Pope Paul II reigned between 1464 and 1471. He came from a wealthy and influential Venetian family which played a part in his rise as a clergyman. He signed the Election Capitulation, but he also defied its terms early in his reign. He was known to be a handsome and flamboyant pope whose reign was marred by accusations of immorality. He died in 1471 after he suffered a heart attack. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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Early Life and Career
Pietro Barbo, the man who would later become Pope Paul II, was born on February 23, 1417. His father was Niccolo Barbo, while his mother was the sister of Pope Eugene IV, Polixena or Polissena Condulmer. The young Pietro followed the footsteps of his wealthy Venetian relatives and trained to be a merchant. However, he changed his path and pursued a religious education after his uncle, Eugene IV, became pope. He excelled in canon law and history but never paid attention to humanism (unlike some of the previous popes).
He became archdeacon of Bologna at a young age, and it was quickly followed by his appointment as bishop of Cervia and Vicenza. In 1440, he became the cardinal-deacon of Venice at the young age of 23. His family’s wealth and influence no doubt played a part in his appointment to the prominent ecclesiastical positions at such a young age. His uncles already served as cardinals during his youth. Pietro also became influential in the papal courts of Nicholas V and Calixtus. His influence waned during the reign of his predecessor, Pope Pius II.
The Election Capitulation
Pope Pius died in 1464 and the College of Cardinals immediately gathered in the Vatican to elect a successor. Cardinal Pietro Barbo joined the election, and he was among those favored to succeed the deceased pope. Before the election, all but one cardinal signed the document called the Election Capitulation. The Capitulation wanted to limit the power of the pope and increase the power of the cardinals. Among those who signed the document was Pietro Barbo, and his enthusiasm in giving away most of his power proved to be shortsighted.
In the Election Capitulation, the cardinals wanted the pope to devote his time to the campaign against the Ottoman Turks who conquered Constantinople in 1453. The revenues from the alum quarries in Italy would also be used to fund the war. The pope was also not allowed to move the papal court to any other Italian cities unless the move was approved by the majority of the cardinals.
Additionally, a general council was to be held every three years to address ecclesiastical reforms. The council would also persuade the nobility to launch crusades against the Ottoman Empire. The pope would also have to limit the member of cardinals to 20 and that no one under 30 years old would qualify. Clergymen with lesser education would also not qualify as cardinals.
The Sacred College would have the exclusive right to approve the nomination of new cardinals and benefices. They also required the pope to prevent the rise of nepotism in the troops that served in the papal states. The cardinals also stated that decisions concerning the church and the papal states would also need to go through them.
Cardinal Barbo was elected on August 30, 1464. He wanted to take the name “Formosus,” but the cardinals dissuaded him as it was the war-cry of the Venetians. He took the name Paul II instead and was crowned in the Vatican on September 16, 1464.
As a pope, Paul II was described as flamboyant and charming, yet generous and kind to the poor. He came from a rich Venetian family, so it was only natural that his favorite pastime was to collect beautiful artworks, jewelry, and coins. Before his election, he once jokingly told the cardinals that he would give each one a villa where they could rest for the summer.
He defied the Election Capitulation that he signed before his election as pope early in his reign. He alienated the senior cardinals by appointing new ones without their approval. He promoted his nephews and his former tutor as cardinals, too. Nominees closely associated with some kings of Europe were also promoted during his reign. He also tried to get rid of the College of Abbreviators which was a papal office where writers worked to prepare papal documents. The closure of the College pushed the unemployed writers to rebel against the pope.
Pope Paul II also came into conflict with the king of Bohemia, George of Podebrady, whose succession he did not support. He then deposed and excommunicated George of Podebrady. In response to his deposition, George’s prominent supporter accused the pope of immorality.
Pope Paul II died of a heart attack on July 26, 1471.
Picture by: Cristofano dell’Altissimo – Source, originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here. Original uploader was Savidan at en.wikipedia, 2007-06-29 (original upload date), Public Domain, Link
Gurugé, Anura. Popes and The Tale of Their Names. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008.
Noel, Gerard. The Renaissance Popes: Culture, Power and the Making of the Borgia Myth. London: Hachette UK, 2016.
Pastor, Ludwig, and Frederick Ignatius Antrobus. The History of the Popes, From the Close of the Middle Ages. Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1969.
Williams, George L. Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004.
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