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Biography - Pope Nicholas IV - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Nicholas IV1288-1292 Nicholas IV, named Tineus, of an obscure family in Alessiano, in the diocese of Ascoli, was a Minor Observantine, and became the first general of the Franciscans after Saint Bonaventure, and the first pope of that order. As legate from Gregory X to Constantinople, he contributed to bring the Greeks back for a moment to the Roman Church. We have seen that he alone would not leave the Palace of Saint Sabina, in which the conclave was assembled. This courageous conduct was not dictated by any paltry self-interest. When the tiara was offered to him, he rejected it and endeavored to put forth the greater merits other cardinals. On the 22nd of February, 1288, he was unanimously proclaimed, and he was obliged to submit to his coronation on the 24th. In the first year of his pontificate, Pope Nicholas granted privileges to the brethren of his order. Firstly, as many doubted their exemption, he declared them immediately subject to the Holy See and absolutely exempt from every other jurisdiction, adding that all the property, fixed or movable, of which they had the use, was the property of Saint Peter, in conformity to the bull Exiit qui seminat of Nicholas III. This bull of Nicholas IV, is dated at Rome, April 30, 1288. By another, of May 6, given at Rieti, he ordered that no Friar Minor who, after profession, should pass into another order, should be raised to any charge, dignity, or prelacy, without the express permission of the Holy See. In case the place of their abode should fall under interdict, he permitted them to confess each other, receive absolution, recite the office, and say Mass with closed doors, without the bells being rung, and without being obliged to admit any one but the members of the order; and, finally, to communicate on the accustomed days and in case of need to receive extreme unction. He also gave special privileges to some houses of the order, among others to that at Assisi. He forbade any other religious to settle in that city; if necessity compelled them to do so, establishment was to be four hundred yards from the walls. He intended thereby to prevent any diminution of the alms on which the brothers and sisters of the order of Saint Francis subsisted. In 1289 Nicholas removed the interdict which, sixteen years before, Gregory X had laid upon the kingdom of Portugal, when Alphonso III had usurped the property of the Church and reduced all the ecclesiastics to beggary. On the 29th of May the pope crowned, in the Vatican Basilica, Charles II, King of Sicily, on the same conditions that had been imposed on the father of that prince by Clement IV. In virtue of a constitution, he divided the income of the Roman Church into two parts, the one allotted to the pontiff and the other to the cardinals. This constitution has not been in force for many years; other arrangements are made for the income of the cardinals, which is very limited considering their high dignity. To Nicholas is due the foundation of the University of Montpellier, which the founder, in his diploma of the 26th of October, calls a city created for study. Subsequently he granted great privileges to the university established at Lisbon by King Denis. Nicholas, ever watchful for the maintenance and propagation of religion, exhorted all the princes upon the earth, with unwearied zeal, to form a numerous crusade to arrest the progress of the victorious Sultan of Babylon, who in 1290 took the city of Tripoli from the Christians. As the aid was not sent as quickly as the Holy Father desired, the city of Acre, the last that the Christians still possessed in Syria, was attacked and taken by the same sultan. This deeply grieved Nicholas, who made new but still vain efforts to stimulate the zeal of the Catholic princes. The loss was irreparable. It was no longer Saladin who fought against the Christians; the Sultan Cahil was an odious barbarian. In spite of the efforts of Henry, King of Cyprus and of Jerusalem, of the Templars, Hospitallers, and the Christians in Palestine, the city of Acre was taken by storm. The master of the Templars was killed fighting valiantly. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Nicholas, was urged to escape by open sea, the port being still free. The holy man was dragged against his will, by his people, to a boat, that they might convey him to a galley not far off. But he charitably received so many fugitives into the boat that she went down. Thus perished the last Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who re sided in the Holy Land. In Acre there was a famous convent of Poor Clares. The superior, being informed that the Saracens were in the city, assembled all the sisterhood in chapter and said: My daughters, let us despise this life, in order that we may preserve for our heavenly Spouse pure hearts in pure bodies: do as you see me do. Immediately she cut off her nose, and her face was bathed in blood. The others followed her example, and cut their faces in various manners. The Saracens, entering the convent scimitar in hand, were astounded at the sight; then, horror turning into fury, they butchered all the holy women. The Franciscan friars of Saint Jean d'Acre were also all killed. The Saracens carried off more than thirty thousand prisoners, after having killed a like number of the inhabitants. On the day of the taking of Acre, the inhabitants of Tyre abandoned their city without making any defense. Those of Beyrout also surrendered without resistance. The Latin Christians. lost everything that had remained to them in the country. Most of them who escaped retired to the isle of Cyprus. So closed the wars for the conquest and recovery of the Holy Land, which had lasted one hundred and ninety-three years, from 1098 to 1291. Nicholas was a prudent philosopher and a good theologian; he governed the Church wisely, and he appeased some of the dissensions which had arisen at Rome and in the Ecclesiastical States. Father Felix Mattei published a life of Nicholas, from a manuscript in the Vatican, the author of which was Jerome Rubeo. This pope governed the Church four years, one month, and fourteen days. He died on the 4th of April, Good Friday, 1292, and, as he had desired, was interred in a simple tomb in Saint Mary Major. He was so humble, this worthy religious, that he said: We would rather be the cook to our brethren than a cardinal; we accepted the purple only from fear of offending our order. He was also accustomed to say: We have relations: these relations are all men who are distinguished by knowledge and virtue. The Holy See was vacant two years, three months, and two days. There were twelve cardinals, but they were divided in opinon — six Romans, four Italians, and two French. The election was so long delayed because they cared for their own interests and not for that of Christ. This biographical data is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae.

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