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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. 227-229.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.

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A.D. 858-867.

NICOLAS the First, a Roman born, son of Theodosius, was ingenuously and religiously educated from his childhood, and made, first sub-deacon by Sergius, then deacon by Leo, in which order he stood, when, with great piety and many tears, he laid the body of Benedict in the grave, whose exequies being performed, it was necessary to think of a successor; and the people hereupon pressed the Divine Majesty with prayers, watchings and fastings, that he would vouchsafe them as good a Pope as him they had lost. After a long consultation in the church of St Denis, Pope and Confessor, (where they convened for this purpose), they chose this Nicolas Pope; but he was absent, and upon hearing the news, fled into the Vatican, and there hid himself to avoid the dignity, where at length they found him, brought him to the Lateran, and placed him, however unwilling, in the apostolical chair. Being consecrated in St Peter’s Church, and, agreeably to custom, having put on the pontifical mitre, he concerted several affairs with the Emperor Louis relating to the Popedom and to the Empire.1 Louis afterwards leaving Rome, stayed at a place the Romans call Quinto, whither it is said Nicolas went, attended by the great men of the city, and was honourably received. For the Emperor came a mile to 228 meet him, and alighting, took his horse-bridle in his hand and led him into the camp. And, indeed, he was a man of so great veneration and majesty, and of so much learning and eloquence, that, like the Deity, he forced respect from all men. After some repast, they held a long and private conference, and then having kissed each other, the Pope returned to Rome; which he found so overflowed by an extraordinary rise of the Tiber, that there was no passing from street to street but in boats. St Laurence’s Church and the monastery of St Sylvester, with all the low part between Via Lata, Campidogliò, and the Aventine, was so much under water, that another deluge was feared; many houses were borne down by it, trees forced up by the roots, and corn that was sown quite washed away; and the same happened again the same year in December. To make up these losses, or to make them more tolerable, the Pope omitted no manner of good office or kindness to the citizens. At this time Michael, son of Theophilus, Emperor of Constantinople, sent ambassadors with presents to Rome, to visit the apostolic see and his Holiness. The presents were a large paten and chalice of gold with precious stones of great value. This was that Michael who, having taken Basilius to be his partner in the empire, was murdered by him, that he might reign alone. His ambassadors were kindly received, and sent home with presents. Nicolas, being earnestly intent upon the conservation of the pontifical dignity, deprived John, Archbishop of Ravenna, for refusing to obey a citation from the apostolic chair to answer some accusations. Whereupon he goes to Pavia, and procures of the Emperor Louis commendatory letters to the Pope, and to his ambassadors, that they should get leave that the Archbishop John should have a safe conduct to come to Rome and plead his own cause, which the Pope readily granted; and John, in a great convention of prelates, being allowed liberty of speech, only confessed himself guilty, and begged pardon of the Pope and of all that were present. By which confession, and the intercession of the auditors, the Pope was persuaded to receive him into favour upon these conditions: that he should recant his error before the Synod; that he should promise to come to Rome once a year, if possible; that he should not be capable of consecrating any bishop in Romagna, however canonically elected, without leave first obtained from the see apostolic; and that he should not hinder 229 any of those bishops from coming to Rome as often as they pleased; that he should not introduce any exaction, custom, or usage contrary to the sacred canons; and lastly, that under the penalty of anathema he should not alter or meddle with the treasure of holy Church without the consent of the Pope, nor should without the same allowance receive anything secular. These holy institutions were so highly approved by the whole Synod, that thrice they all shouted, “Righteous is the judgment of the supreme prelate, just is the decree of the universal bishop; all Christians agree to this wholesome institution. We all say, think, and judge the same thing.” Then John, in the sight of them all, took his oath, and gave it under his hand that he would observe the articles. Thus the convocation was dissolved, and John returned to Ravenna. The Pope, having overcome this trouble, rebuilt the church of our Lady (then called the old, afterwards the new, church), and adorned it with excellent paintings. He, by letters and good admonitions, converted the King of Bulgaria to the Christian faith, with all his realm, to whom he sent bishops and priests to confirm the young proselytes, driving out Photius, who had craftily disseminated erroneous opinions among them. He procured a peace between Louis the Emperor, and Andalisio, Duke of Beneventum, and repelled the Saracens, who made an incursion as far as the same Beneventum. Lastly, with the consent of the Emperor, he decreed that no emperor or other layman should thrust himself into any convocation of the clergy, except the debate was concerning matters of faith, and then his opinion was that they might reasonably be present. It is said that at this time St Cyril brought the body of St Clement from the Chersonese in Pontus, to Rome, and placed it in the church now called St Clement’s, where, a little while after, himself also was buried. Nicolas now, who was a great exemplar of all the virtues one man could be endued with, died, the ninth year, ninth month, and thirteenth day of his pontificate, and was buried, according to his last will, in St Peter’s Church porch.


 1  During this important pontificate, the growing power of the see was shown by the prohibition of the divorce of King Lothair of Lorraine from the queen, Theulberga, as well as by the struggle between the Pope and the northern prelates, headed by Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, terminating in the Pope’s favour. To this must be added the circumstance of an Eastern quarrel. Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople, was unjustly deposed for reproving the Emperor for his wicked life, and Photius was elevated to his throne. Ignatius, weak and unprotected, appealed to Pope Nicolas, who took high ground, declared Photius an intruder, and called upon the faithful to recognise his authority, and obey his commands to restore Ignatius. (See Robertson, “Ch. Hist.,” Book iv., ch. 3.) To this pontificate belong the Forged Decretals, a collection of letters and decrees purporting to be the work of successive Popes, beginning with St Clement, claiming for the Roman see the fullest authority, and asserting or assuming the whole dogmatic system of the Roman Church. That they are forgeries is now admitted (see “Cath. Dictionary,” s.v.False Decretals”), but they passed unquestioned for several generations. They were probably manufactured at Maine, and played a large part in the Pope’s battle with Hincmar. — ED.

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Previous Pope: 107. Benedict III. 108. Nicolas I. The Great. Next Pope: 109. Hadrian II.

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