[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 1-9.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.

Black and white engraving of the headpiece for the page, with a border around stylized flowers, with thin leaves, like daisies.

Lives of the Popes

—————0 —————


Circa 33-68.

AFTER the death and resurrection of Christ, and the completion of the days of Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Ghost: and being filled with the spirit, they published the wonderful works of God in divers tongues, though most of them, especially Peter and John, were looked upon as utterly illiterate men. Their manner of living was measured by the common good; none of them challenged any propriety in anything; and whatsoever religious oblation was laid at their feet, they either divided it between themselves for the supply of the necessities of nature, or else distributed it to the poor. These disciples had each of them his province assigned to him: to St Thomas was allotted Parthia, to St Matthew Æthiopia, to St Bartholomew India on this side Ganges, to St Andrew Scythia, and Asia to St John, who after a long series of toil and care, died during his abode at Ephesus. But to St Peter, the chief of the apostles, were assigned Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia and Cappadocia; who being by birth a Galilean, of the city of Bethsaida, the son of John, and brother of Andrew the apostle, sat first in the Episcopal see of Antioch for seven years in the days of Tiberius.

This emperor was son-in-law and heir to Augustus, and for the space of twenty-three years his administration of the government had so much of change and variety in it, that we cannot reckon him altogether a bad, or absolutely a good prince. He was a man of great learning, and weighty eloquence; 2 his wars he managed not in person, but by his lieutenants, and showed a great deal of prudence in suppressing any sudden commotions. Having by arts of flattery enticed several princes to his court, he never suffered them to return home again; as particularly among others, Archelaus of Cappadocia, whose kingdom he made a province of the empire. Many of the senators were banished and some of them slain by him. C. Asinius Gallus the pleader, son of Asinius Pollio, was by his order put to death with the most exquisite torments; and Vocienus Montanus Narbonensis, one of the same profession, died in the Baleares, where Tiberius had confined him. Moreover historians tell us, that his brother Drusus was poisoned at his command. And yet upon occasion he exercised so much lenity, that when certain publicans and governors of provinces moved him to raise the public taxes, he gave them this answer, “that a good shepherd does indeed shear, but not flay his sheep.”

Tiberius dying, C. Cæsar, who, with a jocular reflection upon his education in the camp, had the surname of Caligula,1 succeeded him in the empire; he was the son of Drusus (son-in-law to Augustus) and nephew to Tiberius; the greatest villain in the world, and one who never did any worthy action either at home or abroad. His avarice put him upon all manner of oppression; his lust was such that the did not forbear to violate the chastity of his own sisters; and his cruelty was so great, that he is reported oftentimes to have cried out, “Oh! that all the people of Rome had but one neck!” At his command all who were under proscription were put to death; for having recalled a certain person from banishment, and enquiring of him what the exiles did chiefly wish for, — the man imprudently answering, that they desired nothing more then the death of the emperor — he thereupon gave order that every man of them should be executed. He would often complain of the condition of his times, that they were not rendered remarkable by any public calamities, as those of Tiberius had been, in whose reign no less than twenty thousand men had been slain by the fall of a theatre at Tarracina. He expressed so much envy at the renown of Virgil and Livy, that he was very near taking away their writings and images out of all the libraries; the former of whom he would censure as a man of no wit and little learning, the latter as a verbose and 3 negligent historian; and it was his common bye-word concerning Seneca, “That his writings were like a rope of sand.” Agrippa, the son of king Herod, who had been cast into prison by Tiberius for accusing Herod, was by him set at liberty, and made king of Judæa; while Herod himself was confined to perpetual banishment at Lyons. He caused himself to be translated into the number of the gods, and ordered the setting up his image in the temple of Jerusalem. At last he was assaulted and slain by some of his own officers, in the third year and tenth month of his empire. Among his writings were found two rolls or lists, one of which had a dagger, the other a sword stamped upon it for a seal; they both contained the names and characters of certain principal men, both of the senatorian and equestrian order, whom he designed to slaughter. There was found likewise a large chest filled with several sorts of poisons, which being at the command of Claudius Cæsar not long after being thrown into the sea, it is reported that the waters were so infected thereby, that there died abundance of fish, which the tide cast up in vast numbers upon the neighbouring shores.

I thought good to give this account of these monsters of men, that thereby it might the better appear, that God could then have scarce forborne destroying the whole world, unless He had sent His Son and His Apostles, by those blood mankind, though equal to Lycaon in impiety, was yet redeemed from destruction. In their times lived that St Peter, whom our Saviour (upon his acknowledgment of Him to be the Christ), bespake in these words, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven;” and “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the power of binding and loosing.” This apostle being a person of most unwearied industry, when he had sufficiently settled the churches of Asia, and confuted the opinion of those who maintained the necessity of circumcision, came into Italy in the second year of Claudius.

This Claudius, who was uncle to Caligula, and had been all along very contumeliously treated and buffooned by his nephew, being now Emperor, making an expedition into Britain, had the island surrendered up to him, — an enterprise which none before Julius Cæsar, nor any after Claudius, durst 4 undertake: he also added the Isles of Orkney to the Roman Empire. He banished out of the city of Rome the seditious Jews, and suppressed the tumults of Judæa, which had been raised by certain false prophets. And while Cumanus was appointed by him Procurator of Judæa, there were crushed to death in the porches of the Temple of Jerusalem during the days of unleavened bread, to the number of thirty thousand Jews. At the same time, also, there was a great dearth and scarcity of provision throughout the whole world; a calamity which had been foretold by Agabus the prophet. Being secure of any hostilities from abroad, he finished the aqueduct that had been begun by Caligula, whose ruins are yet to be seen in the Lateran. He attempted also to empty the Lake Fucinus, being prompted thereto by the hope of getting not only honour and reputation, but profit and advantage by it; since there was a certain person who proffered to undertake that work at his own private charge, upon condition that the land when it was drained might have been granted to him for his reward. The mountain being partly undermined, partly cut through, the length of three miles, the passage was at the end of eleven years with much ado finished, there being no less than thirty thousand labourers continually employed in it. It was he likewise that made the harbour of Ostia, by drawing an arm of the sea on each hand, and so breaking the violence of the waves; a work, the footsteps of which are not to be seen at this day without wonder. Having put to death his wife Messalina for adultery, he afterwards, against all law both human and divine, married Agrippina, the daughter of his brother Germanicus, by whom, in the fourteenth year of his empire, he was poisoned with mushrooms prepared by her for this purpose.

In his time St Peter came to Rome, the principal city of the world; both because he judged it a seat best accommodated to the Pontifical dignity, and because likewise he understood that Simon Magus, a Samaritan, had planted himself there, who by his sorceries had so far seduced the people, that they believed him to be a god. For his statue had been already erected at Rome, between the two bridges, with this Latin inscription, “Simoni Deo Sancto,i.e. to “Simon the Holy God.” This man while he stayed in Samaria, pretended faith in Christ so far as to obtain baptism from Philip one of the seven deacons, which afterwards abusing to ill ends, he laid 5 the foundation of diverse heresies. To him was joined one Sebene, a shameless strumpet, who was his companion and partner in villany. To such a height of impudence did this lewd fellow arrive that he challenged St Peter to work miracles with him; and particularly he undertook to raise to life a dead child, which indeed at first seemed somewhat to move at his charms; but it being manifest presently that the child nevertheless continued dead still, at St Peter’s command in the name of Jesus, it immediately arose. Simon being enraged hereat, proffered, as a further trial which of them was the more holy man and more beloved of God, to fly from the Capitol to the Aventine in the sight of all the people, provided Peter would follow him. While he was yet flying, at the prayer of Peter, who with hands lifted up to heaven, beseeched God not to suffer so great a multitude to be deluded with magical arts, down he fell and broke his leg, with grief of which misadventure he not long after died at Aricia, whither his followers had conveyed him after this foul disgrace. From him the heretics called Simoniaci had their original, who pretended to buy and sell the gift of the Holy Ghost, and who asserted the creation to proceed from a certain superior power, but not to be from God.

After this, St Peter applying himself both by preaching and example to the propagating of the Word of God, was by the Christian Romans earnestly desired that John, surnamed, Mark, who was his son in baptism, and a person of a most approved life and conversation, might be employed by him in writing a Gospel. St Hierom saith, that he being a priest in Israel, a Levite according to the flesh, after his conversion to the Christian faith, wrote his Gospel in Italy, showing what he owed to his own parentage and extraction and what to Christ. Which Gospel, as we now have it, was approved by the testimony of St Peter. Being afterwards sent into Egypt, as Philo the Jew a famous writer tells us, after that by preaching and writing he had well formed the Alexandrian Church, being a man very eminent both for his life and learning, in the eighth year of the Emperor Nero, he died and was buried at Alexandria, in whose place succeeded Anianus.

The year before died James, surnamed Justus, the brother of our Lord, being the son of Joseph by another wife, or, as some will have it, sister’s son to Mary, Christ’s mother. Hegesippus, who lived near the Apostles’ times, affirms of him 6 that he was holy in his mother’s womb, that he drank neither wine nor strong drink, nor ever tasted flesh, that he neither shaved, nor bathed, nor anointed himself, nor ever wore any other but linen garments. He was often accustomed to enter into the Holy of Holies, where he continued so incessantly in his prayers for the welfare of the people, that his knees were grown hard and callous like those of camels. But Festus leaving the government of Judæa, before Albinus his successor arrived there, the High Priest Ananus, the son of Ananus, requiring James publicly to deny Christ to be the Son of God, upon his refusal he gave order he should be stoned to death; who, after he had been thrown down headlong from a pinnacle of the Temple, continuing yet half alive, and with hands stretched forth towards heaven praying for his persecutors, was at last killed outright with a blow of a fuller’s club. Josephus reports him to have been a man of so great sanctity, that it was the general belief that his murder was the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. This is that James, whom our Lord appeared to after His resurrection, and to whom, having blessed bread and broken it, He said, “Brother, eat thy bread, because the Son of man is risen.” He presided over the church of Jerusalem thirty years, that is, to the seventh year of Nero. His sepulchre with an inscription, hard by the temple from which he had been cast down, was yet in being in Hadrian’s time.

It is evident likewise that Barnabas, by birth a Cypriot, surnamed Joses, a Levite, died before St Peter’s martyrdom. He being chosen together with Paul an apostle of the Gentiles, wrote only one epistle of matters concerning the Church, and that too is reckoned apocryphal. There happening to be a difference between him and Paul, occasioned by Mark a disciple, he, accompanied by the said Mark, went to Cyprus, where preaching the faith of Christ he was crowned with martyrdom. Paul, first called Saul, was descended of the tribe of Benjamin, of a town of Judæa, called Giscalis; which being taken in war by the Romans, he with his parents removed to Tarsus, a city of Cilicia.2 And being sent thence to Jerusalem to study the law, he had his education under the learned Gamaliel. After this, he became a persecutor of 7 the Christians, and was present and assistant at the death of St Stephen the protomartyr. But as he was going to Damascus, being wonderfully converted to the faith, he became a chosen vessel; and took the name of Paul, from a pro-consul of Cyprus, whom he had converted to Christianity. After this he, together with Barnabas, having travelled through divers cities, upon his return to Jerusalem, was by Peter, John, and James, chosen an apostle to the Gentiles.3 In the twenty-fifth year after the death of Christ, which was the second of the Emperor Nero, he, with his fellow-captive Aristarchus, was as a free denizen sent bound to Rome; where continuing the space of two years under very little confinement, he was daily engaged in disputation with the Jews. Being at length set at liberty by Nero, he both preached and wrote many things. We have at this day fourteen of his epistles; one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon; that to the Hebrews is generally said to be his, though because of the difference of style and phrase from the rest, it is uncertain whether it were so or not; and there have been anciently divers who have entitled it, some to Luke, some to Barnabas, some to Clemens. St Peter also wrote two general epistles, though the latter is by many denied to be his for the same reason of the difference of style. But being so taken up with prayer and preaching, that he could not attend any other great variety of business, he constituted two bishops, viz., Linus and Cletus, who might exercise the sacerdotal ministry to the Romans and other Christians. The holy man applying himself entirely to these things, gained thereby so great and universal a reputation, that men were ready to worship him as a god. The Emperor Nero being displeased hereat, began to contrive his death; whereupon St Peter, with the advice of his friends, that he might avoid the Emperor’s envy and rage, departed out of the city by the Via Appia; and at the end of the first mile he travelled, to use the words of Hegesippus, meeting with Christ in the way, and falling down and worshipping Him, he said, “Lord whither goest Thou?” to whom Christ replied, “I go to Rome to be crucified again.” There is yet remaining a chapel built on the same place where these words were spoken. Now St 8 Peter believing this saying of our Saviour to relate to his own martyrdom, because Christ might seem to be ready to suffer again in him, went back to the city, and forthwith consecrated Clemens a bishop, and in these words recommended to him his chair, and the Church of God: “I deliver to thee the same power of binding and loosing which Christ left to me; do thou, as becomes a good pastor, promote the salvation of men both by prayer and preaching, without regard to any hazard of life or fortune.” Having set these things thus in order, at the command of Nero, in the last year of his empire, he was put to death together with St Paul, though the kinds of their punishment were different. For St Peter was crucified with his head towards the ground, and his feet upwards, for so he desired it might be, saying, that he was unworthy to undergo the same kind of death with his Saviour. He was buried in the Vatican, in the Via Aurelia, near Nero’s Gardens, not far from the Via Triumphalis which leads to the temple of Apollo. He continued in the see twenty-five years. But St Paul being on the same day beheaded, was interred in the Via Ostiensis, in the thirty-seventh year after the death of Christ. This is confirmed by the testimony of Caius the historian, who in a disputation against one Proclus a Montanist has these words: “I,” says he, “can shew you the victorious ensigns of the apostles; for you cannot pass the Via Regalis that leads to the Vatican, nor the Via Ostiensis, but you will find the trophies of those heroes that established this church:” where certainly he refers to these two St Peter and St Paul. In the forementioned gardens of Nero, were reposited the ashes of a multitude of holy martyrs. For a fire happening in the time of Nero, which raging for six days together, had wasted a great part of the city, and devoured the substance of many wealthy citizens, the blame of all which was laid upon the Emperor, he, as Tacitus tell us, being very desirous to quell the rumour, suborned false witnesses to accuse, and lay all the blame of that calamity upon the Christians. Whereupon so great a number of them were seized and put to death, that it is said the flame of their empaled bodies supplied the room of lights for some nights together. There are those who say this fire was kindled by Nero, either that he might have before his eyes the resemblance of burning Troy, or else because he had taken offence at the irregularity of the old houses, and the narrowness and windings of the streets; neither of which are 9 improbable of such a man as he, who was profligately self-willed, intemperate, and cruel, and in all respects more lewd and wicked than his uncle Caligula. For he put to death a great part of the senate, and also without any regard to decency would in the sight of the people sing and dance in the public theatre. His dissolute luxury was such, that he made use of perfumed cold baths, and fished with golden nets, which were dragged with purple cords. Yet he took such care to conceal all these vices in the beginning of his empire, that men had generally great hopes of him. For being put in mind to sign a warrant according to custom for the execution of one that was condemned to die, “how glad,” said he, “should I be that I had never learnt to write.” He was very sumptuous in his buildings both in the city and elsewhere; for the baths called by his name, and the Aurea Domus, and the Portico three miles long, were finished by him with wondrous magnificence; besides which he was at a vast expense to make the haven at Antium, at the sight of which I myself not long since was wonderfully pleased. I return to his cruelty, which he exercised towards his master Seneca, towards M. Annœus Lucanus the famous poet, towards his mother Agrippina, and his wife Octavia, towards Cornutus, the philosopher, Persius’s master, whom he banished towards Piso, and in a word towards all those who were in any reputation among the citizens. In the end, he so highly provoked the rage and hatred of the people against him, that most diligent search was made after him to bring him to condign punishment; which punishment was, that being bound, he should be led up and down with a gallows upon his neck; and being whipped with rods to death, his body should be thrown into the river Tiber. But he making his escape four miles out of the city, laid violent hands upon himself in the country house of one of his freemen, between the Via Salaria, and Nomentana, in the thirty-second year of his age, and of his reign the fourteenth.


 1  Caliga signifying a common soldier’s hose. — ED.

 2  This is the story mentioned by St Jerome, but independently of its contradicting Acts xxii. 3, it is improbable in itself. See Smith’s “Dictionary of the Bible,” s.v.Paul,” note, p. 731. — ED.

 3  This is not quite compatible with Gal. ii. 7-9. — ED .

——————————0 ——————————

General Introduction. 1. St. Peter The Apostle. Next Pope: 2. St. Linus.

——————————0 ——————————

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]