Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pius II : The Early Years

Pienza and surroundings

Aeneas was born at Corsignano on 18th October 1405. He was the eldest of eighteen children born to Silvio de' Piccolomini and Vittoria Forteguerra.

He was of noble birth. However circumstances forced him to help his father in the cultivation of the estate which the family owned at Corsignano.

Having received some elementary instruction from a priest, he entered, at the age of eighteen, the University of Siena. Here he gave himself up to diligent study and the free enjoyment of sensual pleasures.

In 1425, the preaching of St. Bernardine of Siena sparked in him the desire of embracing a monastic life, but he was dissuaded from his purpose by his friends. Attracted by the fame of the celebrated Filelfo, he shortly after spent two years in the study of the classics and poetry in Florence.

He returned to Siena at the urgent request of his relatives, to devote his time to the study of jurisprudence.

Passing through Siena on his way to the Council of Basle, Capranica, Bishop of Fermo, invited Aeneas to accompany him as his secretary. They arrived there in 1432, and joined the opposition to Pope Eugene IV.

Historical Context

Taken from

1315 - Bad weather and crop failure result in famine across northwestern Europe. Unsanitary conditions and malnutrition increase the death rate. Even after the revival of agricultural conditions, weather disasters reappear. A mixture of war, famine and plague in the Late Middle Ages reduces the population by one-half.

1327 - Born in 1260, German Dominican Master Eckhart defines the individual soul as a "spark" of the divine at its most basic element. By renouncing all knowledge of the self, one is able to retreat into that "spark" and reach God. Most of his teachings are condemned by the papacy. Two bands of mysticism arise from Eckhart's theories: heterodox, the belief in the unification of God and man on earth without the aid of priests as intermediaries, and orthodox, the belief in the possibility of joining the soul with God and the awareness of divine presence in everyday life.

1328 - England attempts to claim the French crown.

1330 - Oxford theologian John Wyclif is born. He later becomes the leader of a heretical movement: finding the Church extravagant, he condemns most Church officials and begins a reform movement. He dies in 1384, before the death penalty for heresy emerges in England. The use of heavy cannons in warfare begins.

1337 - The French retaliate against the English and initiate the Hundred Years' War, a series of battles lasting until 1453 CE. The three greatest battles of the war are fought at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415). Due to the military superiority of the English, the French are defeated in most of the battles.

1340 - Geoffrey Chaucer is born. He later begins the literary tradition with his Canterbury Tales.

1342 - The reign of Avignonese Pope Clement VI exemplifies the French takeover of the Church. Clement offers spiritual benefits for money, appoints Church leaders for economic gains and commits sexual acts on "doctors' orders." The French Church based in Avignon rises in power, centralizes the Church government and establishes a system of papal finance.

1347 - The Black Death appears during a time of economic depression in Western Europe and reoccurs frequently until the fifteenth century. The population of Siena falls by over one half. Religious flagellation appears among lay groups in order to appease the divine wrath.

English Franciscan William of Ockham dies. He teaches that God is free to do good and bad on earth as He wishes and developes the philosophical position known as "nominalism." His quest for certainty in human knowledge is one of the foundations of the scientific method.

1348 - Italian Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375 CE) begins writing the Decameron, a collection of stories about love, sex, adventure and trickery told by seven ladies and three men on a journey into the country to escape the Black Death. Boccaccio's work is the first literature written in narrative prose.

1356 - A war begins between the English and the French directly following an occurrence of the Black Death in France. French peasants suffer the most economically, as is usual in medieval times during war, and physically -- their homes are pillaged and burned. The English defeat the French king, John II, at the Battle of Poitiers, and the peasants again are asked to bear the weight of the upper class.

1358 - Economic hardship in France results in an uprising of the lower-class, called the Jacquerie (taken from the French peasant "Jacques Bonhomme"). The peasants revolt during the king's captivity in England. Also, during this time, an aristocratic group plans the takeover of power. A brief revolt is put to an end when this group restores order by the massacre of the rebels.

1360 - With the introduction of oil painting into western Europe, the earliest naturalistic painting is created. Its subject is the French king, John the Good. After this, naturalistic portraitures become prominent in European art.

1367 - Catherine of Siena is successful in returning the Pope to Rome. However, Pope Gregory XI dies in 1368. Because the papacy is now in Rome, an Italian pope, Urban VI, is elected and begins quarreling with the French cardinals. The French cardinals cancel the previous election and elect a French pope, Clement VII.

1378 - The second phase of the Church's institutional crisis is the Great Schism. The French papacy leaves Rome due to the uprising of Urban VI and his group of newly founded cardinals. The split of the two groups causes confusion in Europe. French territories recognize Clement VII as pope, and the rest of Europe recognizes Urban VI as pope. The schism survives the death of both popes.

1381 - The presence of the Black Death in England works to the advantage of English peasants, causing a shortage of labor, a freeing of serfs, a rise in salary and a decrease in rent. The aristocratic class, however, passes legislation that lowers wages to the amount before the plague and that requires lower wages for laborers without land. The peasants rise against this oppression in what is called the English Peasants' Revolt when a national tax is levied for every individual in England. The peasants march into London, murder the lord chancellor and treasurer and are met by Richard II. Richard promises the abolition of serfdom and a lower of rent. After the peasants leave, Richard has the peasant groups followed and murdered.

1385 - The first German university is opened in Heidelberg.

1386 - The queen of Poland, Jadwiga, marries grand duke of Lithuania, Jagiello. The marriage creates a state double the size of Poland's previous size.

1399 - In England, the death penalty becomes the punishment for heresy, and many Lollards, Wyclif's lay followers, convert.

1400 - Czech students of John Wyclif bring Wyclifism to the Bohemian capital of Prague. Preacher John Hus (1373-1415 CE) adopts Wyclif's theories to support his own claims against ecclesiastical extravagance.

The Northern provinces of Italy devise their own systems of government. The government of Venice becomes a merchant oligarchy; Milan is ruled by dynastic despotism; and Florence becomes a republic, ruled by the rich. The three cities expand and conquer most of Northern Italy.

1409 - A council of prelates from both sides of the Great Schism meet at Pisa and decide to rename a new pope in place of the two. However, both popes enjoy great political power and refuse the deposition, causing three rivals to the papacy instead of two.

1410 - Polish-Lithuanian forces defeat the German Teutonic Knights and extend rule eastward, almost into Russia. Eastern Orthodox Moscow begins a campaign of resistance to Roman Catholic Poland-Lithuania.

1414 - A Lollard uprising in England fails. Some Lollards retreat underground and aid the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.

1415 - John Hus travels to the Council of Constance to propose his reforms for the Church. Upon his arrival at the Council, Hus is tried for heresy and burned. His death encourages futher revolt by his followers.

1417 - The Council of Constance, the largest Church meeting in medieval history, ends the Great Schism. The council gains secular support and elects Martin V as pope. It replaces papal monarchy with a conciliar government, which recognizes a council of prelates as the pope's authority, and mandates the frequent meeting of the council. This new period is known as the Italian territorial papacy, which lasts until 1517 CE.

1419 - The province of Burgundy breaks from France and allies with the English during the Hundred Years' War.

1420 - Hus' supporters defeat German "crusaders." The lower-class Hussites are led by general John Zizka.

1427 - Thomas a Kempis writes The Imitation of Christ, a manual directing the individual through Orthodox mysticism. Originally in Latin, it is translated into European languages for the lay audience. Its major themes concern the path of Christian piety for those active in everyday life, communion with Christ, biblical meditation and a moral life. The only sacrament suggested to its reader is the Eucharist.

1429 - Joan of Arc, a peasant girl in France, seeks out the French leader and relates her divinely-inspired mission to drive the English out of France. She takes control of the French troops and liberates most of central France.

1430 - Joan of Arc is captured and taken to England. The English accuse her of being a witch and condemn her for heresy. Joan is publicly burned in the city of Rouen.

1434 - Aristocratic Hussites end the revolt of Hus' supporters and their attempts of social and religious reform. Bohemia does not return to Catholic Orthodoxy until the Catholic Reformation of the seventeenth century.

1434 - The Medici banking family dominates the government of Florence.

1453 - Ottoman Turks take Constantinople and end Byzantine civilization.

The French king Charles VII captures Bordeaux in the southwest and ends the Hundred Years' War, during the reign of English King Henry VI and after the withdrawal of Burgandy from English alliance. The French monarchy reestablishes rule and returns to collecting national taxes and maintaining a standing army in times of peace. The monarchy becomes even stronger during the reigns of Louis XI (1461-1483) and Louis XII (1498-1515).

1454 - Italy is divided into five major regions: Venice, Milan, Florence, the Papal States and the southern kingdom of Naples.