Nicholas V 1397–1455 Pope
Pope Nicholas V played a major role in establishing Rome as a center of Renaissance culture. As the first pope with an appreciation for humanist* learning, Nicholas promoted efforts to rebuild the city of Rome along classical* lines. He also founded the Vatican Library and made the Vatican palace the papal* residence.
Born Tommaso Parentucelli de Sarzana, the future Nicholas V studied the arts at the University of Bologna. When his family could no longer support him, he interrupted his studies to become a tutor for wealthy families in Florence. Parentucelli returned to Bologna in about 1420. There he met bishop Niccolò Albergati, whom he served for more than 20 years.
While assisting Albergati, Parentucelli shifted his studies to theology*. He became a priest around 1422 and later served as a church official in the cathedral of Bologna. In 1444 Pope Eugenius IV appointed Parentucelli a bishop. One of his early tasks involved a mission to meet with the German king Frederick III and gain his support against the Council of Basel. This Council was an assembly of the church that was causing conflict by refusing to remain under papal control. The mission was a success, and the pope rewarded Parentucelli by making him a cardinal in 1446. About two months later, upon Eugenius's death, Parentucelli gained election to the papacy as Nicholas V.
Nicholas's first priority as pope was to secure the support of Germany. His colleagues negotiated a settlement with Frederick III, which recognized the pope's right to appoint most church officials in Germany, but which had little effect in practice. With Germany's support, Nicholas ended the conflict with the Council of Basel. By 1449 he was officially acknowledged as ruler of the Papal States*.
As pope, Nicholas worked to please most people. Unlike other popes of his time, he did not use his power to gain titles for his relatives. He also respected existing political relations. In addition, he pursued a tolerant policy toward Jews, prohibiting attempts to baptize Jewish children without their parents' consent and supporting the right of Jews and Jewish converts in various parts of Europe.
The most distinctive feature of Nicholas's rule was his support of humanism and the new direction he gave to the urban development of Rome. Nicholas brought many humanists to Rome and provided financial support for them. He also made the papal court a center of scholarly patronage*. Most importantly, he founded the Vatican Library as an aid to all scholars. At his death the library contained nearly 1,200 Latin and Greek manuscripts.
- * humanist
referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living
- * classical
in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome
- * papal
referring to the office and authority of the pope
- * theology
study of the nature of God and of religion
- * Papal States
lands in central Italy under the authority of the pope
- * patronage
support or financial sponsorship