Thursday, March 31, 2022

Renaissance Popes VI: Paulus II

 Birth Name: Pietro Barbo

Lived: 1417-1471

Regnal Name: Paul II. According to stories we have, which may or may not be true, he had some difficulty settling on this, first considering Formosus and then Marcus, but being convinced that the first (which means 'Good-looking') might be misunderstood as vain and that the latter (which was associated with Venice) might cause political problems.

Regnal Life: 1464-1471

Born in Venice, Pietro Barbo in his early years was training to be a merchant. But then his maternal uncle became Pope Eugene IV. At that point, Barbo switched careers, and was ordained. Pope Eugene, who had had bad experiences with the leftovers of his predecessor's nepotism, doesn't in general seem to have gone out of his way to lavish Barbo with any favors or honors, but a clever and competent man with such good connections already in hand will move up very quickly, and for an ecclesiastical career, it helps to be a man the pope knows personally. He was made cardinal at the young age of twenty-three, and became a significant player in the Curia. And 'player' is perhaps a good word for it. Martin, Eugene, Nicholas, Callixtus, and Pius were not exactly what one would call ecclesiastical politicians. But Pietro Barbo was an ecclesiastical politician through and through. And with him a new element enters the Renaissance Papacy, one for which it would become famous: ambition. Of the popes that preceded him, only Pius showed an actual ambition for ecclesiastical position, and even with Pius the ambition came late in his career and manifested itself mostly as a swiftness to seize an opportunity when it arose. But Cardinal Barbo was a maker of opportunities; he played the game of ecclesiastical politics as a career professional, not as an amateur.

In ecclesiastical politics, however, ambition is a two-edged sword. It certainly made Barbo a significant person in the Curia across the tenure of multiple popes. It also made him a significant candidate in multiple conclaves.  But there is an old saying that the man who enters a papal conclave as pope leaves as cardinal, and Cardinal Barbo is a good example: always a name brought up, always struggling to get enough votes however he campaigned (and he definitely campaigned), with the result that he was always a popemaker, never a pope. Perhaps the purest expression of this was in the conclave that elected Pius II; the cardinals were actively looking for an Italian, he was a significant candidate, and yet it became clear to him very quickly that he would have to throw his support behind Piccolomini if he was to avoid the even worse fate of a French pope. In 1464, however, his time came; whatever the cardinals might have thought of him, there was no obvious other candidate, and so he was elected on the first ballot and took the name Paul II. 

Prior to the voting, the cardinals agreed to a capitulation, which is a term for a formal agreement that if any of them were elected pope that they would do certain things. Such capitulations are illegal under canon law now, but for a period of several centuries they were quite common in papal conclaves. A very significant feature of this particular capitulation was that it required that whoever would be elected pope would call a general council within three years. It also involved promises to prosecute war against the Ottoman Empire, to reform the Church, never to have more than twenty-four cardinals, never to have more than one cardinal who was related to the pope,  to make cardinals only with the consent of the College of Cardinals, and so forth. All of the cardinals, and especially all of those hoping to get any votes, signed it. Given what happened after his election, it is virtually certain that Paul II had signed the capitulation with every intention of violating it. Almost immediately after his election, he began to complain to people about the capitulation. One of the provisions in the capitulation required that the pope publish a papal bull reaffirming it within three days of his election. Paul pulled together the opinions of a number of canon lawyers who argued that such capitulations have no binding force, then, instead of a reaffirmation of the capitulation, gave the cardinals a list of his own preferred provisions and forced them to sign it. The cardinals were absolutely livid, and rumors of a new schism started spreading. Fortunately, no schism occurred. Paul II basically tried to buy the cardinals off by giving those who were less well off special privileges and better pensions. This was probably inadequate; the Church was likely saved from yet another schism simply by the recognition by the cardinals that a schism wouldn't actually resolve anything.

This and other early problems in Paul's pontificate were exacerbated by a peculiarity that completely threw everyone off balance. Paul II was a night owl, in part because he thought it was good for his health. Once he became pope and could completely decide his own schedule with no one daring to tell him otherwise, he slept during the day and did almost all of his business at night. If you tried to schedule an audience with him, you would probably be scheduled for your audience at two or three in the morning. What is more, Paul did not particularly put a high priority on meeting with people; some sources say that even his friends had to schedule meetings with him two weeks in advance, and if you weren't scheduled that far ahead, you might wait for hours and still be sent home. Pius II had not had a reputation for treating cardinals well, but he was usually fairly efficient about meeting with people. Not so Paul II. But even if you met with him, you could not be guaranteed to get any answer about any issue you raised; Paul II soon had a reputation for indecisiveness. He went back and forth, back and forth in his mind for almost every issue that arose. Nonetheless, when he did eventually make up his mind, he was always extraordinarily generous.

Early in his papal tenure, Pope Paul became enmeshed in a struggle with the literati of Rome; seeking to reduce the number of offices, and inclined to think that many of these humanists were in fact crypto-pagans, he began to restrict the positions in the College of the Abbreviators and the Roman Academy, on  which they relied for income. This made him highly unpopular in literary circles. What exactly happened next is very unclear, but one possible reading of the evidence is that a number of them became involved in an assassination conspiracy against the pope. Investigation did not fully clarify the matter, but in 1648 Paul cracked down on a number of those to whom the evidence pointed. There were arrests and further investigations, but all those arrested were eventually let go, because, despite indirect evidence of the conspiracy, there was never anything sufficiently definite to implicate anyone in particular. Since a number of those who were subject to arrest went on in the next pontificates to write the history of Paul's pontificate, later generations would regard him as a philistine, and given that the Renaissance is an era that is not noted for its restraint in gossip, a cruel, ignorant, effeminate philistine, at that. Nonetheless, he was an extensive patron of the arts. Even as cardinal he had lavishly built up his house in Rome, the Palazzo Venezia, and it was his preferred residence even while pope; there he pulled together a massive collection of works of art. He was enthusiastic about gemstones, antiquities, and fine textiles. But he also spent a great deal on amusements for Romans.

Throughout his pontificate, he attempted to pull together a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Paul recognized that money was needed to make such an endeavor successful, and he attempted to raise it, without much success; people were not happy about paying extra taxes even on the justification of defending from Ottoman invasion. Very little was accomplished beyond the strengthening and reaffirmation of a few defensive alliances. Much of the latter part of his tenure was tangled up in international politics, both in Italy and with France under the cunning Louis XI. But the most serious was perhaps the flare-up of the tensions between the Hussite Bohemians and the rest of the Church. Paul II supported the provisions of the Council of Constance, and therefore attempted to summon King George of Bohemia before a Church council to answer for his support of the Hussites; George refused, and was excommunicated. Things escalated on both sides; eventually King George and Pope Paul attempted a reconciliation but the attempt was cut short by the sudden death of the pope in 1471.

The death of Paul II is a kind of mystery. One day he was well, and apparently in good health. The next day he felt ill after dinner and collapsed, with some foaming at the mouth. Of course, the sudden death of a man with as many enemies as Paul spreads talk. Some claimed he died from overeating melons. One story, typical of Renaissance gossip, claimed that he died while being sodomized. Probably it was a heart attack. But regardless of the how, he had died. He was a man who made enemies, as vain men do, but he was also a competent if somewhat slow and indecisive administrator and was extremely liberal with the common people. He was, unlike his uncle, very nepotistic. He lived luxuriously, aided others generously, schemed and plotted but also actively worked to solve real problems. He was not as effective as his predecessors in reform, but his predecessors sometimes had better men on which they could rely. Paul II had his supporters, but they were scattered. But one reason why his effectiveness was so limited was that he was willing to try to address very serious problems directly, an approach that made him very unpopular with many of those affected. The external problems with which he had to deal were also not small. His sudden death left Europe in crisis -- the Hussite problem in Bohemia unresolved, the Turks winning victory after victory in the East with no obvious Western response, and Paul had alienated many people during his pontificate even when, sometimes especially when, resolving prior problems.

After Paul II, competent but hated, vain of his looks and living in luxury, people wanted a pope who would more firmly push forward with ecclesiastical reform than the career Church-politician did. The cardinals decided to elect a poor man renowned for his piety. What they got would be rather different from what they planned.