Chapter 27


The next pope, Nicolas V, was a man who had raised himself from a
humble station by his learning, ability, and good character. He was
chiefly remarkable for his love of learning, and for the bounty
which he spent on learned men. For learning had come to be regarded
with very high honour, and those who were famous for it found
themselves persons of great importance, who were welcome at the
courts of princes, from the Emperor of the West down to the little
dukes and lords of Italy. But we must not fancy that these learned
men were all that they ought to have been. They were too commonly
selfish and jealous, vain, greedy, quarrelsome, unthrifty; they
flattered the great, however unworthy these might be; and in
religion many of them were more like the old heathen Greeks than

In the time of Nicolas, a terrible calamity fell on Christendom by
the loss of Constantinople. The Turks, a barbarous and Mahometan
people, had long been pressing on the Eastern empire, and swallowing
up more and more of it. It was the fear of these advancing enemies
that led the Greeks repeatedly to seek for union with the Latin
Church, in the hope that they might thus get help from the West for
the defence of what remained of their empire. But these
reconciliations never lasted long, more especially as the Greeks did
not gain that aid from their Western brethren for the sake of which
they had yielded in matters of religion. One more attempt of this
kind was made after the council of Florence; but it was vain, and
in 1453 the Turks, under Sultan Mahomet II, became masters of

A great number of learned Greeks, who were scattered by this
conquest, found their way into the West, bringing with them their
knowledge and many Greek manuscripts; and such scholars were gladly
welcomed by Pope Nicolas and others. Not only were their books
bought up, but the pope sent persons to search for manuscripts all
over Greece, in order to rescue as much as possible from destruction
by the barbarians. Nicolas founded the famous Vatican Library in the
papal palace at Rome, and presented a vast number of manuscripts to
it. For it was not until this very time that printing was invented,
and formerly all books were written by hand, which is a slow and
costly kind of work, as compared with printing. For in writing out
books, the whole labour has to be done for every single copy; but
when a printer has once set up his types, he can print any number of
copies without any other trouble than that of inking the types and
pressing them on the paper, by means of a machine, for each copy
that is wanted. The art of printing was brought from Germany to Rome
under Nicolas V, and he encouraged it, like everything else which
was connected with learning.

Nicolas also had a plan for rebuilding Rome in a very grand style,
and began with the church of St. Peter; which he intended to
surround with palaces, gardens, terraces, libraries, and smaller
churches. But he did not live to carry this work far.

One effect of the new encouragement of learning was, that scholars
began to inquire into the truth of some things which had long been
allowed to pass without question. And thus in no long time the story
of Constantine's donation and the false Decretals (p 192) were
shown to be forged and worthless.

The shock of the loss of Constantinople was felt all through
Christendom, and Nicholas attempted to get up a crusade, but died
before much came of it. When, however, the Turks, in the pride of
victory, advanced further into Europe, and laid siege to Belgrade on
the Danube, they were driven back with great loss by the skill of
John Huniades, a general, and by the courage which John of
Capistrano, a Franciscan friar, was able by his exhortations and his
prayers to rouse in the hearts of the besieged.

Nicolas died in 1455, and his successor, Calixtus III, in 1458.
The next pope, AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who took the name of Pius
II, was a very remarkable man. He had taken a strong part against
Pope Eugenius at Basel, and had even been secretary to the old
duke-antipope Felix. But he afterwards made his peace by doing great
services to Eugenius, and then he rose step by step, until at the
death of Calixtus he was elected pope. Pius was a man of very great
ability in many ways; but his health was so much shaken before he
became pope, that he was not able to do all that he might have done
if he had been in the fulness of his strength. He took up the
crusade with great zeal, but found no hearty support from others. A
meeting which he held at Mantua for the purpose had little effect.
At last, although suffering from gout and fever, the pope made his
way from Rome to Ancona, on the Adriatic, where he expected to find
both land and sea forces ready for the crusade. But on the way he
fell in with some of the troops which had been collected for the
purpose, and they turned out to be such wretched creatures, and so
utterly unfit for the hardships of war, that he could only give them
his blessing and tell them to go back to their homes. And although,
after reaching Ancona, he had the pleasure of seeing twenty-four
Venetian ships enter the harbour for his service, he was so worn out
by sickness that he died on the next day but one (Aug. 14, 1464).
And after his death the crusade, on which he had so much set his
heart, came to nothing.