"Padre et Pastor Vostro": Girolamo Seripando and the Restoration of the Episcopate in Salerno

By Cesareo, Francesco C. | The Historian, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

"Padre et Pastor Vostro": Girolamo Seripando and the Restoration of the Episcopate in Salerno


Cesareo, Francesco C., The Historian


In 1545, in response to the crisis provoked by the recent Protestant Reformation, nearly 200 Roman Catholic church leaders gathered in Italy under Pope Paul III for what became known as the Council of Trent. The council lasted 18 years, with interruptions from 1547-51 and 1553-62, as delegates examined and reaffirmed essential Church doctrines and instituted needed reforms. Calls for clerical and administrative reform had existed since the fourteenth century, but earlier reform efforts had met with little success. Church leaders were widely perceived as more concerned with worldly comfort and power than with their spiritual charges.

One of the main targets of reform at the Council of Trent, both moral and administrative, was the restoration of the episcopate. For most bishops in Italy and throughout Europe, a diocese was a way to increase their economic or political power. They sought bishoprics for the revenue they generated. For some, a particular bishopric was a stepping stone to higher ecclesiastical dignities. In short, the bishopric was a means to an end. This attitude was prevalent at all levels of the hierarchy from the papacy downward. Most bishops did not even reside in their diocese since their primary interest was simply to collect the diocesan revenues entrusted to them. Instead, they appointed vicars to govern the diocese and collect revenues for them. This practice constituted one of the most serious abuses within the Church at the time. Reformers at the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) had attempted unsuccessfully to enforce residency, but with their failure the spiritual needs of the Church continued to be neglected. Many reform advocates saw a strengthened, committed episcopate as the very heart of the post-Tridentine Church.(1)

Among those who held this view was Augustinian Prior General Girolamo Seripando (1493-1563), who was nominated archbishop of Salerno by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1553. Seripando's brief reign as archbishop, which spanned the years 1554 to 1563, has received little attention among scholars compared to the work that has been done on his efforts as prior general and later as a papal legate at the Council of Trent. Yet, his years as bishop deserve special attention. Girolamo Seripando believed that the office of bishop needed to be restored if a general reform of the Church, clergy, and the faithful were to be accomplished. This study will examine how Seripando revived the patristic image of the bishop as pastor and teacher, a conception that set him apart from most of his sixteenth-century colleagues and foreshadowed the post-Tridentine ideal of the bishop. Residing in his diocese, an uncommon practice at the time, Seripando embarked on a reform program to renew the spiritual life of Salerno and correct the abuses that plagued the faithful and the clergy.(2)

Seripando participated in the Council of Trent from the beginning by virtue of his position as prior general of the Augustinian Order. Early on he was involved in the conciliar discussions as a noted theologian and one knowledgeable about the teachings of St. Augustine. During the first period of the council he was entrusted with the task of preparing an outline of the errors and deviations being diffused concerning sacred Scripture. He was also the principal voice in defense of the rights of religious to preach in their own churches without the consent of the local bishop. Later, during the fifth session, he was instrumental in the decree on the reading of the Bible and preaching. Most importantly, he helped draft a decree on original sin and justification.

The question of episcopal residency was a concern from the outset of the Council of Trent. Like Seripando, many council fathers sought to restore the pastoral dimension of the episcopate, and they emphasized the spiritual duties of bishops to their flocks. Bishops could not properly attend to their charges if they did not reside in their diocese. …

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