Tommaso de Vio of Gaeta
English Cajetan of Vio, German Cajetan de Vio


Giacomo de Vio, after 1484 named Tommaso de Vio, was born at Gaeta, Italy, 20 February, 1469.

Gaeta is a city and commune in the province of Latina, in Lazio, central Italy. Set on a promontory stretching towards the Gulf of Gaeta, it is 120 km from Rome and 80 km from Naples at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Giacomo de Vio came of noble stock, and in early boyhood was devout and fond of study.
Against the will of his parents he entered the Dominican Order in 1484 (before the age of sixteen), and received the name Tommaso.  As a student of Naples, Bologna, and Padua he was the wonder of his fellow-students and preceptors. As bachelor of theology (19 March, 1492), and afterwards master of students, he began to attract attention by his lectures and writings. Promoted to the chair of metaphysics at the University of Padua, he made a close study of the prevailing Humanism and Philosophy. Besides engaging in controversy with the Scotist Trombetta, he took a stand against the Averroistic tendencies or teachings of such men as Vernias, Pompanazzi, and Niphus, directing against them his celebrated work, "De Ente et Essentiâ", counted the most subtle and abstruse of his productions.

1494: Dispute with Pico della Mirandola, O.P.

At a general chapter of the order (Ferrara, 1494) Cajetan was selected to conduct the customary defence of theses in the presence of the assembled dignitaries. He had to face Pico della Mirandola among others, and such was his success that the students bore him in triumph on their shoulders to receive the felicitations of the master general. He was immediately made master of sacred theology, and for several years expounded the "Summa" of Saint Thomas, principally at Brescia and Pavia, to which latter chair he had been called by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.
After two years he resigned and repaired to Milan, whence in 1500 Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa procured his transfer to Rome. In 1501 he was made procurator general of his order and appointed to the chairs of philosophy and exegesis at the Sapienza.

1508- till 1518: Cajetan, master of the order

On the death of the master general, John Clérée, 1507, Cajetan was named vicar-general of the order, and the next year he was elected Master of the order. With foresight and ability, he devoted his energies to the promotion of religious discipline, emphasizing the study of sacred science as the chief means of attaining the end of the order. His encyclical letters and the acts of chapters promulgated during his term of office bear witness to his lofty ideals and to his unceasing efforts to realize them.
He was wont to say that he could hardly excuse from grievous sin a brother Dominican who failed to devote at least four hours a day to study. "Let others rejoice in their prerogatives", he once wrote, "but the work of our Order is at an end unless sacred doctrine be our commendation."
He was himself a model of diligence, and it was said of him that he could quote almost the entire "Summa" from memory.

About the fourth year of his generalship, Cajetan rendered important service to the Holy See by appearing before the Pseudo-Council of Pisa (1511), where he denounced the disobedience of the participating cardinals and bishops and overwhelmed them with his arguments. This was the occasion of his defence of the power and monarchical supremacy of the pope. It is chiefly to his endeavours that is ascribed the failure of this schismatical movement, abetted by Louis XII of France. He was one of the first to counsel Pope Julius II to convoke a real ecumenical council, i.e. the Fifth Lateran. In this council Cajetan was deputed by the principal religious orders to defend their common interests.
Under the same pontiff he was instrumental in granting to Ferdinand of Spain the first Dominican missionaries who devoted organized effort to the conversion of the natives of America.

1517: Cajetan cardinal

On 1 July, 1517, Cajetan was created cardinal by Pope Leo X. He was also appointed Archbishop of Palermo, but opposition on the part of the Sicilian senate prevented his taking possession and he resigned 8 February, 1518. On taking the demand of Charles V, however, he was later made Bishop of Gaeta, but this was after he had been sent in 1518 as Apostolic legate to Germany, bringing the insignia of the cardinality to Albert of Brandenburg, and a sword blessed by the pope to Emperor Maximilian. On this occasion he was empowered to confer with the latter and with the King of Denmark on the terms of an alliance against the Turks. He also represented the pope at the Diet of Frankfort (1519), and took an active part in the election of Charles V (1519), thereby winning that emperor's friendship and gratitude.

The meeting with Luther

While executing these missions, the more serious duty of meeting Luther, then started on his career of rebellion, was assigned to him. Cajetan's theological learning and humane disposition seemed to fit him for the task of successfully treating with the proud and obstinate monk, and Protestants have admitted that in all his relations with the latter Cajetan exhibited a spirit of moderation, that did honour to his lofty character. But neither pleading, learning, nor conciliatory words availed to secure the desired submission. Luther parleyed and temporized as he had done with the Holy See itself, and finally showed the insincerity of his earlier protestations by spurning the pope and his representative alike. Some have blamed Cajetan for his failure to avert Luther's defection, but others like Hefele and Hergenröther exonerate him.

1523 Missions and his death in 1534

In 1523 he was sent by pope Adrian VI as legate to King Louis of Hungary to encourage the Christians in their resistance to the Turks. Recalled the following year by Clement VII, he became one of the pope's chief advisors. During the sack of Rome by the imperialist army (1527) Cajetan, like other principal persons, was seized, and obtained the release of himself and household only on payment of five thousand Roman crowns of gold, a sum which he had to borrow and which he later made up by strictest economy in the affairs of his diocese.

He was one of the nineteen cardinals who, in a solemn consistory held by Clement VII (23 March, 1534), pronounced definitively for the validity of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. This was about the last public act of his life, for he died (9/10 August 1534  in Rome) t and was buried, as he requested, in an humble tomb in the vestibule of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

It was the common opinion of his contemporaries that had he lived, he would have succeeded Clement VII on the papal throne. Much interest attaches to a portrait of Cajetan, the only one known, recently discovered by Père Berthier, O.P. in a collection of notables of the Reformation, owned by Count Krasinski of Warsaw, Poland.

Source: Catholic Encyclopedia. For more information see internet: Catholic Encyclopedia, sub voce (s.v.) Cajetanus.


On the fresco of Rafaël ‘Disputa del Sacramento' (1509-10) Tommaso of  Vio with the cardinals' hat at the right side of pope Gregor the Great. Fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican City.

 Ajman 1972, Mi 1891.










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