Pius Ii., Pope

, whose name was Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini, was born in 1405, at Corsignano in Sienna, where his father lived in exile. He was educated at the grammar-school of that place; but his parents being in low circumstances, he was obliged, in his early years, to submit to many servile employments. In 1423, by the assistance of his friends, he was enabled to go to the university of Sienna, where he applied himself to his studies with great success, and in a short time published several pieces in the Latin and Tuscan languages. In 1431 he attended cardinal Dominic Capranica to the council of Basil as his secretary. He was likewise in the same capacity with cardinal Albergoti, who sent him to Scotland to mediate a peace betwixt the English and Scots; and he was in that country when king James I. was murdered. Upon his return from Scotland, he was made secretary to the council of Basil, which he defended against the authority of the popes, both by his speeches and writings, particularly in | a dialogue and epistles which he wrote to the rector and university of Cologn. He was likewise made by that council clerk of the ceremonies, abbreviator, and one of the duodecemviri, or twelve men, an office of great importance. He was employed in several embassies; once to Trent, another time to Frankfort, twice to Constance, and as often to Savoy, and thrice to Strasburg, where he had an intrigue with a lady, by whom he had a son: he has given an account of this affair in a letter to his father, in which he endeavours to vindicate himself with much indecent buffoonery. In 1439 he was employed in the service of pope Felix; and being soon after sent ambassador to the emperor Frederic, he was crowned by him with the poetic laurel, and ranked amongst his friends. In 1442 he was sent for from Basil by the emperor, who appointed him secretary to the empire, and raised him to the senatorial order. He could not at first be prevailed on to condemn the council of Basil, nor to go over absolutely to Eugenius’s party, but remained neuter. However, when the emperor Frederic began to favour Eugenius, Æneas likewise changed his opinion gradually. He afterwards represented the emperor in the diet of Nuremberg, when they were consulting about methods to put an end to the schism, and was sent ambassador to Eugenius: at the persuasion of Thomas Sarzanus, the apostolical legate in Germany, he submitted to Eugenius entirely, and made the following speech to his holiness, as related by John Gobelin, in his Commentaries of the life of Pius II. “Most holy father (said he), before I declare the emperor’s commission, give me leave to say one word concerning myself. I do not question but you have heard a great many things which are not to my advantage. They ought not to have been mentioned to you; but I must confess, that my accusers have reported nothing but what is true. I own I have said, and done, and written, at Basil, many things against your interests; it is impossible to deny it: yet all this has been done not with a design to injure you, but to serve the church. I have been in an error, without question; but I have been in just the same circumstances with many great men, as particularly with Julian cardinal of St. Angelo, with Nicholas archbishop of Palermo, with Lewis du Pont (Pontanus) the secretary of the holy see; men who are esteemed the greatest luminaries in the law, and doctors of the truth; to omit mentioning the universities | and colleges which are generally against you. Who would not have erred with persons of their character and merit? It is true, that when I discovered the error of those at Basil, I did not at first go over to you, as the greatest part did; but being afraid of falling from one error to another, and by avoiding Charybdis, as the proverb expresses it, to run upon Scylla, I joined myself, after a long deliberation and conflict within myself, to those who thought proper to continue in a state of neutrality. I lived three years in the emperor’s court in this situation of mind, where having an opportunity of hearing constantly the disputes between those of Basil and your legates, I was convinced that the truth was on your side: it was upon this motive that, when the emperor thought fit to send me to your clemency, I accepted the opportunity with the utmost satisfaction, in hopes that I should be so happy as to gain your favour again: I throw myself therefore at your feet; and since I sinned out of ignorance, I entreat you to grant me your pardon. After which I shall open to you the emperor’s intentions.” This was the prelude to the famous retraction which Æneas Sylvius made afterwards. The pope pardoned every thing that was past; and in a short time made him his secretary, without obliging him to quit the post which he had with the emperor.

He was sent a second time by the emperor on an embassy to Eugenius, on the following occasion: the pope having deposed Thierry and James, archbishops and electors of Cologn and Treves, because they had openly declared for Felix and the council of Basil, the electors of the empire were highly offended at this proceeding; and at their desire the emperor sent Æneas Sylvius to prevail on the pope to revoke the sentence of deposition.

Upon the decease of pope Eugenius, Æneas was chosen by the cardinals to preside in the conclave till another pope should be elected. He was made bishop of Trieste by pope Nicholas, and went again into Germany, where he was appointed counsellor to the emperor, and had the direction of all the important affairs of the empire. Four years after he was made archbishop of Sienna; and in 1452 he attended Frederic to Rome, when he went to receive the imperial crown. Æneas, upon his return, was named legate of Bohemia and Austria. About 1456, being sent by the emperor into Italy, to treat with pope Callixtus III. about a war with the Turks, he was made a cardinal. | Upon the decease of Callixtus, in 1458 he was elected pope by the name of Pius II. After his promotion to the papal chair he published a bull, retracting all he had written in defence of the council of Basil, with an apology which shows how little he was influenced by principle: “We are men (says he), and we have erred as men; we do not deny, but that many things which we have said or written, may justly be condemned: we have been seduced, like Paul, and have persecuted the church of God through ignorance; we now follow St. Austin’s example, who, having suffered several erroneous sentiments to escape him in his writings, retracted them; we do just the same thing: we ingenuously confess our ignorance, being apprehensive lest what we have written in our youth should occasion some error, which may prejudice the holy see. For if it is suitable to any person’s character to maintain the eminence and glory of the first throne of the church, it is certainly so to ours, whom the merciful God, out of pure goodness, has raised to the dignity of vicegerent of Christ, without any merit on our part. For all these reasons, we exhort you and advise you in the Lord, not to pay any regard to those writings, which injure in any manner the authority of the apostolic see, and assert opinions which the holy Roman church does not receive. If you find any thing contrary to this in our dialogues and letters, or in any other of our works, despise such notions, reject them, follow what we maintain now; believe what I assert now I am in years, rather than what I said when I was young: regard a pope rather than a private man; in short, reject Æneas Sylvius, and receive Pius II.

Pius behaved in his high office with considerable spirit and activity; but more as a temporal prince, than the head of the church. During his pontificate he received ambassadors from the patriarchs of the east: the chief of the embassy was one Moses, archdeacon of Austria, a man well versed in the Greek and Syriac languages, and of a distinguished character. He appeared before his holiness in the name of the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem; he told his holiness, that the enemy who sows tares having prevented them till then from receiving the decree of the council of Florence, concerning the union of the Greek and Latin churches, God had at last inspired them with a resolution of submitting to it; that it had been solemnly agreed to, in an assembly called together for that | purpose; and that for the future they would unanimously submit to the pope as vicegerent of Jesus Christ. Pius commended the patriarchs for their obedience, and ordered Moses’s speech to be translated into Latin, and laid up amongst the archives of the Roman church. A few days after the arrival of these ambassadors from the east, there came others also from Peloponnesus, who offered obedience to the pope, and he received them in the name of the church of Rome, and sent them a governor.

Pius, in the latter part of his pontificate, made great preparations against the Turks, for which purpose he summoned the assistance of the several princes in Europe; and having raised a considerable number of troops, he went to Ancona to see them embarked; where he was seized with a fever, and died the 14th of August, 1464, in the fifty-­ninth year of his age, and the seventh of his pontificate. His body was carried to Rome, and interred in the Vatican. The Roman catholic writers are profuse in their praises of this pope, whose character, however, whether private or public, will not bear the strictest scrutiny. His secretary, John Gobelin, published a history of his life, which is supposed to have been written by this pope himself: it was printed at Rome in quarto in 1584 and 1589 and at Francfort in folio in 1614. We have an edition of Æneas Sylvius’s works, printed at Basil, in folio, in 1551. They consist of Memoirs of the Council of Bâle; The History of the Bohemians from their origin till A. D. 1458; Cosmography, in two books; the History of Frederick III. whose vice-chancellor he was; a Treatise on the education of children; a Poem on the Passion of Jesus Christ; a collection of 482 Letters; Historia rerum ubicunque gestarum; the first part only of which was published at Venice in 1477, fol. Euryalus and Lucretia, a romance. A collection of all these, with his life, was also published at Helmstadt in 1700, fol. He was, notwithstanding the applauses of the catholics, a man of great ambition, and great duplicity. He has been praised for his wise and witty sayings, but he was also famous for sayings of a very different description. He indulged himself, respecting the reformers, in a rancour of language which must be offensive to every sober Christian; and his letters show that he indulged great licence in point of morals. Mr. Gilpin, after selecting some striking proofs of this, says, “Such is the testimony which Æneas Sylvius hath given us of | himself. It may serve to invalidate what he hath said of others; as it seems entirely to show that his censures are founded upon a mere difference of opinion, without any regard to practice, which is one of the characteristics of bigotry. They who are not acquainted with the history of this writer will be surprised to hear that the man of whom we have this authentic character, was not only a pope, but is acknowledged by the generality of popish writers, as one of the most respectable of all the Roman pontiffs.1


Cave, vol. II.—Platina.—Gen. Dict.