Maffeo Barberini was the fifth of six children of a wealthy Florentine merchant. Like all the scions of wealthy families, he studied at the Jesuits first, and then at the Roman College. He moved to Pisa and obtained his law degree as was the desire of the family.
At the age of twenty he entered the administration of the Papal State as a lawyer where he held a long and prestigious career, crowned also by the post of Apostolic Nuncio in Paris. At the age of 38, or in 1606, he received the cardinal's hat from Pope Paul V, which was imposed on him by the hands of Henry IV, King of France.
When his uncle died, as a young man, he had hosted him in Rome, he inherited his conspicuous patrimony, with which he bought a prestigious palace, furnishing it in an extremely luxurious manner, on the Renaissance style, luxurious enough to become the most prominent character. important in Rome.
The pontificate of Barberini opened when the c.d. "Thirty Years War" was in full swing. In fact, the war operations had already begun for five years and the so-called "Bohemian-Palatine period" was about to end with the defeat of the Protestants, the victory of the imperialists and the exile of Frederick V, elector prince of the Palatinate.
The c.d. was about to start "Danish period" which saw an alliance array quite different from the one that had characterized the previous period. In fact, France was no longer in the hands of the "regent" Maria de 'Medici, but in those of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, Prime Minister of Louis XIII. The Richelieu, although Catholic, no longer intended to support the Catholic Hapsburg Empire, in order to avoid a new encirclement as in the times of Emperor Charles V. Making, therefore, prevail the raison d'état, sided with the part of the alliance between England , the Netherlands and Denmark, in an anti-Habsburg function. Which meant the support of France to the Lutheran princes, with the consequence of the end of every possibility of Catholic restoration in Europe.
Urban VIII, believing that the war in Europe was still fighting for religious purposes, had sided with his beloved France even before the Richelieu decided to stand against the Empire. This mistake of political and strategic evaluation resulted in the loss of credibility of the figure of the Pope as an arbiter of international controversies.
The fundamental error of the Barberini lies in the fact that, instead of proposing himself as an arbiter of religious controversies, he tried to propose himself as an arbiter of political controversies among the struggling States, thereby proclaiming himself as a state above the States. He had not realized that the Pontifical State, with the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, counted for nothing; its temporal power no longer existed.
In 1627 with the constitution Debitum established the Congregation of the Borders to provide for the defense of the ecclesiastical state, preventing any illegal sale, resolving any internal jurisdiction or with neighboring foreign states and trying to reacquire the territories unfairly lost.
A somewhat sensational event saw him engaged in the enterprise of the reconquest of the Duchy of Castro and Ronciglione, which at that time was in the hands of Odoardo Farnese. The Duchy of Castro, located on the outskirts of Rome, had been assigned by Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) to his nephews, together with considerable tax privileges. But Urban VIII had hated the Farnese family, for which he intended to seize the Duchy to replace it.
Taking advantage that the Farnese at that time were heavily indebted to some Roman bankers, the Pope confiscated all their assets and declared them war. The Duchy of Castro was occupied in October 1641; subsequently Odoardo Farnese was excommunicated and the Pope declared him lapsed from all property rights and sovereignty, threatening to deprive him of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza.
Failed any attempt to reach an agreement, the Pope declared that the Duchy of Castro was a possession of the Church and the Farnese family had usurped the title. The attitude of the Pope on this matter, however, led the other Italian princes to look suspiciously at the position of the Pontiff. In fact, if he had come into possession of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, he would have constituted a potential threat to the territorial integrity of the States of Northern Italy, above all because Urban VIII was supported by French arms.
Odoardo Farnese, aware of having the support of all the Lords of Northern Italy, and obtained the alliance of Florence and Venice, set up a small army, at whose head he marched towards Rome, starting a real war that went on, with alternate luck, for a good four years. Military operations ended only because of the exhaustion of finances by all the belligerents. In 1644 a peace agreement was reached that saw not only the revocation of the excommunication by the Pope, but also the return of the Duchy of Castro to the Farnese. In this way another failure of the Urban VIII policy had been consummated. During his pontificate, Barberini drew hands down into the coffers of the State, both to favor his family members to whom he granted substantial donations allowing scandalous and illicit enrichments and to carry out the numerous civil and military building interventions that characterized his twenty years on Pietro's chair. This led to a bleeding of the finances of the state that imposed the recourse to numerous and high taxes exclusively to the people, without prejudice to the privileges of the noble class and the clergy.
During his pontificate he convoked eight Consistors, during which he proceeded to nominate 74 cardinals. Among them were Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini, nephew and brother of the Pope respectively; Giovanni Battista Pamphili, Patriarch of Antioch who will be elected Pope on 5 September 1644 with the name of Innocent X; Antonio Barberini, another nephew of the Pope; Ascanio Filomarino, Archbishop of Naples; Marco Antonio Bragadin, Bishop of Vicenza. He raised many saints to the honors of the altars, including Francis Xavier, Filippo Neri, Aloisio Gonzaga and Ignazio di Loyola.
From an early age he had delighted in composing verses, in Latin and in vernacular, redundant in form and miserable in content; in the perfect Baroque style of his time. Also from Pope continued in this activity, so much so that in 1637 he published a collection of his compositions, but he signed it simply as Maphei Cardinalis Barberini; but he committed himself to divulging it by resorting to his power as head of the Church.
He surrounded himself with poets with whom he had entered into friendships (some of them talented or otherwise less known) - such as Gabriello Chiabrera (who had studied at the Jesuits in Rome, Giovanni Ciampoli or Francesco Bracciolini - which gave the task of "Christianizing" the poem, in perfect respect to the principles of the Counter-Reformation.
He had particularly close relations with two foreign Jesuits, Giacomo Balde, an Alsatian and Casimiro Sarbiewski, a Polish, whose collaboration in the reconstruction of the hymns of his Roman Breviary, produced only a formal refinement with a noticeable impoverishment of contents.
Urban VIII was not the only Pope-poet. It was preceded, years ago, by Leo X. Like the Medici, Barberini also loved to surround himself with poetastras and minstrels who enlivened the Pope's day especially during the summer, when the court moved to the papal palace of Castel Gandolfo.
He called in Rome and gave them shelter and protection to other artists, such as Athanasius Kircher, scholar of multifaceted ingenuity, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, musician and virtuoso of the Tiorba, and the painters Claude Lorrain, Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin, also French.
Probably the greatest merit of Urban VIII is attributable to the building interventions that characterized all his pontificate and that were entrusted to the most outstanding artists of his time, even if the works wanted by the Pope were made to the detriment of other monumental works that had come to him , almost intact, challenging for centuries the carelessness of men and the inclemency of time.
The bronze canopy on the main altar at the center of the St. Peter's Basilica cruise, the work of Bernini, is perhaps the highest expression of Baroque sculpture. In the bas-reliefs that decorate the sculpture, the artist wanted to represent the Mater Ecclesia with a double face, the suffering of the parturient and the joy of the child who faces life. In 1621, after 170 years of work, he had to consecrate the new Basilica of San Pietro, although incomplete in its interior ornaments, as had been configured by Michelangelo.
In addition to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Urban VIII entrusted the realization of numerous works to other prestigious artists, such as Andrea Sacchi, Pietro da Cortona and Carlo Maderno, to whom we owe the arrangement of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, as we see it today .
The Barberini Library was built in which numerous and very precious manuscripts were collected; the Barberini Palace at the foot of the Quirinale, the Palazzo c.d. of Propaganda Fidei, the Triton fountain and numerous churches. In the military field proceeded to the strengthening of Castel Sant'Angelo, he fortified the entire city of Castelfranco and transformed the port of Civitavecchia into a real military port.
As said, these works were, however, made by drawing materials from other works that had come to the Barberini challenging the centuries. For example, all the bronzes of the Pantheon, both the beams of the atrium and the internal lining of the dome, were removed, re-melted and re-used for the cannons of Castel Sant'Angelo and the Baldacchino in San Pietro. In addition, all the marbles of the Colosseum were reused to embellish the Roman palaces and the stones were even used to build new palaces. In other words, the Colosseum was used as a quarry for building materials. This havoc exclaimed to Pasquino: Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini (What the Barbarians did not do, the Barberini did).
The pontificate of Urban VIII saw the trial of Galileo Galilei as a supporter of the Copernican theory on the motion of celestial bodies, in opposition to the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic theory supported by the Church. The story was born under the papacy of Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V (1605-1621).
In 1616, precisely on the 24th of February, the Holy Office condemned the Copernican theory with a twofold motivation. The former condemned the claim that the Sun was locally immobile at the center of the planetary system surrounding it, as contrasting with the literal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The second condemned the statement that the Earth is not the center of the world, but moves around the Sun, as contrasting with the principles of the Faith. After that the Index Congregation passed to the condemnation of the De revolutionibus orbium celestium of Copernicus and of all the texts connected to it.
Galilei, at the end of the same month, went to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, head of the Holy Office and first supporter of the sentence to Giordano Bruno, from whom he obtained an attestation letter in which the prelate stated that the scientist had never received any condemnation and he had never abjured anything, but, at the same time, he was warned that the Copernican doctrine was contrary to the Holy Scriptures and, for this very reason, it was neither defended nor divulged. The letter, although agreed in February, was drawn up on May 26, 1616.
At the same time, a personal enemy of Galilei, his father Seguri, invented a verbal plan, in which he testified that the scientist had been warned by Bellarmino to abjure the Copernican theory he shared, under penalty of imprisonment, as a result of the warning, there would have been the promise of obedience and abjuration. Maffeo Barberini, when he was a cardinal, had defended Galileo when, in Florence, litigation had arisen over the various hypotheses of floating phenomena. Therefore, when he was elected Pope, Galileo was led to hope for a benevolent attitude of the new pontiff towards his person and his studies as well as towards modern science.
At the end of 1623 Galilei published a volume entitled Il Saggiatore, with a dedication to the new Pope. In this work the scientist, by treating the motion of comets and other celestial bodies, indirectly confirmed the validity of the Copernican theory. He also claimed that knowledge always progresses, without ever settling on dogmatic positions. In other words, man has the right-duty to expand knowledge without ever claiming to reach absolute truth. This position, according to the scientist, was not at all contrary to the Faith.
Galileo's work was positively evaluated by Urban VIII. The Pope officially received the scientist in Rome in April 1624 and encouraged him to resume his studies on the comparison between the highest systems, provided that the comparison took place only on a mathematical basis. Which was to be understood in the sense that a mathematical certainty, or abstract, had nothing to do with the certainties of the real world. Albeit with this limitation, the Church of Rome seemed to have softened its position on the new theory.
On February 21, 1632, fresh from the press, the scientific community and not, had in his hands the last work of Galilei, Dialogue above the two world's highest systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, which was definitively demonstrated the validity of the heliocentric system .
The hostile reactions did not wait. In the summer of the same year, Urban VIII expounded all his resentment in that one of his theses had been treated, according to him, awkwardly and exposed to ridicule. Furthermore, in the text, there was more than one reference to the pontiff as a defender of the most backward positions. Finally, the work ended with the statement that it was possible to dissert on the constitution of the world, provided that we never seek the truth. This conclusion was nothing but a diplomatic gimmick devised to go to press. Which he had done, rightly, to enrage the Pontiff.
Galileo's enemies saw in the Dialogue a frontal attack on the binomial theology-philosophy that was supposed to be the only way to ascertain the truth, considering science as a completely subordinate path, that is, subservient to the theoretical disciplines.
Perhaps, however, the aspect that the censors considered more dangerous than the treaty, was represented by the fact that the text had been written in Italian and not in Latin, the traditional language for works intended for scholars. In other words, using the Italian language, or vulgar, as was said at the time, the scientist had clearly demonstrated the intention to give maximum dissemination to the content of his work, even and above all outside the academic world.
In July 1632, the Inquisition of Florence gave orders to withdraw all copies of the Dialogue on the market. Urban VIII, urged by the Jesuits, bitter enemies of the scientist, gave orders to send a copy of the Dialogue to the Holy Office for the appropriate examinations and to convene Galilei in Rome at the Inquisition.
The accusation made against Galileo was that he had not limited himself to discussing the Copernican theory in purely mathematical terms, but had made it his own, completely.
On 12 April 1633, Galilei presented himself in Rome and was arrested. Understanding that the court of the Inquisition was willing to repress, by any means, the disclosure of the ideas presented in the Dialogue, he offered to make corrections that took into account the needs of the Doctrine of the Holy Roman Church. This was not sufficient. The Pope, although he had always been informed, by his desire, of the interrogations, had been careful not to intervene. This had made hope for his intervention in favor of the Pisan. Which did not happen.
A public act of abjuration was imposed on the scientist. Otherwise he would have had to suffer all the penalties reserved for heretics. Galileo had to bend. With the act of abjuration, he also committed himself not to divulge Copernican ideas in the future and to denounce to the Holy Office anyone who in the future would try to resume the disclosure. This happened in the summer of 1633.
Galilei was first transferred to Pisa and then to his home in Arcetri, where he was allowed to expiate his prison in the home in consideration of his seniority. He was already 66 years old. In the years to come the blindness also occurred that did not prevent him to give prints in Leiden (Holland) in 1638 another fundamental work of his genius, Discorsi and mathematical demonstrations around two new sciences (it was the physics of motion and resistance of materials).
He was allowed to move to Florence where he died in January 1642. Curiously, for one of those strange coincidences of History, in the same year, precisely on Christmas Day, in England, in Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire, Isacco Newton was born.
Maffeo Barberini died on July 29, 1644. He had managed to escape two conspiracies. The Basilica of St. Peter collects the mortal remains of Urban VIII in a funeral monument made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in bronze and marble, commissioned by the Pope himself since 1628 and completed in 1647.