Possevino, Antonio a celebrated Italian Jesuit, noted for the diplomatic services he rendered the Church of Rome, was born at Manatova in 1534. He belonged to a noble but poor family. Sent to Rome at the age of sixteen, he was in a short time proficient in the classical languages and literature, and cardinal Ercole di Gonzaga made him his amanuensis, and entrusted to his hands the education of his nephews, Francis and Scipio di Gonzaga. Possevino followed his patron to Ferrara, then to Padua, and gained by his merit the esteem of Paolo, Manucci, Bartolomo Ricci, an Sigonio. Although he had been rewarded by the Gonzagas with the donation of the rich commander of Fossano, in Piedmont, he preferred to join the Jesuits. He had not finished his novitiate when he 'was sent on a very delicate errand to the duke of Savoy, Emanuel Philibert (1560). The object of this mission was to stop the progress of heresy, which, coming from France, threatened to invade Italy through Savoy and Piedmont. The Ronan court, either to reward his services or to give full scope to his talents, employed him in several negotiations. The first of these missions was to Sweden. He arrived in Stockholm in December, 1577. The king received him with great favor, abjured severally all his heresies, made a general confession, and promised obedience to the apostolic see. The ensuing day, May 17, 1578, the mass was celebrated after the Roman rite in presence of the king. Possevino returned to Rome, and the queries and propositions of the king were examined by an ecclesiastical commission. The mass in the vulgar tongue, the chalice for the laymen, the marriage of priests the omission of the invocation of saints and of the prayers for the dead, the suppression in hot water and other ceremonies were rejected; seven of their proposals were accepted. On Possevino's return to Stockholm (July, 1579), the king, who was of a very fickle disposition, showed great dissatisfaction at the negative answer he had met with on the five points above mentioned, broke up all negotiations, and would not even consent to the establishment of a Church for Romanists. In February, 1580, the regsdag of Wadstena, at which Possevino was present, took a threatening attitude, and king John was compelled to publish an edict against the introduction of Roman Catholic olklis, and to promise to promote only Protestants to the professorships. In the same year Possevino returned to -Rome. King John, having lost his wife Catharine in 1583, married in 1585 Gunilla Bjelke, who became for the Lutherans what the former queen had been for the Catholics.
Soon afterwards Possevino was sent on a similar errand to Poland and Russia. The czar, Ivan Vasilivitch II (1533-1584), called the Terrible, had vastly aggrandized his empire in all directions. In 1580 he had made the conquest of Livonia. Here he met Stephen Bathori, king of Poland (1575 - 1585), who defeated him and compelled him to retreat. To stop the Polish invasion the czar invoked the mediation of pope Gregory XIII. Possevino was sent to the headquarters of the king of Poland at Wilna. Bathori consented to receive the envoys of the czar, but rejected their conditions. Hereupon Possevino set on his way to tile interior of Russia under an escort of Cossacks. The czar received him at Stacilza, and gave him a solemn audience, Aug. 8. Ivan sat on his throne, surrounded with Oriental pomp, dressed in a long robe interwoven with golden threads and covered with pearls and jewels; he bore a kind of tiara on his head, and held a golden scepter in his left hand. Senators, bojars, and army officers filled the rooms; gold and precious stones glittered everywhere. The rest was in accordance. After five days of feasting the negotiations commenced; during the whole proceedings the czar gave frequent evidence of astuteness and duplicity. Possevino subordinated his intervention to the following conditions: free passage through Russia for the apostolic nuncios and missionaries; free exercise of the Roman Catholic worship for foreign merchants, and admission of'Catholic priests to administer to them the sacraments. Finally, as the czar himself had proposed an alliance against the Turks, the papal envoy hinted at the fusion of the two churches as being the best means to bring it to pass. Possevino was brimful of hope, while the czar gave only evasive answers. Thus a month elapsed in resultless debate, when the news of the siege of Pleskau (Pskov), the possession of which city would have opened Russia to the Poles, brought matters to a rapid conclusion. Ivan consented to the admission of Roman Catholic merchants, and Possevino repaired to the Polish camp. Through his exertions a congress of plenipotentiaries of both belligerents was held at Porchau, in which the mediator presided. Bathori demanded the cession of the whole of Livonia, and as Possevino knew that the king of Poland would not swerve from his purpose, he prevailed on the Russians to consent. But when the Poles demanded also the town of Weliki, and the life of the Russian envoy was at stake, the papal legate had to pledge his own life to obtain their signature. At last peace was concluded, Jan. 15, 1582. When Possevino, after a truly triumphal journey, reached Moscow, he found the court in consternation and the czar beside himself: he had killed his son with a blow of his golden scepter. Five weeks after the conclusion of the peace a conference was held in the Kremlin, when the czar declined the proposal of a fusion of the churches, but consented to the passage of the missionaries, and granted religious freedom to foreign merchants and priests. During these latter negotiations Ivan at one time had lifted his scepter, still red with his son's blood, against the Jesuit. Failing to intimidate Possevino, he laid a snare for him, trying to prevail on him to kiss the hand of the patriarch: his purpose was to make believe that the pope had submitted to the patriarch. But the clerical diplomatist remained faithful to his task, and succeeded.
He was scarcely returned when he was sent to Livonia and Transylvania to combat Protestantism, which was fast gaining ground in those provinces. Possevino held a conference with the sectarians at Hermannstadt. On the same occasion he increased the importance of the colleges of his order in those parts, and founded a seminary at Clausenburg. In 1583 he took his seat, in his quality of a papal nuncio, at the great Diet of Warsaw. As Possevino several times interposed his mediation between Poland and the German empire, he was, as could be expected, accused of partiality by both parties. The general of his order, Agnaviva, hereupon insisted on his being recalled, and Gregory XIII complied with the demand. Possevino was glad to leave his political toils. He journeyed about as a simple missionary in Livonia, Bohemia, Saxony, and Upper Hungary. While thus engaged lie was called to Padua to hold lectures: there he became acquainted with the young count of Sales, whom he prevailed upon to leave the law for the Church, and who became St. Francis de Sales. After four years spent at Padua, he was called to Rome, where he took some pains in trying to reconcile Henry IV with the pope. This direction of his zeal displeased the Spanish party and his superiors, and he was sent to Bologna as rector of the college. He was at Venice when Paul V put the city interdict; and here was a new case of mediation for the old man. He died at Ferrara Feb. 26, 1611. Among his works are, Del Sacrifizio del Altare (Lyons, 1563, 8vo): — Il Soldato Cristicno (Rome, 1569, 12mo), written at Pius V's request, when this pontiff sent troops to Charles IX against the Huguenots: — Moscoria, seml de rebus Moscoviticis (Wilna, 1586, 8vo; Cologne, 1587- 95, fol.; Ital. transl. 1596, 4to): — Judicium de quatuor sciptoribtus (Rome, 1592, 12mo; Lyons, 1593, 8vo). The four authors are Le None, Jean Bodin, Duplessis-Mornay, and Machiavelli. Possevino was here misled by his zeal against the Protestants; and as to Machiavelli, he refuted him without reading his works: — Bibliothecau selecta de ratione
Studioruna (Rome, 1593, 2 vols. fol.; new ed. with correct. and addit., Cologne, 1607, 2 vols. fol.): — Apparatus sacer (Venice, 1603-6, 3 vols. fol.; Cologne, 1607, 2 vols. fol.); this is the greatest catalogue of ancient and modern authors that had been seen at that time. Although he had especially in view the interest of the Roman Catholic Church, yet he did not, like Bellarmin, Sixtus of Siena, and others, confine his task to the enumeration of ecclesiastical writers his plan includes the profane too. He treats of nearly eight thousand writers-their lives, works, influence, editions: — Vitac di Lodovico Gonzaga(, Ducer di Nevers, di Eleonora, Duchessa di Mantora (1604, 4to). See Ranke, Hist. of the Papacy. 1, 434 sq.; 2,21 sq.; Alzog, Kircheenfesch. 2, 341, 425, 466; Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. vol. 3; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Géneralé, s.v.