Cesare Baronio (also known as Caesar Baronius; 30 August 1538 – 30 June 1607) was an Italian cardinal and ecclesiastical historian of the Roman Catholic Church. His best-known works are his Annales Ecclesiastici ("Ecclesiastical Annals"), which appeared in 12 folio volumes (1588–1607). Pope Benedict XIV conferred upon him the title of Venerable.
Cesare Baronio was born at Sora in Italy in 1538 as the only child of Camillo Baronio and Porzia Febonia.
He was educated at Veroli and Naples, where he commenced his law studies in October 1556. At Rome, he obtained his doctorate in canon law and civil law. After this, he became a member of the Congregation of the Oratory in 1557 under Philip Neri - future saint - and was ordained to the subdiaconate on 21 December 1560, and later to the diaconate on 20 May 1561. He was then ordained to the priesthood in 1564. He succeeded Neri as superior in 1593.
Pope Clement VIII, whose confessor he was from 1594, elevated him into the cardinalate on 5 June 1596 and also appointed him as the Librarian of the Vatican. Baronio was given the red hat on 8 June and received status as Cardinal-Priest of Santi Nereo e Achilleo on 21 June.
Baronius restored his titular church of Church of Sts Nereus and Achilleus and a procession in 1597 celebrated a transfer to it of relics. He also had work done on the Church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio.
At subsequent conclaves, Baronio was twice considered to be papabile - the conclaves had the elections of Pope Leo XI and Pope Paul V. On each occasion, he was opposed by Spain on account of his work "On the Monarchy of Sicily", in which he supported the papal claims against those of the Spanish government.
Baronio died in Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome on 30 June 1607, and was buried in that same church.
Baronius is best known for his Annales Ecclesiastici undertaken at the request of Philip Neri as an answer to the anti-Catholic history, the Magdeburg Centuries. He began writing this account of the Church after almost three decades of lecturing at Santa Maria in Vallicella.
In the Annales, he treats history in strict chronological order and keeps theology in the background. Lord Acton called it "the greatest history of the Church ever written". In the Annales, Baronius coined the term "Dark Age" in the Latin form saeculum obscurum, to refer to the period between the end of the Carolingian Empire in 888 and the first inklings of the Gregorian Reform under Pope Clement II in 1046.
Notwithstanding its errors, especially in Greek history in which he had to depend upon secondhand information, the work of Baronius stands as an honest attempt to write history. Sarpi, in urging Casaubon to write a refutation of the Annales, warned him never to accuse or suspect Baronius of bad faith.
He also undertook a new edition of the Roman martyrology (1586), in which he removed some entries implausible for historical reasons. He is also known for saying, in the context of the controversies about the work of Copernicus and Galileo, "The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." This remark, which Baronius probably made in conversation with Galileo, was cited by the latter in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615).
At the time of the Venetian Interdict, Baronius published a pamphlet "Paraenesis ad rempublicam Venetam" (1606). It took a stringent papalist line on the crisis. It was answered by the Antiparaenesis ad Caesarem Baronium of Niccolò Crasso in the same year.
A Latin biography of Baronius by the oratorian Hieronymus Barnabeus (Girolamo Barnabeo or Barnabò) appeared in 1651 as Vita Caesaris Baronii. Another Oratorian, Raymundus Albericus (Raimondo Alberici), edited three volumes of his correspondence from 1759. There are other biographies by Amabel Kerr (1898), and by Generoso Calenzio (La vita e gli scritti del cardinale Cesare Baronio, Rome 1907).