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Pope Eugenius IV

Eugenius IV, né Gabriel Condulmer (1383 - February 23, 1447) was pope from March 3, 1431 to his death.

Antonio da Rho presenting his work Dialogi in Lactantium to Pope Eugenius IV
Antonio da Rho presenting his work Dialogi in Lactantium to Pope Eugenius IV

He was born in Venice to a rich merchant family, a Correr on his mother's side. Condulmer entered the Celestine order and came into prominence during the pontificate of his uncle, Pope Gregory XII, by whom he was appointed bishop of Siena, where the political class objected to a 24-year old bishop who was a foreigner to boot. So the issue was not pressed and he resigned the appointment, becoming instead his uncle's papal treasurer, protonotary, cardinal-priest of St Marco e St Clemente, and later cardinal-priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

He made himself useful to Pope Martin V and was quickly elected to succeed him, and was crowned at St. Peter's, March 11, 1431. By a written agreement made before his election he agreed with the cardinals to distribute to them one-half of all the revenues of the Church and promised to consult with them on all questions of importance, both spiritual and temporal. Upon taking the Chair, his violent measures against the numerous Colonna relations of his predecessor, Pope Martin V (Otto di Colonna), who had rewarded his numerous clan with castles and lands, at once involved him in a serious contest with the powerful house of Colonna that nominally supported the local rights of Rome against the interests of the Papacy. A truce was soon arranged.

But by far the most important feature of Eugenius's pontificate was the great struggle between pope and the Council of Basel, part of the historic Conciliar movement. On July 23, 1431, his legate opened the council, which had been convoked by Martin, but, distrustful of its purposes and emboldened by the small attendance, the pope issued a bull on December 18, 1431, dissolving the council and calling a new one to meet in eighteen months at Bologna. The council resisted this premature expression of papal prerogative, as it appeared to the majority of them. Eugenius' action gave some weight to the contention that the curia was opposed to any authentic measures of reform. The council refused to dissolve; instead they renewed the revolutionary resolutions by which the Council of Constance had declared a council superior to the pope, and cited Eugenius to appear at Basel. A compromise was arranged by Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, who had been crowned emperor at Rome on May 31, 1433. By its terms the pope recalled his bull of dissolution, and, reserving all the rights of the Holy See, acknowledged the council as ecumenical (December 15, 1433).

The establishment of an insurrectionary republic at Rome drove him into exile in May 1434. Disguised in the robes of a monk, he was rowed down the center of the Tiber, pelted by stones from either bank, to a Florentine vessel waited to pick him up at Ostia. Although the city was restored to obedience by Vitelleschi , the militant Bishop of Recanati, in the following October, the Pope remained at Florence and Bologna.

Meanwhile the struggle with the council sitting at Basel broke out anew. Eugenius at length convened a rival council at Ferrara on January 8, 1438, and excommunicated the prelates assembled at Basel. The result was that the latter formally deposed him as a heretic on June 25, 1439, and in the following November elected the ambitious Amadeus VIII, duke of Savoy, antipope under the title of Felix V. The conduct of France and Germany seemed to warrant this action, for Charles VII of France had introduced the decrees of the council of Basel, with slight changes, into France through the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (July 7, 1438), and the diet of Mainz had deprived the pope of most of his rights in the Empire (March 26, 1439).

At Florence, where the council of Ferrara had been transferred on account of an outbreak of the plague, was effected in July 1439 a union with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which, as the result of political necessities, proved but a temporary bolster to the papacy's prestige..

This union was followed by others of even less stability. Eugenius signed an agreement with the Armenians on the November 22, 1439, and with a part of the Jacobites in 1443, and in 1445 he received the Nestorians and Maronites. He did his best to stem the Turkish advance, pledging one-fifth of the papal income to the crusade which set out in 1443, but which met with overwhelming defeat.

His rival, Felix V, meanwhile obtained small recognition, and the latter's ablest adviser, the humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who was later to be Pope Pius II, made peace with Eugenius in 1442. The pope's recognition of the claims to Naples of King Alfonso V of Aragon withdrew the last important support from the divided council of Basel, and enabled Eugenius to make a victorious entry into Rome on the 28th of September 1443, after an exile of nearly ten years.

His protests against the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges were ineffectual, but by means of the Concordat of the Princes, negotiated by Piccolomini with the electors in February 1447, the whole of Germany declared against the antipope.

Although his pontificate had been so stormy and unhappy that he is said to have regretted on his death-bed that he ever left his monastery, nevertheless Eugenius' victory over the council of Basel and his efforts in behalf of church unity contributed greatly to break down the conciliar movement and restore the papacy to the dominant position it had held before the Great Schism.

Eugenius was dignified in demeanour, but inexperienced and vacillating in action and excitable in temper. Bitter in his hatred of heresy, he nevertheless displayed great kindness to the poor. He laboured to reform the monastic orders, especially the Franciscan, and was never guilty of nepotism. Although austere in his private life, he was a sincere friend of art and learning, and in 1431 he re-established the university at Rome. He died on February 23, 1447.


Preceded by
Martin V
Succeeded by
Nicholas V

Last updated: 11-05-2004 12:28:15