DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     March 23, 1999     vol. 10, no. 57


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      The College of Cardinals elected a young man to lead them in Pope Paul II, but in truth they sought to manipulate him. The clash turned bitter when he balked. Pouncing on his weaknesses and penchant for the good life, the Roman curia sought to discredit him in an attempt to regain control and reestablish the power of the Council which Paul II's uncle Pope Eugene IV had fought so hard to suppress twenty years before. Paul II sought to surround himself with his own Renaissance men in carrying on many of the projects begun by Pope Martin V, possibly out of guilt for his uncle who had squelched the progress. The bitter infighting between Paul and his people and the growing insurgence within the Curia plus the Turkish threat to the east dominated Paul's time and energy not allowing him to exact needed reforms in a Church that was splitting at the seams in many ways through neglect and a failure to recognize the imminent dangers.
Installment Ninety-seven

Pope Paul II: A compromise crusade and the return of the Renaissance

          The nephew of Pope Eugene IV had been groomed to be Pope ever since Eugene had been elected in 1431 when Pietro Barbo was a young boy of 14. After electing so many Roman Pontiffs who were getting on in age and exhibited various ailments, the Sacred Conclave decided to go a younger route, electing on the first ballot the 47 year-old Cardinal Barbo who had been a cardinal deacon at only 23. The College of Cardinals had sought to rein in the Vicar of Christ in an attempt to return to the conciliary power before the Council of Basle, but Barbo, like many of his predecessors, changed the agenda once elected on August 30, 1464. He remembered all too well the battles his uncle had fought and leaned heavily for papal power, especially now that he had attained it. He had wanted to take the name Pope Formosus II but the name translated to "handsome" and because he was just that, his advisors cautioned him that this might imply a pride on his part and alienate the people; thus he chose the name Pope Paul II, the first Paul since Pope Saint Paul I in the late fifties and sixties of the eighth century.

          Paul II was handsome and vain and this bothered many within the curia who winced at his love for carnival and entertainment. Many believe this penchant for celebration caused him to change the Jubilee concept of every fifty years to every 25, falsely believing that his rule would last that long and cover 1475. Little did he know he would die four years shy of that target. Yet, despite his love for the good life, he was also one who reached out to others and was known as the Pope with the great heart. Because of this and his youth his election was well-received in Rome. While he loved the merrymaking, he did not partake of it himself and was a chaste man despite the many temptations. He relished sitting high on his throne or on the balcony above, watching all below, lording over the festivities in a medieval-like setting. It was for this reason he reinstated the Renaissance movement in Rome, introduced by Pope Martin V but squelched by his uncle for various reasons. It was Paul who commissioned the Palazzo San Marco in Venice while he was still Patriarch of Venice and completed as Pope. As much as he loved buildings and monuments, he disdained some of the more liberal humanities because of two things. First, was the influx of modern thinking with a paganism and atheism that threatened the foundation of the Church; secondly, his treatment by Roman historian Bartolomeo Platina who characterized Paul as a greedy, selfish, vain Pope. In retaliation, Paul imprisoned and tortured the humanistic writer which prompted intellectuals to disdain Paul II. On the surface it would seem like Paul was unfair and unrealistic, but in delving deeper into those times we discover that there were those within the curia, some die-hard humanists, who were sabotaging him and badmouthing him, striving to undermine his policies in an attempt at regaining power for the councils and the curia. The more Paul tried to ferret them out in weeding the curial garden, the more they retaliated with venom that gave Paul a disfavorable reputation. Paul might have been able to offset this with the people and the humanists he had gathered within his inner circle in an effort to totally clean out the curia had it not been for other distractions such as the constant Muslim threat that his predecessors had failed in stemming.

          The crusade, which his immediate predecessor Pope Pius II had been devoted to until his last dying breath on the shore of Ancona, died an apathetic death. Yet Paul II would not accept defeat and pressed on, siphoning the riches from the silver and aluminum mines of Tolfa to finance the effort against the Turks. Unfortunately his greatest ally in the cause against the infidels was George of Podebrady, king of Bohemia who ran afoul of Church teaching and embraced the Hussite heresy. Paul had no choice but to excommunicate George and even go so far as to preach a crusade against the king and the Hussites, but it had no teeth to it. This especially came to light when a key Christian outpost in Greece fell to Sultan Mehmet II and Venice was now the next target. That helped rally an Italian alliance which Paul II called to unite against the Muslims in December 1470. Still he could not get a solid offensive going as the alliance agreed to compromise and defend only if attacked. Meanwhile Paul agreed to an alliance with the Prince of Iran Uzun-Hassan to try to divert the Turks' attention away from Italian shores.

          While Paul II enjoyed good relations with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III he carefully avoided entering any pact with the emperor for the latter sided with the pro-conciliary sect, trying to convince the Pope to call a general council at Constance. So also was Louis XI of France who toyed with the Roman Pontiff and enjoyed watching the Pope squirm in begging that the French monarch remove the "liberties" claimed by the French Church which brought up all the old investiture mess from the past. As much as Paul II attempted to reach a compromise, Louis continued to string the Pope along. Weary of this, Paul turned his attentions to Russia in his efforts to reunite the East and the West both for religious purposes and military might against the Turks. He had even managed to try to arrange the marriage of Ivan III of Russia with the Catholic daughter of Thomas Palaeologus but a stroke ended not only this effort, but the life of a promising Pope who, like others before him, garnered his fair share of enemies. He died of a sudden stroke on July 26, 1471 and once again Rome was faced with a dilemna as another Pope remained unfulfilled in his goals. His enemies within the humanist faction got their revenge when they commissioned the papal biographer and painter Platina to illustrate Paul II in dark, forboding colors which, in retrospect, was a sign of things to come as Paul's successor Pope Sixtus IV could see the dark clouds on the horizon as the Reformation began to raise its ugly head while the Popes continued to ignore a problem that wouldn't go away.

    Next issue: Pope Sixtus IV: Pawn for power-brokers whose purpose was to secularize the papacy

March 23, 1999       volume 10, no. 57


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