Pope Martin V
gigatos | February 2, 2022
Martin V (25 January 1369, Genazzano – 20 February 1431, Rome) chose the imperial name of Saint Peter to sit on the throne of Saint Peter, the 206th Pope in the history of the Catholic Church from 1417 until his death.
While the Council of Constance ended the schism in the Western Church with the dethronement of Popes John XXIII and Benedict XIII, on 11 November 1417, Martin V was elected Pope from a simple deacon to a priest and then bishop before his solemn coronation. After making arrangements favourable to the Holy See, Bartholomew V was appointed pope and bishop before he was crowned in 14th December. Martin returned to Rome to finally dedicate himself to the reorganization of the Papal States and, in 1423, to announce the new Jubilee in accordance with the 33-year intervals established by Pope Urban VI to revive religious zeal.
After the schism in the Western Church, Pope Martin V proclaimed 1425 the holy year, introducing two innovations: the creation of a special medal and the opening of the doors of the Basilica of St John Lateran.
Ottone (or Oddone, Odo) Colonna was born in Rome in 1369, in Genazzano, near the Eternal City, according to other records. The Colonna family was one of the oldest families in Rome, and was central to one of the most influential noble families in the city”s medieval life. Ottone was born of the marriage of Agapito Colonna and Caterina Conti, and was given a privileged upbringing by the family, who ruled over a vast fortune. He enrolled at the University of Perugia, where he made the study of theology his first priority, and thus came close to the ecclesiastical ministry. Through the influence of Ottone”s family, after graduating from university he obtained a post at the papal court. Pope Urban VI made him an apostolic notary, and under Pope Boniface IX, Ottone, who became known for his piety, was appointed nuncio and papal supervisor, with which he sought to strengthen central arrangements in several Italian cities. On 22 June 1402, Boniface ordained him cardinal deacon of the church of San Giorgio in Velabro.
Upon entering the College of Cardinals, Ottone was confronted for the first time in his career with the schism of the Church, the solution to which had been a source of fever among the Roman cardinals, with theories leaking out of the University of Paris. With Pope Gregory XII now enthroned in Rome, the camp against schism grew so strong that the cardinals of Benedict XIII and Gregory XIII, who were based in Avignon, decided to end the schism by excluding the two heads of the Church. Ottone also became an ardent supporter of the idea of conciliarism, i.e. he supported the decision of the universal synod after the popes had resigned. He defected from Gregory and attended the synod convened in Pisa. He voted for the dethronement of both popes and participated in the election of Alexander V. He became a firm supporter of the Pope of Pisa, who was soon present at the election of John XXIII. During John”s pontificate he was mainly concerned with the study of the various doctrines of the faith. He also criticised the books of John Wycliffe and John Huss at the request of the ecclesiastical Inquisition, and thus represented the trial of the two ecclesiastical teachers with cool consistency at the Council of Constance, which met in 1414.
When he left for Constance with John Ottone, he had no idea that the Council would be a turning point in his life. For when Jodocus died unexpectedly on 18 January 1411 and Sigismund was proclaimed King of Germany in Frankfurt on 21 July 1411, the Council of Constance was convened, bringing the whole of Europe to the negotiating table.
The church meeting, dominated by Sigismund of Luxembourg, discussed three important issues. The first was to remedy the schism in the Church, which, under the influence of Sigismund, the synod itself saw as the dethronement of the three heads of the Church. The second main point was the initiation of ecclesiastical reforms, and the third was the examination of the false doctrines of faith before the Council of Constance. In 1415, the synod witnessed the voluntary resignation of Gregory XII, and after a long wrangling, John XXIII, who presided over the synod, also resigned his dignity. Benedict XIII, who had retired to Perpignan, was a more difficult issue for the synod. Sigismund was unable to persuade him to resign even in a personal meeting, and on 27 July 1417 the clergy gathered at Constance stripped him of the papal title, which Benedict never recognised. The Synod declared the throne of St Peter vacant, and in November the conclave met to elect a universally recognised head of the Church. The twenty-three cardinals present at the synod were joined by participants from all the nations. In addition to the College of Cardinals, six representatives from each of the five nations were present. The five nations were made up as follows:
On 11 November, the assembled conclave elected Ottone Colonna as head of the church, a man who had not previously held a major role in the clergy, but whose religiousness and experience made him an ideal choice. He was elevated to the presbyterate on 13 November and consecrated bishop on 14 November. His coronation as Pope took place on 21 November in Münster, where Ottone took the imperial name of Martin V. It was the only time in history that a Roman Pope was crowned on German soil. According to the chronicles, the coronation by Sigismund was accompanied by incredible pomp and ceremony, and in keeping with tradition, Sigismund led Martin”s white mule to the coronation church.
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Final words from Constance
The Colonna family had already given twenty-seven cardinals to the Catholic Church, but Martin became the first head of the powerful family. From the glittering and glorious coronation pageantry, the cardinals and Sigismund returned to Constance again under the leadership of Pope Martin. The unassuming Martin, with his excellent legal knowledge, took over the further leadership of the synod, and it soon became apparent that the unanimously accepted head of the church was a highly skilled politician and a great promoter of his own interests. According to the chronicles, Martin was able to control the power placed in his hands with a cool head and great consistency, and most often achieved his goals. The Council of Constance, which suddenly became a burden for the Pope, was no exception. Martin wanted to close the synod quickly, because as head of the church he no longer appreciated the conciliarist view, which gave supreme power to the synod rather than to the pope.
Despite all this, the new Pope still had plans before the end of the Council of Constance. Martin was one of the main figures in the trial of John Huss, who, against all the pleas of Sigismund, finally sentenced the Czech preacher to death. All this had taken place before he was elected pope, but the death at the stake of Huss on 6 July 1415 added fuel to the fire, and Hussite troops in Germany revolted against the synod”s decision. Martin, now with the papal tiara on his head, again dragged Huss and Wycliffe”s doctrines before the synod, which he went over in detail with the assembled, condemning every aspect of them. He then issued a bull on 12 March 1418, branding all followers of Huss and Wycliffe as heretics. In doing so, he actually put an end to two points of the Council of Constance.
He was the personification of the abolition of schism, and he was also the person of the stormy remedy of false doctrines. The final issue, church reform, would have been more shaky ground for Martin, for he alone could hardly have asserted the primacy of papal authority over a synod steeped in conciliarism. The new head of the church therefore negotiated one by one with the representatives of the five nations, not addressing the root causes of the problems in the church, but putting things in order at the level of the national churches. The Germans, the French and the English also agreed a concordat with Martin, while Italy and the Spanish territories, according to the number of historical documents, had only one concordat, dealing mostly with the churches of the Pyrenees peninsula. The concordat for Italy may not have been drawn up or may have been lost in the meantime, but some historians believe that the one for Italy is identical to the concordat for Spain. Finally, on 22 April 1418, Martin formally closed the Council of Constance.
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Rome and the re-founder of the Papal States
At the end of the synod, Martin faced a major problem: the new pope had no seat. Rome and the Papal States were at that time inadequate to consolidate the papal throne, for the former ecclesiastical centre had been so devastated by the Western Schism, and so many minor warlords ruled the area, that it would have been suicidal to return there. Sigismund offered him the chance to set up his mansion in a German city. Basel, Strasbourg and Mainz were to be given to the Pope if he accepted the German offer. At the same time, the French Emperor Charles VI also begged Martin to move his seat to Avignon. However, the Pope knew that if he wanted to pursue an independent policy, he would not place his seat under the wing of any monarch. Soon afterwards, Martin declared that he would return to Rome, as he was a native of that city.
The Pope and his entourage set off southwards on 16 May 1418, slowly making their way towards central Italy. They settled briefly in Bern, then Geneva, and after the political situation had been settled, the papal court travelled to Mantua. Finally, Martin and his large entourage settled for a longer period in Florence. For two years, it became the Pope”s headquarters, from where he sought to restore the neglected Papal States and Rome.
In 1419, he received the envoys of the mistress of Naples, Joanna II, in the Tuscan capital. Joan asked the Pope to recognise her as Queen of the Southern Kingdom in exchange for her helping Martin to take power in Rome, which was then the domain of the kings of Naples. On 28 October 1419, Cardinal Morosini travelled to Naples as papal legate and crowned Johanna monarch of the kingdom. The queen ordered her general, Sforza Attendolo, to withdraw from Rome with his army and, if necessary, to support Martin”s return to the city later. In 1418, a Jewish synod was also convened in the nearby town of Forlì, which sent envoys to the new pope. The Jewish envoys, who came bearing rich gifts, asked Martin to abolish the restrictive decrees of Benedict XIII and to secure the privileges that had been in force under previous popes. During the schism, the Papal State was in effect divided into several independent small city-states and principalities. The local leaders, who ruled as tyrants, were locked in almost impregnable fortresses, but the greatest challenge to Martin was a mercenary commander. Bracci di Montone led a large mercenary army that terrorised central Italy without a mandate. Bracci filled the void of power left by the decline of the popes, and in Martin”s time he was the de facto ruler of the Papal States. The Pope could not muster the forces to defeat the mercenary leader, so he brought Bracci to the negotiating table with the help of the Florentines. Under the terms of the 1420 agreement, Bracci became an ally of Martin in return for the Pope”s recognition of his right to rule Perugia, Assisi, Todi and Jesi. With the help of the general, Martin”s journey was speeded up, and much of the Papal States came under the control of the head of the Church. In 1420 Bologna was also forced to recognise Martin”s rule. He finally entered the eternal city on 28 September 1420.
Rome was in a terrible state when the Pope re-entered the city. At the time of Martin”s arrival, the former imperial city had a population of only 17 500, but even these were mostly peasants and shepherds. Not only were the ancient monuments in the city ruined, but much of the medieval town had also disappeared. The stones of the magnificent buildings were carried away to the fortifications of the local nobles, from which raiding parties often set out. The Castel Sant”Angelo was reduced to a useless heap of rubble, and the Lateran almost completely disappeared. The Vatican palaces stood in an uninhabitable state, but at least their stones were not removed. The roof of St Peter”s Basilica had collapsed and weeds were growing on its floor. The once magnificent gardens were inhabited by wolves and robbers, so Martin, who had come to Rome, had plenty to do. The Pope spent much of his pontificate reviving the city.
He set up the Papal Court in the Vatican, where he invited architects, sculptors and painters from Tuscany. Martin”s court was full of artists under the spell of the Renaissance, and his reign is remembered as a citadel of humanism, making him the first Renaissance Pope. First the Vatican and its immediate surroundings, the Old City, were rebuilt, and then the Castel Sant”Angelo was fortified. The drainage of the once fertile Campagna marshes was begun and the Basilica of St John Lateran was rebuilt. The basilica”s frescoes were painted by Pisanello, but Donatello also moved into Martin”s court and was commissioned to paint the bronze gate of St Peter”s Basilica. The Pope restored public safety, drove out robbers and reorganised Rome”s self-government under his supreme authority. In addition to restoring Roman order, the Pope successfully reasserted his rule over the old ecclesiastical states.
When Bracci died in 1424 in a war in Apulia, the towns in his possession – Perugia, Assisi, Todi and Jesi – were taken under the pope”s rule. In 1428, Bologna rebelled against Martin”s rule, but the papal army suppressed the independence efforts, and by then papal authority over central Italy had been restored. In the renewed Papal State, Martin brought nepotism back into fashion by appointing his own relatives to head the major cities. The cardinals loyal to him were given prominent favours, and a strange dynastic system slowly emerged in which the great papal families of later times held the major offices and territories of the Papal States. Nepotism, however, cannot be condemned in the case of Martin, since the Pope appointed trusted men from his own family to head the major offices, and could thus be sure that his wishes would be fulfilled. The family, moreover, did a good job and, in fact, served the interests of the Church.
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Having largely concluded the affairs of the Papal States and of Rome, or at least set in motion the most important processes, he turned his attention to the internal problems of the Church. The internal organisation of the Catholic Church, united after the schism, had not yet been polished by nearly a century of separate administration. But settling internal disputes was only a minor problem during Martin”s reign. After the election of the Pope, he wanted to reassert his authority. This meant that Martin had to take an open stand against conciliarism, the principle which, starting in Paris, had finally ended the schism. The greatest support for the synodal principle was the decree of the Council of Constance, Frequens, which required the Pope to convene a universal synod every five years. Martin tried to delay the synod by all possible means, but finally, in accordance with the rules, the Council of the Church met in 1423 in Pavia.
Meanwhile, the synod moved to Siena because of the plague epidemic in Pavia. Although Martin was unable to avoid the synod being called, he did manage to make it one of the synods with the fewest participants. The synod was extremely poorly attended, with few substantive decisions taken. In Siena, Martin sought to assert papal authority against the tenets of the synodal principle. He also declared that in matters of faith the Pope”s position could not be questioned. Stubbornly clinging to his power, Benedict XIII was again cursed by the Church. Forced into Aragon, Benedict died in 1423. His throne was not to be lost, and the three cardinals loyal to him met in conclave to discuss which of them should succeed Benedict on the throne.
In an almost laughable conclusion to the great schism, three of Benedict”s cardinals could not agree on a successor to the deceased pope, so one of them proclaimed himself legitimate pope in Aragon under the name Clement VIII, while another fled to the city of Rodez, where he took the imperial name of Benedict XIV. The frivolous antipopes were not recognised by any of the major secular powers, and Martin excommunicated them from the Church. Martin did not want to drag out the Council of Siena for long, nor did he tolerate those who spoke out against papal authority for long, so he simply dissolved it in 1424. He also promised to convene a universal synod in Basel in seven years” time to discuss church reforms in substance.
After the synod closed, the Pope took the implementation of the reform of the Church into his own hands. He reshaped the organisation of the papal curia in particular by a series of decisions on church government. He was the first to set up the Vatican Secretariat of State, the governmental organ of the Papal State, and he also sought to reform the College of Cardinals. In addition to reducing the predominance of the French, Martin”s aim was to fill the College with people who, while remaining loyal, could offer the Pope advice worthy of consideration. Thus there were several Colonnas among the cardinals, but the humanist scholars of the age were also included with equal weight. Among these were Cardinals Capranica, Cesarini and Dominici.
The last years of his pontificate were mostly occupied with the preparations for the Council of Basel and the war against the Hussites. Martin announced a crusade against the Czech heretics, led by King Sigismund. He appointed Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini as papal legate for the campaigns. He repulsed the anti-clerical efforts of the English, Spanish and French secular powers and, feeling that he would not be able to attend the Council of Basel, he entrusted Cardinal Cesarini with the organisation and management of the Council. He authorised the Cardinal in writing to preside over the meeting and, if he so wished, to dissolve the synod. Martin did not live to see the Council of Basel, and died on 20 February 1431.