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Pope from 1534. Born Alessandro Farnese at Canino of an influential Italian family, he was educated at Rome and Florence where he received instruction by well-known humanists. Rising rapidly in the church he was made a cardinal byin 1493 and eventually became dean of the Sacred College. He led a scandalous moral life, fathering four illegitimate children, until his ordination in 1519, after which he became somewhat reformed. When died in 1534, he was elected pope.
Although nepotism was a prominent feature of his pontificate and he was an enthusiastic participant in such Renaissance activities as the hunt and art patronage, he nevertheless was instrumental in setting reform trends in motion. He appointed several men to the cardinalate who were dedicated reformers and in 1536 formed a commission of nine distinguished churchmen to examine abuses in the church and report on the necessary steps for reformation. This report, the Concilium de emendenda ecclesia (1538), was criticized by Protestants for being superficial but eventually became the basis for much of the work of the.* It was during the reign of Paul that the Society of Jesus was recognized (1540) and several other reform orders given encouragement, including the Ursulines, the Barnabites, and the Theatines.
Both religious and secular rulers often frustrated many of the reform attempts of Paul. In 1536 he issued a bull which called for an ecumenical council at Mantua in 1537, but the actions of Protestant rulers and the duke of Mantua prevented the council from convening. Opposition between Francis I and Charles V blocked further attempts at a conciliar movement, but with the peace of Crespy (1544) Paul was able to convene the successful Council of Trent in 1545.