Pope Nicholas V
- See also, Antipope Nicholas V.
(Italian: Niccolò V
November 15, 1397 – March 24, 1455), born Tommaso
, was Pope
from March 6,
1447 to his death in 1455.
born at Sarzana, Liguria, where his father was a physician. His father died while he was young, but in
Parentucelli became a tutor in the families of the Strozzi and Albizzi, where he
made the acquaintance of the leading humanist scholars.
at Bologna, gaining a
degree in theology in 1422, whereupon the
bishop, Niccolò Albergati, was so much struck
with his capacities that he took him into his service and gave him
the chance to pursue his studies further, by sending him on a tour
through Germany, France and England.
was able to collect books, for which he had an intellectual's
passion, wherever he went. Some of them survive, with his marginal
He distinguished himself at the Council of Florence
, and in 1444, when
his patron died, he was appointed bishop of Bologna
in his place.
disorders at Bologna were prolonged, so Pope Eugene IV (1431–1447) soon named him as
one of the legates sent to Frankfurt to negotiate an understanding between the Papal States and the Holy Roman
Empire, with regard to undercutting or at least containing the
reforming decrees of the Council of
successful diplomacy gained him the reward, on his return to
Rome, of the title of Cardinal priest of Santa Susanna (December 1446).
He was elected Pope in
succession to Eugene IV on 6 March of the following year, taking
the name of Nicholas V in honour of his early benefactor.
The eight scant years of his pontificate (1447–1455) were important
in the political, scientific, and literary history of the world.
Politically, he made the Concordat of Vienna, or
Aschaffenburg (February 17, 1448) with the German King,
(1440–1493), 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 tactical triumph, when the
resignation of the Antipope Felix V
(1439–1449) (7 April) and his own recognition by the rump of the
Council of Basel (1431–39), assembled at Lausanne, put an end to the Western Schism (1378–1417).
The next year, 1450, Nicholas V 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
March 1452 he crowned Frederick III as Emperor
Peter's, the last occasion of the coronation of an Emperor at Rome.
Within the city of Rome, Nicholas V introduced the fresh spirit of
. His plans were of
embellishing the city with new monuments worthy of the capital of
His first care was practical, to reinforce the city's
fortifications, cleaning and even paving some main streets and
restoring the water supply. The end of ancient Rome is sometimes
dated from the destruction of its magnificent array of aqueducts
by 6th century invaders. In the Middle Ages
Romans depended for water on wells
and cisterns, and the poor dipped their water from the yellow
. The Aqua Virgo
aqueduct, originally constructed by
Agrippa, was restored by Pope Nicholas V,
and emptied into a simple basin that Leon Battista Alberti designed, the
predecessor of the Trevi
works on which Nicholas V especially set his heart were the
rebuilding of the Vatican and the
Borgo district, and St Peter's Basilica, where the reborn glories of the papacy were to be
He got as
far as pulling down part of the ancient basilica, made some
alterations to the Lateran
Palace (of which some frescos by Fra Angelico bear witness), and laid up 2,522
cartloads of marble from the dilapidated Colosseum for use in the later constructions.
Under the generous patronage of Nicholas V, humanism
made rapid strides as well. The new
humanist learning had been hitherto looked on with suspicion in
Rome, a possible source of schism
, an unhealthy interest in paganism
. To the contrary, Nicholas V instead
employed Lorenzo Valla
as a notary
and kept hundreds of copyists and
scholars, with the special aim of wholesale translations of
works, pagan as well as
Christian, into Latin
, giving as much as ten
for a metrical translation of
. This industry, coming just before the
dawn of printing
, contributed enormously to
the sudden expansion of the intellectual horizon.
Nicholas V founded a library of nine thousand volumes. The Pope
himself was a man of vast erudition, and his friend Aeneas Silvius
Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II
(1458–1464), said of him that "what he does not know is outside the
range of human knowledge."
In 1452, Nicholas V issued the papal bull
, granting the
King of Portugal
the right to
reduce any "Saracens
, pagans and any other
unbelievers" to hereditary slavery. Dum Diversas legitimised the
colonial slave trade that begun around this time
with the expeditions by Henry the
Navigator to find a sea route to India, which were
financed with African slaves.
This approval of slavery was
reaffirmed and extended in his Romanus Pontifex
He was compelled, however, to add that the lustre of his
pontificate would be forever dulled by the fall of Constantinople
, which the
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 V preached a crusade
endeavoured to reconcile the mutual animosities of the Italian
states, but without much success. He did not live long enough to
see the effect of the Greek scholars armed with unimagined
manuscripts, who began to find their way to Italy.
In undertaking these works Nicholas V was moved "to strengthen the
weak faith of the populace by the greatness of that which it sees."
The Roman populace, 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 in 1453, darkened the last years of Pope Nicholas V.
"As Thomas of Sarzana," he said, "I had more happiness in a day
than now in a whole year."
Pope Nicholas V and slavery
Nicholas issued the bull "Dum Diversas
(June 18 1452) in response to a request from the Portuguese
monarchy. King Alfonso V was conferred the right to "attack,
conquer, and subjugate Saracens, Pagans and other enemies of Christ
wherever they may be found." It gave title over all lands and
possessions seized and permitted the Portuguese to take the
inhabitants and consign them to perpetual slavery. The geographical
area of the concession given in the bull is not explicit but
Richard Raiswell argues that the use of the terms "pagans" and
"other enemies of Christ" indicates the scope of the bull was
applicable to the newly discovered lands along the west coast of
Africa and that the ambiguity of the text was such that it
encouraged the Portuguese to extend their explorations further
afield. He further argues that the use of crusading language in the
bull served to make the Christian-Muslim relationship the model for
ownership of the Canary
Islands continued to be a source of dispute between Spain
and Portugal and Nicholas was asked to settle the matter,
ultimately in favor of the Portuguese.
The bull issued by
Nicholas "Romanus Pontifex
January 1455) reaffirmed "Dum Diveras" and also sanctioned the
purchase of black slaves from "the infidel". According to Raiswell
(1997) he expressed enthusiasm when recalling the number of slaves
that had been captured, brought back to Portugal, baptised and
expressed his hope that the entire populations of these new found
lands would be converted. Stogre (1992) notes that this bull,
perhaps in part due to misleading information provided by the
Portuguese, introduced the concept of military force, rather than
peaceful evangelisation, for missionary purposes and that it
applied to lands that had never previously been subject to
Christian ownership, subsequently leading to the "brutal
dispossession and enslavement of the indigenous population". The
bull also conferred exclusive trading rights to the Portuguese
between Morocco and the Indies with the rights to conquer and
convert the inhabitants. A significant concession given by Nicholas
in a brief issued to King Alfonso in 1454 extended the rights
granted to existing territories to all those that might be taken in
It is argued that collectively the two bulls issued by Nicholas
gave the Portuguese the rights to acquire slaves along the African
coast by force or trade. The concessions given in them were
confirmed by bulls issued by Pope Calixtus III "Inter Caetera quae"
(1456), Sixtus IV "Aeterni regis" (1481) and Leo X (1514) and they
became the models for subsequent bulls issued by Pope Alexander VI
: "Eximiae devotionis" (May 3 1493), "Inter Caetera
" (May 4 1493) and "Dudum
Siquidem (September 23 1493) when he conferred similar rights to
Spain in relation to the new found lands in the Americas.
- "The Historical Encyclopedia of World slavery", Editor
Junius P. Rodriguez, ABC-CLIO, 1997, ISBN 0874368855
- "That the world may believe: the development of Papal
social thought on aboriginal rights", Michael Stogre S.J,
Médiaspaul, 1992, ISBN 2890395499
- "A violent evangelism", Luis N. Rivera, Luis Rivera
Pagán, Westminster John Knox Press, 1992, ISBN