August 23, 1456 (Rome)

After the siege of Belgrade, Pope Callixtus III, who had made a crusade against Mehmed II a central aim of his short pontificate (see documents 5 and 6), sought to capitalize on the surprising victory. Here he writes to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, sending copies of letters he had received regarding the battle. The pope highlights the importance of prayer in the outcome of the battle, and his own liturgical initiative (document 5). He then concludes (in a rhetorical flourish) by urging the duke, one of the most powerful figures in Italy, to respond.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Josef Chmel, ed., “Briefe und Aktenstüke zur Geschichte der Herzoge von Mailand von 1452 bis 1513,” Archiv für österreichische Geschichte. Notizenblatt 6 (1856): 34–5.

To the beloved nobleman Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, Pope Callixtus III:

Beloved son and nobleman, a greeting and apostolic blessing. To the elation and joy of Your Nobility, we bring the happy news that we have just learned from Hungary (though we suspect that rumor has already made it known to Your Eminence). It is news that has lifted and renewed our spirits from enduring and extraordinary sorrow and pain. We send to Your Nobility, included with the present correspondence, the enclosed copies of letters that have been sent to us from the front. From these Your Nobility can learn of the most glorious victory that almighty God has granted to his people against the most cruel Turk in a fight by ship and on land, and the rout and disgraceful flight of the barbarians. We now urge you that for such happy and glorious news you should render due honor and thanks to immortal God, by whose heavenly power, amid such a great crisis for Christendom, the forces of a most monstrous enemy were struck and ground down. [You should do so] by arranging for processions and prayers throughout your dominion; and having done this, your ineffable piety toward us can be made widely known.

For if one might wish to consider the dangers that threaten the Christian world, to bring to mind the innumerable numbers of the enemy’s army, and indeed to take note of the ferocity of this Turk and his obstinate intention to subjugate Christendom, one will surely admit that immortal God has been persuaded by both our prayers and those of other faithful Christians and has therefore granted this great victory to the people. For we are certain that human strength could not withstand the force of such great furor without divine help.

We therefore published our bulls of prayer on the day of the feast of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul in the basilica of that prince of the apostles, and with devotion arranged for processions and prayers on the established days and hours both here in our city as well as in our lands and those subject to the Apostolic See, and we have sent these bulls through all of the Christian world to be carried out and published.1 We have urged the Christian faithful that they should beg for divine aid in the face of such a great danger. And through these most devout prayers, and others, offered by the faithful, we trust that God (though otherwise angered because of the great sins of his people) has now been pacified, such that whenever our mortal wisdom and strength should fail us, by his divine power he would finish the fight. And so he has indeed had mercy on us, and gloriously done just that. For on the Friday before the feast of Saint James2 the Hungarians engaged in a most fortunate fight against the Turks and won the victory. For that reason, worthy prayers and honors are due to so great a creator, who protected his people from such great danger, and who by fair weather suddenly scattered the clouds that seemed about to engulf the orthodox faith.

For that reason, we urge Your Nobility that you offer thanks to the divine majesty, just as we have done in the city, and as we have commanded be done everywhere. We also urge that you both raise up your armies and also meet with us, as we strive breathlessly for the total eradication of the people of Muhammad. Now is precisely the time to pursue the victory promised to us from heaven, as the Christian faithful gather their strength and strike out against the kingdom of the Turks, which (since their leader is defeated and confused and uncertain as to what he should do and turns himself shamefully in flight) should be most easily captured. Even now our fleet is sailing to the East; we are giving our all to continue to strengthen and expand it and are spending all that we have. And because this moment of great victory must be followed through to the final extermination of not only the Turks but of all the damned sect of the treacherous Muhammad, lest all the grace that has been granted to us from heaven somehow be dragged down by neglect, for that reason we are focused on this holy enterprise more and more, day and night – and for its completion we are in need of no small amount of money.

Therefore we urge Your Nobility and, in God, with all the urgency we can, we require you, that you come together with us for this most glorious labor, and that you add your forces to the effort – this is our strongest hope, as it always has been. We do so in order that we may fight for the recovery of Constantinople, the total extermination of the infidel, and the liberation of all of Europe, and indeed that we may aspire for the recovery of the Holy Land and all of Asia, and either the restoration or conversion of the lands of the infidel to the Catholic faith, or the thorough expulsion of the infidel from them, just as we firmly believe and hold from the sincere Catholic faith that is fixed in our heart (as many have heard from us!) that the treacherous Turk should be defeated, that the Hungarians and the Christian people should remain victorious, and we along with them – and we have never doubted that all of it should happen just as it is happening now, with greater things to come. For Christ our Savior said, “If anyone has the faith of a grain of mustard seed and should say to the mountain, move yourself to the other mountain,”3 etc.

And who is so cruel as to not follow us, who are most firm in our intention and certain that victory in our time will be granted from heaven? Shame, shame on those who think otherwise, and let them beware of the wrath of God! For the one who frustrates our plans in this matter, whoever he might be, will suffer judgment.

Therefore we again urge Your Nobility, and from the depths of our heart’s affection we require, that you not let slip by this moment in which the highest God offers the opportunity to Your Nobility to sanctify your name through immortality, and while the shameful Turk remains uncertain about what to do, and while the rout is on, that we charge after him, following our leader, Christ, who as we so often say has divinely ordained a most shining victory and triumph in our time. Let not the Christian powers be absent; let them join their powers with us – we, who have devoted our blood and our life in this divine cause; and let them not abandon the banner of the living cross until victory is happily in our hands, in whatever way, and we will burn with the exaltation of the holy orthodox faith.

Given in Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore, under the ring of the fisherman, 1456, on the twenty-third day of the month of August, in the second year of our pontificate.

1 See document 5.1.

2 The feast of Saint James, July 25. This places the climax of the battle on July 23.

3 Here a conflation of two passages: cf. Mark 4:30–2 and 11:23.

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