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§ 51. Paul II. 1464–1471.

The next occupant of the papal throne possessed none of the intellectual attractiveness of his predecessor, and displayed no interest in promoting the war against the Turks. He was as difficult to reach as Pius had been accessible, and was slow in attending to official business. The night he turned into day, holding his audiences after dark, and legates were often obliged to wait far into the night or even as late as three in the morning before getting a hearing.

Pietro Barbo, the son of a sister of Eugenius IV., was born in Venice, 1418. He was about to set sail for the East on a mercantile project, when the news reached Venice of his uncle’s election to the papacy. Following his elder brother’s advice, he gave up the quest of worldly gain and devoted himself to the Church. Eugenius’ favor assured him rapid promotion, and he was successively appointed archdeacon of Bologna, bishop of Cervia, bishop of Vicenza, papal pronotary and cardinal. On being elected to the papal chair, the Venetian chose the name of Formosus and then Mark, but, at the advice of the conclave, both were given up, as the former seemed to carry with it a reference to the pontiff’s fine presence, and the latter was the battle-cry of Venice, and might give political offence. So he took the name, Paul.

Before entering upon the election, the conclave again adopted a pact which required the prosecution of the crusade and the assembling of a general council within three years. The number of cardinals was not to exceed 24, the age of appointment being not less than 30 years, and the introduction of more than one of the pope’s relatives to that body was forbidden.751751    The document Is given by Raynaldus and Gieseler.

This solemn agreement, Paul proceeded at once summarily to set aside. The cardinals were obliged to attach their names to another document, whose contents the pope kept concealed by holding his hand over the paper as they wrote. The veteran Carvajal was the only member of the curia who refused to sign. From the standpoint of papal absolutism, Paul was fully justified. What right has any conclave to dictate to the supreme pontiff of Christendom, the successor of St. Peter! The pact was treason to the high papal theory, and meant nothing less than the substitution of an oligarchy for the papal monarchy. Paul called no council, not even a congress, to discuss the crusade against the Turks, and appointed three of his nephews cardinals, Marco Barbo, his brother’s son, and Battista Zeno and Giovanni Michïel, sons of two sisters.752752    Pastor, II. 307, fully justifies Paul for setting aside the pact on the ground that every pope gets plenary authority directly from God. His ordinances for the city included sumptuary regulations, limiting the prices to be paid for wearing apparel, banquets and entertainments at weddings and funerals, and restricting the dowries of daughters to 800 gold florins.

A noteworthy occurrence of Paul’s pontificate was the storm raised in Rome, 1466, by his dismissal of the 70 abbreviators, the number to which Pius II. had limited the members of that body. This was one of those incidents which give variety to the history of the papal court and help to make it, upon the whole, the most interesting of all histories. The scribes of the papal household were roughly divided into two classes, the secretaries and the abbreviators. The business of the former was to take charge of the papal correspondence of a more private nature, while the latter prepared briefs of bulls and other more solemn public documents.753753    Hergenröther: Kath. Kirchenrecht, p. 299 The dismissal of the abbreviators got permanent notoriety by the complaints of one of their number, Platina, and the sufferings he was called upon to endure. This invaluable biographer of the popes states that the dispossessed officials, on the plea that their appointment had been for life, besieged the Vatican 20 nights before getting a hearing. Then Platina, as their spokesman, threatened to appeal to the princes of Europe to have a general council called and see that justice was done. The pope’s curt answer was that he would rescind or ratify the acts of his predecessors as he pleased.

The unfortunate abbreviator, who was more of a scholar than a politician, was thrown into prison and held there during the four months of Winter without fire and bound in chains. Unhappily for him, he was imprisoned a second time, accused of conspiracy and heretical doctrine. In these charges the Roman Academy was also involved, an institution which cultivated Greek thought and was charged with having engaged in a propaganda of Paganism. There was some ground for the charge, for its leader, Pomponius Laeto, who combined the care of his vineyard with ramblings through the old Roman ruins and the perusal of the ancient classics, had deblaterated against the clergy. This antiquary was also thrown into prison. Platina relates how he and a number of others were put to the torture, while Vienesius, his Holiness’ vice-chancellor, looked on for several days as the ordeal was proceeding, "sitting like another Minos upon a tapestried seat as if he had been at a wedding, a man in holy orders whom the canons of the Church forbade to put torture upon laymen, lest death should follow, as it sometimes does." On his release he received a promise from Paul of reappointment to office, but waited in vain till the accession of Sixtus IV., who put him in charge of the Vatican library.754754    Jacob Volaterra in Muratori, new ed., XXIII. 3, p. 98.

Paul pursued an energetic policy against Podiebrad and the Utraquists of Bohemia and, after ordering all the compacts with the king ignored, deposed him and called upon Matthias of Hungary to take his throne. Paul had rejected Podiebrad’s offer to dispossess the Turk on condition of being recognized as Byzantine emperor.755755    Pastor, II. 358 sqq., makes a heroic effort to exempt Paul from the guilt of neglecting the crusade against the Turks. In a letter written by Cardinal Gonzaga, which he prints for the first time (II. 773), the statement is made that Paul was quietly laying aside one-fourth of his income to be used against the Turks. There is no mention of any sum of this kind among the pope’s assets.

In 1468, Frederick, III. repeated his visit to Rome, accompanied by 600 knights, but the occasion aroused none of the high expectation of the former visit, when the emperor brought with him the Portuguese infanta. There was no glittering pageant, no august papal reception. On receiving the communion in the basilica of St. Peter’s, he received from the pontiff’s hand the bread, but not the "holy blood," which, as the contemporary relates, Paul reserved to himself as an object-lesson against the Bohemians, though it was customary on such occasions to give both the elements. The successor of Charlemagne and Barbarossa was then given a seat at the pope’s side, which was no higher than the pope’s feet.756756    Patritius in Muratori, XXIII. 205-215. Patritius, who describes the scene, remarks that, while the respect paid to the papal dignity had increased, the imperium of the Roman empire had fallen into such decadence that nothing remained of it but its name. Without manifesting any reluctance, the Hapsburg held the pope’s stirrup.

Paul was not without artistic tastes, although he condemned the study of the classics in the Roman schools,757757    Pastor, II. 347, tries to show that Paul had some mind for humanistic studies. During his pontificate, 1467, the German printers, Schweinheim and Pannarts, set up the first printing-presses in Rome, but not under Paul’s patronage. and was pronounced by Platina a great enemy and despiser of learning. He was an ardent collector of precious stones, coins, vases and other curios, and took delight in showing his jewels to Frederick III. Sixtus IV. is said to have found 54 silver chests filled with pearls collected by this pontiff, estimated to be worth 300,000 ducats. The two tiaras, made at his order, contained gems said to have been worth a like amount. At a later time, Cardinal Barbo found in a secret drawer of one of Paul’s chests sapphires valued at 12,000 ducats.758758    Infessura, p. 167. Platina was probably repeating only a common rumor, when he reports that in the daytime Paul slept and at night kept awake, looking over his jewels.

To this diversion the pontiff added sensual pleasures and public amusements.759759    A quotation given by Gregorovius, VII. 226, probably exaggerates when it states he filled his house with concubines—ex concubina domum replevit. He humored the popular taste by restoring heathen elements to the carnival, figures of Bacchus and the fauna, Diana and her nymphs. In the long list of the gayeties of carnival week are mentioned races for young men, for old men and for Jews, as well as races between horses, donkeys and buffaloes. Paul looked down from St. Mark’s and delighted the crowds by furnishing a feast in the square below and throwing down amongst them handfuls of coins. In things of this kind, says Infessura, the pope had his delight.760760    Et di queste cose lui-si pigliava piacere, p. 69. He was elaborate in his vestments and, when he appeared in public, was accustomed to paint his face.

The pope’s death was ascribed to his indiscretion in eating two large melons. Asked by a cardinal why, in spite of the honors of the papacy, he was not contented, Paul replied that a little wormwood can pollute a whole hive of honey. The words belong in the same category as the words spoken 300 years before by the English pope, Adrian, when he announced the failure of the highest office in Christendom to satisfy all the ambitions of man.


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