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Papal Library

Marcellus II Biography

by Catherine Frakas 02 Jan 2007

Marcellus II1555-1555
Marcello Cervini de Spannocchi born 1501
This pope was celebrated for his horror of nepotism; he forbade all his nephews to come to Rome. He was born on the 6th of May, 1501, at Mont Sano, in the Marches, in the diocese of Osimo, near Loretto, and was originally named Marcello Cervini de Spannocchi. In his infancy he was of very feeble constitution, but gifted in mind. He became versed in Greek and Latin; he loved arts, and himself drew and sculptured with elegance.
A false report obtained circulation in Italy. It was affirmed, with all the effrontery of false science, that Italy was threatened by a general deluge, which would make no less ravage than that of Noah. It was even reported that Clement VII, at the advice of some fanatics, had taken refuge at Tivoli, hoping that its mountains would protect him against that scourge. But, if he went there, he no doubt had some sounder reason for it. Be that as it may, the populace and a great number of noblemen (for on such occasions all ranks sink to the populace) took precautions. Marcello thought that it was only needful for him to oppose to such absurdity the language of reason, wisdom, and sound natural philosophy. He wrote a dissertation upon that panic terror, and presented it ot the pope; and the rumors which had disturbed the peninsula were quieted.
On the death of Clement VII, Marcello was regarded with favor by Paul III.
the 18th of December, 1539, Marcello, being in France as apostolic nuncio, was created cardinal-priest, and then sent to Germany as legate a latere to Charles V, and subsequently accompanied that prince to Madrid.
When the nuncio left Spain, Charles V wished to reward him with a pension of ten thousand dollars. But Marcello declined, saying: Hitherto I have been the minister of the pope; and such I wish to continue, without binding myself to any foreign prince. He had the title of Bishop of Reggio; but the friendship of the pope retained him at Rome, and to administer his diocese he deputed James Lainez, one of the companions of Saint Ignatius.
In 1545 Paul created Marcello president of the General Council of Trent, but recalled his friend to Rome when the Interim was published.
On the 5th of April, 1555, the electors, to the number of thirty-six entered into conclave. Cardinals Ranucci Farnese and Guido Ascanius Sforza immediately thought of placing Cervini, then aged fifty-four years, upon the throne of Saint Peter. That report having reached the ear of Cardinal Caraffa, he approached Cervini, and, kneeling, venerated him as pope, exhorting all the cardinals to elect him.
Thence they went to the chapel, where he was unanimously elected. On the 10th of April he was consecrated under the Latin form of his own name of Marcellus, because Saint Marcellus had always been invoked by the Cervini family.
The new pope had always been known for his piety, his knowledge, and his constant virtue. The Universal Church expected great good from this pontiff. From the first moment he showed great courage. The ambassador of his Catholic Majesty solicited the pardon of a criminal condemned for murder. Marcellus replied that it did not seem fitting to commence a pontificate by pardoning a homicide.
He always rose early, and, without calling for any of his servants, lighted his own lamp. This pope was accustomed to quote the words of Adrian V: No man is more wretched than the Roman pontiff; all his felicity is bitterness. The chair of Saint Peter is full of thorns; and, moreover, its weight will oppress the strongest.
The austerity of Marcellus was such that he thought of banishing music from all the ceremonies of the Church. Palestrina, then chapel-master in the Vatican Basilica, begged him to postpone the execution of this project until he heard a Mass composed according to true ecclesiastical style. When Marcellus heard it sung by six voices on Easter day, he was affected even to tears, and he abandoned his first idea. This Mass was published under the title of the Mass of Pope Marcellus, and dedicated to his successor, Paul IV.
Marcellus, the implacable enemy of luxury, loved temperance alike in his food and in his expenses. It has been said that he intended to suppress the Swiss Guard, saying: It would be better for the pontiff to die by the hands of the wicked, should such a thing happen, than set an example of a disgraceful fear or an unnecessary pomp. Yet, without exaggeration, there are circumstances under which the Swiss Guard at Rome is indispensable. Moreover, a motive of policy has always existed for employing such troops. The Swiss who have been on guard at the Vatican take back into their own country a love of Rome which especially maintains the Catholic feeling of Uri, Unterwald, Lucerne, and of many other cantons.
The zeal of the pontiff for the reform of clerical discipline caused him to say that ecclesiastics with the care of souls should never be employed in public occupations. And it was his intention to confide the civil government of his States to laymen. He allowed none of his relatives, not even his brother Alexander, to approach Rome, where, says Novaes, the relatives of new popes always flock to receive the fertilizing dews of the Vatican.
Being urged to receive his nephews Richard and Herennius, and give them apartments in the palace, Marcellus replied: What business have our nephews in the apostolical palace? Is it their patrimony?
Whatever he promised he hastened to perform. We would not be forced to blush, said he, for being unfaithful, should we have promised and not kept our word.
All these virtues were extinguished by a violent fit of apoplexy, and he died after governing the Church only twenty-one days. He was interred at the Vatican. A surgeon was accused of having poisoned a wound in this pontiff's leg, caused by his fall from a horse; but the autopsy proved that was false.
Marcellus was distinguished by his lofty stature. His face was thin, his eyes black, and his countenance agreeable. One of his eyebrows was higher than the other. He rarely smiled; but sometimes he suddenly showed gaiety.

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