When a young Venetian heard that his uncle had been elected pope, he
promptly abandoned his business career for the service of the Church. His
foresight was justified. He advanced steadily until he became Pope Paul II.
Pietro Barbo was born in Venice on February 23, 1417, of a wealthy Venetian
merchant family. His mother, Polixena Condulmer was the sister of Pope
Eugene IV. A very pious woman, she brought up Pietro carefully. Her brother
the Pope saw to it that Pietro had the best teachers, once he embraced the
ecclesiastical state. Pope Eugene made him a cardinal in 1440.
After Pius II had died at Ancona, the cardinals hurried back to Rome and
proceeded to hold an election. The conclave was short; after the first
ballot the cardinals elected Pietro Barbo. He wished to take the name
Formosus II, but since that name means handsome, the cardinals dissuaded
him out of fear that the people would consider it a vulgar allusion to
Pietro's striking good looks. He next chose Mark, but since the second
evangelist's name was used as a war cry by the armed forces of Venice, the
cardinals likewise vetoed it. Finally he chose Paul II. No one objected to
the apostle of the gentiles.
Paul II refused to ratify an election capitulation which the cardinals had
signed. Indeed, no pope could in justice ratify such a document, for it
unduly exalted the power of the cardinals.
Paul's election was popular, and with reason. He was a large-hearted man
who loved to do things for the people. He took very good care of Rome
itself. He saw to it that adequate provisions reached the city. He made war
on robber barons. He tried to stamp out the vendetta which disgraced the
section. Other rulers had done as much, but Paul stands out as a pope who
provided not only spiritual and temporal care for the people, but even saw
to it that they had fun! Pageants, glowing with all the color of the
Renaissance, delighted the Romans. Games, races, fun for every class marked
the holiday season under this genial pontiff. The Pope himself loved to
stand at the window of his palace and watch the merrymaking. But Paul was
no playboy pope. Quite alive to the danger from the Moslem, he welcomed the
epic Albanian hero Skanderbeg and sent him home to renew the fight, with a
blessing and a substantial sum of money. Like his predecessors, Paul tried
to arouse Europe to a sense of its danger, but like his predecessors, he
failed. He was very good to those poor refugees from the Ottoman onslaught
who had come to Rome for a refuge.
Nor was he blind to the need for reform. Though he failed to launch the
root-and-branch reform which was needed, he did limit financial abuses.
Yet Paul II had a bad press. And why? Because he dared to clear out some
humanists from the papal curia, they gave the pope a bad reputation. His
unpopularity with the humanist extremists was heightened when he swooped
down on an academy presided over by an eccentric named Pomponio Leto. At
this academy, atheism and sedition were discussed--somewhat academically to
be sure. Still, the Pope had the Porcaro conspiracy to remember.
Paul also had trouble with some people quite other than pedants--the shrewd
Louis XI of France and the cold Venetian oligarchs. George Podiebrad, king
of Bohemia, with his Hussite tendencies was also a vexation to Paul II.
Paul II died suddenly of a stroke on July 26, 1471.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.