the senate of Venice that interfered with the pretended rights of the church, laid the whole state under an interdict.

The senate, filled with indignation at this treatment, forbade the bishops to receive or publish the Pope's bull; and convening the rectors of the churches, commanded them to celebrate divine service in the accustomed manner, with which most of them readily complied; but the Jesuits and some others refusing, were by a solemn edict expelled the state.

Both parties, having proceeded to extremities, employed their ablest writers to defend their measures: on the Pope's side, among others, Cardinal Bellarmine entered the lists, and with his confederate authors defended the papal claims with great scurrility of expression, and very sophistical reasonings, which were confuted by the Ve. netian apologists in much more decent language, and with much greater solidity of argument.

On this occasion Father Paul was most eminently distinguished, by his Defence of the Rights of the Supreme Magistrate, his Treatise of Excommunications, translated from Gerson, with an Apology, and other writings, for which he was cited before the Inquisition at Rome; but it may be easily imagined that he did not obey the sum

mons.

The Venetian writers, whatever might be the abilities of their adversaries, were at least superior to them in the justice of their cause. The propositions maintained on the side of Rome were these: That the Pope is invested with all the authority of heaven and earth. That all princes are his vassals, and that he may annul their laws at pleasure. That kings may appeal to him, as he is temporal monarch of the whole earth. That he can discharge subjects from their oaths of allegiance, and make it their duty to take up arms against their sovereign. That he may depose kings without any fault

committed by them, if the good of the church requires it: that the clergy are exempt from all tribute to kings, and are not accountable to them even in cases of high treason. That the Pope cannot err: that his decisions are to be received and obeyed on pain of sin, though all the world should judge them to be false; that the Pope is God upon earth; that his sentence and that of God are the same; and that to call his power in question, is to call in question the power of God: maxims equally shocking, weak, pernicious, and absurd; which did not require the abilities or learning of Father Paul to demonstrate their falsehood, and destructive tendency.

It may be easily imagined that such principles were quickly overthrown, and that no court but that of Rome thought it for its interest to favour them. The Pope, therefore, finding his authors confuted and his cause abandoned, was willing to conclude the affair by treaty, which, by the mediation of Henry IV. of France was accommodated upon terms very much to the honour of the Venetians.

But the defenders of the Venetian rights were, though comprehended in the treaty, excluded by the Romans from the benefit of it; some upon different pretences were imprisoned, some sent to the galleys, and all debarred from preferment. But their malice was chiefly aimed against Father Paul, who soon found the effects of it; for as he was going one night to his convent, about six months after the accommodation, he was attacked by five ruffians armed with stilettoes, who gave him no less than fifteen stabs, three of which wounded him in such a manner that he was left for dead. The murderers fled for refuge to the nuncio, and were afterwards received into the Pope's dominions; but were pursued by divine justice, and all, except one man who died in prison, perished by violent deaths.

This and other attempts upon his life obliged him to

confine himself to his convent, where he engaged in writing the history of the Council of Trent, a work unequalled for the judicious disposition of the matter, and artful texture of the narration; commended by Dr. Burnet as the completest model of historical writing, and celebrated by Mr. Wotton as equivalent to any production of antiquity; in which the reader finds “Liberty * without licentiousness, piety without hypocrisy, free"dom of speech without neglect of decency, severity “ without rigour, and extensive learning without ostenta*** tion.”

In this, and other works of less consequence, he spent the remaining part of his life, to the beginning of the year 1622, when he was seized with a cold and fever, which he neglected till it became incurable. He languished more than twelve months, which he spent almost wholly in a preparation for his passage into eternity; and among his prayers and aspirations was often heard to repeat, Lord! now let thy servant depart in peace.

On Sunday the eighth of January of the next year, he rose, weak as he was, to mass, and went to take his repast with the rest; but on Monday was seized with a weakness that threatened immediate death; and on Thursday prepared for his change by receiving the Viaticum with such marks of devotion, as equally melted and edified the beholders.

Through the whole course of his illness to the last hour of his life, he was consulted by the senate in publick affairs, and returned answers, in his greatest weakness, with such presence of mind as could only arise from the consciousness of innocence.

On Sunday, the day of his death, he had the passion of our blessed Saviour read to him out of St John's Gospel, as on every other day of that week, and spoke of the mercy of his Redeemer, and his confidence in his merits.

As his end evidently approached, the brethren of the

« PreviousContinue »