Pope Nicholas IV A Franciscan on a crusade
After Pope Honorius IV's death in April of 1287, the Cardinals reverted to the ways before the decrees of Gregory X, dilly-dallying around for nearly a year before finally electing, as a compromise choice, the Franciscan Cardinal Giralamo Masci from Lisciano near Ascoli. But Cardinal Masci was not convinced and so, after a week of trying to persuade him, the College staged another election and repeated the same results. Thus Masci consented to be the 191st successor of Peter, taking the name Pope Nicholas IV.
Sixty one when he was elected, Nicholas had become Minister General of the Franciscans in 1274 succeeding Saint Bonaventure. It was Pope Nicholas III who consecrated him a cardinal and dispatched him on a mission to France and probably that is the reason Masci took the name Nicholas.
Nicholas was a far cry from his successor Honorius who ruled the Papal States so deftly. Nicholas was more of a gentle, holy, reverent priest who sought to wait things out and had really no clue as to governing. This became evident almost immediately as he extended favors to the Colonna family as well as his own Order of Friars Minor. This alienated many of the Papal States who were left without a strong leader and Sicily, which had struggled with turmoil for decades over the Hohenstauffen reign and then the Angevin kings and the French Aragon regime, turned on Nicholas. One reason he extended favors to the Colonna family was because they extended their home to him when other aristocratic houses turned away. This reunion of earlier ties did not sit well with the other families and Nicholas added insult to injury when he gave the Colonna clan special positions within the papacy and Papal States. Rebellion ensued from northern Italy to Sicily. In spite of all the opposition, Nicholas tried to heal the situation in Sicily trying to restore the house of Anjou, especially in the aftermath of the devastating Sicilian Vespers. But Aragon refused. Consequently Nicholas rallied France and Castile to fight against Aragon and James of Aragon. Rubbing salt into the wound Nicholas crowned Charles II of Salerno. Militarily it was a disaster for Nicholas as Charles II and Philip IV of France made a pact not to assist James but they also did not resist James efforts, allowing him to becoming more powerful in Sicily. This prompted Nicholas to crusade strongly against James but in April 1289 that crusade was turned toward the Muslims who sacked Tripoli. With the fall of the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land - Acre in Israel, Nicholas appealed to Philip and King Edward I of France to mount a crusade against the infidels. He convened a council to put this into effect but on April 4, 1292 on Good Friday he died. He was buried in St. Mary Major Basilica. In the sixteenth century the master Dominico Fontana designed an elaborate covering for his tomb.
While Nicholas' efforts as an administrator in secular matters failed miserably, his strong suit was as a missionary. Leaning on his strong Franciscan upbringing, he placed a special emphasis on missionary endeavors sending Franciscans to the court of the Kubla Khan tracing the footsteps of Marco Polo which led to the first establishment of the Church in China. One of the Franciscan missionaries sent Fra Gjiovanni de Monte Corvino would be appointed the first Archbishop of Peking in 1307 by Pope Clement V. It was Nicholas who dispatched more Franciscan missionaries to the Balkans, specifically Croatia and Bosnia where today the Franciscans remain stronger than ever and the people loyal to them because throughout the centuries the Franciscans stayed and ministered to the people while many of the Diocesan priests fled. That is why there is such fierce loyalty to the Franciscans today such as in Medjugorje. One of the most far-reaching and notable documents drawn up by Nicholas during his four year pontificate was the Papal Bull Coelestis altitudo in which he allotted that half of revenues coming to the Holy See be earmarked for the College of Cardinals, thereby giving a share to this esteemed assembly of the administration of Rome.
In the next installment, before going on to Nicholas IV's successor Pope Saint Celestine V, we will do a review of the first twelve plus centuries to catch the reader up to date on the times and what has transpired as a mid-point, so to speak, in this long on-going ultra megaseries.