Friday, March 25, 2022

Renaissance Popes II: Eugenius IV

 Birth Name: Gabriele Condulmer

Lived: 1383-1447

Regnal Name: Eugene IV

Regnal Life: 1431-1447

Gabriele Condulmer was born to a very wealthy merchant family, but one day, he and his cousin, Antonio Correr, met a preaching canon regular named Bartolomeo of Rome, and they decided to follow a life of prayer rather than trade and eventually started a little religious community, modeled on a new approach to devotional life, known as the devotio moderna, which involved coming together in very flexible communities that shared a very strict ascetic life of prayer. Their little community grew, and they were eventually donated a former monastery on the Venetian isle of St. George in Alga, from which they got the name Canons Regular of St. George in Alga. It became a model on which other communities were founded, and has a few saints associated with it, perhaps most notably St. Lawrence Giustiani, who was good friends with both Condulmer and Correr and eventually became Patriarch of Venice.

Condulmer might well have spent his whole life there -- and at the end of his life is said to have wished he had -- but Gabriele Condulmer and Antonio Correr both had an uncle, named Angelo Correr, who was elected pope of Rome, and took the name Pope Gregory XII, the very same one who resolved the Western Schism. Gregory was in dire need of men he could trust and fell back on what was the standard solution and that stayed the standard throughout the Renaissance and beyond: you rely on family. He made both Condulmer and Correr Cardinals, and thus Gabriele Condulmer found himself in a life of ecclesiastical politics. There have been many men who were more unsuitable for such a life, but there have been few more unlikely. Condulmer, for all his austerity and devotion and prayer had a few temperamental flaws; he fully recognized them and tried to compensate for them, but they were always there. He was naturally obstinate, hot-tempered, and tactlessly blunt. He did, however, have a certain charm, and it probably didn't hurt that he was generally regarded as a reasonably good-looking man, and people will tolerate a bit more from a charming man with striking looks. Nonetheless, his temper and bluntness will end up causing him problems his entire career. Handling problems diplomatically just did not come naturally to him.

He continued service under Martin V, who seems to have regarded him well, and after Martin's death, he was easily elected Pope, taking the name Eugene IV. It probably helped that he was related to Gregory XII and had worked so well with Martin V; he was someone who could be trusted to continue the reform of the Church. And he could. And therein lay many of his problems; a tactless man in charge of reforming things is bound to make enemies. Almost immediately, Eugene ran into problems with this. In order to achieve much of what he had achieved, Martin V had had to repeatedly rely on his very wealthy, very politically family. When Eugene became pope, he found that the Colonna family was, first, very used to having their requests heeded, and second, very used to being rewarded for their services for the Church, and they fully expected this to continue. Eugene and the Colonnas did not get along, and this was not a very good thing for Eugene, because the Colonna connections throughout Roman territory were indeed impressive, and they were capable of making infinite amounts of mischief  for the pope.

In the meantime, Eugene had to deal with yet another problem. Martin V, following the conciliar plan for reform, had summoned a council in Basel, in accordance with the directions of the Council of Siena. He appointed a legate for it, Giuliano Cesarini, and then died. Thus the council called by Martin was opened under Eugene, and the representative for Eugene at the council was not a man he himself would have chosen. Cesarini became presiding figure of the council because he was Martin's choice. And we see as well a problem with the Constance plan of councils at defined intervals, namely, that events don't happen at regular intervals, and so holding a general council every set number of years without regard for what else happens to be going on, is just asking for conflicts. The Council of Basel will be plagued by such unexpected events. When the council opened, attendance was not great, and there were stories about conflicts between locals and attendees at the council, so Eugene concluded that it was best to close the council and have another one meet in a different place (Bologna) in about a year and a half, when the timing would be a little better. Unfortunately, he did this abruptly and without sounding out those participating in the council, with the result that he was seen as trying to block reform. The bishops at the council, including Cesarini, refused to accept Eugene's bull dissolving the council; they passed a decree stating the superiority of a general council to a pope, and summoned Eugene to the council to answer for himself. Needless to say, Eugene refused to be summoned to stand trial for doing something that he was entirely reasonable under the circumstances. Unfortunately for Eugene, the council had a slightly stronger political hand. The new Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, had always been a very strong supporter of the conciliarists (he had been a major player behind the Council of Constance years before), and he pressured Eugene into a compromise: Eugene would retract his bull dissolving the council and acknowledge the council as an ecumenical council, but since a general council has to be called by the pope, he would not have to accept any decrees passed during the time he wasn't acknowledging it (like the decree that general councils are superior to the pope). So the Council of Basel was undissolved and acknowledged as ecumenical in 1433.

Not an auspicious beginning, either for the council or for the pope. But it will get worse. Eugene might have actually fought this whole move further, but the Papal States were at the time being invaded by troops associated with the duchy of Milan (due to his tactless affirmation of support for Florence and Venice against Milan), and Rome and the area around it were in a state of insurrection inspired by the Colonna family, so he couldn't actually afford to alienate the Holy Roman Emperor as well. The next year, in fact, Eugene had to flee Rome in disguise, rowing down the Tiber in a boat; he was recognized despite his disguise and the Romans threw rocks at him from both sides until he finally made it down to a Florentine ship. For the next several years, Eugene was in exile in Florence, and his hands were full working with the Florentines and the Venetians to reestablish control over the Papal States, which he eventually did, finally pushing Milan back out of the Papal States and breaking the Colonna powerbase.

This left the Council of Basel as a secondary concern for Eugene. Fortunately for the pope, they had their hands full too, trying to put out the fires that had resulted from the wars against the Hussites that had resulted from attempting to implement the reforms of the Council of Constance given that the Council had handed Hus over to be burned at the stake. In 1437, it established a compromise with the Hussites, allowing Hussite priests to give communion under both elements, and acknowledged that, notwithstanding how the Council of Constance's actions toward Hus had been interpreted, it was not heretical to do so. 

However, struggle between the council and the pope would begin again, and it all had to do with the East. The Council of Siena had deferred any discussion of reunion with the East, but the East was in a desperate situation due to the encroachment of the Ottoman Turks. The Roman Emperor in the East and the Patriarchs of the major sees wanted at least to talk to improve relations, and the Emperor contacted both the council and Eugene. The council insisted that any such meeting should be in a place like Savoy or Avignon -- some place out of the control of the pope. The Easterners thought that this was absurd; why would they go so far out of their way, when it would be infinitely easier to cross the Adriatic to coastal Italy? It's not like they had nothing to do back home; they were willing to commit a fair degree of time to productive discussion, if necessary, but they did not want to spend huge amounts of time in mere travel while problems were piling up back home. Eugene, on the other hand, offered to meet with them in Ferrara, a vastly superior offer from the standpoint of the East. Further, Eastern responses to the Council of Basel were generally polite but non-committal. They, of course, did not see the council as an ecumenical council, for the obvious reason that they weren't involved in it; to them, it was just a Western synod. And what they were interested in was reunion between East and West, which for them meant, primarily, reunion of Rome with the Eastern patriarchal sees. So it made sense to them to be dealing with the pope. They did not really understand a lot of what was behind the council's offer because the council was trying to impose conditions on the East-West discussion that did not involve the patriarchal see of Rome, and thus none of these conditions made sense to them. They accepted the Pope's offer to have a council at Ferrara.

This is going to be quite important. The failure of the Council of Siena to set the East-West discussion on conciliarist terms, which it probably could have done, led to a rather remarkable situation. None of the Easterners were papalists; they had a certain respect for Rome as a historically important patriarchal see, but none of them could be accused of thinking that the pope was the primary authority in the Church. But in the Western struggle between conciliarists and papalists, all of the authority of the Eastern sees ended up on the side of the pope, and arguably did so entirely due to the failure of conciliarists to see the big picture.

The result was that Eugene had a unique opportunity. The Council of Basel had kept insisting on its being an ecumenical council. Well, Eugene could make it more ecumenical. The Eastern acceptance of its offer gave him a plausible reason for doing something he probably could not have otherwise done: move the council. In addition, Sigismund had recently died, so Eugene would not have to worry about the same pressures as in his previous attempt to dissolve the council. Eugene issued a bull that dissolved the council at Basel and reconstituted it at Ferrara in 1438.

The council at Basel split. Some, seeing that, whatever one might think of the pope, it would be absurd not to meet with the Eastern patriarchs, went to Ferrara. Others stubbornly stayed. The Council of Basel-Ferrara issued a decree nullifying any further acts of the council at Basel. Those who stayed at Basel, in the meantime, issued a decree deposing and excommunicating Eugene and then elected a new pope. So we're back to the practice of councils trying to fix situations by multiplying the number of popes. They picked Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, who took the name Felix V. Despite later rumors of an obsession with money, Felix was in general a quite admirable person, but the election of Felix was another tactical mistake by the council at Basel. Europe had already been through the Western Schism, and just recently solved the problem; nobody had any desire to go through it again. The result was that most of Europe largely just ignored Felix V and pretended that he didn't exist. The conciliarists had handed Eugene another victory, although it probably did not seem so at the time. 

The Council of Basel-Ferrara ran into almost immediate difficulties. The papal treasury was rather depleted, and Eugene had serious difficulties in paying for the Eastern delegates. In addition, Ferrara was suddenly under threat from the plague. So Eugene was able to work out a deal with Florence to move the council there, where the delegates would be safer, and in exchange for hosting such a prestigious council, Florence would pay the expenses of the Eastern delegates. The Eastern delegates were not happy at all at having to move, but they could understand that there were reasons for doing it, and so the council was moved and became the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, or as we often just call it, the Council of Florence.

It's tempting, looking back, to think that the Council of Florence was a failure, because we know that the reunifications worked out by the Council ultimately did not hold. This is misleading. The Council of Florence was a major success -- and Eugene's managing of it was yet another victory for the papalist side. The Eastern delegates agreed to reunification, with only St. Mark Eugenikos holding out. That had not happened in a very long time, and was a success in itself. Further, while the following of Mark eventually won out, they were not equally influential everywhere, and it took time for them to work even where they had the numbers. Better relations between East and West began almost at once. There was an extended period of years in which large parts of the East were, without any question, united to the West. And while it's easy to focus on the concessions that the East had to make, and ultimately refused to make, in the Council of Florence, the West made a number of major concessions to Eastern concerns that they might never have made otherwise. What Florence did not do was save Constantinople. The Turks conquered the Eastern Empire; and the Turks, savvy players, did everything in their power to break anything that looked like it might lead to reunion of East and West. Florence successfully created a reunion of East and West, one that was not perfect, and whose actual effect varied greatly depending on where you were, but the reunion was, alas, mostly doomed. There are, however, still communities in the Catholic Church whose roots trace back to the brief period of reunion after Florence. And the Latin West began receiving the massive influx of Greek ideas, which became an outright flood after Constantinople's fall and the westward flight of refugees, that we so completely associate with the Renaissance. The Council of Florence may not have been enough for the East. But it was an enriching grace for the West.

In 1443, having finally restored the Papal States and quelled all Roman unrest, Eugene returned to Rome. He dealt the final blow to the remnant at Basel by negotiating a concordat with the German princes in which, in exchange for generous concessions, they would fully, formally, and explicitly reject Basel's Pope Felix. He did not live to see it finalized, dying in 1447, but it was a devastating blow.  The council at Basel would eventually be driven out of Basel and end up in Lausanne, and in 1448, Felix having resigned, they finally gave up and dissolved their now-ignored council.

Eugene's victory over the conciliarists at Basel would come with a significant cost. His concessions to the princes had to be quite generous, which means that Rome lost a large amount of income from Europe more widely. This would accelerate the dependence, started by the reforms of the Council of the Constance, of the popes on the income of the Papal States. Faced with a large to-do list of reforms, the reforming popes of the Renaissance Papacy would be forced to rely even more heavily on their status as temporal rulers to accomplish anything major. On the other hand, the remaining course of the Renaissance Papacy shows that, for all the many mistakes and failures of the Renaissance popes, they were often able to accomplish much more, and much more effectively, than they would have with the conciliarists dictating terms, in part because the conciliarist plans were all plans on paper that were then treated as inflexible standards. All the popes would have Eugene's problem that realities would not fit plans that were made, but because of Pope Eugene IV, they would have less of a problem in modifying the plans so that they did fit. This is not to say that the conciliarists were gone. Conciliarism will outlast the Renaissance. But Eugene's victories -- which ironically were almost all own-goals by the conciliarists themselves, although Eugene should be given credit for seizing on the opportunities they provided -- would give the popes a flexibility they would not otherwise have.

If we designate a pope to be the Greatest Pope of the Renaissance Papacy, I think that we have to give that title to Eugene, if only as a courtesy. Other Renaissance popes will accomplish impressive things. But the Council of Florence even on its own makes Eugene's tenure significant. And despite his obstinacy, his tactlessness, his temper, he was in many ways an extremely admirable man, and very much not what you would expect from his being a Renaissance pope. He never lived a life of luxury; he held himself to the rules of a canon regular all his life. He was not self-aggrandizing, nor did he seek to aggrandize his own family, which is practically a miracle in the fifteenth century. He did significant work in reforming the church, much of it reasonably successful. Most Renaissance popes one could never imagine being beatified, but if the Church decided to beatify one, Eugene would be the obvious candidate. And he is one of the popes who, dealt a terrible hand, nonetheless played it very well.