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Alexander V

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Pietro Philarghi, born c. 1339, on the island of Crete (Candia), whence his appellation, Peter of Candia; elected 26 June, 1409; died at Bologna, 3 May, 1410.

A homeless beggar-boy in a Cretan city, knowing neither parents nor relations, he became the protégé of a discerning Capuchin friar, from whom he received an elementary education and under whose guidance he became a Franciscan in a Cretan monastery. The youth gave promise of extraordinary ability, and was sent to enjoy the superior educational advantages of Italy. He studied later at Oxford and finally at Paris where he distinguished himself as professor, preacher, and writer. He is the author of a good commentary on the "Sentences" of Peter Lombard. During his stay at Paris the Great Schism (1378-1417) rent the Church, and Philarghi was ranged among the partisans of Urban VI (1375-89). Returning to Italy, he found a place in the court of Giovanni Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, where he acted as tutor to his sons and ambassador on important missions. Through the favour of the Visconti he was made successively Bishop of Piacenza, in 1386; of Vicenza, in 1387; of Navoya, in 1389; and finally Archbishop of Milan, in 1402. In 1405 Pope Innocent VII made him Cardinal, and turned his ability and his friendship with the Visconti to advantage by confirming him as papal legate to Lombardy. Henceforth his history becomes a part of that of the Schism. The Cardinal of Milan was foremost among the advocates of a council. To this end he approved of the withdrawal of the cardinals of Gregory XII from their obedience, sanctioned the agreement of the rival colleges of cardinals to join in a common effort for unity, and negotiated with Henry IV of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury to secure England's neutrality. He thus incurred the displeasure of Gregory XII, who deprived him of the archbishopric of Milan, and even declared him to be shorn of the cardinalitial dignity. At the Council of Pisa (25 March, 1409) Cardinal Philarghi was the leading spirit. He preached the opening sermon, a scathing condemnation of the tenacity of the rival popes and presided at the deliberations of the theologians who declared these popes heretics and schismatics.

On 26 June, 1409, he was the unanimous choice of the cardinals to fill the presumably vacant Papal Chair. His stainless character, vast erudition, world-wide experience, and tried administrative ability, together with the fact that he had neither country nor relations in the riven Catholic world to favour, gave promise of glory to the Papacy and peace to the Church. Alexander V soon found all nations in sympathy with him, save Spain and Scotland and some Italian cities whose interests were bound up in the legitimacy of the stubborn Benedict XIII. He was destined, however, to rule but ten months. His pontificate was marked by unsuccessful efforts to reach Rome, then in control of King Ladislas of Naples, whom Alexander deprived of his kingdom in favour of Louis II of Anjou. Detained by Cardinal Cossa in Bologna, the stronghold of that self-seeking adviser, he died there under circumstances which led the enemies of Cossa, who succeeded Alexander V as John XXIII , to bring before the Council of Constance the now discredited charge that he had poisoned the Pisan pope. Alexander lived long enough to disappoint the hopes his election inspired. His legitimacy was soon questioned and the world was chagrined to find that instead of two popes it now had three. His ardour for reform diminished. Generous to a fault, he scattered favours with undiscriminating munificence. The mendicant orders were unduly favoured by being confirmed in privileges which parish priests and the theological faculties resented as encroaching on their rights. Whether or not Alexander was a true pope is a question which canonists and historians of the Schism still discuss. The Church has not pronounced a definite opinion nor is it at all likely that she will. The Roman "Gerarchia Cattolica", not an authoritative work, which prior to 1906 contained a chronological list of the popes, designated Alexander V as the 211th pope, succeeding Gregory XII, resigned. ( See PAPACY.) His remains are interred in the church of St. Francis at Bologna in a tomb magnificently restored in 1889 under the direction of Leo XIII.


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