Pope Alessandro VII

Pope Alexander VIIBorn in Siena in 1599, a member of the illustrious banking family of Chigi and a great-nephew of Pope Paul V (1605-1621), he was privately tutored and eventually received doctorates of philosophy, law, and theology from the University of Siena. In 1627 he began his apprenticeship as vice-papal legate at Ferrara, and on recommendations from two cardinals he was appointed successively Inquisitor of Malta and nuncio in Cologne (1639-1651). There, he supported Urban VIII's condemnation of Jansenius' Augustinus by the papal bull In eminenti of 1642. Though expected to take part in the negotiations which led in 1648 to the Peace of Westphalia, he declined to deliberate with persons whom the Roman Catholic church considered heretics, and protested, when it was finally completed, against the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and established the balance of European power that lasted until the wars of the French Revolution (1789). Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) recalled Chigi to Rome and subsequently made him Cardinal Secretary of State. When Innocent X died, Chigi, the candidate favoured by Spain, was elected pope after eighty days in the conclave, on April 7, 1655, taking the name of Alexander VII. The conclave believed he was strongly opposed to the nepotism then prevalent. Indeed, in the first year of his reign, Alexander VII lived simply and forbade his relations even to visit Rome; but in consistory, April 24, 1656, he announced that his brother and nephews would be coming to assist him in Rome.

The administration was given largely into the hands of his relatives, and nepotism became as luxuriously entrenched as it even had been in the Baroque Papacy: he gave them the best-paid civil and ecclesiastical offices, and princely palaces and estates suitable to the Chigi of Siena.

Alexander VII favored the Jesuits. When the Venetians called for help in Crete against the Ottoman Turks, the Pope extracted in return a promise that the Jesuits should be permitted back in Venetian territory, from which they had been expelled in 1606. He also continued to take the Jesuit part in their conflict with the Jansenists, whose condemnation he had vigorously supported as advisor to Pope Innocent X. The French Jansenists professed that the propositions condemned in 1653 were not in fact to be found in Augustinus, written by Cornelius Jansen. Alexander VII confirmed that they were too, by the bull Ad Sanctam Beati Petri Sedem (October 16, 1656) declaring that five propositions extracted by a group of theologians from the Sorbonne out of Jansen's work, mostly concerning grace and the fallen nature of man, were heretical including the proposition "that Christ died, or shed His blood for all men". He also sent to France his famous "formulary," that was to be signed by all the clergy as a means of detecting and extirpating Jansenism and which inflamed public opinion, leading to Blaise Pascal's defense of Jansenism. He died in 1667, was memorialized in a spectacular tomb by Bernini, and was succeeded by Pope Clement IX (1667-69).

Alexander VII disliked the business of state, preferring literature and philosophy; a collection of his Latin poems appeared at Paris in 1656 under the title Philomathi Labores Juveniles. He also encouraged architecture, and the general improvement of Rome, where houses were razed to straighten and widen streets and where he had the opportunity to be a great patron for Gian Lorenzo Bernini: the decorations of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, titular churches for several of the Chigi cardinals, the Scala Regia, the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica. In particular, he sponsored Bernini's construction of the beautiful colonnade in the piazza of St. Peter's Basilica.

Alexander VII wrote one of the most authoritative documents related to the heliocentrism issue. He published his Index Librorum Prohibitorum Alexandri VII Pontificis Maximi jussu editus which he prefaced with the bull Speculatores Dominus Israel in which he explicitly attached all the previous heliocentric decrees ("...which we will should be considered as though it were inserted in these presents, together with all, and singular, the things contained therein...") and using his Apostolic authority bound the faithful to its contents ("...and approve with Apostolic authority by the tenor of these presents, and: command and enjoin all persons everywhere to yield this Index a constant and complete obedience...").

He died in 1667, was memorialized in a spectacular tomb by Bernini, and was succeeded by Pope Clement IX (1667-69).