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Father Paul Sarpi
by [?]

But the most active scene of his life began about the year 1615, when pope Paul the fifth, 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 Venetian 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 summons.

The Venetian writers, whatever might be the abilities of their adversaries, were, at least, superiour 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 the fourth 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, freedom of speech without neglect of decency, severity without rigour, and extensive learning without ostentation.”