- Bartolomeo Platina
Bartolomeo Platina, originally named Sacchi, (1421 in
Piadena("Platina" in Latin), near Mantua– 1481 in Rome).
He first enlisted as a soldier, and was then appointed tutor to the sons of the Marquis Ludovico Gonzaga. In 1457, he went to
Florence, and studied under the Greek scholar Argyropulos. In 1462 he proceeded to Rome, probably in the suite of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga. After Pius II had reorganized the College of Abbreviators (1463), and increased the number to seventy, Platina, in May 1464, was elected a member.
When Paul II abolished the ordinances of Pius, Platina with the other new members was deprived of his office. Angered by this, he wrote a pamphlet insolently demanding from the pope the recall of his restrictions. When called upon to justify himself he answered with insolence and was imprisoned in the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, being released after four months on condition that he remain at Rome. In February 1468, with about twenty other humanists, he was again imprisoned on suspicion of
heresyand of conspiring against the life of the pope. The latter charge was dropped for lack of evidence, while they were acquitted on the former. But not even Platina denies that the members of the Roman Academy, imbued with half-pagan and materialistic doctrines, were found guilty of immorality. The story about his constancy under trial and tortureis unfounded.
After his release on
July 7, 1469, he expected to be again in the employ of Paul II, who, however, declined his services. Platina threatened vengeance and executed his threat, when at the suggestion of Sixtus IV he wrote his " _la. Vitæ Pontificum Platinæ historici liber de vita Christi ac omnium pontificum qui hactenus ducenti fuere et XX" (Venice, 1479). In it he paints his enemy as cruel, and an archenemy of science. For centuries it influenced historical opinions until critical research proved otherwise. In other places party spirit is evident, especially when he treats of the condition of the Church. Notwithstanding, his "Lives of the Popes" is a work of no small merit, for it is the first systematic handbook of papal history. Platina felt the need of critical research, but shirked the examination of details. By the end of 1474 or the beginning of 1475 Platina offered his manuscript to Pope Sixtus IV; it is still preserved in the Vatican Library. The pope's acceptance may cause surprise, but it is probable he was ignorant of its contents except insofar as it concerned his own pontificate up to November, 1474. After the death of Giandrea Bussi, Bishopof Aleria, the pope appointed Platina librarianwith a yearly salary of 120 ducats and an official residence in the Vatican. He also instructed him to make a collection of the chief privileges of the Roman Church. This collection, whose value is acknowledged by all the annalists, is still preserved in the Vatican archives. In the preface Platina not only avoids any antagonism towards the Church but even refers with approbation to the punishing of heretics and schismatics by the popes, which is the best proof that Sixtus IV, by his marks of favour, had won Platina for the interests of the Church. Besides his principal work Platina wrote several others of smaller importance, notably: " _la. Historia inclita urbis Mantuæ et serenissimæ familiæ Gonzagæ". The "pinacotheca Vaticana" contains the magnificent fresco by Melozzo da Forlì. It represents Sixtus IV surrounded by his Court and appointing Platina prefectof the Vatican.
Published works by Platina
*"Contra amores" ("Against love affairs", 1471)
De honesta voluptate et valetudine" ("On honourable pleasure and health", 1474)
*"Vitæ Pontificum" ("Lives of the Popes", 1479)
*"Historia inclita urbis Mantuæ et serenissimæ familiæ Gonzagæ" ("History of Mantua and the Gonzaga family")
As a paragraph from Platina's "Vitæ Pontificum" first gave rise to the legend of the
excommunicationof Halley's comet by Pope Callixtus III, we here give the legend briefly, after recalling some historical facts. After the fall of Constantinople(1453), Nicolas V appealed in vain to the Christian princes for a crusade. Callixtus III (1455-1458), immediately after his succession, sent legates to the various courts for the same purpose; and, meeting with no response, promulgated a bull June 29, 1456, prescribing the following:
#all priests were to say during Mass the "oratio contra paganos";
#daily, between noon and
vespers, at the ringing of a bell, everybody had to say three Our Fathers and Hail Marys;
#processions were to be held by the clergy and the faithful on the first Sunday of each month, and the priests were to preach on faith, patience, and penance; to expose the cruelty of the Turks, and urge all to pray for their deliverance. The first Sunday of July (
July 4), the first processions were held in Rome. On the same day the Turks began to besiege Belgrade. On July 14the Christians gained a small advantage, and on the twenty-first and twenty-second the Turks were put to flight.
In the same year Halley's comet appeared. In
Italyit was first seen in June. Towards the end of the month it was still visible for three hours after sunset, causing great excitement everywhere by its extraordinary splendour. It naturally attracted the attention of astrologers as may appear from the long "judicium astrologicum" by Avogario, of Ferrara, dated June 17, 1467; it was found again by Celoriaamong the manuscripts of Paolo Toscanelli, who had copied it himself. The comet was seen till July 8. It is evident, from all the documents of that time, that it had disappeared from sight several days before the battle of Belgrade. These two simultaneous facts–the publication of the bull and the appearance of the comet–were connected by Platina in the following manner: :"Apparente deinde per aliquot dies cometa crinito et rubeo: cum mathematici ingentem pestem: charitatem annonæ: magnam aliquam cladem futuram dicerent: ad avertendam iram Dei Calistus aliquot dierum supplicationes decrevit: ut si quid hominibus immineret, totum id in Thurcos christiani nominis hostes converteret. Mandavit præterea ut assiduo rogatu Deus flecteretur in meridie campanis signum dari fidelibus omnibus: ut orationibus eos juvarent: qui contra Thurcos continuo dimicabant" (A maned and fiery comet appearing for several days, while scientists were predicting a great plague, dearness of food, or some great disaster, Callistus decreed that supplicatory prayers be held for some days to avert the anger of God, so that, if any calamity threatened mankind, it might be entirely diverted against the Turks, the foes of the Christian name. He likewise ordered that the bells be rung at midday as a signal to all the faithful to move God with assiduous petitions and to assist with their prayers those engaged in constant warfare with the Turks).
Platina has, generally speaking, recorded the facts truly; but is wrong at one point, "viz.", where he says that the astrologers' predictions of great calamities induced the pope to prescribe public prayers. The bull does not contain a word on the comet, as can be verified in the original, authenticated document.
A careful investigation of the authenticated "Regesta" of Callixtus (about one hundred
folios), in the Vatican archives, shows that the comet is not mentioned in any other papal document. Nor do other writers of the time refer to any such prayers against the comet, though many speak both of the comet and of the prayers against the Turks. The silence of St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence(1446-1459), is particularly significant. In his "Chronicorum libri tres" he enumerates accurately all the prayers prescribed by Callixtus; he also mentions the comet of 1456 in a chapter entitled, " _la. De cometis, unde causentur et quid significent" – but never refers to prayers and processions against the comet, although all papal decrees were sent to him. Aeneas Sylvius and St. John Capistrano, who preached the crusade in Hungary, considered the comet rather as a favourable omenin the war against the Turks.
Hence it is clear that Platina has looked wrongly upon the bull as the outcome of fear of comets. The historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries contented themselves with quoting Platina more or less accurately (Calvisius 1605, Spondanus 1641,
Lubienietski1666). Fabre (1726) in his continuation of the "Histoire Ecclésiastique" by Fleury gave a somewhat free paraphrase. Bruys(1733), an apostate(who afterwards entered the Church again), copies Fleury-Fabre adding "que le Pape profita en habile homme de la superstition et de la crédulité des peuples." It is only when we come to Laplace's " _fr. Exposition du Système du monde," that we find the expression that the pope ordered the comet and the Turks to be exorcized ("conjuré"), which expression we find again in Daru's poem "L'Astronomie." Arago ("Des Comètes en général etc. Annuaire du Bureau des Longitudes" 1832, 244) converts it into an excommunication. Arago's treatise was soon translated into all the European languages after which time the appearance of the comet (1456) is hardly ever mentioned, but this historical lie must be repeated in various shapes. Smyth ("Cycle of celestial objects") speaks of a special protest and excommunication exorcizing the Devil, the Turks, and the comet. Grant ("History of physical astronomy") refers to the publication of a bull, in which Callixtus anathematized both the Turks and the comet. Babinet ("Revue des deux mondes," 23 ann., vol. 4, 1853, 831) has the pope "lancer un timide anathème sur la comète et sur les ennemis de la Chrétienté," whilst in the battle of Belgrade "les Frères Mineurs aux premiers rangs, invoquaient l'exorcisme du pape contre la comète." In different ways the legend is repeated by Chambers, Flammarion, Draper, Jamin, Dickson White, and others.
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