Pageant of the Popes, by John Farrow, , at sacred-texts.com
The Sacred College decided that the abdication (of Celestine V) was valid and within twelve days proclaimed a successor. Apparently a sharp lesson had been taught for the new pope, Boniface VIII, the former Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, was certainly no recluse, ignorant of the ways of the world. He was a canonist of skill and a diplomat who as legate had exercised his wits at the courts of Sicily, France and England. Although born at Anagni and related to three previous pontiffs, he was sprung of an ancient and noble family which had its roots in Spain. The University of Paris had bestowed upon him a distinguished degree and that he was no mean diplomat was shown by the fact of his election being approved by
both the Orsini and Colonna and Charles of Naples. Accusation has been made that it was his ambition which planted the idea of abdication in the mind of his predecessor but this charge is untrue. Celestine, well aware of the confusions bred by his inability, determined his own destiny. Perhaps the calumny against Boniface was born of the confinement, after his election, of the sorrowing and miserable ex-pontiff. This apparently drastic measure was the only course open; for the dangers to the new reign of the simple Celestine being at large and subject to the control of any adventurer can readily be seen. The old man was placed in a castle near Anagni where he is reputed to have said "I wished for nothing in the world but a cell, and a cell they have given me." And it was there and in such a mood that he expired, ten months after his abdication from a pontificate which had lasted five months.
In almost every way Boniface differed from Celestine. He was strong and confident, proud of his noble lineage and proud of his august rank. He enjoyed and expected the splendours due to a temporal ruler and it was with magnificence that he received the tiara. Rome was the scene of this ceremony for following his election he had come to the City to escape the dangerous proximity of Charles of Naples. Well indeed that he was self confident. That quality was needed in the man who faced his problems, for they were many and large and complicated. The Eastern Church had resumed its schism, the Holy Land was lost and war raged in every direction, between Naples and Sicily, Castile and Aragon, France and England and with the latter nation also fighting the Scots. In Germany Albert of Austria had drawn the sword against Adolph of Nassau whilst in Rome of course there were the usual altercations between the usual factions.
[paragraph continues] Dissension was even disturbing the domestic unity of these clans. The Colonna were quarreling and this quarrel was to bring the new pontiff much trouble and to contribute to the failure that was to darken his reign. For disaster, no less than that which had confronted the simple and pious Celestine, was to be the lot of this pope who had been selected for his great skill in law and for his great knowledge of worldly matters. He knew and accepted his problems and at first met them without hesitation and with strong action. His plan was to make practical that elusive structure which had been the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire and all rulers and all states were to be subject in spiritual matters to the authority of the Holy See. This was, briefly, the basis of his famous bull, Unam Sanctam, issued in 1302. It brought forth violent opposition from Philip of France for in truth the life and properties of the Church were so tightly woven into the fabric of society that divorce from the temporalities was impracticable and indeed unthinkable. The new bull, so interpreted the French king along with many of his royal colleagues, merely meant that all princes and rulers should be vassals not only of the spiritual head of Christendom but also of the temporal ruler of Rome.
From the commencement of his reign Boniface had incurred the wrath of Philip. France and England were at war and the kings of both countries were paying their armies and fleets with monies appropriated from ecclesiastical revenues. To impose peace the Pope, after lighter protestations had been ignored, issued the bull Clericis Laicos which prohibited, under penalty of excommunication, any layman from taxing or annexing Church revenues. So far, so good. But promptly Philip countered by making a law which, by preventing the export of gold and other negotiable things under certain conditions,
hindered the transit of the normal and periodical dues from the Church in France to the Holy See. At this stage of the quarrel Boniface, employing the devices he had learned as legate, adopted a policy of compromise and withdrew some of the demands he had made with such vigour and haughtiness. It was an unfortunate move, fatal to his aims, for compromise is a highly delicate and dangerous business which can easily degenerate to appeasement instead of equity and justice. The same mistake was made in his relations with Edward I of England. First the drastic Clericis Laicos, followed by a compromise, then another rupture because Boniface, on the ground that Scotland was an ancient fief of the Holy See, emphatically declared the English king should refer any rights he claimed over that country to Rome. But again his assertiveness proved temporary for in order to enlist the support of Edward against Philip he changed his policy and withdrew his demands.
As it proved, the struggle between Boniface and the French king was never to end and was to reach the extremes of invective and indignity on both sides. To assist Philip came those Colonna, including two cardinals, whom the Pope had sided against in their family quarrel. It was a powerful alliance and was responsible for a council in France which declared Boniface's election to be invalid and levelled a long list of accusations, including heresy, simony, and murder, against his name. In an epistle, contemptuous and libellous, Philip referred to the pontiff as "Your Supreme Foolishness" and called upon him to vacate the Holy See. These insults were not the end. There were greater to come, yet there was but meagre defence rallied for this pope who had launched his reign so auspiciously. The friendships that were cradled in his magnificence were as unstable as his dreams. Despite his errors he had brought
to Rome prosperity and gain but the gratitude of the citizens was small. Under his seal, in 1300, there had been the Holy Jubilee and to the great celebration, splendidly organized by him, had come a vast gathering of pilgrims from all parts of Europe. He had caused to be founded the University of Rome and the city gained liberal proof of his lavish patronage of the arts. Nevertheless as his enemies became triumphant the city, adhering to its traditional fickleness, could not be trusted to afford him safe asylum. He retired, as had other popes in similar circumstances, to Anagni where utilizing his considerable skill as a canonist he prepared a bull of excommunication and deposition against Philip. Before it was issued however a gang of mercenaries, led by Guillaume de Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna, stormed the papal retreat. They found Boniface deserted by his attendants but gloriously unafraid. He had donned the formal insignia of his office and was seated on his throne. "Here is my head," he said, "I, a Catholic, lawful Pontiff and Vicar of Christ, desire to die for the faith of Christ and His Church."
With singular brutality, for he was now in his eighty-sixth year, he was thrown to a prison cell whence after three days he was liberated by the indignant townspeople but only to be captured again. This time it was the Orsini who held him. They called it a rescue and conveyed him back to Rome with a show of respect but he was their prisoner. It was the final humiliation and one he did not survive, for he died on the 11th of October, 1303. Broken-hearted and unhonoured went the once proud man whose worldliness was to have been the cure for the errors born of the inexperience of the saintly Celestine. Eleven days later there was the election of the Cardinal Nicholas Bocrasini, Benedict XI, an Italian and an ex-General of the Dominicans, who had also served
extensively as a legate. For the sake of desperately needed peace he made treaty with Philip although to his credit he refused to lift the censures against those villains, friends of the French king though they were, who had maltreated and insulted his predecessor at Anagni. Benedict was a good man and he essayed peace and reform in all directions but unfortunately for his plans his reign was brief. The dark temper of the Romans caused him to move to Perugia where he died, by poison according to rumour, during the summer following his election. So great was the hatred Philip bore for Boniface that he had urged that a General Council be convened to pass judgment on the supposed misdeeds of that pope. This Benedict, despite his desire for conciliation, refused. Soon after came his sudden death and then, gathering like clouds around his tomb, came the rumours of foul play.
The time now comes when the march of the great drama shifts to Avignon. Rome had reached the extremes of degradation and despair. Its broken thoroughfares were, for the most part, the uncontested property, filth-littered and unsightly, of starved mongrels and lawless wretches. Those houses which remained occupied were fortified and barricaded and if their owners were not bandits they were forced to a fierce self-reliant code which rendered possible their survival amongst bandits. Benedict had died at Perugia and it was there the Cardinals chose the next pope. The election was long and only after eleven months was a name announced. It was the Cardinal Bertrand de Goth, ex-Vicar General of Lyons and Archbishop of Bordeaux, and his election was obviously a triumph for the French faction in general and in particular King Philip and those of the Colonna who were his allies. The new pope took the name of Clement V and for his installation he went, not to Rome, but to Lyons where with
great pomp and surrounded by the elated French cardinals he was given the tiara. There was never any attempt on his part to visit Rome after his election and after a few years spent at various residences in France he finally chose a permanent home, a Dominican monastery by the banks of the placid Rhone, at Avignon where the papacy was to remain for nearly three quarters of a century. Most historians unite in seeing it as a grievous sojourn and many words have been written of the resultant evils and mistakes, although little, as Pastor remarks, has been said of the successful missionary activities of the Avignon popes.
Clement V was unaggressive and admittedly a servant of French interests, nevertheless under his patronage great progress was made in the propagation of the faith. India, Abyssinia, Nubia, Egypt and Morocco saw his missionaries, and in his time the metropolitan see of Pekin was established with a Franciscan, John of Montecorvino, as the first Archbishop and seven fellow-members of his order as his suffragans. Clement owed his election to the French king and probably had, before that circumstance, entered upon some sort of an agreement with him; yet twice, and importantly, he displayed both opposition and principle against the royal will. Revenge and cupidity still haunted the dark dreams of Philip, revenge against Boniface whose memory he still wished to have stained by official condemnation, and a cupidity which was stirred by the rich possessions of the Order of the Knights Templars. The pope showed complaisance in most matters, cardinals were created at Philip's whim and the same reason caused new decrees to be issued and existing ones to be annulled. But he would not lift the ban of excommunication against the assailants of Boniface nor would he, as Philip wished, arbitrarily suppress the Knights Templars. Finally both matters,
as was canonically correct, were referred to a General Council, the Fifteenth, which Clement convoked at Vienna in 1312 and which was attended by one hundred and fourteen prelates. The charges against Boniface were reviewed and, despite the powerful menace of Philip, rejected; but the Knights Templars fared less well and the order was given for their dissolution. It was an order which fitted so well with the schemes of Philip that he did not wait for it and by the time of its publication many of the Knights in France had already perished at the stake, their property confiscated.
The Order of the Knights Templars was a religious organization, with a strong military flavouring, which had been founded early in the twelfth century with the object of defending Jerusalem. The three vows of religionpoverty, chastity and obediencewere undertaken by the Knights, and skill in the military art was required as were also certain genealogical qualifications. Over 20,000 members of the Order had perished in battle in less than two centuries. Great properties were accumulated and such an organization, rich and armed, claiming indeed at certain times the prerogatives of a sovereign power, could not but be an affront to a monarch of the calibre of Philip. Heresy and sacrilege and the practice of unnatural lust was his cry and soon the loathsome glare of the dreaded stake was visible against the sky of many a city and castle as confessions, before the processes of rack and screw, came quick and bountiful. The nature of these admissions can be gauged by that of the Grand Master Molay who swore that on his entrance to the Order "he was made to deny Christ and spit upon the crucifix, and that, by his command, the same was done by postulants who were received by him after he became the Grand Master."
Despite the fact of Avignon and the ugly nature of
Clement V. Reigned from 1305 to 1314.
Click to enlarge
Pope Clement V.
The first Avignon Pope: he suppressed the Knights Templar. See pages 182 to 185.
[paragraph continues] King Philip, the Italians were resolved the next pope should not be French. After Clement's death in 1314 the strife between the cardinals was bitter. The election was held on French soil and the majority of the twenty-four electors were of that nationality. But the Italians were stubborn and two years went by before Clement's successor was chosen. He was a sixty-seven-year-old French Cardinal, James dEuse who thus became Pope as John XXII. He was the son of a shoemaker and had a reputation for austerity and good judgment, learning and administrative ability, and he was of such unprepossessing appearance that no writer of his day neglects to mention his extraordinary ugliness. He was the most energetic of the Avignon popes and during his reign, lasting some eighteen years, he issued sixty thousand official documents. His first acts were aimed at securing the success of his faction and to the despair and anger of the Italians seven more Frenchmen were created cardinals. During the long interval which passed before he became pope death struck at both Philip and his son Louis. Another Philip became the new French king but royal enmity against the papacy now was to shift from France to Germany as Louis of Bavaria, whose claims to the Imperial title were not accepted promptly enough by John, made alliance with the notorious and excommunicated Sciarra Colonna and took upon himself the protection of all those antagonistic to the pontiff. Prominent amongst the latter were the Spirituals or Fraticelli, a fanatical division of the Franciscans, and another group sprung from the same Order who were just as troublesome because they were no less sincere. Both of these parties or sects had been seduced to heresy because of impracticable dreams of a return to the austerities of primitive Christianity. Supported by theologians from their ranks and in connivance
with the wily Colonna, Louis with insolence and arrogance called for a General Council to depose the pope. Nor was this the end of his effrontery. At Rome his accomplice, Sciarra Colonna, enacted the farce of creating an anti-pope, one Peter Rainalducci, who assumed the style of "Nicholas V." It was too much even for the Romans who ever ready for violence rose in angry riot and within three days put the anti-pope to flight. Eventually he made full submission to John who treated him with mercy and consideration.
Throughout this considerable reign controversy mounted concerning the relations of Church and State. Criticism and doubt were everywhere, and throughout all Christendom there was an epidemic of charges and counter-charges of heresy. Even the pontiff himself was not to escape this stigma for in one of his sermons he declared the Beatific Vision was held from the dead until the Last Judgment. There was an immediate storm of protest from the theologians and the harassed pope pointed out that his statement was a private opinion and not a dogmatic definition. But the uproar was not abated until, at the request of the University of Paris, he made a public profession of orthodoxy, saying that "the Saints are in heaven, where they see God face to face."
John continued that policy of Clement which had given sturdy encouragement to the foreign missions, and Tartary and Turkestan were invaded by zealous monks whilst the established missions of Africa, Persia, and India were enlarged. Universities also profited by his interest and in 1321 he even gave some substance to the dream that never could really have been absent from the ambitions of a pope of those times. A crusade, very small but a fact, was formed and, consisting of a fleet of galleys, gained a few victories over the Turks. John's private life
was void of scandal for he adhered, as much as his many administrative duties would allow, to the strict regime of a simple monk. His great fault was an unswerving belief that the papacy should remain in France. Of the close on thirty cardinals he created twenty-three were French, three were Italian, and one a Spaniard. Such a majority at least obviated any chance of a long interregnum and when he died, on 4th December, 1334, his successor, Benedict XII, was chosen and installed within two weeks. The votes of the conclave had at first gone to the Cardinal of Porto, much to the delight of the Italians, but he was a determined man who refused to give guarantee that the Curia would remain at Avignon. The choice then went to one who, although a good man and probably sincere in his every action, could be depended upon to take the advice of his faction. Indeed, after becoming pope, he made two attempts to go to Rome but each time he was thwarted, without any real opposition on his part, by the French cardinals. Finally he abandoned all such wishes and as though to express his viewpoint he wholeheartedly set about building the palace which was intended for the permanent papal residence. The tranquillity of the Avignon landscape quickly vanished as a swarm of busy artisans built palaces not only for the Pope but for each of his cardinals and their retinues. There was the construction necessary to house and feed and defend the great army required of any administrative centre. Soldiers and priests, clerks and bureaucrats, lawyers and merchants, beggars and lackeys, jostled and shouted through thoroughfares that were no longer peaceful country lanes.
The man who was the centre of this new activity had begun his ecclesiastical career as a Cistercian monk and the influence was never to leave him. Perhaps he lacked the strength of will and ambitions of a successful ruler
but this did not prevent him from the exercise of those simple virtues which make for a good man. He was gentle in manner and sincerely religious. He tried to make peace between France and England and in fact one of the reasons given for his failure to visit Rome was that his presence was required in France because of this aim. To his see however he sent gifts for the poor and money to repair the churches. Embassies passed between him and Louis of Bavaria but the interdict remained. The practice of nepotism was an especial object of his dislike and he made every effort to eradicate it. Before wearing the tiara his name had been James Fournier but no kinsmen came to flaunt it at the papal court. "A pope should be like Melchisedec," he said, "without father, or mother or genealogy."
This statement did not influence his successor, Clement VI, for out of a creation of twenty-five cardinals, most of whom were French, twelve were drawn from his own family which was powerful and noble. His name had been Pierre Roger and he had worn the Benedictine habit although it could not be said that his life was ever restrained to the monastic pattern. High birth and influence combined with intelligence and eloquence had previously won for him the rich sees of Arras, Sens, and Rouen. Luxury and splendour had always characterized his career as a high prelate and the acquisition of the tiara was an opportunity he did not neglect to indulge these traits further. The papal court became the scene of lavish hospitality although to his credit it is recorded that his extravagances were equalled and always accompanied by deeds of charity. The funds accumulated by the economies and administration of the previous reigns were now dispensed with an open hand. "Our predecessors," he is reputed to have said, "did not know how to be pope." That
he firmly believed the home of the papacy should remain in France is shown by his purchasing, from the Queen of Naples, the sovereignty of Avignon. The price paid was 80,000 gold florins. The death in Italy of Robert of Anjou had enabled the Romans to bring some sort of peace to their city and they had formed a none too strong democratic government, consisting of thirteen members, which sent an embassy to Avignon in an attempt to persuade the pontiff that he should return to Rome. Clement listened to their entreaties with sympathy and although he refused the request he did, as a measure to bring some prosperity back to the ravaged city, give his support and encouragement for an official Jubilee to be held in Rome at the turn of the half century.
In Germany Louis of Bavaria was losing his sway and in 1346 several of the more powerful princes suggested that the Imperial title should be given to Charles of Bohemia. Clement agreed and thus to Avignon came Charles where with splendid ceremony he held the papal stirrup and received confirmation of an empty title. Trouble with Louis was averted by the death of that prince during the following year whilst boar hunting. The real ruler of Rome at this time was a young and ambitious man, named Cola di Rienzi, who had met Clement as a member of the visiting Roman mission. Upon his return he had defeated the factions, already conspiring again, and it seemed, for a few hopeful years, that he might achieve his aim of reviving the ancient unity and harmony. But his success was fleeting and the intoxication of being Master of Rome, even though briefly and insecurely, was to whirl him quickly to ruin and to a violent death.
The greatest virtue possessed by Clement VI was his charity. This took on proportions equal to his usual sense of the magnificent, with the energetic measures he used
to abate the miseries that followed in the wake of the Black Plague which devastated all Europe during his reign. Another aftermath of the dreaded epidemic was a wave of anti-semitism, for fanatics were hysterically accusing the Jews of spreading the disease by poisoning wells. The aptly named Pope fought the libel with vigour and announced that the Jews were under his protection. Consequently, at his death on the 6th December, 1352, there was not only the prescribed mourning in Christian churches but there was also sorrow in the synagogues of Israel.
A different figure took his place. The cardinals, with the extravagances of Clement affecting their own revenues, had found the memory of the sombre and economical John XXII to be most agreeable. They scrutinized their ranks for a man of similar quality and found him in the person of the cardinal-bishop of Ostia, Stephen Aubert, who upon receiving their favour took the name of Innocent VI. Whilst gathered together at this Conclave their Eminences also formed a pact to the effect that in future a pope should rely upon the guidance of the Sacred College in such matters as the disposal of the higher revenues, the appointment of new cardinals, and similar important affairs. The first act of the new pope was to cause the nullification of this agreement. That he did it so forthrightly was a tribute both to his perception and to his courage and that there was no great manifestation of discontent from its originators was proof of his diplomacy. Highly dangerous indeed would it have been for a pope to transfer such authority from his own province to what would have become, if so endowed, an autocratic and entirely independent body. The supporters of Innocent VI were not disappointed in either his economies or reforms. With the help of his friend, the General of the
[paragraph continues] Carthusians, drastic changes came to Avignon and a gloom descended upon the companions of the late pope as court life was diminished sharply and courtiers scattered and a great throng of absentee prelates sent back to their sees and benefices. The latter act however did but emphasize the sad truth of the pontiff's being absent from his own see. Rome still remained unvisited by its bishop and outside the borders of France resentment was gradually mounting with the belief that the pope was entirely under French influence. Furthermore, protection from such a source was held with scant respect: for France, weakened by war with England, was in poor position to defend anybody and when gangs of mercenaries hovered in sinister proximity to Avignon the Pope was forced to avert attack by resort to his coffers. Another affront was a proclamation, known as the Golden Bull, issued by the Emperor Charles which stated that henceforth the bestowal of the Imperial title would be decided by seven Electors; the lay fiefs of Bohemia, Saxony, Brandenburg, and the Palatinate; and the three archbishops of Menty, Treves, and Cologne. The coronation of Charles, with the full approval of the Pope who sent his legate to officiate, had been held at Rome in 1335 and the Golden Bull came a year later. Ruling Rome at this time was a firm-handed Spanish prelate, actually more of a soldier than a churchman, Cardinal Giles de Albornoz who, after the collapse of the Rienzi regime had been sent to the city by the pontiff. The resolute methods employed by this warrior cleric had restored some semblance of order and were in fact to clear the way for a return of the papacy.
When it came time again to choose a new pope the conclave looked beyond itself and selected the Benedictine Abbot of St. Victor's monastery at Marseilles, William de Grimoard, who chose to be called Urban V because, as
he said, "all the popes called Urban have been Saints." He was a holy man, a patron of many missions and universities including that of Oxford, who valiantly tried to solve problems and stem circumstances that were now too great, it appeared, to be vanquished by any one man. Five years after his election which had occurred in 1367 he even, against strenuous opposition from all who surrounded him, went to Rome where he was greeted with joy. The news spread quickly throughout Europe and was received with pleasure everywhere outside the boundaries of French influence. The Emperor Charles came to meet him and protestations of amity and cooperation were exchanged. The Emperor of the East, John V Palaeologus, made the long journey from Constantinople and Urban received him graciously on the steps of St. Peter's. The Byzantine ruler swore he was not in schism but perhaps his oath may have been influenced by the fact that he had come for aid against the ever pressing Turks.
Military assistance was a commodity Urban could not afford anyone. Indeed his own safety was at times insecure in turbulent Italy and both he and his court looked with longing eyes and an increasing nostalgia back to Avignon. In Rome they felt as aliens in an alien land and the sullen hostility of the factions, ever present even though in temporary retreat behind family walls, did but heighten the impression. Albornoz, able protector of the papal interests, had died and everywhere the French attendants of the pope were greeted with hisses and insults. At length preparations were made for a return to Avignon and the fact was reluctantly announced. Cries of protest sprung from both the faithful and from those who for their own devices wished the next election to be held in Rome. They begged that the decision be reconsidered and the chorus of entreaty was swelled by the royal voices of
[paragraph continues] Pedro of Arragon and the Swedish princess, St. Bridget. The latter warned the pontiff that he would die if he deserted Rome but it was all in vain. Urban was convinced France needed his presence and so he left Italy in the Autumn of 1370; but all that he accomplished in his native land was to give truth to the royal prophecy, for within three months of his return the monks of St. Victor's were making ready a tomb to receive the body of their ex-abbot and late pope. The memory of Urban V is held to be that of a good and saintly man and one writer, expressing the thoughts of his time, says of him: "He was a light of the world and a way of truth; a lover of righteousness." But another writer, the celebrated poet-philosopher Petrarch, could not forgive the return to France. "Urban would have been reckoned among the most glorious of men," he wrote, "if he had caused his dying bed to be laid before the altar of St. Peter's and had there fallen asleep with a good conscience, calling God and the world to witness that if ever the pope had left this spot it was not his fault but that of the originators of so shameful a flight."
The fifteenth century was nearing and the way was steadily being made the easier for a Luther. Despite the acts of saints and the sturdy faith of the zealous and the feats and good deeds of a vast army of churchmen who were sincerely serving their vocation, sure contempt for papal authority was increasing everywhere because of abuses persistently perpetuated by those in the clerical high places. In England an eloquent priest, John Wyclif, was cheered when he preached the subjection of Church to State and when later he attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation and called the Host "an effectual sign" there were neither riots nor drastic measures. He did not lose his life or his living but merely was forbidden to preach.
[paragraph continues] There were constant signs of the spreading mood but the Sacred College seemed to pay little heed and the results of the conclave after the death of Urban provided sure ammunition for the cynics and apprehension on the part of believers. The new pope, Gregory XI, was not a bad man but he was not remarkable for any talent and the best that could be said of him was that his nature was docile. He was the product of nepotism and he was to employ nepotism. As Peter Roger de Beaufort he had at eighteen years of age been created a cardinal by his uncle Pope Clement VI, though he was not ordained priest until his elevation to the apostolic throne twenty-two years later. Such a nature as his was easy prey to persuasion and influence and strangely enough it was this very weakness which was responsible for the return of the papacy to Rome.
Italy might be seething with unrest and disorder but all Italians were united in their intense dislike of everything French. Those papal properties, districts and cities, which had been, a few years earlier, pacified by the soldier-prelate Albornoz were once again in revolt and even the Republic of Florence, which for a long time had been a staunch ally of the Papal States, participated in the general antagonism. The Pope was forced to action and from Avignon went a stern and capable legate, the Cardinal Robert of Geneva, leading an army of Bretons. The papacy had turned to the sword and in an effort to stay it a woman's voice was suddenly heard. St. Catherine of Siena came to Avignon and the power of her goodness and courage proved sufficient to penetrate the morasses of court intrigue. Boldly she told Gregory his errors and weaknesses and with determination she stressed the fact that his presence in Rome was a dire necessity. His courtiers, both lay and clerical, were alarmed and showed their opposition; but the calm voice went on and with awe the
impressionable Pope listened for he knew the advice was coming from one who since childhood had worn a reputation for saintliness and who had many times evidenced her closeness to the Holy State. Her words had effect and Gregory, to the disgust of his attendants, sailed from Marseilles soon after and arrived in Rome during the middle of January, 1377.
The Romans employed their fickle mood to give him a boisterous welcome but their ready noise was a hollow greeting in the great emptiness of the city's ruins. The number of the people had been reduced to 30,000 and most of them were in a state of abject poverty. The historic landscape had become a sad sight, for most of the famous monuments were broken and the majority of the basilicas, numbering over four hundred, were in disrepair. The streets were torn and dirty and the great edifices of ancient majesty and beauty were victims of a riotous and unopposed decay. It was an unhappy environment for the Pope and it became unhappier as the brightness of his welcome quickly faded; for unfortunately his occupancy did not bring tranquillity to the city or to any portion of Italy. The Florentines refused to make peace and other cities were quick to adopt the same bellicose attitude. And if possible even more odium was being attached to the French name because of the cruelties practised in Northern Italy by those mercenaries who were there under the command of the legate, Cardinal Robert. In Rome the shelter of heavily armed escorts did not protect the French cardinals from insults and curses and in that city of many shadows every shadow seemed a threat to the satellites of the papal court. Under such conditions it is understandable Gregory should make the same decision as Urban. "I shall return to Avignon," he said. But he was wrong, for as preparations were made he became prey to a fatal
sickness and died, one year and three months after his entrance.
For the first time in many a year a pope had died in Rome and the citizens were resolved his successor should be elected there. Six cardinals were at Avignon but there were sixteen in the city and the Romans, clanging shut the city gates, informed them with ferocity and tumult that the next to sit upon the pontifical throne should not be French and that, furthermore, he should be elected with rapidity. A great mob, many of whom were drunk for the papal cellars had been looted, seethed outside the building where the electors had congregated and filled the air with demands and huzzas and threats. The majority of votes in the Sacred College was, of course, controlled by the French cardinals but this time and under such circumstances the ballot went to an Italian from Naples, Bartholomew Prignano, Archbishop of Bari. He was not of cardinal's rank and therefore had not attended the conclave: so while the news was sped to him an attempt to appease the increasingly noisy crowds was made by the announcement of his name. In the uproar the name Bari was mistaken by the people as being Bar which was the name of a highly unpopular French prelate and such was the resultant fury that the cardinals decided to flee to their respective refuges. To cover escape they resorted to a ruse and vesting the aged Cardinal Teobaldeschi in the pontifical robes they hurriedly displayed him as proof that an Italian had been elected. The excited Romans thrust aside the guards and swept forward to kiss, despite his objections and explanations, the feet of the bogus pontiff. Their delight was boundless that an Italian should again be successor of Peter and so happy was their temper that when informed of the trick they bore no ill-feelings
and with equal heartiness and joy cheered the arrival of the real pope who, after gathering twelve of his scattered electors, was installed with the name of Urban VI.
He quickly showed he had little respect for those who had given him his position. The spirit of reform was strong within him and he regarded with horror clerical laxities which had been in large and flamboyant evidence during previous regimes. Unfortunately his measures against the abuses displayed neither tact nor understanding nor tolerance, and a nature that hitherto had borne a reputation for self confidence and austerity now became, with the omnipotence of his rank, harsh and arrogant. He was the Pope; and with his broad squat figure and his swarthy countenance set in rigid lines he imperiously summoned the Princes of the Church and rudely told them of their deficiencies and of his resolution to change such things. His choleric emphasis and blunt language bred disquietude among even the Italian cardinals. The six of their colleagues who had remained at Avignon had at first accepted the calamity, for such it was from their viewpoint, of the Italian triumph at the conclave, but now as rumours reached them of the unpopular and uncouth methods of Urban they sent a representative, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Amiens, to investigate. When this prelate, with bold urbanity, gently suggested to the Pope that he should come to Avignon, Urban flew into an ungovernable rage and loudly swore he would create a larger batch of Italian cardinals in order to subordinate the French influence. The Avignon emissary withdrew but from then on the dark business of intrigue rapidly gained momentum with a climax approaching when the impetuous pontiff, during one of his rages, gave substance to the growing suspicion of his sanity by attempting to strike a distinguished prelate. The whispers and secret meetings of the cardinals increased
until there was a stealthy exodus of them from the city. Even the Chamberlain of the papal court deserted Rome taking with him, significantly, the tiara. The conspirators, for such was now their status, made rendezvous at Anagni and from there dramatically announced the selection of Urban to be invalid because it had been made under duress. It was a grave statement, coming as it did not from any heretical body but from the men who held the electoral privileges. Urban's answer, after one of his characteristic fits of anger, was to name twenty-nine new cardinals and two days later his antagonists calmly proclaimed a new pope, Clement VII. This was the formidable and powerful Cardinal Robert of Geneva, related to most of the royal houses of Europe and well known for his ruthlessness and indomitable energies, who, after an unsuccessful skirmish with troops loyal to Urban, journeyed on to Avignon.
The Great Western Schism, as it is called, had begun. There had been anti-popes before, twenty-seven in all, but never before had two claimants been elected by the same group. There is no doubt that Urban was the true pontiff but in the confusion of the time there was much dispute. St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden unhesitatingly declared for Urban but equally sincere in the support of Clement were such men of unblemished character as St. Vincent Ferrer and Blessed Peter of Luxemburg. France, of course, supported the Avignon pope and by alliance and treaty it also gained for him the allegiance of Aragon, Castile, Savoy, Scotland and Wales, while Urban's legates secured the recognition of England, Brittany, Portugal, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Flanders, Sweden, Norway, the Catholic Orient, and most of Italy. A continued hurt to his own cause was the unfortunate bitterness of the Pope. The loyalty of Naples was
lost because of his violent quarrel with its ruler and six of his cardinals he tortured and then executed because, it was alleged, they had sought to place him under the guardianship of a group of cardinals. "Accomplish your task with moderation," wrote the grieved St. Catherine. "For the love of Christ crucified, curb these sudden impulses prompted by your nature."
The advice went unheeded and to the end of his days Urban persisted in disastrous actions. The unhappy man died on October 15, 1389, after a reign of eleven distressful years and his death presented an opportunity to "Clement VIII" and his supporters which was not neglected. The dark processes of intrigue and plot moved into action while the requiem for the late pope still echoed in St. Peter's. Bribes were attempted, promises made, and persuasion wielded, but to no avail and two weeks after Urban had breathed his last the conclave at Rome elected the Cardinal Peter Tomacelli to be Pope with the name of Boniface IX. He was from Naples and was to rule for fifteen years but not at any time was he to be popular. Never was he guilty of any grave error but neither can he be applauded for the invention or application of any outstanding reform. He lacked the genius of greatness and the magical quality which is charm; and because of his meticulous care in harvesting sorely needed revenues a stigma of avarice gradually enveloped his name. Throughout his entire time desperate but fruitless attempts were made to restore harmony again to the Church. The lamentable stage in its history had been reached where rival bishops were claiming authority to the same see and likewise abbots to monasteries and priests to churches, large and small. Temporal rulers could see the dangers of the unedifying situation and attempts on all sides were made to have Boniface and the Avignon pope
resign and a new election held. In the fifth year of Boniface's reign, Clement died but the Avignon dynasty was rapidly assured by a quick replacement in the person of "Benedict XIII" who was the Cardinal Peter de Luna, a Spaniard by birth but pledged wholeheartedly to the French interest. Even his supporters were to disagree and eventually there was a party in France which refused to accept either claimant because both rejected a suggestion calling for arbitration and, in case of deadlock, resignation, put forth by the authorities of the University of Paris. It was laudable that the Parisian theologians should attempt to end the schism but their proposal, the danger of which was seen at both Avignon and Rome, and the measures they took after its rejection, were manifestations of the increasing belief that the actions of a pope could be subjected to the opinions and judgments of Councils.
It was to a General Council that Boniface's successor, Innocent VII, proposed to submit the entire vexatious question but he died before the project could be accomplished. His death could have not been a surprise to his electors for he had been almost seventy when he had won their votes. Most of his time and efforts were taken up with troubles in and about Rome, troubles that were well fertilized by the dreary curse, so familiar to the papal scene, of nepotism; for he enriched his family, hitherto neither wealthy nor ennobled, and in particular a favourite nephew who was given, along with many other favours, a cardinal's hat. Before donning the tiara Innocent's name had been Cosimo de Migliorati and he had been Archbishop of Ravenna and Cardinal-priest of Holy Cross.
His reign did not last two years. Following him was one even older than he. Gregory XII, the former Cardinal Angelo Corrario, was about eighty years of age when
Sixtus IV. Reigned 1471 to 1484.
Click to enlarge
Pope Sixtus IV.
This is the death mask of the fishermen's son who appointed Torquemada as the Grand Inquisitor. See pages 214-5.
he caught the favour of the Conclave and his solemn promise at that time was that he would end the schism even if it meant abdication on his part. Perhaps he was sincere when he made the promise but his faction and his family, for he too had acquisitive nephews, were resolved that the great dignity should not leave their sphere. Consequently when negotiations were made with the Avignon pope and that dignitary said he would consider resignation providing Gregory would do the same there was procrastination in Rome. His cardinals were incensed at the development and when the Pope, prompted by his family, created four new and amenable cardinals the majority of the Sacred College left Rome and rebelliously convened at Pisa. Here they were joined by a group of Avignon prelates who were also discontented with the policies and stubbornness of their elected choice and who were resolved to end the schism. Such a meeting was a desperate measure and at Rome and at Avignon there were pronouncements, immediate and angry, against it. Nevertheless the sympathy and hopes of the schism-fatigued peoples of all Europe were at Pisa and here the cardinals, twenty-four in number, were joined by one hundred and eighty-two bishops and hundreds of other distinguished churchmen or their representatives to form what became known as the Council of Pisa. Benedict and Gregory were summoned to appear before the determined group and when both ignored the unprecedented invitation sentences of deposition, on the grounds of heresy and schism, were pronounced against them. An election was then held and at this stage the course of reform became diverted by contemporary guile and again we discover the wishes and schemes of one person dominating an entire assemblage. This time it was the will of the powerful Cardinal Balthazar Cossa from Naples which was imposed and thus
his protégé, a learned and good but ineffectual Greek cardinal named Peter Philargos was given to Christendom as Pope Alexander V. Such an election was of course illegal but Alexander's name and that of his successor have always been included on the papal list as Popes of Pisa. His successor came soon, for Alexander only survived his election by ten months and "chosen" to follow him was his patron the Cardinal Cossa who took the name of John XXIII.
There now existed the sad spectacle, so tragic to Christendom, of three great prelates, each supported by a considerable party, claiming the papal honour. John, for a time, had the greatest following, although today, with the clouds of contemporary confusion and distortion and clamour removed, Pope Gregory stands as the validly elected pontiff. How then was the dilemma to be solved? Surely not by the entrance of John XXIII upon the historic stage for "of all the miserable consequences of the disastrous Synod of Pisa," states Pastor, "this election was the worst." John was not, indeed, the moral monster his enemies afterwards endeavoured to represent him, but he was utterly worldly-minded and completely engrossed by temporal interests. An astute politician and courtier, he was not scrupulously conscientious and was more of a soldier than a churchman. No help for the distracted Church was to be hoped from him. All eyes, therefore, turned to the powerful and right minded Sigismund, the King of the Romans, who was necessarily most deeply interested in the termination of the schism, inasmuch as his coronation as Emperor in Rome could not take place until Western Christendom was again united under one spiritual head. He did not disappoint the hopes which were fixed upon him, for the termination of the schism and the restoration of
unity to the Church in the West were in a great measure his work.
Sigismund, on the basis of his imperial authority, planned and brought to actuality the sixteenth Oecumenical Council at Constance. Previously John, acting on a resolution formulated at Pisa, had held a council at Rome but the attendance, because of his hostile relations with the King of Naples and because of the waning respect for papal authority, was limited and the gathering had adjourned. The Council of Constance was probably the greatest assemblage of its kind ever yet convened. At the Imperial invitation came cardinals and prelates of the three obediences and significantly there also came ambassadors from seven kingdoms. The balloting was not the privilege alone of the great and care was taken to allow each nation an equitable share in the discussions. Indeed the convention can be said to have been conducted on democratic lines for to offset the schemes of a highly placed few, votes were given to parish priests and representative laymen and doctors of divinity as well as to ambassadors and prelates. John arrived with a great display of pomp to preside at the assembly but instead of a submissive flock he found an unfriendly throng, united in its intention to oppose him.
A long document, accusing him of almost every crime, had been drawn up by canonists, and realizing the campaign against him the second pope of Pisa accepted defeat: fearing for his personal safety he ignominiously fled the conference. However, at the behest of Sigismund, who gave him guarantee of safe conduct, he returned meekly to acknowledge the authority of the Council and to accept the sentence of deposition. He was at first imprisoned, but with dignity, and later he was made Cardinal-bishop of Frascati. There now remained only two claimants to the
papal honour and the deadlock was soon broken by a magnanimous gesture from the true pontiff, Gregory XII, who abdicated and accepted the appointment of Cardinal-bishop of Porto, a position he occupied until his death during the autumn of 1417. His acceptance of the authority of this Council was a donation of legality to its judgments and decrees. The Avignon pope was not possessed of the same spirit of generosity and cooperation and even when his own cardinals withdrew their allegiance he stubbornly persisted in his pretensions. To his death, in the stern precincts of a lonely Spanish stronghold, he thus remained a pope without a church, pathetically and daily delivering interdicts and excommunications against an unheeding world.
For two years the papal throne remained empty and while the electors slowly pondered, the ambassadors of the various nations and interests pressed forward the claims of their candidates with a multiplicity of devices. Finally, on November 11, 1419, a name was announced and the Cardinal Odo Colonna became Pope Martin V. His very name was a signal for the lowering of hopes and was a proof that his family had lost neither its ambitions nor its peculiar genius. Yet while he cannot be absolved of nepotism and he was certainly not the great reformer so urgently needed, he was, at least in the temporal sense, a good ruler and furthermore his private life was decent and empty of scandal; a circumstance not so rare as might be desired in the lives of other great prelates who had obtained their status in a similar way. To his credit he returned the papacy to Rome whereas a weaker man might have listened to the urgings of the Emperor who wished the Pope to dwell in Germany or to the French who offered Avignon. It took two years before he was able to enter his see and this was one occasion when the
usually sinister system of family preferment had advantages: for with the help of the powerful Colonna clan he brought order to the horribly disordered and ruined city. Large projects, involving great expenditures, were embarked upon to bring beauty and cleanliness, discipline and prosperity, back to the ancient streets. Supported by the troops of his family he ruled with an iron hand and a contemporary writer describing the treatment of his cardinals states: "He has so crushed all the cardinals that they turn red and pale by turn when they speak in his presence."
That scientific and literary movement of the Renaissance which was called Humanism, which was illuminated at its beginning by the brilliance of Dante, and which endured until the sixteenth century received scant encouragement from Martin. "While we have Augustine," he said, "what care we for the sagacity of Aristotle, the eloquence of Plato, the prudence of Varro. We do not need these men. Augustine is enough for us." Extreme Humanists, in an effort to recapture the glories of the ancient culture, often rebelled against the authority and concepts of the Church but there rapidly came into being a school of philosophy, consisting of truly Catholic scholars who saw no reason why full appreciation of the treasures of the past should necessarily entail a denial of Christian principles.
A Council had been responsible for his elevation but Martin regarded such institutions with distaste; and although at Constance it had been agreed they should be convened with periodic regularity he displayed little enthusiasm or energy in that direction. That some semblance of sincerity should be given his promises he did, at Pavia in 1423, summon a Council. But when there was an outbreak of the plague at this city he transferred it to Siena and soon after, on the pretext of poor attendance, he
dissolved it. But because of pressure from non-Italian interests he. was forced to issue a summons for another to be held in 1431. The scene was to be Basle and that Martin suspected trouble is shown by the fact of his legate having authority to conclude the proceedings at any time he deemed it necessary. Before the prelates could be assembled an attack of apoplexy brought death to the Pope and in an honoured place before the High Altar of St. John Lateran were interred the remains of the man who has often been called the Second Founder of the Papal Monarchy.
The cardinals who met within the walls of a Roman convent to select his successor were of a generation which had witnessed the power and the presumptions of Councils and they were resolved that he who followed Martin should not be as dictatorial as that autocrat had been. Their votes went to the Cardinal Eugenius Gabriel Condolmieri, a nobleman of Venice and a nephew of Gregory XII, but only after he had promised that a major share of the government of both the Papal States and the Church should be controlled by the Sacred College. After making this bargain he was quickly made Pope Eugenius IV and almost as quickly he discovered that capitulation is a process that once begun is difficult to end. Five months after his installation found the Council of Basle in convention and although at its beginning there were only fifteen bishops the number gradually grew and soon was reinforced by several hundreds of earnest canonists and divines, eager for dispute and keenly alert for fancied infringements of fancied privileges, who came as representatives of the universities or absentee prelates. This gathering was strong with the tradition of Constance and the majority of its members were convinced that as a unity they were superior to the authority of a pope. Therefore
when Eugenius saw the trend and ordered its dissolution he was met with defiance and contempt. Furthermore the rebellious attitude was endorsed by the Emperor Sigismund and almost every other ruling sovereign. This was not all. Even Rome turned against the Pope for he, on taking office, had tried to oust the Colonna from the position they had achieved during the reign of Martin. They were quick to rebel and to incite rebellion and soon there was the not unprecedented spectacle of the lawful head of all Christendom fleeing for his life from that place which should have been the sturdiest of his refuges. A Tiber boatman gave him the meagre shelter of a small river craft and with the humiliated but dauntless pontiff, disguised as a monk, crouching low in the flimsy stern-sheets and with only the added protection of a leather shield given by a friendly soldier, an escape was made through a blockade established by ships filled with the unscrupulous henchmen of the vengeful Colonna.
It was Florence, so prosperous and powerful at this time, which gave him succour and protection and there came those of his cardinals who had remained loyal. The tide of the Renaissance was surging strong in this place which was to be the papal home for almost a decade and the spirit of the lovely city was gay and boisterous with the vitality of the new movement. It was a happy spirit which found a hearty patron in the person of the exiled Pope and it was this spirit and such patronage which fostered the genius of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Lippi, Massalino, and Masaccio. But while there was gaiety in Florence the shadow of the Turk was falling closer to Constantinople and once again we witness a Byzantine Emperor appealing to a pope in an effort to enlist the aid of Latin Christendom. His representatives and those of the Eastern Patriarchs came to
[paragraph continues] Florence and after much negotiation a reunion between the two Churches was announced although unfortunately the pact when attempted in practice proved to be but optimistic words. More than a decree, formulated in stress, was needed to heal the long schism and the reunion was never really accepted by the peoples of either the Eastern or Western Church. However, the appeal and the entire affair illustrated the fact that Eugenius was regaining the authority that was rightfully his, and aiding him was a powerful friend, Cosimo di Medici, the ruler of Florence who was possessed of a host of allies. Against this happy friendship the rebellious divines at Basle, still convened in their obstinate Council, were gradually losing princely supporters and particularly so when they reached the climax of their impertinence by proclaiming a new pope, "Felix V." Europe, even those nations who had been against Eugenius, had nought but despair at the prospects of two claimants again contesting the papal throne. The anti-pope had been found in the person of the Duke Amadeus of Savoy who indisputably was an earnest minded and pious nobleman, specially ordained and consecrated for his dubious honour, and thoroughly convinced, thanks to the eloquence of his electors, that his pretensions were valid and just.
In the ninth year of his exile Eugenius was able to return to Rome with power and authority. The Colonna and Orsini were defeated and evicted and in a spirit of rejoicing he set out lavishly to endow the city with those arts he had enjoyed at Florence. A host of painters and sculptors and architects received his commands and while buildings grew and frescoes and statues and canvases progressed he commissioned the famous Lorenzo Ghiberti to produce, among many objects of beauty, a magnificent tiara, heavily encrusted with precious stones. The magnificence
which surrounded these undertakings was not reflected in his private life for as much as possible he lived with simplicity and austerity and always he was a determined opponent of nepotism. As the end of his reign neared he redoubled his efforts to bring back that unity which was his cherished dream and to achieve it he sacrificed many of the papal privileges in Germany. Thus peace was made with Sigismund, and ambassadors came from the Emperor to make formal pledge of their master's allegiance. Eugenius received them gladly but instead of his pleasure being voiced from his throne the words of welcome were delivered from his deathbed.
Within a fortnight there was a new pope but the brevity of the Conclave did not prevent spirited argument and much intrigue, for the Colonna tried by every means they knew save direct force to secure the tiara for their own House. They failed however and far from being sprung of such exalted lineage the family of the Cardinal Thomas Parentucelli, who became Nicholas V, was not even possessed of the right to sport a coat-of-arms. This new pope was above all things a scholar and used to the company of scholars. The son of a country physician he had since childhood displayed a marked aptitude for learning and this appetite was never to leave him. He was fifty years old when made pope and his policies, it was soon evident, were modelled after those of his predecessor. He concluded the concordat with Germany and entered upon more harmonious relations with Scotland and France so that eventually it was only the stubborn prelates at Basle, rapidly dwindling in number and importance, who persisted in schism. But even they, and in this reign, were to admit mistake; and the good but misguided man whom they had called Felix V was magnanimously forgiven by
[paragraph continues] Nicholas and given an honoured place in the College of Cardinals.
In 1450, the third year of this Pope, a great Jubilee was held in Rome and crowds of pilgrims, drawn from all corners of Christendom, came to celebrate the unity of the Church. They found a busy and happy city for Nicholas, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Renaissance, was an even more avid patron of the arts than Eugenius had been and he was determined that Rome should not only be the religious centre of the world but that she should also lead in cultural enterprise. His particular fancy was the development of the Vatican library and, ardent book lover that he was, he collected and catalogued and preserved every manuscript of any value, ancient or contemporary, he could find. It was happy industry and one that kept him poring over books and bindings for long peaceful hours. But suddenly there came news which changed his mood and shocked him so that he sickened in body and soul. Constantinople, that place which, even if in schism, had been the Christian bulwark against the forces of Islam, had finally been conquered and occupied by the Turk. The Pope hurriedly and with desperation appealed to the various sovereigns and rulers for aid but there was no eager or quick response. It is true that when the news permeated throughout Europe of how the Sultan Mohammed II had with sacrilegious arrogance triumphantly ridden his horse through the splendid Church of Sancta Sophia there was some stirring of conscience and attempts were made to form a Crusade. Nicholas worked hard to organize and unite these attempts but before any perceptible progress was made he died, saddened and exhausted.
Both the Colonna and the Orsini fought desperately to control the next Conclave and perhaps to avert the deadlock
so easily born of such maneuverings the cardinals quickly selected a non-Italian who was eighty years old. He was a Spaniard and he was the first pope from that family whose name on the written page seldom fails to quicken the interest of the reader. He was the Cardinal Alfonso Borgia and as Pope he was known as Callistus III. Like Nicholas he tried to inaugurate a great and unified campaign against the Turk but his appeal had little response. Such Christian forays as there were remained independent and the victories were few. The Hungarians scored the greatest success against the Mohammedans in the field; and on the sea a papal fleet, commanded by an archbishop, captured twenty-five Turkish ships. At Rome, without shame or pretense, Callistus gave what he could to his family; two of his nephews, neither conspicuous for the excellence of his conduct, were made cardinals at a very early age. Indeed the unabashed preference shown to the Borgia clan was probably one of the reasons why the Sacred College should, after the end of his three year reign, once again turn to an Italian, the Cardinal Aeneas Piccolomini who was of a noble Siennese family and who was in every way a true and typical figure of the Renaissance.
The new Pope had been a courtier and he had been Poet Laureate to the Emperor Frederick. As a young man his talents as a writer, combined with that spirit of rebellious scepticism common to youthful intellectuals, had resulted in a document which questioned the papal authority. The existence of such a work was of course splendid ammunition for his critics when he became Pope Pius II. So much so that he was forced to make a formal repudiation and this he did in a communication to the University of Cologne. "Reject Aeneas," he wrote, "and accept Pius." His time was six years and although he tried
valiantly his reign cannot be considered successful; for his attempts to bring reform in Church affairs met with as little response as did his appeals for a Crusade. Busy with their own troubles the leaders of nations had no wish to indulge in the costly luxury of distant adventures and the Pope's entreaties, like those of his predecessors, went for the most part unheeded. While he hopefully waited for favourable responses, he appointed a commission which was to devise a scheme for the contemplated ecclesiastical reform but the errors and laxities this commission found were of such magnitude and number, their report was so gloomy and pessimistic that it seemed as though a complete or honest eradication of such abuses would be impossible to achieve, at least in any one lifetime.
At last the Pope, stung by the impotence of his position and the futility of his pleas, determined on a dramatic course that would provide an example to the apathetic Princes of Christendom. If they would not resist the Turk then he, Pope though he was, would take to the field and assume their duty. Solemnly he pledged himself to the vows of a Crusader in the Vatican Basilica and the eighteenth day of June, 1464, saw him, despite his old age and frail health and lack of experience as a campaigner, beginning the militant journey, surrounded by a gay and undisciplined army which for the most part consisted of French and Spanish knights who had been attracted by the spectacular deed of the pontiff. "Farewell Rome," he cried as he left the city. "Never again will you see me alive." The cavalcade proceeded to Ancona and from there it was intended the journey should be continued on the sea, for Venice had promised to provide a fleet. The ships were long in coming and very quickly the sad history of previous crusades was given repetition. Mischief born of indolence and intrigue brought discord to the camps and
[paragraph continues] Pius, now so weak from his illnesses that he could not leave his bed, was told that his army was melting away instead of growing stronger with those reinforcements which were his hope. Eventually the Venetian ships came and when their sails were raised on the horizon the Pope was carried to a window so he could see the long awaited sight. It was an attempt to revive him but it was an attempt doomed like his Crusade, to failure. The ships had come too late and, after exhorting his cardinals to continue with the expedition, Pius II breathed his last.
The cardinals sped to Rome where after sitting in a conclave which lasted only two days they elected the Venetian born cardinal of San Marco, Pietro Barbo, now to be Paul II, a somewhat eccentric character who had been made a cardinal because of the fondness of his uncle, Pope Eugenius IV. Like his relative he was a devoted patron of the arts and was resolved that Rome should be made the most beautiful and cultured city of the world. His rich hospitality became famous and a familiar sight of his reign was to see him smiling benignly down from his palace window upon a throng banqueting at his expense. Carnivals and horse races and public games were other gifts he showered upon the populace in emulation of the ancient tradition. The new art of printing received his interest and encouragement and artists and sculptors and goldsmiths were familiar to his court. The famous tiara that Ghiberti had made for his uncle had cost thirty-eight thousand ducats but the one designed and made to meet his luxurious taste cost nearly four times as much. He was popular with the Roman mob and they cheered his extravagances and generosity; but with the intelligentsia it was another story for he frowned upon the pretensions and affectations of the extreme Humanists. When such members of the Roman Academy considered
it fashionable to display pagan tendencies in their writings and discussions he caused the institution to be disbanded and imprisoned some of the leaders. The anger and resentment of these men found sympathy with most of the cardinals, who felt they had been deceived: for at the conclave which had given him the tiara Paul had glibly promised that if elected he would transfer fuller privileges and authority to the Sacred College. The promise was not fulfilled on the grounds that such an action would be invalid and contrary to canon law. Paul did not abandon the project of a Crusade and after the usual appeals had been made and received with the familiar lethargy of the temporal rulers he formulated a scheme whereby a general tax was to be levied and with the monies so derived mercenaries employed to carry on the campaign against the ever encroaching Turk who by now indeed was marching through Greece. His plan proved impracticable and the apathy of the nations, with the exception of Albania and Hungary (to whom the Pope sent financial assistance), remained unbroken; and although Charlemagne's title was still jealously claimed and used, the most powerful sovereign of the world was acknowledged to be the Moslem warrior, Mohammed II.
From the next conclave came Sixtus IV, the former Cardinal Francis della Rovere (a name which was not his by birth but gained by association with the noble family in the capacity of tutor) . Born the son of a fisherman he had joined the Franciscans at a very early age and from that commencement his astuteness had won him promotion step by step until finally the supreme rank was his. Like most other popes of this era the acquisition of the tiara meant the enrichment of his family. Two of his nephews, unworthy in every respect, became cardinals and like the rest of their rejoicing relatives revelled in
preferment and favour. He ruled thirteen years and, although he brought no improvement to his spiritual domain, the temporal power of the Papal States was regularized and strengtheneda process that could not apparently be accomplished without the accompaniment of intrigue, treachery, and bloodshed. A cathedral in Florence became the background of a particularly horrible crime when Giuliano Medici, one of the leaders of his family, now in disagreement with the Papal States, was brutally murdered whilst attending mass although his brother Lorenzo escaped to wreak a terrible revenge on the actual assassins and to declare war against their admitted ally, the Pope. The lack of saintliness in his own character did not prevent Sixtus from being a great friend of the monastic orders, whom he encouraged and protected by statutes and gifts; nor did his preoccupation with political affairs prevent him from sustaining that bright continuity of artistic patronage which was the happy legacy of a Renaissance pope to his successors. The Sistine Chapel owed its beauty to his generosity as do many other works of beauty still in existence. With less vigour perhaps, even though at one time he sold his silver plate to pay his mercenaries, he continued on the tradition of a Crusade. But in these years such efforts were reduced to a series of minor campaigns, even though at one time the Turks invaded Southern Italy, and the withdrawal of this capable foe was not due to any Christian victory but because of the opportune death of the Mohammedan leader. To the Inquisition in Spain Sixtus sent a message in which he stressed the need of moderation and the necessity of freedom from domination by political parties; with the latter purpose in mind he appointed the Cardinal Thomas de Torquemada as Grand Inquisitor.
The death of Sixtus was a signal for the Roman mob to
demonstrate against his relatives. The family palace, rich with newly acquired treasures, was raided and plundered and the streets became noisy with maledictions and curses against the family name. But even violent proof of an intense popularity could not stifle the ambitions and designs of his favourite nephew, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. The opponent of this product of nepotism, in the elaborate intrigues which were set in motion with the gathering of the next conclave, was another favoured nephew, but of an earlier pope. Rodrigo Borgia wished the tiara for himself but his promises and schemes were less effective, this time, than the persuasions of the unpopular but wily della Rovere. For, after brief deliberation, the latter's candidate, the Cardinal John-Baptist Cibo, became Innocent VIII. Little could be expected of one elected under such auspices and indeed his reign was no interruption in what was now becoming a long and shameful record. Typical in all ways of the sad era was the move made by the new pope when, ungratefully wishing to free himself from the demanding and irksome friendship of his sponsor, he made peace with Florence by marrying his illegitimate son to the daughter of the enemy of the previous pontiff, Lorenzo de Medici. Such an alliance was not considered extraordinary at the time and the fact that a condition of the marriage contract made the sixteen-year-old brother of the bride a cardinal caused neither indignation nor protest save from such isolated personages as the eloquent Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who at this time was tramping throughout Italy and attracting large audiences by the fearless outspokenness and vigour of his sermons.