Written in the mid-fifteenth century, Pope Pius II’s Commentaries are the only known autobiography of a reigning pontiff and a fundamental text in the history of Renaissance humanism.
In this book, Emily O’Brien positions Pius’ expansive autobiographical text within that century’s contentious debate over ecclesiastical sovereignty. Presenting the Commentaries as Pius’ response to the crisis of authority, legitimacy, and relevance that was engulfing the Renaissance papacy, she shows how the Commentaries function as both an aggressive assault on the papal monarchy’s chief opponents and a systematic defense of Pius’s own troubled pontificate and his pre-papal career. Illustrating how the language, imagery, and ideals of secular power inform Pius’ apologetic self-portrait, The Commentaries of Pope Pius II (1458–1464) and the Crisis of the Fifteenth-Century Papacy demonstrates the role that Pius and his writings played in the evolution of the Renaissance papacy.
About the author
Emily O’Brien is an associate professor in the Departments of History and Humanities at Simon Fraser University.
‘This is a valuable study that serves to remind us of the importance of deep context and a thorough examination of historical evidence, not only in studying the papacy, but throughout the discipline.’
Sixteenth Century Studies vol 47:02:2016
"On the basis of this study, Pius remains a fascinating figure. O’Brien should be congratulated heartily for having rekindled interest in him with such affection, and for having written about him with such clarity."
‘O’Brien’s book is a fascinating example of humanist history studied through the lens of politics. It is sure to stand at the center of future conversations about Pope Pius II’s Commentaries for years to come.’
Renaissance Quarterly vol 70: 01:2017
‘As a text, The Commentaries of Pope Pius II is one of the richest sources for the studies on fifteenth-century intellectual culture.’
Renaissance and Reformation vol 40:02:2017
‘We have to give a lot of credit to O’Brien’s efforts to untangle the complex political situation under Pius…. This excellent study concludes with notes, the bibliography, and the most welcome index.’
Mediaevistik vol 29:2016