Nicholas IV

Tomb of Nicholas IV by Leonardo SormaniAfter the death of Honorius IV, the folly of abrogating Gregory X's election regulations was starkly evident. For almost a year the cardinals wrangled, quite unable to come to a decision. Finally they elected Jerome of Ascoli, but it took a week and a repeated election to convince the Franciscan cardinal that he should accept. On February 22, 1288, Jerome accepted and took the name Nicholas IV.

Jerome Masci was born on September 30, 1227 at Lisciano, near Ascoli. Although his parents were lowly folk, he formed a strong friendship with a noble boy named Conrad. The two became Franciscans and studied together at Assisi. At Perugia they received their doctorate in theology. Both went to Rome to teach theology, and then their paths separated. Conrad went to Africa to preach to the infidel; Jerome to Dalmatia to serve as minister provincial of Slavonia.

Sent by Gregory X to Constantinople to prepare the way for the reunion of the churches at Lyons, Jerome accomplished his mission work with distinction. He was elected minister general of the Franciscan order in 1274 to succeed St. Bonaventure. Nicholas III made him cardinal priest and sent him on a peace mission to France, where he was joined by his old friend, Conrad. Martin IV made him cardinal-bishop of Praeneste, and there he worked until his election to the papacy. One of his first moves as pope was to call Conrad from Paris to make him a cardinal, but his old friend died.

Nicholas IV, as might be expected of a Franciscan, was intensely interested in missionary projects. He sent the famous Franciscan John of Montecorvino to follow the tracks of Marco Polo and preach Christianity in far-off China. He corresponded with Mongols, Bulgarians, and Tartars.

Nicholas was also interested in art, and he made Rome quite a center for artists and architects. He has been called the Maecenas of his age. He did much to foster universities, helping those already existing and granting charters to new foundations.

The reluctance of Nicholas to accept the heavy duty of ruling the Church may have been due to real self-knowledge. Good, kind, holy, Nicholas was not a successful ruler. He seems to have been too narrow in his views, too slow in transacting business, and too little gifted with a sense of the practical.

The papal states, so well ruled by Honorius IV, were soon in an uproar. The Pope was accused of favoring the Colonna family and the Franciscans. In his relations with Sicily, Nicholas persisted in an intransigent attitude towards the Aragonese. Indeed, he even annulled a treaty which Edward I had negotiated between Charles of Salerno, the rightful king, and James of Aragon, who actually held the island. At a time when all efforts should have been centered on saving the Holy Land, Nicholas was urging the French to attack Aragon. His policy, on the verge of success, crashed in ruin when James of Sicily succeeded his brother as king of Aragon.

The fall of Acre in 1291 caused Nicholas at long last to go all out for a crusade. Earnestly he urged Philip of France and Edward of England to take the cross. He called a council to arrange matters for 1293, but on Good Friday, April 4, 1292, Pope Nicholas IV died.


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