DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     March 9, 1999     vol. 10, no. 47


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      After the whirlwhind honeymoon of Pope Nicholas V and the birth of the Renaissance, reality returned to Rome with the election of Pope Callistus III who disdained the humanists' movement in favor of rallying all of Europe to reconquer Constantinople lost to the Turks. His efforts, while noble, were met with resistance everywhere. They remembered the failed crusades of their ancestors and railed at the stiff taxes imposed to raise funds for something so far away. Add to this the fact each nation had their own problems which were not being addressed in lieu of the national crusade to help the East, a region that had turned their back on Rome centuries ago. Therefore things were in turmoil and the fact Callistus was even able to mount a crusade that was highly successful at the onset was amazing. It did however fizzle badly as support waned and it basically imploded with many seceding from the ranks to join their own countrymen in a greedy bid to get "their fare share." Callistus was a stubborn pontiff who would not put up with any resistance from his cardinals and this contributed to the rebellion. To counteract this Callistus enlisted the help of the Catalan troops from Spain and appointed those he could trust - his relatives to highly coveted positions, including his wayward, worldly nephew. We can blame Callistus for spawning the Roman Pontiff that would set Rome back centuries - Pope Alexander IV in 1492 and open the door for the Protestant Reformation. He did bring growth of Christianity in Scandinavia, but his nephew would erase that for Protestantism would take its greatest hold in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Throughout his three year pontificate Callistus, who ordered the Angeles bells be rung at noon every day, is best remembered for establishing the universal feast of the Transfiguration.
Installment Ninety-six

Pope Callistux III: The Constantinople Crusade consumes Callistus

          The Renaissance Pope Nicholas V had come and gone, dying on March 24, 1455. Now it was back to reality as the conclave met, hoping to elect someone who could bring diplomacy to the Holy See and recoup Constantinople for Christianity. As usual, the College of Cardinals could not decide on a definite candidate because the conclave was split between a member of the powerful Colonna family of Italy and another humanist cardinal who was Greek. Those who wanted the Church to follow the same course Nicholas had begun sided with the Greek, but he could not muster enough votes. Thus, on April 8, 1455 the electors chose a compromise candidate, one who would merely be a caretaker because he was getting up there in age. By selecting 77 year-old Cardinal Alfonso de Borgia from Valencia, they could buy time. Thus Borgia accepted and chose the name Pope Callistus III, the 209th successor of Peter. He was the first Callistus since 1124. Borgia had been a mild-mannered prelate who suffered the same ailment as his predecessor although many historians claim he had severe arthritis which in those days was not diagnosed as such. As a member of the Roman Curia, Callistus had not taken advantage of many of the perks and was known more for being austere. This did not sit well with the Renaissance humanists who had hoped he would carry on the torch lit by Nicholas. But whether Callistus didn't have the same passion or not, circumstances dictated that he set aside the grandiose building and refurbishing plans engineered by Nicholas in favor of more practical matters like forming a crusade to reconquer Constantinople. As sick as he was, Callistus threw himself body and soul into this. He sent countless Dominicans and other Orders out to preach the crusade throughout Europe and levied taxes on the populace to raise the necessary funds to launch a military counter-offensive. He set as the launch date March 1, 1456.

          The chisels and brushes of the Renaissance gave way to the workmanlike construction of galley ships in preparation for war. Many of the treasures gathered by Nicholas were sold off to pay for this military endeavor. This was not received well by pro-Renaissance enthusiasts or western powers like France and Germany who felt the Roman Pontiff was so obsessed with this crusade that he was neglecting their problems. They grew to resent the taxes and mandatory tithing for a project to which they did not have their heart fully committed. Besides this England and France needed to focus their full attention to their own military efforts against each other. Add to this German resentment to Ladislaus of Hungary and the cultural divisions throughout Europe and one can see the uphill battle Callistus faced. Though Callistus initially was successful in driving the Turks back at Belgrade , his leading general died and no one came forward who could fill his shoes. This hurt morale and, even in defeating Mohammed's fleet off the coast of Lesbos in August 1457, the crusaders could not muster enough of an offensive to finish off the Saracens. Like a heavy weight fighter they could not wield the knock out punch and their legs grew wobbly in the later rounds.

          As Pope Callistus III drew wearier from the struggle and resistance, he dispatched his chief diplomat Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini to intercept an insurrection in Germany. Piccolomini would become his successor a year later as Pope Pius II. Things went from bad to worse for Callistus when one of his allies Alfonso, the king of Aragon and Naples abandoned his efforts in fighting the Turks and used his resources to claim territory for himself by exploiting the depleted ranks of other regions. This turncoat action prompted a domino effect as many other territories, dukedoms and countries forsook the crusade to get their share of the pie while the pickin' was good. Greed permeated Europe and they pointed fingers at Callistus who had bestowed lavish honors and favors on relatives, surprising many that he would turn nepotistic in light of the strict life he led as a cardinal. Resentment raised its ugly head and Callistus turned to the Spanish and his nephews to protect him, fortifying the fortresses of the papal states with men loyal to him. In a move that was a direct affront against Alfonso and other Italians who bolted, Callistus appointed many Spanish cardinals but left eligible Italian prelates off the list. He did appoint one Italian - a cardinal who really had no business being admitted to religious life. That man was his 22 year-old nephew Rodrigo Borgia who would become Pope Alexander VI thirty-five years later, a man who set the papacy back centuries and was one of the main reasons why there was so much rebellion within the Church that would lead to the Reformation.

          While Callistus was consumed with the idea of being the great liberator of Constantinople and failed, he was in no way a bad pope spiritually. He tried to enforce reforms but the problems of the times and the resistance by pro-Renaissance and anti-crusade factions forced him to take drastic actions. He did reopen the archives regarding Joan of Arc's situation and on June 16, 1456 declared her innocent of the heresy charges levied on her back in 1431. This opened the way for her canonization process. He canonized Saint Osmund of Salisbury on January 1, 1457 and, in honor of the Belgrade victory over Mohammed's Islamic forces, decreed that the Feast of the Transfiguration be celebrated on that day throughout the universal Church on August 6th - a date still observed in the Church today. Unlike his predecessors who had been soft on Jewish/Christian social interacation, he was more strict and ordered no courting or marriages between Catholic and Jew. Sadly Callistus, while wanting to refortify and unify Europe had, in effect, divided Europe further causing great resentment; so great that, on the day he died in 1458 on the feast he had ordered, Italians staged an open rebellion against the Spanish troops in the papal states. Once again Rome was in turmoil. It would be left to Callistus' successor the astute, but crafty Pius II to clean up the mess.

    Next issue: Pope Pius II: The task of reunifying Christian Europe begins

March 9, 1999       volume 10, no. 47


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