Thursday, March 24, 2022

Renaissance Popes I: Martinus V

 Birth Name: Oddone (often Otto) Colonna

Lived: 1369-1431

Regnal Name: Martin V. By one of those quirks of naming that arises in a two-thousand-year-old succession, this makes him the third Martin, Martin IV having been the second Martin, due to a confusion in which people thought that Popes Marianus I and Marianus II were named Martin.

Regnal Life: 1417-1431

Oddone Colonna was born near Rome, in Genazanno, to one of the most influential families in the area. He studied at the University of Pavia and then began to work for the Curia under Pope Urban VI and was created Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio in Velabro by Pope Innocent VII. When the Western Schism happened, he was one of the many who advocated the resolution of the dispute by council. He participated in the Council of Pisa, which a number of cardinals formed on the ground that Pope Gregory XII had broken a promise not to create more cardinals, and became a major supporter of the first Pisan antipope, Alexander V (Peter Philarges). Alexander only lived about another year, and was replaced by Baldassare Cossa, who became John XXIII; rumors at the time were that Cardinal Cossa poisoned Alexander V to get the position. Alexander did die suddenly while staying with Cossa, but there is no evidence of this. Nonetheless, John XXIII became Pisan Pope under suspicion, and needed to shore up his support; the Colonna family, as one of the major Italian families supporting the Pisan Papacy, was a big contributor to this. The favors that John XXIII lavished on Oddone Colonna and his family brought them to the attention of Rome as significant players, and Oddone Colonna was formally excommunicated by Pope Gregory XII of Rome.

When John XXIII called the Council of Constance, Colonna went with him, and remained one of his major supporters throughout the Council. When John fled the council, Colonna went with him, helping him to escape to Schaffhausen by boat. When John was captured and dragged back to the council, Colonna returned as well, and was a witness in John's trial, continuing to participate in the council even after John was imprisoned. The council (eventually) worked out a plan for papal election, and made an agreement among themselves that the elected pope would work with the council on general reform. Thus Oddone Colonna was elected pope, taking the name Martin V, reunifying the Roman and Pisan papacies. He reaffirmed the decisions of the council, but his support would always have a tone of ambiguity; in response to one question about whether he supported this or that thing that had been done, he replied that he supported everything the council had done in a conciliar way, and nothing that had not been done by the council in a conciliar way. This support-with-ambiguity characterizes Martin's entire papal tenure; he perpetually attempts to comply with everything the council did, and that included, since he was one of the Pisan cardinals, what had been done before Gregory XII's recognition of the council. He was a supporter of conciliarism in general. But there's always an aspect to his implementation of conciliar reforms in which you know he will try to comply, but he will not be much bothered by any failures as long as they are not his own. This ambiguity was a good instinct; the entire previous generation and the interpretation of everything it had done was still in a great deal of confusion.

Reintegrating Rome and Pisa was not a straightforward process. Martin could count on funds from the Medici Bank, since the Medici were major supporters of the Pisan papacy, and Florence welcomed him with open arms. The French kept trying to get him to move back to Avignon; the Italians kept wanting him to return to Rome. But return to Rome was something that required caution. Rome had its own politics, its own bureaucracy, and not everyone in the Roman curia or the city could necessarily be assumed to be happy to work with a former supporter of the Pisan papacy. Further, everything was in complete and utter disarray. The Papal States were in bad shape, Rome was in shambles, because resources had been slight (all papal revenues divided for a while among three different contenders) and had usually had to be diverted to one emergency after another. He had to draw on his family connections to seize Rome by force, since the local barons were not inclined to submit. He also took steps to reorganize how the Papal States were run. Recognizing that the major resistance was to interference, he put layers between the papacy and the actual administration of the Papal States, assigning a Cardinal to look after them as a whole and putting forward policies that encouraged local self-governance. Negotiations with Queen Joan of Naples led to further recognition and the restoration of lost territory.

There were also a few things that needed to be done on the Pisan side. When John XXIII was ransomed out of prison by the Medici, he went to Florence, where he submitted to Martin. Martin accepted his submission and appointed him Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (or Frascati, as it has also been called).

And, of course, there were the reforms of the Council of Constance, which Martin tried to implement. One that would have long-lasting repercussions was Constance's sharp reduction of the purely ecclesiastical income of the papacy. One of the unintended consequences -- perhaps one of the more serious unintended consequences in the extremely long list of unintended consequences arising from that council's reforms -- was the increasing importance of secular income to the functioning of the papacy. Finally getting to the long-deferred maintenance of churches in Rome was expensive. Finally setting the Papal States back in order was expensive. Recombining the curias (not just the Roman and the Pisan, but due to French support of the Council of Constance, a large portion of the Avignon Curia as well) massively expanded the bureaucracy, which was expensive, and required Martin slowly to winnow it down, which was expensive (since just firing people left and right is a good way to make enemies). Maintaining diplomatic connections, and engaging in all the diplomatic negotiations necessary for reunifying and consolidating the reunification, was expensive. And implementation of the long reforms demanded by the Council of Constance was, as you may guess, expensive. What is more, implementing the conciliar condemnation of the Hussites essentially forced everyone to go war against Bohemia, which was expensive, and not just in money, since Martin V had to organize a crusade against the Hussites to implement that reform. Yes, the Council of Constance, trying to stamp out minor irregularities in communion practices, created the conditions for a large-scale holy war in Europe. This is a very good example of the kind of thing that the Renaissance Papacy had to deal with in order to implement ecclesiastical reforms on the conciliarist model.

It's easy to demand reform, but the recurring problem is that no one actually wants to pay for it; everyone wants reform without any inconvenience, but reform that minimizes inconveniences is always expensive. With spiritual income sharply restrained by the reforms themselves, secular income had to make up the gaps. Ecclesiastical reforms had created a situation in which the expansion of the importance of the temporal power of the papacy, and the rise of popes acting like secular rulers, was inevitable, because it was the only way popes could meet the demands for Church reform and not go bankrupt. Nor was it purely a matter of money. The reforms were expensive diplomatically, as well, since everything required negotiations. Successful diplomatic negotiations always come with a political cost that has to be paid, which requires having things that you can put on the table that will interest people, and even when it is not monetary at all, that means you have to collect and spend political favors, which you can only do by secular horse-trading, which in turn you can only do on a large scale if you are an active player in the international political games. Ecclesiastical reform required much more papal attention devoted to politics, and by massively expanding the number of favors the popes had to trade to get things done, it also massively expanded the say of the major governments of Europe in the workings of the papacy.

Of course, the crown-jewel reform of the Council of Constance was the institution of regular general councils. The council directed that another general council be opened in Pavia five years after the close of the Council of Constance. This was in retrospect an absurd demand given everything else that Pope Martin V had on his plate with the reunification, but he duly opened a general council in Pavia in 1423. It had a very inauspicious beginning, since it had barely begun to start to organize itself when the plague broke out in Pavia. The few bishops who had arrived by that point hastily arranged to transfer the council to Siena. Thus began the Council of Siena, the almost-maybe-but-maybe-not-quite-ecumenical council, which you've probably never heard of, because nobody knows what to do with it. It was opened at the direction of an ecumenical council to be an ecumenical council, but faced the inevitable problem that arises when you call a meeting too soon after a previous meeting: everybody suddenly had other things to do. Nobody really wanted to go, and attendance was not great, consisting mostly of bishops from nearby sees, at least the ones that didn't have to travel through plague-infested territory. The council promulgated four decrees. One reiterated the condemnation of Wycliffe and of Jan Hus and the Hussites, one reiterated that Benedict XIII, the holdout from the Avignon papacy, was not pope; and one especially helpful decree ordered that people should avoid heresy -- not any particular heresy, just heresy in general. The most interesting and important one had to do with negotiations with the Eastern churches. Almost as soon as Martin V had become pope, he had been approached by Eastern bishops and the Emperor in the East to negotiate better relations, as the state of the East against Ottoman advance was reaching the point of extreme emergency. The Council of Siena therefore had to address this very important matter, so it did. It issued a decree postponing negotiations with the East until a later time. Then having performed the age-old respectable meeting-work of repeating the previous meeting and putting off anything new until the next meeting, the Council of Siena directed that the next general council be held at Basel, and abruptly closed. 

It's a peculiar happening, in fact. A few needed reforms were brought up, but nothing was ever done about them; the French delegation wanted to continue the synod to enact reforms, but they couldn't drum up enough support. Perhaps the issue was broader political context. Siena was firmly under papal control and conflicts of jurisdiction between the papal authorities and the council on various minor matters kept causing problems; that would explain why Basel was chosen for the next location, since it was not under papal control and there's not really any other obvious reason why it would be chosen. In any case, it was a bad omen for the future of this supremely conciliar approach to reform. And while the two things that Siena definitely accomplished -- choosing the next location for the council and deferring negotiation with the East to the next council -- seemed very minor, in fact they contained the seeds of the greatest defeat that the conciliar movement of reform would have. This would only become clear later, but Siena showed both that the conciliar movement possibly could not deliver what it promised and unbeknownst to anyone at the time, set up a situation that would guarantee that all hope of ecclesiastical reform resided with the pope.

Pope Martin V arranged for the next council, the Council of Basel, to open in February of 1431, but died right before the council started. And thus ended the administration of the first Renaissance pope. It was an immensely busy period. At the end of it, things were still in disarray and disrepair, and not many problems had been solved at all, but a great deal had been done. Church reform had required a massive expansion of papal politics, a massive expansion of papal expenses, and multiple wars, including for various reasons no less than three different crusades (against the Hussites, against the Turks, against slave traders in Africa). And reform had barely even started.

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