DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     May 4, 1999     vol. 10, no. 87


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      A new century had dawned, one that would forever change the face of Christianity as the world knew it, but God would hardly recognize it from what He had established when Christ gave Peter the keys of the kingdom. Yet those who had succeeded Peter in the late fifteenth century were not ideal role models patterned after the Almighty's ideal either and therein lay many of the problems that would surface early in the sixteenth century when the Protestant Reformation would erupt in full scale rebellion. The all-too brief papacy of Pope Pius III could best be described as the calm between the storms.
Installment One-Hundred-three

Pope Pius III: A far too-short lull between two tempests

          Sixty-four years of age at the time he was elected on September 22, 1503, the papacy of Pope Pius III lasted less than a month. The strains of a severe case of gout would be aggravated further by the strenuous and pompous ceremonies of the Pope and ten days after his election he fell into an illness from which he did not recover. He died on October 8, 1503 and was buried at St. Peter's and later his corpse transferred to San Andrea della Valle where he was laid to rest next to Pope Pius II. There is much speculation that had Pius III lived longer he might, just might have been able to avert the growing tempest of revolt that simmered throughout Europe. But the sad fact is Pius was merely a compromise candidate the conclave elected after a stalemate ensued following the death of Alexander VI, the notorious Borgia Pope. Even though Alexander VI had forged most of the College of the Cardinals, half greatly feared the interference and threatening demeanor of his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia. Therefore, to ensure the latter did not rise to the highest position in the Church and ruin her totally because he was pure evil, the cardinals wisely chose Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini who was actually the nephew of Pope Pius II and therefore the reason Piccolomini chose to become the third Pius.

          Francesco had been born in Siena on May 29, 1439 during the pontificate of Pope Eugene IV. After receiving his doctorate from Perugia University, Pius II made him archbishop of Siena at only twenty-one and still just a deacon but remember this was the era of nepotism gone awry. On March 5, 1460 Pius made him cardinal deacon of San Eustachio and dispatched him a few years later to Ancona as a papal legage to lead the Crusade against the Turks that never materialized. Pius II's successor Pope Paul II appointed Cardinal Piccolomini cardinal protector of England and legate in Germany. Though a relative of the late Pius II, Cardinal Piccolomini was a worthy prelate and a good man who strove for holiness and obedience to the pontiffs but he had a very difficult time during the reigns of worldly men like Sixtus IV who followed Paul II, and Alexander who followed Innocent VIII. He basically stayed clear of Rome as much as possible after the death of Paul II. Even though he was obedient to Alexander VI when the latter sent him to meet with King Charles VIII of France in November 1494, Cardinal Piccolomini resented it greatly, not only because he didn't believe in the mission, but also because he had steadfastly refused to be swayed by the bribery of Alexander or his henchman Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, a notorious man who had ambitions himself and sought to rise to the top on Alexander's coattails. It was during this time that he contracted a severe case of the gout. In addition, it was Piccolomini's uncle Pius II who sternly rebuked Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia who would become Alexander VI and Piccolomini knew Alexander's memory was long and feared the Pope was setting him up out of revenge for being rebuked by his uncle. Yet Piccolomini was not timid and spoke out strongly - though he was a lone voice in the wilderness along with all those cardinals who had been bought - against Alexander's crooked deals that signed papal territories over to his other illegitimate son Juan, duke of Gandia who was later murdered by Cesare.

          Therefore, when the Conclave gathered in Rome to elect Alexander's successor, there was a bitter tug of war between Sforza, Alexander's enemy Cardinal della Rovere and Cesare Borgia. From September 16th to the 22nd, the cardinals maneuvered behind the scenes trying to get their favorite elected but when both camps realized they didn't have enough votes to swing their candidate, they compromised on Cardinal Piccolomini who was slow to accept the election because of his ill health and feelings of unworthiness for so high an honor which was still prestigious even after the sacriligeous reign of Alexander. Cardinal Piccolomini was elected on September 22, but was not coronated until October 8th. Thus his actual pontificate lasted only ten days. During this time his gout forced him to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass while seated. Finally, on October 18th he had no strength left and when those within the papal household went to find out why he did not respond to their call, they discovered he had passed on in his sleep. A two week period of mourning was designated and Rome, though they had not had the opportunity to get to know this man, sincerely felt sorrow at his passing for he had represented all the good that Alexander had not. As the College of Cardinals gathered in late October all within the conclave knew this time it would be either Sforza or della Rovere as the next Pope. The latter would win and with it the total demise of the Borgia influence but a worse influence would rise from Pope Julius II's weak reforms - rebellion against Catholic teaching as we shall see in the next installment.

    Next issue: Pope Julius II: the militant Renaissance Pope whose obsession was to bury the Borgias

May 4, 1999       volume 10, no. 87


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