Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/683

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


was an economic and moral restoration. Pius II, whose character stands forth so individually in the long succession, had been a dissolute young man, but as a Pontiff he was grave and enthusiastic; his zeal for the Crusade denoted some far-off touch of greatness. He, too, spoke of reform. The learned Venetian, Domenichi, drew up a project which was to cure the ills of simony, to correct the vices of churchmen, and "other uncleanness and indecency." Cusanus, on being consulted, took a wider range in his fourteen Articles; primitive discipline should be restored, and three visitors, clothed in dictatorial power, were to deal with the whole Church, beginning from the Pope and Curia. At least, he observed significantly, their state need not be worse than in the time of Martin V. Of all this nothing-whatever came.

Pius II began once more the bad old custom of nepotism. He advanced his kinsfolk to high positions in the Church, regardless of their age or attainments. But he distinguished some good men, as Calandrini, the Grand Penitentiary; the two Capranicas; Oliva, General of the Augustinians, known as the Angel of Peace; and the stern Carvajal, who survived as an example of austere virtue into the shameful years which tolerated Cardinals like Borgia and della Rovere. Judged by ethical standards, Italy exhibited during the whole of the fifteenth century a deeper decline than any other country in Europe. Private depravity and political debasement followed the most brilliant culture like a shadow; violence, craft, cruelty, were mingled with the administration of holy things. Yet the descent was broken, though not arrested, by religious revivals, especially in the north and centre, of which the credit is due to the Observantine Friars, the Austin Hermits, and the Benedictines. A catalogue of eighty Saints, men and women, chiefly in these communities, has been made out; it covers the period from 1400 to 1520. None are of the first rank; but Bernardino of Siena (1444) and Giovanni Capistrano (1456), Observantines, preached repentance with great if not lasting effect, to multitudes. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence (1459), taught Christian doctrine successfully; denounced usury; and was a welcome peacemaker. Lorenzo Giustiniani, Patriarch of Venice (1456), abounded in good works. Frä Angelico da Fiesole, the Dominican (1455), perhaps the most purely religious painter that ever lived, was himself a vision of innocence and joy. Bernardino da Feltre (1494), by way of rescuing the poor from usurers, against whom he waged an incessant warfare, established in Rome the first Monte di Pietä, with the concurrence of Innocent VIII. The whole story of his benevolent campaigns is replete with interest. A series of preachers- the most famous were Franciscans-from Roberto da Lecce to Gabriele da Barletta, thundered against the vices of the age and its growing paganism. The Third Order of St Francis counted thousands of members, especially in the middle class, not so tainted as nobles or clergy. For, whatever may be said in defence of the priesthood