Nicholas IV, Pope
NICHOLAS IV, POPE
Pontificate: Feb. 22, 1288, to April 4, 1292; b. Girolamo Masci in Ascoli in the March of Ancona, Sept. 30, 1227; d. Rome. Son of a clerk of humble origins, he joined the franciscan Order in his youth. After studying at Assisi and Perugia, Girolamo became provincial minister of the order in Dalmatia (1272) and two years later succeeded St. bonaventure as minister general (1274–79). As such, he participated in a papal mission to Constantinople (1272) whose objective was to assure the participation of the Eastern clergy in the Second Council of Lyons (1274; see lyons, councils of). When he was on a peace mission to France, Pope nicholas iii appointed him cardinal priest of Sta. Prudenziana (1278). Three years later, Martin IV promoted him to the rank of cardinal-bishop of Palestrina, the last step before his accession to the Holy See.
Following an 11-month vacancy, Nicholas was unanimously elected pope as a compromise candidate. At first reluctant to accept, he consented to his election only after a second vote, thus becoming the first Franciscan to reach the See of Peter. The long interregnum reflects the split in the College of Cardinals between the proand anti-French factions, which was to worsen in the years to come. The many troubles in the city prevented the pope, though elected senator of Rome for life, from permanently residing in his see. Faced with unrest in other areas of the Papal State (see states of the church), as well, Nicholas allied the papacy with the powerful family of the Colonna. He appointed Pietro colonna cardinal and elevated other members of the family to high Church positions. Convenient as it was in the short run, Nicholas's policy submerged the papacy in the endless vendettas that affected Italian politics; contemporaries criticized it in terms of surrender and portrayed the pope as enclosed in a column (the Colonna's insignia), with only his tiaracrowned head emerging.
Nicholas left a positive mark on the administration of the papal curia, whose functions he regulated and supervised in a most proficient way. Aware of the growing importance of the College of Cardinals and the many challenges facing apostolic authority, he issued a decree, Celestis altitudo potentie (June 18, 1289), which assigned one-half of papal revenues to the cardinals. Nicholas's decision—the roots of which can be found in 13thcentury practice—reflected the increasing importance of the college. It also encouraged the involvement of the highest members of the Church in the administration of the Papal State, which provided a large proportion of apostolic revenues. Nicholas allowed the cardinals to take part in the administration of the funds under the control of the cardinal chamberlain and to make appointments, upon papal agreement, to rectorates and other offices in the Papal State.
Like his immediate predecessors on the papal throne, Nicholas, too, attempted to find a suitable agreement in regard to the Kingdom of Sicily, where papal suzerainty had been seriously jeopardized as a result of the Sicilian Vespers (March 30, 1282). The brutal massacre of the French had led to Charles of Anjou's loss of the kingdom, the crown of which was bestowed on Peter III of Aragon as Manfred's heir. Nicholas favored the Angevin party and annulled the treaty of Champfranc (Oct. 28, 1288), which had confirmed Aragonese rule in Sicily. The pope, furthermore, crowned the destitute Charles of Salerno king of Naples and Sicily (May 29, 1289). Still, having learned the problematic lessons of Angevin influence, Nicholas forced the new king to pay him homage as overlord and to condition his obtaining any office or rank in Rome and the Papal State upon specific papal authorization. Nicholas accompanied his political gestures with generous benefices, which aimed at providing the needs of the military campaign. Notwithstanding papal efforts, however, the Angevin cause was lost in Sicily, whose destiny remained in the hands of the Aragonese kings and their affiliates.
Papal policy in Germany did not meet with much success, either: Nicholas conducted an intensive correspondence with Rudolf I of Habsburg, the emperor-elect, in order to resolve all discords between the empire and the papacy; but the king died in 1291, before his muchdelayed coronation materialized. The pope also challenged the German plans in Hungary. When Rudolf appointed his son Albert to succeed Ladislaus IV of Hungary, Nicholas claimed the realm as a papal fief and conferred the crown upon Charles Martel, the son of his faithful ally, Charles II of Salerno. The pope succeeded in bringing an end to the lasting conflict between France and Aragon. After Alfonso III of Aragon acquiesced in the establishment of a triple entente with King Philip IV of France and Charles of Salerno—the main target of which was his own brother, James of Sicily—the pope annulled the excommunication of the Aragonese king. Ambitious as it was, however, the papal plan did not materialize. James of Sicily successfully attacked southern Italy and became king of Aragon himself after Alfonso's death (June 18, 1291). He then appointed his youngest brother, Frederick, as vicegerent of the island.
The crusade caused the pope still another setback. Following the sack of Tripoli (April 1289), Nicholas called for a crusade and dispatched 20 ships eastwards. The papal appeal, though, did not find favor among the Christian princes, who were preoccupied with their own conflicts in Europe. Two years later, the fall of Crusader Acre (May 1291) ended the agonizing existence of the Christian strongholds Outremer. The appeals of Il-Khan Arghun of Persia, who asked to create a joint front against the Muslims, did not engender much interest in the West, either. Up to the end of the Middle Ages, the plans for the "Recovery of the Holy Land," though an integral part of the political agenda of Christendom, never materialized.
Nicholas was much more successful in his missionary work. Faithful to the Franciscan ideals, he enlisted the papacy in the service of the mission in the Balkans, the Near East, Persia, China, and Ethiopia. He sent the friar Giovanni da Montecorvino to the court of Kublai Khan (1289), thus establishing the first seeds of the Catholic faith among the Mongols (in 1307 Pope clement v appointed the same Giovanni the first archbishop of Beijing). In parallel, Nicholas renewed the persecution of the sect of Apostolici of False Apostles, whose members desired to live according to the precepts of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem in order to effect a literal observance of continence and poverty, but in open challenge to ecclesiastical norms.
Pious and learned, a benefactor of art and architecture, Nicholas brought eminent artists to Rome, such as Arnolfo di Gambio, Pietro Cavallini, and Giacomo Torriti. This led to the restoration of the basilicas of St. Giovanni in Laterano and Sta. Maria Maggiore, where the pope was later buried and where Pope Sixtus V constructed an impressive tombstone to Nicholas's memory.
Bibliography: Les Registres de Nicolas IV, ed. e. langlois, 2 v. (Paris 1886–1905). o. schiff, Studien zur Geschichte Papst Nikolaus IV (Berlin 1897). s. runciman, The Sicilian Vespers (Cambridge, Eng. 1958). d. p. waley, The Papal State in the 13th Century (New York 1961). Niccolà IV: Un pontificate tra Oriente ed Occidente, ed. e. menest (Spoleto 1991). j. gardner, "Pope Nicholas IV and the Decoration of Santa Maria Maggiore," Zeitschrift für Kuntsgeschichte 36:1 (1973) 1–50. j. ryan, "Pope Nicholas IV and the Evolution of the Eastern Missionary Effort," Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 19 (1981) 79–95. j. denton, "The Valuation of the Ecclesiastical Benefices of England and Wales in 1291–2," Historical Research 161:66 (1993) 231–250.