Future Pope Showed an Interest in the “Higher Forms of Piracy”

(p. 158) A decade older than his apostolic secretary Poggio, Baldassare Cossa had been born on the small volcanic island of Procida, near Naples. His noble family held the island as its personal possession, the hidden coves and well-defended fortress evidently well suited to the principal family occupation, piracy. The occupation was a dangerous one: two of his brothers were eventually captured and condemned to death. Their sentence was commuted, after much pulling of strings, to imprisonment. It was said by his enemies that the young Cossa participated in the family business, owed to it his lifelong habit of wakefulness at night, and learned from it his basic assumptions about the world.
Procida was far too small a stage for Baldassare’s talents. Energetic and astute, he early displayed an interest in what we might call higher forms of piracy. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Bologna–in Italy it was legal studies rather than theology that best prepared one for a career in the Church–where he obtained doctorates in both civil and canon law. At his graduation ceremony, a colorful affair in which the successful candidate was conducted in triumph through the town, Cossa was asked what he was going to do now. He answered,” To be Pope.”

Source:
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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