Pope Callistus III

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Pope Callistus III
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POPE CALLISTUS III STATS
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Name: Alfonso de Borja
Born: 31 December 1378
Home town: Jativa
Died: 6 August 1458
Position: Held Papacy from 8 April 1455 to 6 August 1458
House of: Borgia
Nickname:
Personality type: Austere, rigidly pious, charitable, obstinate and self-willed.
Hobbies:
Strength(s):
Weakness(es): Nepotism
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POPE CALLISTUS III BIO
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Son of a small landowner, Alfonso de Borgia was born at Jativa, in Valencia on 31 December 1378. After studying and then teaching law at Lerida, he became a respected jurist at the court of Aragon and private secretary to King Alfonso V (1416-58). In 1429 he negotiated for him the abdication of Antipope Clement VIII and was rewarded with the wealthy see of Valencia. He again showed diplomatic skills in 1443 by detaching the king from the Council of Basel (1431-49) and reconciling him with Eugene IV; for this he was created cardinal priest of Santi Quattro Coronati. He had no special prominence during his twelve years' cardinalate but lived an austere, retired life in his palace, reputedly averse from luxury and display. His surprise election as Nicholas V's successor resulted from a compromise, one of the two obvious candidates being unacceptable as a friend of the Colonna family, the other (the distinguished Greek theologian and humanist John Bessarion (1403-72) as a Greek. His great age was taken to presage a caretaker pontificate.

Callistus at once flung himself, with an energy amazing in an old man crippled with gout, into organising a crusade to reconquer Constantinople, captured in May 1453, from the Turks. This was his overriding preoccupation; he himself vowed to expend all his efforts, if need be his life, on the holy war. He dispatched preachers and legates armed with indulgences throughout Europe, imposed taxes, and fixed 1 March 1456 for the departure of a combined fleet and army. In Rome he set about building galleys in the Tiber, raising funds by selling gold and silver works of art, even valuable book bindings. His enthusiasm, however, met with a lukewarm response from the Christian powers, immersed in their national concerns. As a result the sporadic military successes, such as the rout of the Turks before Belgrade (July 1456), the defeat of their fleet off Lesbos (August 1457), and the relief of several Christian islands in the Aegean, though rapturously received, could not be exploited. Meanwhile Callistus's Turkish tithes created resentment in France, where the university of Paris called for a general council, and in Germany where they fuelled the growing satisfaction with papal interference and exactations. It called for all the ingenious diplomacy of new new cardinal Enea Piccolomini (later Pius II) to fend off German demands for the equivalent of the Gallican liberties of the French church.

Nearer home he fell out with his old patron
Alfonso, King of Aragon and Naples, infuriated by the king's diversion of a crusader fleet to attack Genoa and advance his own territorial aims instead of fighting the Turks. Alfonso was also angry that the Pope refused to dissolve his childless marriage to enable him to marry his mistress, Lucrezia d'Alagno. According to Court gossip, Lucrezia tried a similar tactic to Anne Boleyn and refused to sleep with Alfonso until he obtained an annulment. The quarrel continued, and on Alfonso's death Callistus schemed that a nephew of his own should become King of Naples instead of Ferrante, Ferdinand I (1458-94), the king's natural son.

Austere, rigidly pious, charitable, Callistus was also obstinate and self-willed, and did not brook opposition from his cardinals. After Nicholas V, his disinterest in the arts disappointed humanists, but he was not positively hostile to them, as they suggested. If he halted Nicholas's grandiose plans for rebuilding Rome, his natural parsimony but still more the needs of the crusade were to blame. The favours he lavished on relatives and compatriots aroused great bitterness. To feel secure he garrisoned the fortresses of the papal state with Spanish commanders, while he appointed his nephew Pedro Luis, Duke of Spoleto, as governor of Castel Sant Angelo and prefect of Rome. Two other nephews he created cardinal in their early twenties; one of them, Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI), he promoted vice-chancellor of the curia. His Spanish nominees dominated the papal court, but the benefices he awarded them were mostly Spanish, not Italian. Callistus reopened the case of Joan of Arc burnt at the stake at Rouen on 30 May 1431 on charges including witchcraft and heresy, and on 16 June 1456 the original judgement passed on her was quashed and her innocence declared. In the same year he revived the harsh legislation, allowed to lapse by his predecessors, banning the social intercourse of Christians with Jews. Among the saints he canonised was (1 January 1457) Osmund of Salisbury (d1099). To commemorate the victory over the Turks at Belgrade he ordered the feast of the Transfiguration to be universally observed on 6 August. His death on that day in 1458 was the signal for an outbreak of violence against the hated 'Catalans'.

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CONTEMPORARY VOICES
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POPE CALLISTUS III QUOTES
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POPE CALLISTUS III TRIVIA
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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND MATERIALS
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BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS WEBSITES & MEDIA
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Popes by JND Kelly
  • The Popes by John Julius Norwich
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