Augustana College Library
Augustana History Department
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Pole-as-Prophet: the Creation of Identity and the Nature of Authority in Renaissance Europe.
By: Chris Sweet
Reginald Pole created a prophetic persona through his writings and public demeanor. One of his primary reasons for choosing prophet as part of his identity was the greater authority it provided him. To understand Pole-as-prophet, it is necessary to determine what this term meant in sixteenth-century Europe. The image of prophet had been steadily changing and evolving since Biblical times. Prophecy in sixteenth-century Europe was a widespread phenomenon. Prophecies concerning the coming of the Angelic Pope were particularly popular.
One person who believed in Pole-as-prophet was the Renaissance poet, Vittoria Colonna. The relationship between Pole and Colonna is evident in the correspondence between the two. Colonna adopted Pole as her personal spiritual adviser. Her belief in his sanctity and prophetic identity led her to make this choice.
Pole missed being elected pope in the conclave of 1549-50 by the margin of one vote. During the conclave he refused to campaign or do anything to further his chances for election. Pole's behavior during the conclave and the reasons for his losing the election have been variously interpreted by historians. I argue that Pole's inaction was an attempt to portray himself as the prophesized Angelic Pope.
Many parallels can be drawn between Pole in the conclave of 1549-50 and Marcellus Cervini in the next conclave. Cervini's behavior during his conclave was strikingly similar to Pole's. It has been argued that Cervini was also attempting to appear as the Angelic Pope. Comparisons between the two makes Pole's earlier behavior appear less eccentric and more shrewd.
As a cardinal, Pole received multiple papal legations. In the correspondence surrounding his legations for The Reconciliation of England and his Legation for Peace one can see Pole's development and utilization of his prophetic persona. This is especially evident in the correspondence between Pole and his close friend Girolamo Muzzarelli who was the official papal theologian during the legations. Pole's use of prophetic authority is found in his correspondence to Mary Tudor and Phillip II. Pole uses his prophetic authority as well as papal authority in the successful reconciliation of England.
The final synthesis of Pole and his prophetic identity is accomplished through his early biographies. These biographies, written in the years immediately following Pole's death are hagiographic in nature. Even though they have the ulterior motive of portraying Pole as a saint, the biographies provide a wealth of verifiable information about the life of Pole.