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Callistus (Calixtus) III - An Energetic Pontiff

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Coin with profile of Callistus IIIAlonso Borgia was born in Xativa near Valencia of an old Catalan family, January 13, 1378. A brilliant professor of canon law at the University of Lerida, he was made canon by Antipope Benedict XIII. After that obstinate Spaniard died, Alonso used his influence to reconcile his shadow successor, Antipope Clement VIII, to Pope Martin V. Martin made him bishop of Valencia, and Alonso showed his loyalty by refusing the position of royal Aragonese envoy to the schismatic Council of Basel. Eugene IV thereupon made him cardinal and invited him to join the papal curia, where he served with credit.

Alonso was a dark horse in the conclave which followed the death of Nicholas V. Only after the cardinals failed to unite on the outstanding Capranica or Bessarion, the learned and pious Greek, did the votes swing in compromise to Alonso Borgia. Alonso accepted and took the name Calixtus III.

Although seventy-seven years old, Calixtus still had abundant energy. His great objective was to save Christendom from the Turks. To this end he subordinated everything else. Humanists and artists wailed for the good old times of Nicholas V. Money still flowed, but to generals and munition makers rather than to poets and artists. The careers of Calixtus III and of his successor Pius II prove that if a large part of Eastern Europe went under the Turkish domination the fault was not the popes. The failure of Calixtus proves how far papal prestige had already declined. Calixtus pleaded, urged, threatened the monarchs of Europe--in vain.

Calixtus had one moment of triumph when that great Hungarian, John Hunyadi, accompanied by St. John Capistrano, saved Belgrade from the mighty grasp of Mohammed II. It was a great victory, but unfortunately Hunyadi died shortly after it. He had no successor, and even the glory of the Belgrade victory could not infect the cold monarchs of Europe with crusading enthusiasm.

Absorbed as he was with the crusade idea, Calixtus still found time for an act of justice. It was he who ordered the posthumous re-examination of Joan of Arc's case which resulted in the glorious vindication of that heroine.

A man of austere life, Calixtus was in many ways a good pope. Unfortunately he had one defect, dangerous in a spiritual leader. He was overfond of his family. Catalans flooded to Rome to enjoy papal favor--much to the disgust of the Romans. Calixtus created two of his nephews cardinals at an early age. One of these, Rodrigo Lanzol-Borgia was later, as Pope Alexander VI, to overshadow Calixtus by his reputation--a reputation that was quite unsavory.

Calixtus III died still full of plans for the future on August 6, 1458. His death was the signal for popular outbreaks against the hated Catalans.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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