1902 Encyclopedia > Pope Pius II

Pope Pius II

PIUS II. (Enea Silvio Piccolomini, commonly known in literature as Aeneas Sylvius), pope from 1458 to 1464, " whose character reflects almost every tendency of the age in which he lived," was born at Corsignano in the Sienese territory, October 18, 1405, of a noble but decayed family. After studying at the universities of Siena and Florence, he settled in the former city as a" teacher, but in 1431 accepted the post of secretary to Domenico Capranica, bishop of Fermo, then on his way to Basel to protest against the injustice of the new pope Eugenius IV. in refusing him the cardinalate for which he had been designated by Martin V. Arriving at Basel after numerous adventures, he successively served Capranica and several other masters. In 1435 he was sent by Cardinal Albergata, Eugenius's legate at the council, on a secret mission to Scotland, the object of which is variously related, even by himself. He visited England as well as Scotland, underwent many perils and vicissitudes in both countries, and has left a valuable account of each. Upon his return he sided actively with the council in its conflict with the pope, and, although still a layman, obtained a leading share in the direction of its affairs. But when in 1442 the council elected Amadeus, duke of Savoy, as an antipope under the name of Felix V., TEneas, perceiving that the step was generally disapproved, found a pretext for withdrawing to the emperor Frederick HP's court at Vienna. He was there crowned imperial poet laureate, and obtained the patronage of the emperor's chancellor, Kaspar Schlick, a love adventure of whose at Siena he celebrated in his romance, Eurialus and Lmretia. His character had hitherto been that of an easy man of the world, with no pretence to strictness in morals or consistency in politics. He now began to be more regular in the former respect, and in the latter adopted a decided line by making his peace with Rome. Being sent on a mission to Rome in 1445, with the ostensible object of inducing Eugenius to convoke a new council, he was absolved from ecclesiastical censures, and returned to Germany under an engagement to assist the pope. This he did most effectually by the diplomatic dexterity with which he smoothed away differences between the court of Rome and the German electors; and he had a leading part in the compromise by which, in 1447, the dying Eugenius accepted the reconciliation tendered by the German princes, and the council and the antipope were left without support. He had already taken orders, and one of the first acts of Eugenius's successor Nicholas V. was to make him bishop of Trieste. In 1450 he was sent ambassador by the emperor Frederick to negotiate his marriage with the Princess Leonora of Naples, which object he successfully achieved; in 1451 he undertook a mission to Bohemia, and concluded a satisfactory arrange-ment with the Hussite chief George Podiebrad; in 1452 he accompanied Frederick to Rome, where the emperor wedded Leonora and was crowned king of the Romans. In August 1455 YEneas again arrived in Rome on an embassy to proffer the obedience of Germany to the new pope, Calixtus III. He brought strong recommendations from the emperor and King Ladislaus of Hungary for his nomination to the cardinalate, but delays arose from the pope's resolution to promote his own nephews first, and he did not attain the object of his ambition until December in the following year.

Calixtus III. died on August 6, 1458. On August 10 the cardinals entered into conclave. The wealthy cardinal of Rouen, though a Frenchman and of exceptionable character, seemed certain to be elected. iEneas has told us in a passage of his own history of his times, long retrenched from that work but printed clandestinely in the Condavi de' Pontijki Bomani, by what art, energy, and eloquence he frustrated this false step. It seemed but meet that the election should fall upon himself : no other candidate appears to have been seriously thought of; nor, although the sacred college probably included a few men of higher moral standard, had it any on the whole so worthy of the tiara. It was the peculiar faculty of Aeneas to accommodate himself perfectly to whatever position he might be called upon to occupy ; it was his peculiar good fortune that every step in life had placed him in circum-stances appealing more and more to the better part of his nature, an appeal to which he had never failed to respond. The party pamphleteer had been more respectable than the private secretary, the diplomatist than the pamphleteer, the cardinal than the diplomatist; now the unscrupulous adventurer and licentious novelist of a few short years ago seated himself quite naturally in the chair of St Peter, and from the resources of his versatile character produced without apparent effort all the virtues and endowments becoming his exalted station. After allying himself with Ferdinand, the Aragonese claimant of the throne of Naples, his next important act was to convene a congress of the representatives of Christian princes at Mantua for joint action against the Turks. His long progress to the place of assembly resembled a triumphal procession; and the congress, a complete failure as regarded its ostensible object, at least showed that the impotence of Christendom was not owing to the pope. On his return from the con-gress Pius spent a considerable time in his native district of Siena, and has described his delight and the charms of a country life in very pleasing language. He was recalled to Rome by the disturbances occasioned by Tiburzio de Maso, who was ultimately seized and executed. The papal states were at this time greatly troubled by rebellious barons and marauding condottieri, but these evils gradu-ally abated. The Neapolitan war was also terminated by the success of the pope's ally Ferdinand. In July 1461 Pius canonized St Catherine of Siena, and in October of the same year he gained what at first appeared to be a most brilliant success by inducing the new king of France, Louis XL, to abolish the pragmatic sanction, by which the pope's authority in France had been grievously impaired. But Louis had expected that Pius would in return espouse the French cause in Naples, and when he found himself disappointed he virtually re-established the pragmatic sanc-tion by royal ordinances. Pius was also engaged in a series of disputes with the Bohemian king and the count of Tyrol, and the crusade for which the congress of Mantua had been convoked made no progress. The pope did his best: he addressed an eloquent letter to the sultan urging him to become a Christian; he succeeded in reconciling the emperor and the king of Hungary, and derived great encouragement as well as pecuniary advantage from the discovery of mines of alum in the papal territory. But France was estranged; the duke of Burgundy broke his positive promise ; Milan was engrossed with the attempt to seize Genoa ; Florence cynically advised the pope to let the Turks and the Venetians wear each other out. Pius was unawares nearing his end, and his malady probably prompted the feverish impatience with which on June 18, 1464, he assumed the cross and departed for Ancona to conduct the crusade in person. It seemed certain that the issue of such an enterprise could only be ridiculous or disastrous. Pius IP's good genius again stepped in, and rendered it pathetic. He was suffering from fever when he left Rome. The crusading army melted away at Ancona for want of transport, and when at last the Venetian fleet arrived the dying pope could only view it from a window. He expired two days afterwards, August 14, 1464, in his death as in his life a figure picturesque and significant far beyond the wont of Roman pontiffs. He was succeeded by Paul II.

Pius, indeed, regarded as a man and not merely as an historical personage, is the most interesting of all the successors of St Peter. It is easy to take his character to pieces, but the aroma of something exquisite lingers around every fragment. He had a healthy, sincere, loving nature, frank and naive even in his aberrations and defects, which seem after all sufficiently venial. The failings of other popes have most frequently been those of the priest, and therefore in the true sense of the term inhuman. It is a refreshing transition to the faults of the adventurer, the diplomatist, the man of letters and pleasure. The leading trait of Pius's character was his extreme impressionable-ness. Chameleon-like he took colour from surrounding cir-cumstances, and could always depend on being what these circumstances required him to be. As, therefore, his prospects widened and his responsibilities deepened, his character widened and deepened too; and he who had entered upon life a shifty adventurer quitted it a model chief shepherd. His virtues were not only great, but the most conspicuous were those especially characteristic of the finer natures. While he vied with any man in indus-try, prudence, wisdom, and courage, he excelled most men in simplicity of tastes, constancy of attachments, kindly playfulness, magnanimity, and mercy. As chief of the church he was able and sagacious, and showed that he comprehended the conditions on which its monopoly of spiritual power could for a season be maintained; his views were far-seeing and liberal; and he was but slightly swayed by personal ends. He is especially interesting as the type of the scholar and publicist who wins his way by intellectual strength, foreshadowing the age to come when the pen should be mightier than the sword; and no less as the figure in whom the mediaeval and the modern spirit are most distinctly seen to meet and blend, ere the latter definitively gains the mastery.

Pius was a versatile and voluminous author, one of the best and most industrious of his period. His most important work is his Commentaries of his own Times, published in 1584 under the name of Gobelinus, to whom it has been ascribed, but who was in fact only the copyist. It appears to have been altered to some slight extent by his secretary Campanus. Numerous passages suppressed at the time of publication have been recently published in the Trans-actions of the Accademia de' Lincei by Signor Cugnone, together with other inedited works. Pius's Commentaries are delightful reading, and their historical value is very great. " Pius II., says Creighton, " is the first writer who attempted to represent the present as it would look to posterity, who consciously applied a scientific conception of history to the explanation and arrange-ment of passing events." His Epistles, which were collected by himself, are also an important source of historical information. The most valuable of his minor historical writings are his histories of Bohemia and of the emperor Frederick III., the latter partly autobiographical. He sketched geographical treatises on Europe and Asia, and in early and middle life produced numerous tracts on the political and theological controversies of his day, as well as on ethical subjects. Pius was greatly admired as a poet by his contemporaries, but his reputation in belles lettres rests princi-pally upon his Eurialus and Lucretia, which continues to be read to this day, partly from its truth to nature, and partly from the singularity of an erotic novel being written by a pope. He also composed some comedies, one of which alone is extant, and as yet Wily in MS. All these works are in Latin. Pius was not an eminent scholar : his Latin is frequently incorrect, and he knew little Greek ; but his writings have high literary qualities, and will always be prized as vivid and accurate reproductions of the spirit of a very remarkable age.

All the chief authorities for Pius's life are sifted and condensed in the admirable biography by Voigt (3 vols., Berlin, 1856-63). Professor Creighton, in his masterly History of the Papacy during the Reformation (vol. ii., London, 1882), has given the English reader the substance of Voigt's narrative, while preserving a full independence of judgment. (R. G.)

The above article was written by: Richard Garnett, LL.D.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries