Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Renaissance Popes V: Pius II

 Birth Name: Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini

Lived: 1405-1464

Regnal Name: Pius II

Regnal Life: 1458-1464

Enea Silvio Piccolomini is arguably the Renaissance pope about whom we have the most information, because he himself gives us an extensive amount. He was born in Corsignano, near Siena; the family was a noble one, but rather impoverished; he eventually attended university first at Siena then at Florence. He spent some time at a tutor, but eventually got a position with Cardinal Capranica, one of the greatest cardinals of the day, who needed a secretary during his trip to the Council of Basel. Piccolomini went with him, and did odd secretarial jobs for others in Basel when Capranica's funds eventually run out. He was selected by Bl. Niccolo Albergati, who happened to be serving as Pope Eugene's legate at the council, for a special mission to Scotland. We have no clear idea what was involved in that, and Piccolomini himself describes it in very different ways. It was an eventful trip, however; he came back from it partly lame and having fathered an illegitimate child who died shortly after birth.

Returning to Basel, he became active in helping and supporting the bishops at Basel as their conflicts with the pope intensified. He was encouraged by several to become ordained, and was promised even to be made a cardinal if he did (because the council was at the stage in which it was beginning to consider deposing Pope Eugene and electing a new pope). He declined because he did not think himself capable of the requirement to be sexually continent. Instead, he became secretary to the Felix V after the bishops at Basel elected him pope; while in that position, he fathered another illegitimate child, who also shortly thereafter died. He was involved in various diplomatic activities. Throughout all of this, he dabbled in various literary matters, and at about this point wrote what was perhaps his most famous work, The Tale of Two Lovers, which has the curious distinction of being the only erotic novel written by a man who later became pope. Piccolomini, while not a scholar, in fact became well known for his literary productions; he was especially well known in his day for erotic poetry. In any case, he eventually overcome his worry about sexual continence and was ordained.

He was heavily involved in the reunification by which Felix submitted to Eugene. It's perhaps in this work that he became friends with Tommasso Parentucelli, and when the latter became Pope Nicholas V, he was made a bishop, first of Trieste, then later of Siena. He continued to do diplomatic work under first Nicholas then Callixtus III. Piccolomini's great ambition at this point was to be made cardinal; Nicholas died before he got around to it, Callixtus preferred to give the red hat to family and friends he knew he could trust, but eventually he won enough trust with the latter that he was made cardinal.  Then Pope Callixtus died, and we know a great deal about the papal enclave of 1458, because Piccolomini will later write about everything that happened.

The conclave opened in a bit of confusion. The previous one, of course, had deadlocked over a lack of a clear candidate. As Callixtus lay dying, it had seemed that Cardinal Capranica was the obvious choice, but he died too. This left things more up in the air. The conclave was basically a contest between the French and the Italians; the Italians had the advantage in conclave numbers, but the lack of an obvious Italian candidate after Capranica's death made a French choice more likely, since the most obvious next candidate was Cardinal d'Estouteville. Piccolomini, seeing an opportunity, went to work. The cardinals had not been happy with how Pope Callixtus had treated them, so he played on that. He also played on the Italian worries about the possibility of a French pope, and managed to unite most of the Italian bloc on the principle that almost any Italian would be better than a Frenchman; the key to this was Cardinal Barbo, a perpetual papabile who was perpetually left out for one reason or another; Barbo put all of his support behind Piccolomini. Piccolomini managed just to get the required number of votes. Overcome with emotion, he burst out crying at the result and took the name Pius II. The Romans were happy at the election of an Italian, and everything was off to a swimming start.

Of course, the treasury was not in great shape, because so much of it had been used by Callixtus trying to pull together the crusade against the Ottoman Empire, and as Pius was fully agreed with his predecessor about the importance of the Ottoman threat, he himself attempted to pull together a crusade, with not much more success, although he did manage, after huge amounts of diplomatic work, to help build a few important defensive alliances and to pull together an army of sorts toward the end of his tenure. Because of the lack of extensive funds, he disappointed a great many expectations from people who were expecting a new Nicholas. Pope Pius II lacked Nicholas's erudition but was in some ways a more literary man, and he did a great deal of work in protecting the ancient monuments of Rome and throughout the Papal States, but he never had the money to do the kind of extensive books-and-buildings campaign, or the extensive art patronage, that Nicholas had done so well. This is not to say that he didn't try. He did a number of interesting projects, including completely rebuilding his hometown of Corsignano and renaming it Pienza after himself. (It still exists today as a major example of Renaissance architecture and one of the earliest experiment-grounds for Renaissance urban planning.) And he did engage in some patronage, although many artists found that the pope was quite a remarkably finicky critic. Nonetheless, he was scrupulous about making sure repairs were done on churches and older buildings, and made it illegal to harm ancient Roman monuments even when they were on private property.

Most of his accomplishments, however, were diplomatic, and interestingly enough, a consistent theme of skepticism about general councils, and an insistence that general councils were not above the pope, is found in his diplomatic decisions. (He went so far as to formally and officially repudiate any writings he had ever written that might have suggested otherwise, a sign of how far the spell of conciliarism had receded.) This is not to say, however, that he was not firmly committed to the reform of the Church; in fact, drawing advice from Bl. Nicholas of Cusa and St. Antoninus of Florence and others, he worked out a complete plan for official Visitations throughout the Church to investigate and address problems, and set to work reorganizing the Curia. But such an ambitious project was perhaps outside his means, given the Turkish and the increasingly tangled diplomatic situations in Europe, and only parts of his plan for reform were ever fully implemented.

One would expect a pope of his background to tend toward the dissolute when given the office of the pope, but it was not really so. Perhaps he had by this point settled down and reformed. I don't know whether that is completely so, but I think it is fair to say that Pius II took the office of the papacy very seriously and above all things wanted to fulfill it well. Everything else had to be subordinated to it. He continued writing, however, including writing the only autobiography written by a sitting pope, the vast multi-volume Commentaries that were published posthumously and which serve to give us a wealth of information -- albeit from Pius's own not entirely impartial view -- about all the great events that happened in his lifetime. He also wrote various minor historical and theological works.

Toward the end of his life, he managed to pull together a small army to oppose the Ottoman Turks. He had the dream of going with them to the defense of the Dalmatian coast and the city of Ragusa, which he attempted to do, although the Venetians failed to give him adequate ships for it. However, he had never been in great health, suffering from gout and other ailments, and he died near Ancona waiting for the Venetians finally to come through with their promised transport, which they never did.

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