William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

. (page 14 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 14 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" If this be the case, most reverend father, you must have
" been a very forward youth."" -f-

In congratulating a man of Angel otto's character on
his accession to high ecclesiastical honours, Poggio may
be suspected of practising the duplicity of a courtier. But
it may be alleged in his defence, that his letter breathes

* Poggii Opera, p. 481-
+ Ibid, p. 475.

190 CHAP. V.

the spirit of freedom ; and that though he takes occasion
in general terms to commend the talents and virtues of
the new cardinal, his commendations are so sparingly inter-
spersed in the midst of a variety of salutary hints of
advice, that they are evidently introduced for no other
purpose than to render his admonitions more palatable,
and consequently more useful. We have too much reason
to believe that these admonitions were like good seed
sown in an unproductive soil ; and that the conduct of
Angelotto, subsequent to his elevation to a seat in the
consistory, reflected disgrace on himself, and on the
authors of his promotion.*

In summoning the general council, cardinal Julian
had acted in conformity to the powers which had been
conferred on him by the late, and confirmed by the pre-
sent pontiff ;-f* but Eugenius, though he did not think
it advisable openly to oppose this measure, looked for-
ward to the convening of this assembly with no small

* Poggio intimates, that the loquacity of this incorrigible ecclesiastic con-
tinually betrayed his folly that he was given to detraction ; and that his rapa-
city frequently betrayed him into violent infringements of the rules of justice.
He has also recorded the following severe, but coarse animadversion, which was
made on his character after his death. " Damnabat quidam multis verbis vitam
" et mores Angelotti Cardinalis defuncti. Puit cnim rapax et violentus ut cui
" nulla esset conscieutia. Turn ex astantibus unus, Opinor, inquit, diabolum
" jam vorasse et cacasse cum sajpius ob scclera sua." Alter vir facetissimus,
" Adeo mala caro ejus fuit, inquit, ut nullus daemon quantumvis bono stomacho,
" illam prae nausea comedere auderet."

Poggii Opera, p. 4/7-

f- Fasciculus Rer. Expel, et. Fugiend. p. 55.

CHAP. V. 191

degree of apprehension. The popes had always regarded
general councils with the jealousy which monarchs of
arbitrary principles uniformly entertain of those constitu-
tional bodies, which, under various denominations, have
occasionally attempted to curb the pride of despotic au-
thority. In the deposition of John XXII. the council of
Constance had established a most dangerous precedent ;
and when Eugenius reflected upon the power and activity
of his enemies, he dreaded the consequences which might
result from the assembling of a deliberative body, which
claimed a superiority over the head of the church, The
cardinal of St. Angelo, however, either was not ac-
quainted with the views of the pontiff, or thought it his
duty not to sacrifice the interests of the Christian com-
munity to the timidity or ambition of its spiritual sove-
reign. In compliance with his injunctions, John de Pol-
mar, auditor of the sacred palace, and John de Ragusio,
doctor in theology of the university of Paris, repaired to
Basil on the nineteenth of July, 1431, and opened the
council in the chapter house of the cathedral church.*
On the fourteenth of December the first session was held,
at which the cardinal of St. Angelo presided in person,
and delivered to the assembled ecclesiastics an exhortation
to labour diligently, and to watch with vigilance for the
welfare of the Christian religion. Then were read the
decree of the council of Constance, touching the sum-
moning of general councils ; the instrument by which
the city of Basil was appointed as a proper place for the

* Acta Conciliorum, lorn. xxx. p. 25.

192 CHAP. v.

holding of such an assembly, and various other docu-
ments, which establish the legitimacy of the present synod.
It was then publicly declared, that the attention of the
council would be directed to three points the extirpation
of heresy the prevention of wars amongst Christians
and the reformation of the church.*

After the publication of a bull, which thundered an
anathema against all those who should impede any one in
his passage to or from the city of Basil, on the business of
the council, and the recital and adoption of several rules
for the regulation of the proceedings of that assembly,
the first session was closed.-f-

When Eugenius found that he could not prevent the
convocation of the dreaded synod, he began to deliberate
upon the best method of preventing those encroachments

* This declaration was made in the following florid terms. " Haec sancta
" Synodus necessitates Christianas religionis sedula meditatione recogitans, ma-
" tura et digesta deliberatione decernit ; ad h*c tria, eo, a quo cuncta bona
' procedunt, auctore Deo, toto solicitudinis studio operam dare, Primo, ut om-
" niutn hacresum a Christiani populi finibus tenebris profugatis, lumen Catho-
" licae veritatis, Christo vera luce largiente, refulgeat. Secundo, ut bellorum
" rabie, qua, satore zizanise seminante in diversis partibus mundi affligitur et
" dissipatur populus Christianus, congrua meditatione sedata, pacis auctore pro-
" stante in statum reducatur pacificum et tranquillum. Tertio, ut cum multi-
" plicibus vitiorum tribulis et spinis Christ: vinea jam quasi silvescat prae nimia
" densitate, ut illis debitse culturae studio resecatis, evangelico agricola cselitus
" operante, refloreat, honestatisquc fructus et honoris feliri ubertate producat."

Condi, torn. p. 39, 40.

f Ada Condi, torn, xxx, p. 24, 49.

CHAP. V. 193

upon the pontifical prerogatives, which he had so much
reason to apprehend from its decrees. Upon mature con-
sideration, he did not think it prudent to risk so bold a
step as the dissolution of the council : but he flattered
himself, that by removing it to some city under his own
dominion, he would be enabled to control its proceedings,
and to avert the threatened danger. He therefore issued
a bull, whereby he commanded the cardinal of St. Angelo
to transfer the council from Basil to Bologna.* On the
receipt of this bull, the cardinal wrote to Eugenius a long
and elaborate letter, in which he endeavoured to persuade
him by every argument which was likely to influence his
judgment, and by every appeal to the principles of virtue
which was calculated to make an impression on his heart,
to withdraw his opposition to the proceedings of the coun-
cil, and to assist with zeal in its efforts to promote the
welfare of the Christian community.-f- The members of
that assembly, also, sent deputies to his holiness, with
instructions to implore and require him to retract the
aforesaid bull, and by his assistance and advice to support
the council in the good work which it had begun. The
assembled fathers did not, however, entirely rely upon the
persuasive eloquence of their embassadors. Confiding in
the protection of the emperor Sigismund, in the second
session, which was held on the fifteenth of April, 1432,

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 148.

f See a cojJy of the cardinal's letter (the good sense and integrity of which
are much more commendable than its Latinity) in the Fasciculus Rer. Ex-pet,
et Fug, p. 54 et teg.

2 c

194 CHAP. V.

they took very decisive measures for the establishment of
their authority. With this view they recited and confirmed
a decree of the council of Constance, wherein it was
asserted, that every Synod, lawfully assembled in the Holy
Spirit, constituting a general council, and representing the
church militant, derives its authority immediately from
Christ, to which authority all persons, of what state or
dignity soever, not excepting the pope, are bound to pay
obedience in matters pertaining to the faith, the extirpation
of schism, and the general reformation of the church in
its head and members. They also issued a declaration, that
the council then assembled could not legally be dissolved,
prorogued, or transferred to any other place, by any power,
no not even by the pontifical authority, without the consent
of its members.

The deputies who had been sent to Eugenius return-
ing without having effected the object of their mission,
the council, by a public decree, dated April the twenty-
ninth, 1432, supplicated, required, and admonished the
pontiff to revoke the bull of dissolution with the same
formality with which it had been published. By the same
decree, Eugenius was summoned to appear in the council
in the space of three months, either in person or by depu-
ties furnished with full powers to act in his name. He was
also duly forewarned, that should he refuse to comply with
these requisitions, the council would, according to the
dictates of justice, and the Holy Spirit, provide for the ne-
cessities of the church, and proceed according to the precepts

CHAP. V. 195

of divine and human laws.* After these acts of open
hostility, prudence dictated to the members of the council
the necessity of abridging the influence and authority of
their adversary as much as possible ; and for this purpose,
in their fourth session, which was held on the twentieth of
June, [A.D. 1432.] they decreed, that in case of a vacancy
of the holy see, the successor to Eugenius should be
elected in the place where the council should happen to be
sitting; and that during the existence of that assembly,
the pope should be prohibited from creating new cardinals.

The council proceeded to still more daring extremities.
On Sunday, September 6th, after the solemnization of the
mass, two procurators of that assembly presented a petition,
which set forth, that whereas Eugenius, having been
regularly summoned to revoke the bull which he had issued,
ordaining the dissolution of the council, and also to
appear in person in the said council, within the space of
three months, had neglected to obey the said summons, and
had on the contrary persisted in his endeavours to put a
stop to the proceedings of the legal representatives of the
Christian church, they demanded that the said Eugenius
should be declared contumacious ; and that further pro-
ceedings should be had according to law. This petition
having been read, the bishop of Constance, who on that
day presided in the assembly, commanded the bishops of
Perigord and Ratisbon, to make inquisition whether the
pope, or any one duly authorised on his behalf were present

* Conciliorum, torn. xxx. p. 54.

196 CHAP. V.

in the council. These prelates accordingly made the
requisite proclamation thrice from the steps of the altar,
and as many times at the gates of the church. No one
appearing to answer to this summons, a representation of
this fact was made to the president ; after which the arch-
bishops of Tarento and Colossi, and the bishop of Mag-
dalon, and Antonio di Santo Vito, auditor of the sacred
palace, entered the assembly in quality of deputies of the
pope. On inquiry, however, it was found, that they were
not provided with the plenary powers demanded by the
decrees of the council, in consequence of which a protesta-
tion was made against their acts. Being, however, per-
mitted to speak, they exhorted the assembled dignitaries,
as they wished for the good of the church, to drop these
harsh proceedings against the common father of the faithful.
After some deliberation, the president replied in the name
of the council, that the members of that august body
would deliberate upon the matters which had on that day
been proposed to their consideration ; and that they would
endeavour to act in such a manner as to obtain the concur-
rence of the whole Christian world. After thanking the
president for this gracious answer, the deputies of Engenius
withdrew.* On the eighteenth of December the council
was pleased to enlarge the term prescribed for the submis-
sion of Eugenius for the space of sixty days; and at the
same time prohibited all ecclesiastics or others from attempt-
ing to establish at Bologna, or elsewhere, any synod in

* Concilior. torn. xxx. p. 77.

CHAP. V. 197

opposition to the council then sitting at Basil.* At the
expiration of the above-mentioned term of sixty days, the
procurators of the council, on the nineteenth of February,
1433, again demanded sentence against the contumacious
pontiff, and were again informed by the president, that this
important affair would be the subject of the future delibera-
tions of the assembly. -f- The result of these deliberations
was, that the council, out of its great clemency, indulged
Eugenius with the still further space of sixty days, at the
same time declaring, that should he not within that time
fully and unreservedly acknowledge and submit to its au-
thority, he should stand convicted of notorious contumacy,
and should be suspended from the administration of all
pontifical functions, both in spirituals and in temporals.J

It may easily be imagined, that these violent proceed-
ings of the council excited no small degree of uneasiness
in the mind of Eugenius. The pride of the pontiff was
wounded by the decree, which pronounced the subor-
dination of the papal dignity to the mandate of a collective
body, the individual members of which were accustomed
to prostrate themselves before the chair of St. Peter, with
the homage of unreserved submission. His resentment
was roused by the denunciation of the punishment which
awaited his refusal to concur in his own humiliation ; and
when he considered the popularity which the council had

Concilior. torn. xxx. p. 81.

f Ibid, p. 92.

% Concilior. torn. xxx. p. 103 This decree was passed July 13th, 1433.

198 CHAP. V.

acquired, in consequence of the general persuasion of the
Christian world, that its deliberations would tend to the
benefit of the church, his breast was agitated by a sense
of the danger which he incurred in counteracting its
operations. Poggio entered with dutiful zeal into the
feelings of his patron, and resolved to attempt, by friend-
ly admonition and remonstrance, to persuade the cardinal
of St. Angelo to withdraw his countenance and support
from the rebellious ecclesiastics of Basil. With this view
he addressed to him an elaborate letter, in which he en-
treated him to consider, that though in summoning the
council he was actuated by the most upright intentions,
and by a sincere desire to promote the good of the church,
yet he was in duty bound to believe, that the pope was
influenced by the same motives in the formation of his
opinion, that such an assembly was inexpedient and dan-
gerous. He reminded him, that he was by no means
authorized to set up his private sentiments in opposition
to the decision of the head of the church. He further
observed, that they who began the reformation so loudly
demanded, by manifesting their contempt of the pon-
tifical dignity, were the most dangerous partizans and
promoters of heresy. He then proceeded solemnly to
forewarn his friend, that if he persisted in his determina-
tion, he would forfeit his peace of mind for ever ; for he
would have the mortification of seeing the plans which
he had meditated for the benefit of the church converted
into the means of her destruction. After assuring him
that the council was likely to become subservient to the
ambition of one sovereign prince, and to the hatred

CHAP. v. 199

which another had conceived against Eugenius, who was
already doomed to deposition he thus proceeded " You
" will perhaps say, I know nothing of the intentions of
" others ; but as to myself, I am conscious that I am
" prompted by zeal for the promotion of the general
" good ; and whatever may be the cojisequences of the
" measures which I adopt, the rectitude of my intentions
" will secure me from blame. But take care, my good
" friend, lest you be led astray. I know that your in-
" tentions are excellent : but I also know that you can-
" not answer for the integrity of your associates. Affairs
" may issue in a manner directly contrary to your ex-
" pectations. It is a most difficult task to curb resent-
" ment, hatred, and avarice ; and it is very certain that
" men are corrupted by being freed from salutary re-
" straints. When you take into consideration the dif-
" ferent views by which mankind are actuated, the hopes
" of the public benefit which you expect to derive from
" this council should not render you insensible of the
" danger with which it is attended. You ought therefore
" to dread incurring a weight of responsibility by ob-
" stinately persevering in your own opinion. In explain-
" ing to the pontiff the reasons which convince you of the
" expediency of summoning a council, you have acted as
" becomes a virtuous and prudent man. His holiness is,
" however, of opinion, that the present is not a proper
" time for the holding of such an assembly. Do you think
" it right to maintain your sentiments by arms and vio-
" lence ? Plato says that we ought not bear arms against
" our native country or our parents And who is more

200 CHAP - v -

" truly our parent than the earthly representative of our
" Father in Heaven ; and what country is more dear
" to us than the church in which we are saved ? You
" and the pontiff are aiming at the same end, but by
" different means Which of you ought to give way to
" the other ? Consider, I entreat you, the dispositions
" and views of those who countenance this assembly, and
" you will be convinced that they entertain the most per-
" nicious designs. If you do not recede, you will inflict
" upon the church a wound, which, however you may wish,
" you will be unable to heal.""*

The doctrine of passive obedience may be seriously
maintained by those who bask in the sunshine of princely
favour, and by those who are pleased or satisfied with the
conduct of the powers that be ; for men feel no disposition
to resist measures which operate to their own advantage, or
which they themselves approve. But when they are required
to do that which is subversive of their interests, or repug-
nant to their feelings, they generally find reasons, to them-
selves at least satisfactory, for opposing the dictates even of
long established authority. So it was with the cardinal of
St. Angelo. Dazzled by the splendours which beamed
around the presidential throne, he could not see the cogency
of the reasons which urged him to forego his newly acquired
honours ; and the arguments of Poggio had no influence
upon his conduct. On the contrary, he deemed it strictly

Poggii Eptttolee Ivii. ep. xxvi. This letter bears date June 30th, 1433.

CHAP. V. 201

compatible with his duty to the common father of the faith-
ful still to preside in the rebellious synod, which on the
eleventh day of September again met in solemn assembly.
[A. D. 1433.] In this session, the procurators of the coun-
cil, after representing, that notwithstanding the lenity which
had been exercised towards Eugenius, in deferring the pro-
cess which his obstinacy justly merited, the pontiff still
refused to submit to the ordinances of the august representa-
tives of the Christian church, demanded, that without any
delay, he should be put upon his trial, as being impeached
of contumacious opposition to the exercise of legitimate
authority. To this demand the archbishop of Spoleto and
the bishop of Cervi, in the name of Eugenius, made cer-
tain frivolous objections, which were immediately over-ruled.
The pontifical deputies were then informed by the president,
that if they were prepared to announce the determination of
their master to comply with the requisitions of the assembly
in whose presence they stood, this welcome intelligence
would be received with the utmost joy but that if they
were not authorised so to do, they might rest assured, that
the members of the council would prefer death to the
adoption of any measures which were likely to endanger
the church of Christ. The envoys of Eugenius not being
authorised to make the required concessions, withdrew
from the assembly, and it was expected that a legal
process would have been instantly commenced against their
refractory constituent.

In this crisis Eugenius was sheltered from the threat-
ened storm by the friendship of the emperor Sigismund.

202 CHAP. V.

Towards the latter end of the year 1431, that monarch
had come into Italy with the intention of receiving the
imperial crown from the hands of the pope.* Eugenius,
however, taking umbrage at his intimate connexion with
the duke of Milan, whom he regarded as a secret enemy
to himself, and the avowed foe of his country, refused to
permit him to visit Rome.'f' The emperor being thus
frustrated in the attainment of the object of his journey
across the Alps, quitted Milan, and after visiting Piacenza,
Parma, and Lucca, at length went to Siena, where he
fixed his abode for the space of several months. During
his residence in this city he carried on a negociation with
the pontiff, in the course of which he found means to
calm the jealous apprehensions of Eugenius, who at length
consented to admit the imperial petitioner into his capital.
Sigismund accordingly made his triumphant entry into
Rome, where he was received on the twenty-first of May,
1433, by the acclamations of the populace; and on the
thirty-first of the same month he was crowned with all due
solemnity in the church of the Vatican.^ The festivity
which occurred on this occasion was increased by the joy
diffused throughout Italy, on account of the termination
of the war between the duke of Milan and the Florentines,
who had been induced, by the mediation of the marquis of
Este, to sign a treaty of peace at Ferrara about three
weeks before Sigismund's arrival in Rome. During the

* Mur atari Annali, torn. ix. p. 147.
f Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 149.
+ Ibid, p. 154.
Ibid, p. 153. Poffffii Hist. Flor. p. 301.

CHAP. V. 203

emperor's residence in that city, he experienced from
Eugenius the respectful hospitality which was due to his
exalted rank and the excellence of his character.* In
return for the kindness of the pontiff, he determined to
promote his interests by moderating the violence of the
council. He accordingly sent by his ambassadors a letter
to that assembly, in which, after recounting the good
services which he had rendered to the council of Constance,
which, he observed, bore sufficient testimony of the zeal
which he felt for the good of the church, he requested that
the term appointed for the probation of Eugenius might
be further prolonged for the space of thirty days. With
this request the council immediately complied, and issued
a decree accordingly.^ Soon after the promulgation of this
decree, the emperor arrived in Basil, and his influence was
speedily visible, in the additional lenity shewn to the pon-
tiff, by the prorogation of further proceedings against him
for the space of ninety days, from the sixth of November,
1433, on which day Sigismund assisted in person at the
sitting of the council, adorned with all the insignia of
imperial authority.

Whilst Sigismund was thus exerting his influence to
avert from Eugenius the evil consequences of his stern

During his residence in Rome, Sigismund received from the pontiff six
thousand gold crowns per month, to enable him to maintain the state becoming
his exalted rank. Poggio gives a particular account of the emperor's coronation
in a letter to Niccolo Niccoli, which has not yet been printed.

Pnggii flistoria de Variet. Fort. p. 92, 93.

+ Condi, torn. xxx. p. 114.

204 CHAP. V.

refusal to concur in any act derogatory to the prerogatives
of the sovereign pontificate, the proceedings of the council
afforded the enemies of the pontiff a pretext to gratify their
ambition and revenge, by the invasion of his territories. It
has been before observed, that in the course of the late war
which the duke of Milan had waged with various success
against the Florentines, that prince had been greatly irrita-
ted by the support given to his adversaries by the pontiff,
on whom he determined to signalize his vengeance whenever
a convenient opportunity should present itself. When,
therefore, the council of Basil had decreed, that the refusal
of the pontiff to concur in its measures should render
him liable to the penalty of suspension from all pontifical
functions whatsoever, the duke aided and abetted Fran-
cesco Sforza, who, under pretence of enforcing the decrees
of the council, made an irruption into the states of the
church, and took possession of Jesi, Monte d'Olmo, Osi-
mo, Ascoli, and Ancona. At the same time, the very
centre of the ecclesiastical territories was invested by three

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 14 of 31)