Nicholas V (Italian: Niccolò V; November 15, 1397 – March 24, 1455), born
Tommaso Parentucelli, was Pope from March 6, 1447 to his death in 1455.Nicholas
V (Italian: Niccolò V; November 15, 1397 – March 24, 1455), born Tommaso
Parentucelli, was Pope from March 6, 1447 to his death in 1455.
Nicholas V (Italian:
Niccolò V; November 15, 1397 – March 24, 1455), born Tommaso Parentucelli, was
Pope from March 6, 1447 to his death in 1455.
He was born at Sarzana, Liguria, where his father was a physician. His father
died while he was young, but in Florence, Parentucelli became a tutor in the
families of the Strozzi and Albizzi, where he made the acquaintance of the
leading humanist scholars. He studied 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. He was able to collect books, for which he had an intellectual's
passion, wherever he went. Some of them survive, with his marginal annotations.
He distinguished himself at the Council of Florence, and in 1444, when his
patron died, he was appointed bishop of Bologna in his place. Civic 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 Basel (1431–1439). His
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, Frederick III (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 heart. In March 1452 he crowned Frederick III as
Emperor in St. Peter's, the last occasion of the coronation of an Emperor at
Within the city of Rome, Nicholas V introduced the fresh spirit of the
Renaissance. His plans were of embellishing the city with new monuments worthy
of the capital of the Christian world. 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 Tiber. 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
But the works on which he 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 focused. 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 looked on with suspicion in Rome, a possible
source of schism and heresy, an unhealthy interest in paganism. Nicholas V
instead employed Lorenzo Valla as a notary and kept hundreds[dubious – discuss]
of copyists and scholars, with the special aim of wholesale translations of
Greek works, pagan as well as Christian, into Latin, giving as much as ten
thousand gulden for a metrical translation of Homer. 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 Dum Diversas, 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 of 1455.
He was compelled, however, to add that the lustre of his pontificate would be
forever dulled by the 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 V preached a crusade, and 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".
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