Nicholas III, Pope
NICHOLAS III, POPE
Pontificate: Nov. 25, 1277, to Aug. 22, 1280; b. Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, Rome, between 1210 and 1220; d. Soriano nel Cimino, near Viterbo. The orsini family was one of the most powerful Guelf dynasties in Rome. His father, Matteo Rosso, as senator of Rome, had defended the city against frederick ii and was a close friend of St. francis of assisi, whose Third Order or Tertiares he joined in his old age. Grateful for the father's services to the Holy See, Pope innocent iv appointed the son, Giovanni, cardinal-deacon of St. Nicholas in Carcere Tulliano (May 28, 1244) and provided him with benefices in York, Laon, and Soissons. In 1252 Giovanni participated in the papal mission to Florence to mediate between guelfs and ghibellines. urban iv nominated him rector of Sabina and protector of the franciscans (1261) and, a year later, general inquisitor. As cardinal-deacon, he played a significant role in papal diplomacy, participating in the commission of cardinals that invested Charles of Anjou with the crown of Sicily (June 28, 1265). Giovanni also took part in the papal delegation to the German king, Rudolf I of Habsburg, which sought to negotiate the implementation of the imperial coronation and a settlement with Charles of Anjou in Sicily (1276).
Elected pope in Viterbo after a six-month vacancy, Nicholas III initiated a number of administrative reforms in the Church and the Papal States (see states of the church). He supported reforms in the papal curia, the most important of which concerned procedures in the chancery. He also sought to enhance the College of Cardinals, to which he appointed nine new members, among whom was his own brother, Giordano orsini, and his nephew, Latino Orsini. As bearer of an illustrious Roman lineage, Nicholas was eager to restore papal rule over the city, while preventing external control. To this end, he issued the Constitutio super electione senatoris Urbis (July 18, 1278), which forbade entrusting the government of Rome to foreign senators, a measure specifically designed to end the Angevin dominance. On a practical level, however, Nicholas refrained from renewing Angevin Charles of Anjou's rank as imperial vicar of Tuscany and senator of Rome. He further induced Rudolf I of Germany to acknowledge papal rule over Romagna (1278), a recognition endorsed by the German princes. The pope sent Cardinal Latino Orsini to take possession of the province and nominated another nephew, Berthold, Count of Romagna. Cardinal Latino Orsini also led the papal mission to Florence, which was intended to reorganize the rule of the city while terminating Angevin ascendancy (1279).
Nicholas's pontificate was marked by a number of attempts to resolve longstanding disputes. The union of churches decreed at the Second Council of Lyons (1274; see lyons, councils of) had not yet materialized because of the eastern emperor's failure to enforce its clauses (see eastern schism). Nicholas demanded its strict enforcement and the use of stronger means to secure clergy obedience. The preservation of the Greek ritual was allowed only subsequent to papal approval and so long as it was not in contradiction to the unity of the faith; those prelates who opposed the union were forced to ask for absolution from the papal legates, sent to Constantinople for that purpose. The desired union, however, did not materialize, because of the great opposition it met among the Eastern Christians and the utilitarian approach of the emperor himself; furthermore, it brought about the postponement of the great crusade to the Holy Land, which never materialized.
As the spiritual leader of the Church but also because of his close links with the order, Nicholas was asked to settle the long internal struggle among the heirs of St. Francis, between Conventuals and Spirituals, who had brought the order as a whole to the verge of anarchy. The papal verdict was articulated in the decree Exiit qui seminat (Aug. 14, 1279), which confirmed the rule and provided the basis of Franciscan observance for the years to come. The pope revoked the concessions made by Pope Innocent IV in regard to the use of money and clarified apostolic rule over all possessions of the order, except those reserved by the donors. The papal document further declared that the religion of the Friars Minor "is founded upon the Gospel and strengthened by the teaching and life of Christ and His Apostles, rooted in poverty and humility by the gracious confessor of Christ, Francis…. The Rule obliges the abdication of the jus domini (dominion) and the retention of the usus facti (use)." The pope further established how this was to be observed, specifying the clothing to be worn. In the concluding paragraph, Nicholas forbade any change, interpretation, or addendum to the constitution, which was "to have perpetual validity and is to be published."
In the political sphere, Nicholas continued the policy of Pope gregory x, who tried to restrain the influence of Charles of Anjou in the Italian peninsula. In an attempt to end the conflict over Sicily and to restore equilibrium between the sovereign dynasties, the pope arranged a marriage treaty between the Angevin and Habsburg lineages, but was careful not to infringe upon the rights of the papacy (May 1280). The papal plans, however, proved short-lived, and the conflict broke out once again shortly after Nicholas's death. Nicholas's efforts to conclude a lasting peace between France and Castile remained futile, as well. The pope was more successful in Hungary, where King Ladislaus IV submitted to the apostolic dictates. Against the background of devastations perpetrated by the Cumani, Nicholas strengthened Christian influence in the area and appointed worthy prelates to the highest Church offices. At the request of the khan of the Mongols, he sent five Franciscans eastwards, whose mission set the first seeds of Christianity in Persia and China.
Nicholas established the permanent papal residence in the vatican and enlarged its palace and gardens. A political realist of great diplomatic skill, he was well known to his contemporaries for his integrity and impartiality. These characteristics were given public recognition when King louis ix of france asked for his services, as cardinal, to endorse the peace treaty that had been concluded between England and France (1258). In this regard, dante's accusations of simony, nepotism, and misconduct in Nicholas's dealings with Charles of Anjou (Divine Comedy, Inferno, c. 19) seem rather unfounded. The pope was buried in the Chapel of St. Nicholas, which he had built in St. Peter's Basilica.
Bibliography: Les Registres de Nicolas III, ed. j. gay and s. vitta, 2 v. (Paris 1898–1938). a. demski, Papst Nikolaus III (Münster 1903). r. sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaëtan Orsini (Berlin 1905). s. runciman, The Sicilian Vespers (Cambridge, Eng. 1958) 182–190. d. p. waley, The Papal State in the 13th Century (New York 1961). c. t. davis, "Roman Patriotism and Republican Propaganda: Ptolemy of Lucca and Pope Nicholas III," Speculum. A Journal of Mediaeval Studies 50:3 (1975) 411–433. a. ilari, "Il mandato di Nicolà III per i frati minori di Ferentino," Ferentino: la diocesi e gli apporti francescani (Frosinone 1979) 18–69. n. r. havely, "'Io stava come'l frate,' the Franciscanism of Inferno XIX," Dante Studies 110 (1992) 95–106. p. herde, "I papai tra Gregori X e Celestino V: il papato e gli Angiò," Storia della Chiesa, ed. d. quaglioni, v. 11 (San Paolo 1994) 23–91.