CHAPTER I. CAUSES OF THE REFORMATION
With the election of Nicholas V. (1447-55) the triumph of Humanism at Rome seemed secure. The new Pope was himself one of the party. As a tutor in Florence he had been brought into contact with the great literary men of the time and had become an ardent student of the classics, nor did his enthusiasm lose any of its ardour when he ascended the Papal throne. His aim was to make Rome the intellectual as well as the religious capital of the world, and with this object in view he invited to his court the most distinguished scholars of the age, and bestowed upon not a few of them, such as Albergati, Capranica, and Caesarini the rank of cardinal. That he fully recognised the advantages which religion might derive from the revival of letters, and that he aimed at employing the services of the Humanists in defence of Christianity is evident from the works to which he directed the attention of scholars. The texts of the Scripture, the translations of the Greek Fathers, and the preparation of critical studies on the Lives of the Saints were amongst the works recommended to his literary friends. At the same time he did not proclaim war upon the less orthodox of the Humanist school. Men like Valla, Poggio, Filelfo, and Marsuppini were treated with friendliness and even with favour. Whether such a line of conduct was dictated by prudence and by the hope of winning over these scholars to a better understanding, or whether his anxiety for the success of his own literary schemes blinded him to the serious excesses of such leaders it is difficult to say; but, at any rate, it serves to show the great liberty enjoyed by literary men at this period even in the very city of the Popes.
As a means of ensuring to Rome the most prominent place in the revival, agents were dispatched to Greece, Turkey, Germany, France, and even to Sweden and Norway, to hunt for manuscripts. No expense was spared to secure everything that could be purchased or to have copies made where purchase was impossible. In order to preserve these treasures and make them available for scholars the Vatican Library was undertaken by orders of the Pope. Though long before this time the library of the Popes was of considerable importance, yet on account of the immense number of volumes produced by Nicholas V. he is generally regarded as the founder of the Vatican Library. The number of volumes which it contained at the time of his death is variously estimated at from one to nine thousand. The works of the Fathers of the Church, and the Scholastics and Canonists were well represented.
After the death of Nicholas V. the Pagan side of the Humanist movement became more and more apparent. Pius II. (1458-64), who, as Aeneas Sylvius, was well known as a clever writer of the Humanist school, seems as Pope to have been decidedly suspicious of his former friends. His own private library was filled with Christian authors, and care was taken to show favour only to those classical scholars whose writings were above reproach. Yet the cares of his office and the promotion of the crusade on which he had set his heart prevented him from taking the necessary steps for the purification of his court, and, as a result, many of the members of the College of Abbreviators were allowed to remain in office though they were really Pagan at heart. Paul II. could not tolerate such a state of affairs. He promptly abolished the College of Abbreviators, suppressed the Roman Academy, and arrested its two prominent leaders, Pomponius Laetus and Platina.
If Paul II. erred on the side of severity some of his successors went to the other extreme of laxity. The period of the political Popes, from Sixtus IV. to Julius II. (1471-1513), was marked by a serious decline in the religious spirit, nor can it be said that the policy of the Popes was calculated to check the downward tendency. Their attention was occupied too much by the politics of the petty Italian States to permit them to fulfil the duties of their high office; and, as a consequence, the interests of religion were neglected. Sixtus IV. adopted the friendly attitude of Nicholas V. towards the Renaissance. The College of Abbreviators was restored, the Roman Academy was recognised, and Platina was appointed librarian. The manuscripts in the Vatican Library were increased, more ample accommodation was provided, and every facility was given to scholars to consult the papal collection. Hence it is that Sixtus IV. is regarded generally as the second founder of the Vatican Library.