Paul, Father whose original name, before he embraced the monastic profession, was PIETRO SARPI, is celebrated as the historian of the Council of Trent. He was born at Venice Aug. 14,1552, of a respectable commercial family. His father, however, was unsuccessful in trade; and his mother, a woman of sense and virtue, was early left a widow in indigent circumstances. Fortunately her brother was the master of an excellent school, and under his care she placed her son, who from infancy displayed a quick apprehension, a prodigious memory, and great strength of judgment, in short, an extraordinary aptitude for study. Before the completion of his fourteenth year he had made great progress in mathematics and logic, as well as in general literature, and in the languages, particularly the Greek and Hebrew; and at that boyish age, having become a pupil of the logician Capella of Cremona, who was of the Servite Order, this connection led him, contrary to the urgent advice of his uncle and mother, to adopt the monastic habit and rule of his preceptor. In his twentieth year he solemnly took the vows of the order. At the same period the ability which he displayed in a public disputation, held at Mantua during a chapter of his order, attracted the favorable notice of the reigning prince of the house of Gonzaga, and he was appointed to the professorship of divinity in the cathedral of that city. But, though he was honored with many marks of regard by the Mantuan duke, a public life was little to his taste; and he shortly resigned his office, and returned to the learned seclusion which he loved. In that retirement he continued to cultivate learning and science; and in his twenty second year he was not only acknowledged master of the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee languages, but was also noted as a proficient in the civil and canon law, in various departments of philosophy, in mathematics and astronomy, in chemistry, medicine, and anatomy. In these last sciences he became deeply versed for his times, and it is alleged that he was acquainted with the theory of the circulation of the blood, for the discovery of which Harvey is celebrated. The claim of Sarpi as the discovered rests on the authority of Veslingius; who states, in his Epist. Anat. et Medicae, ep. xxvi, that he had read a MS. by Sarpi, belonging to his pupil and successor Fulgentius, in which the circulation was described. George Ent (Harvey's commentator and friend) admitted the testimony, but said that whatever Sarpi knew of the circulation he learned from Harvey. Ridanus, Harvey's chief adversary, gives no credit for the discovery to Sarpi; and Fulgentius himself does not claim it for him. Several writers attribute to Sarpi the discovery of the valves of the veins, which gave Harvey the first idea of a circulation; but Fabricius was acquainted with them in 1574, when Sarpi was but twenty-two years old, and it is certain that he (Fabricius) taught Harvey their existence. The above is on the authority of Haller (Bibliotheca Anatomica), who does not attribute any part of the discovery to Sarpi. The pursuit of such diversified studies, and the renown which they procured for father Paul, no less than the freedom of his expressed opinions in correspondence with the kindred minds of his age, drew upon him the envy and suspicion of the mean and bigoted; and he was twice arraigned before the Inquisition on a false and absurd accusation of heresy, and on a better-founded charge of having declared in a letter his detestation of the papal court and its corruptions. His high reputation protected him in both cases; but the court of Rome never forgave him, and at a subsequent period revenged and justified his bad opinion of its administration by refusing him a bishopric.
It has been said that secretly father Paul was at the time of these trials before the Inquisition a Protestant; but, even if this were true, his Protestantism was confined to an acceptance of the first simple positions of the Augsburg Confession, if he really held even these. At least father Paul, all his life long, daily read mass. Indeed it would be impossible to give a name to the creed to which, in his own mind, he was attached; it was a body of opinions, symptoms of which are often to be found in the men who at that period devoted themselves to the natural sciences; deviating from the common standards of orthodoxy, inquisitive and searching, yet in itself neither decided nor completely matured. But this much is certain, that father Paul indulged towards the secular influence of the popedom a determined and implacable detestation. It was perhaps the only passion he cherished, and of it very little was manifested until the famous dispute which arose between the Roman see and the republic of Venice, during the pontificate of Paul V, in the year 1696, drew the speculative recluse from the quietude which had only been thus partially interrupted, and brought him into open and dangerous collision with the papal power. When Paul V endeavored to revive the doctrine of the supremacy of the popedom over all temporal princes and governments, and reduced these pretensions to practice by laying the Venetian state under an interdict and excommunication for having subjected priests to the secular jurisdiction, the senate of Venice, not contented with setting these papal weapons at defiance, determined to support by argument the justice of their cause. The most eloquent and successful advocate whom they employed for this purpose was father Paul; and, animated both by zeal in the service of his native state and by indignant opposition to the Romish usurpations, he fulfilled his task with equal courage and ability, and signally exposed the papal pretensions. Paul was finally compelled to consent to an accommodation very honorable to the Venetian state. The papal party, however, though reduced to yield to the power of that republic and the strength of her cause, was resolved not to forego its vengeance against her defenders, an among them father Paul was signally marked for a victim. Several attempts were made to assassinate him; and even in the apparent security of his retreat at Venice he was attacked one night as he was returning home to his monastery by a band of ruffians, who inflicted on him no fewer than twenty-three wounds. The assassins escaped in a ten-oared boat; and the papal nuncio and the Jesuits were naturally suspected of being the authors of a plot prepared with such a command of means and expensive precautions. The wounds of father Paul, however, were mortal; and preserving one of the stilettoes which the assassins had left in his body, he surmounted it with the inscription, "Stilo della chiesa Romana" (The pen [or dagger] of the Romish Church).
These attempts upon his life compelled father Paul to confine himself to his monastery, where he employed his constrained leisure in the great literary composition by which he is chiefly remembered — The History of the Council of Trent (Historia del Concilio Tridentino di Pietro Soave Polano) — a work which has been not more deservedly commended for its style as a model of historical composition than for the extent of its learning, the generous candor of its spirit, the unbiassed integrity of its principles, and the unostentatious piety of its sentiments. While occupied in this and other labors of minor import, a neglected cold produced a fever, and after lying for nearly twelve months on a bed of sickness, which was supported with the most edifying cheerfulness and piety, he expired in the beginning of the year 1623. His memory was honored by the gratitude of the Venetian republic with a public funeral, which was distinguished by its magnificence, and the vast concourse of nobility and persons of all ranks attending it; and the senate, out of gratitude to his memory, erected a monument to him, the inscription upon which was written by John Anthony Venerio, a noble Venetian.
Father Paul was of middle stature: his head very large in proportion to his body, which was extremely lean. He had a wide forehead, in the middle of which was a very large vein. His eyebrows were well arched, his eyes large, black, and sprightly; his nose long and big, but very even; his beard but thin. His aspect, though grave, was extremely soft and inviting; and he had a fine hand. Cardinal Perron thought proper to deliver himself concerning our author in these terms: "I see nothing eminent in that man; he is a man of judgment and good-sense, but has no great learning. I observe his qualifications to be mere common ones, and little superior to an ordinary monk's." But the learned Morhoff (Polyhistor. p. 293 sq.) has justly remarked that "this judgment of Perron is absurd and malignant, and directly contrary to the clearest evidence; since those who are acquainted with the great things done by father Paul, and with the vast extent of his learning, will allow him to be superior, not only to monks, but cardinals, and even to Perron himself." Courayer, his French translator, says, in his Vie abregee de Fra Paolo, prefixed to the Hist. du Concile de Trent, that, "in imitation of Erasmus, Cassander, Thuanus, and other great men, Paul was a Catholic in general, and sometimes a Protestant in particulars. He observed everything in the Roman religion which could be practiced without superstition, and in points which he scrupled took great care not to scandalize the weak. In short, he was equally averse to all extremes: if he disapproved the abuses of the Romanists, he condemned also the too great heat of the Reformed; and used to say to those who urged him to declare himself in favor of the latter that God had not given him the spirit of Luther." Courayer likewise observes that "Paul wished for a reformation of the papacy, and not the destruction of it; and was an enemy to the abuses and pretences of the popes, not their place." Walton tells us that the contests between the court of Rome and the senate of Venice "were the occasion of father Paul's knowledge and interest with king James, for whose sake principally he compiled that.eminent history of the remarkable Council of Trent; which history was, as fast as it was written, sent in several sheets in letters by Sir Henry Wotton, Mr. Bedell, and others, unto king James and the then bishop of Canterbury, into England." Wotton relates that James himself had a hand in it, for the benefit," he adds, "of the Christian world" (Reliquine Wottonianae, p. 486). This history of the Council of Trent was first published at London (1619, fol.), and dedicated to James I by Antony de Dpminis, archbishop of Spalatro. It had been written by Paul in Italian, and sent in manuscript to England by Sir Henry Wotton, so that the English was the first edition. The Italian edition was first brought out in 1629 at Genoa, and was afterwards translated into Latin, English, French, and other languages; and a new translation of it into French by Dr. Le Courayer, with notes critical, historical, and theological, was published at London in 1736 (2 vols. fol.). Burnet's account of this work may serve to show the opinion which Protestants entertain of it. "The style and way of writing," says he, "is so natural and masculine, the intrigues were so fully opened, with so many judicious reflections in all the parts of it, that it was read with great pleasure, and it was generally looked on as the rarest piece of history which the world ever saw. The author was soon guessed, and this raised the esteem of the work; for as he was accounted one of the wisest men in the world, so he had great opportunities to gather exact information. He had free access to all the archives of the republic of Venice, which has been looked upon for several ages as very exact, both in getting good intelligence, and in a most careful way of preserving it; so that among their records he must have found the despatches of the ambassadors and prelates of that republic who were at Trent; which being so near them, and the council being of such high consequence, it is not to be doubted but there were frequent and particular informations both of more public and secret transactions transmitted thither. He had also contracted a close friendship with Camillus Oliva, that was secretary to one of the legates, from whom he had many discoveries of the practices of the legates, and of their correspondence with Rome; besides many other materials and notes of some prelates who were at Trent, which he had gathered together. His work came out within fifty years of the conclusion of the council, when several who had been present there were still alive, and the thing was so recent in men's memories that few thought a man of so great prudence as he was would have exposed his reputation by writing in such a nice manner things which he could not justify. Never was there a man more hated by the court of Rome than he was, and now he was at their mercy if he had abused the world by such falsehoods in matter of fact as have since been charged on his work; but none appeared against him for fifty years" (preface to a book entitled The Policy of Rome, or the Sentiments of the Court and Cardinals there concerning Religion and the Gospel, as they are delivered by Cardinal Pallavicini in his History of the Council of Trent (Lond. 1681, 8vo). Ranke says: "The memory of Paul Sarpi is justly held in high honor throughout all Roman Catholic states. He it was that fought for and won the fundamental principles to which we may refer the spiritual privileges which they all enjoy in common. The pope found it beyond his power to set him aside." Father Paul is also the author of A Treatise of beneficiary Matters, or a History of Ecclesiastical Benefices and Revenues, in which are set forth their Rise and Progress, and the various Means by which they have accrued to the Church, translated, with the notes of Amelot de Houssaie (Westminst. 1727, 8vo). A complete edition of father Paul's works in the original language was published at Verona and Naples in 1761, 1768, and 1790. See, besides the memoir appended to the different editions of father Paul's History of the Council of Trent and his collected works, Ranke, Hist. of the Papacy, 1:616 sq.; Brischar, eurtheilung Sarpi's u. Pallavicini's (Tub. 1843, 2 vols. 8vo); Werner, Gesch. der apo'ogetischen u. polem. Literatur, 4:386-579; and the references under PALLAVICINI SEE PALLAVICINI and SEE TRENT (Council of).