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Pope Nicholas V

POPE NICHOLAS V (Tomaso Parentucelli or Tomaso da Sarzana), pope from the 6th of March 1447 to the 24th of March 1455, was born at Sarzana, where his father was a physician, in 1398. He early studied at Bologna, where the bishop, Nicholas Albergati, was so much struck with his ardour for learning that he gave him the chance to pursue his studies further, by sending him on a tour through Germany, France and England. He distinguished himself at the council of Ferrara-Florence, and in 1444 was made bishop of Bologna by Pope Eugenius IV., who soon afterwards named him as one of the legates charged to negotiate at the convention of Frankfort an understanding between the Holy See and the Empire with regard to the reforming decrees of the council of Basel. His successful diplomacy was rewarded, on his return to Rome, with the title of cardinal priest of Sta Susanna (December 1446). He was elected pope in succession to Eugenius IV. on the 6th of March of the following year, taking the name of Nicholas in honour of his early benefactor.

The eight years of his pontificate were important in the political, scientific and literary history of the world. With the German king, Frederick III., he made the Concordat of Vienna, or Aschaffenburg (February 17, 1448), by which the decrees of the council of Basel against papal annates and reservations were abrogated so far as Germany was concerned; and in the following year he secured a still greater triumph when the resignation of the anti-pope Felix V. (April 7), and his own recognition by the rump of the council of Basel, assembled at Lausanne, put an end to the papal schism. The next year, 1450, Nicholas held a jubilee at Rome; and the offerings of the numerous pilgrims who thronged to Rome gave him the means of furthering the cause of culture in Italy, which he had so much at heart. In March 1452 he crowned Frederick III. as emperor in St Peter's, the last occasion of the coronation of an emperor at Rome.

Under the generous patronage of Nicholas humanism made rapid strides. He employed hundreds of copyists and scholars, giving as much as ten thousand gulden for a metrical translation of Homer, and founded a library of nine thousand volumes. Nicholas himself was a man of vast erudition, and his friend Aeneas Silvius (later Pope Pius II.) said of him that " what he does not know is outside the range of human knowledge." He was compelled, however, to add that the lustre of his pontificate would be for ever dulled by the tragic fall of Constantinople, which the Turks took in 1453. The pope bitterly felt this catastrophe as a double blow to Christendom and to Greek letters. " It is a second death," wrote Aeneas Silvius, " to Homer and Plato." Nicholas preached a crusade, and endeavoured to reconcile the mutual animosities of the Italian states, but without much success.

Nicholas conceived great plans for beautifying and developing Rome. He restored the walls and numerous churches, and began the rebuilding of the Vatican and St Peter's. In undertaking these works Nicholas was moved by no vulgar motives, his idea being " to strengthen the weak faith of the people by the greatness of that which it sees." The Romans, however, appreciated neither his motives nor their results, and in 1452 a formidable conspiracy for the overthrow of the papal government, under the leadership of Stefano Porcaro, was discovered and crushed. This revelation of disaffection, together with the fall of Constantinople, darkened the last years of Nicholas; " As Thomas of Sarzana," he said, " I had more happiness in a day than now in a whole year." He died on the 24th of March 1455- See Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie and Kirche, vol. xiv. (1904), with full references; Cambridge Modern History, i. 76-78; and M. Creighton, History of the Papacy (London, 1882), vol. ii.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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