[TO THE FLORENTINE AMBASSADOR]
SPEECH OF PIUS II
SEPTEMBER 22, 1463
If we were in your position and neither in holy orders nor honored with the vicariate of Jesus Christ we should perhaps feel as you do and should succumb to your specious reasoning. But the mind of a prince is not that of a private individual nor the spirit of ecclesiastics that of the laity. Many things are tolerated in the people which no one would listen to in the clergy. Sins venial in the populace are held to be mortal in a priest. The princes of this world and governors of cities care not by what means soever they protect their power so long as they do protect it, and therefore they often violate the law of nations and act contrary to honorable practices. The people praise the victors and do not count it base to have conquered through trickery and fraud provided that he who has laid low the enemy is of the laity; but if a priest has destroyed a foe by guile, nay, if he has slain one who was manifestly plotting against him, he is held to be in the wrong. The people expect the clergy to be so much more righteous than the laity! Do not be surprised then, my very dear Otto, if in regard to the matters now in hand our opinion differs from yours and that of the Florentines. If their own state is safe they will let the Christian states go to ruin. If they neglect religion and the Faith although they are guilty of a heinous crime before God yet they keep their place among men. But if we are the least remiss in anything concerning the Faith we are at once torn to pieces by the cries of all Christendom. 'See', they say, 'is it becoming that Christ's Vicar should thus postpone the defense of the Faith? We must have a council to punish his negligence and elect a better man.' In a pope no fault is so small that the nations do not think it enormous. They expect him to be an angel not a man.
Listen then to our words, Otto, words though not of an angel at least of a cleric and one raised above the common lot of mankind. We admit that the Venetians, as is the way of men, covet more than they have; that they aim at the dominion of Italy and all but dare to aspire to the mastery of the world. But if the Florentines should become the equals of the Venetians in power, they would also have an equal ambition for empire. It is a common fault that no one is satisfied with his lot. No state's lands are broad enough. If the Venetians conquer the Turks and become masters of Illyria and Greece, they will perhaps try to subdue Italy, (we do not deny it ) provided only they are free from fear of barbarians and are not distracted by foreign wars. Suppose they do subdue Italy which would be very difficult to do; what then? Would you rather obey Venice or the Turks? No Christian who deserves the name would prefer the rule of the Turks wider which the sacraments of the Church must finally be doomed and the gate to the other life be closed to those who desert the Gospel. You will admit that the worst thing of all would be to become slaves of the Turk and the best to serve neither Turks nor Venetians. You desire: the latter and you think it will come to pass if we do not aid the Venetians now that they are involved in war with the Turks. Your plan is neither expedient nor honorable.
We went to Mantua. We exhorted all Christendom to arm against the Turks and not allow the enemies of the Faith to advance further against Christians. The Venetians spurned our exhortations. Almost everyone else also spurned them--to the great detriment of the Christian religion. Now the Venetians have changed their minds. They have listened to our Legate and declared open war on the Turks. They have equipped a great fleet and put fear into the enemy. They ask help from us, having no doubt that they are not a match for their foe. We urged the Venetians to wage war in defense of religion. They have obeyed. Now when they ask aid shall we refuse? Who that hears of this will approve it? God may put it into the hearts of the enemies of the life-giving Cross to abandon their brethren in time of war. We may not for any reason withhold aid from those who are fighting for the Holy Gospel.
You will say that the Venetians have been brought into this war not by any desire to defend the Faith but by greed for power; that they were seeking the Peloponnese not Jesus. So be it. It is enough for us that if Venice conquers, Christ will conquer. The victory of the Turks means the overthrow of the Gospel, which we are bound to try with all our might to prevent. You have asserted that if the Turks and Venetians fight each other, both will collapse, assuming that the resources of the Turks are no greater than those of the Venetians. You are mistaken. Venice is far inferior to the Turks, though her fleet is judged to be superior. It can harass the islands and coast towns. It can do very little in the Mediterranean. But if the Turkish captains should lead land armies against the shores of Dalmatia, as they seem to have planned, they could finally make it impossible for the Venetians to man their fleet, since they get their rowers and naval allies from Dalmatia. It is not so easy to get control of the land as of the sea. History tells us that the Rhodians and various other peoples whose power on land was very slight once ruled the sea. But to those who have had broad dominions on land the neighboring seas have usually been open.
We must not then think that the Turkish empire, which is far flung in Europe and in Asia, can be wiped out by the Venetians even though they range the seas at will; since if they must fight on land they cannot match armies with armies, being as they are so inferior in numbers and strength of cavalry and infantry. If they are not aided by us and other loyal Christians they will soon break down--to the disgrace and ruin of our religion. It costs a great deal to maintain a large fleet in the east and it cannot be done for long. But if the fleet is withdrawn, everything that has been won there must at once go over to the enemy whose army will be on hand, unless indeed the Turks are compelled to move out of Europe. There is very little in Greece that the Venetians can take or keep. Your plan therefore is not advantageous, since it neither saves the Venetians nor destroys the Turks. But if the Venetians are destroyed it will be vain to think of saving Italy. They have engaged in a great and perilous war in which their defeat would mean the destruction of the Christian religion. They must receive aid in their difficulties. They must have added strength and reinforcements of troops and we must make every effort that they may not be forced to yield to the enemy. The war is our common war. We must put forth all our energy to win it. We for our part together with Philip, Duke of Burgundy, shall not fail the Venetians. We will join fleet to fleet and make all the coast cities hostile to the Turks. In the other direction Mathias, King of Hungary, will harry Upper Moesia, Macedonia, and the neighboring districts with a land army. It will be hard for Mahomet, who has powerful enemies in Asia too, to resist on all fronts at once. He will, in our opinion, be conquered and utterly driven out of Europe unless a just and merciful God, offended by our iniquities, judges otherwise--which may Heaven forbid!--concerning His people.
Nor do we think that on this account the Venetians are going to put a yoke on Italy when they have triumphed over the Turks. Not all the Turkish possessions in Europe will be theirs. Peloponnese will fall to them and perhaps Boeotia and Attica and numerous maritime districts of Acardania and Epirus. In Macedonia Georg Scanderbeg will claim the chief role. In other parts of Greece there will be no lack of Greek nobles to seize the power when the Turks are expelled and they will have to be allowed their independence. The other regions bordering on the Danube (namely Bulgaria, which used to be called Lower Moesia, and Rascia, once called Upper Moesia, and Servia and Bosnia; and beyond the Danube Wallachia in Sarmatian, or as some say Scythian, territory, called Dacia by the ancients) right up to the Euxine will all come into the hands of the Hungarians to whom they once belonged. No one will profit more by the defeat and expulsion of the Turks than the Hungarians who will be far more powerful than the Venetians. With added wealth and power they will demand Dalmatia of the Venetians. It will be refused. War will then break out between them which will free Italy at long last from the tyranny of the Venetians. Meantime one hope after another will spring up.
Now the Hungarians and the Venetians are allies against a common foe whom they fear more, and nothing is said about the Dalmatian quarrel which will bestirred up again the minute the fray of the Turks is dispelled. There is no occasion for our being so frightened about Italy and we need not fear the precedent set by the Romans. The Venetian character is very different from the Roman. We shall see many snows before the Venetians bridle Italy. But unless we put up strong resistance to the Turks it will not be long before both the Hungarians and the Venetians give way and then our liberty too is doomed. We must meet the immediate clanger that threatens us from the Turks. About the Venetians we will plan at the proper time if necessary and we shall not fail to find potent remedies.
We have been taught from boyhood that the Florentines are shrewd men and foresee events far ahead and this is your prophecy about the Venetians, but it is a strange phenomenon indeed that those who foresee distant events should be unable to see those near at hand. To buildings already in flames you bring no water but you are in a hurry to plan for those that may someday catch fire. You resent any increase of Venetian power in Greece and do your best to cause it to grow greater and greater, when by rejecting a military alliance you leave to the Venetians spoils that might have been yours. This is not good sense. Your state will act more wisely if it equips the best fleet it can, joins us and goes after a share of the plunder of the East. In this way it will have regard to both honor and expediency. But if the Florentines stay idly at home while the Pope goes to war and all the rest of Italy rushes to arms, the city's name will be dishonored. God Himself will be angry with it and no one will blame the Venetians when they march against you or will come to your aid. You will experience God's righteous judgment and you who have abandoned Christians in their peril in war against the Turks will yourselves in your hour of need be deserted by all.