Late August, 1456 (Rome)

In this letter Pope Callixtus III writes to Juan Soler, papal ambassador to the court of King Alfonso V of Aragon. It is representative of a wide range of diplomatic letters the pope wrote in the weeks after news of Belgrade reached Rome. In them, as in this one, Callixtus III capitalizes on the victory, relishing the story and also encouraging his ambassador to bring it to bear on his interactions with the king.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Cesare Baronio, ed., Annales ecclesiastici (Bar-le-Duc, 1864), 29: 83–4.

To our beloved son Juan Soler, our ambassador:

Among other letters, we send to you those that our beloved son Brother John of Capistrano has sent to us, and signed with his own hand1 – a friar, if it may be said, who is a living martyr – so that you, whom we embrace with singular charity and in whom we trust so much, might pass them along and show them to King Alfonso of Aragon and Sicily, so that it might be made known to all that it was through divine power, not human strength, that such a memorable and glorious victory has been brought forth among the faithful.

Oh wonderful mystery! Oh miracle, to be celebrated with eternal heralds! Rustic men held up not by arms, but by faith and devotion alone, with only one athlete of God, the most unconquered voivode John, and one religious friar, John of Capistrano, completely destroyed the great power of the evil Turk, with all of his equipment, all of his marvelous instruments. And having scattered innumerable troops, they turned the most rash and wrathful Turk – who was terrified at the slaughter and uncertain of his next move – to flight. Such a strong army, yet they struck down more than half, scattered the rest here and there, and for the most part captured those who fled. Indeed, more than four thousand were given over to servitude by the most glorious captain and were made to rebuild the fortress of Belgrade so that what they had destroyed with their engines and machines they would rebuild and make more distinguished than before.

Who can admire this divine miracle in all of its magnitude? Who can render thanks worthy of its majesty? Unfeeling, inhuman, detestable are those who do not wonder at what our Lord in his mercy has done for his people, and who do not return thanks for his unspeakable compassion.

Deferring in a certain way to His Serenity the king of Aragon [Alfonso V], we have not sent the same kind of letter to him as the one we sent through our legate of Sant’Angelo [Juan Carvajal] to the emperor [Frederick III], whom we decreed to be excommunicated along with the king of Hungary [Ladislaus V] until they should establish peace with one another and direct all their strength against the treacherous Turk. And having sent our command under the sentence of excommunication, what has happened? Peace and all that we have wished for, as is plain to see from the news passed along to us […].

Oh, if you could have heard those who came to us, who were there in that great battle against the Turk! Sixteen tents of gold and silver, the personal ones of the dog himself, and so many more besides: all of the riches remained among the spoils, because they were barely able to escape, and left everything behind. It may even be that the dog himself was wounded or killed, because no one can say where he is. In any case, the glorious count [Hunyadi] granted everything to the crusaders, keeping for himself only the war machines and cannons and other mobile assets on land and water. We then pursued victory on land and sea by sending to the glorious count suitable reinforcements, almost beyond our capacity. Indeed, God wanted to grant this victory to himself alone, and to the pope and the holy Roman Church, through crusading commoners, barely armed, without an emperor, a king, or any other great leader. And on the Nativity of the Glorious Virgin, which will be on a Wednesday, it will have been a year since we began to give the cross amid the solemnities of the mass at Saint Peter’s.2 And we commanded, for the glory of the Holy Trinity, that everywhere the holy cross should be lifted high which that dog carried like a stole, mockingly, from his shoulders to his feet, and made his subjects do the same, blasphemously joking that if it was pleasing for a small cross to be pressed on the Christians, to impose a large one would be all the more pleasing.3 And in this we might speak with the words of Paul, regarding the name of Jesus: “By whosoever it is called I rejoice, and will rejoice.”4 But each of us reaps the consequences of either honor or derision – just as happened to this dog and his people. It took almost a month for the Christians to gather together all that remained of the spoils of the Turks.

But enough about this. If we wanted to recite and arrange everything as we are doing just now, without a secretary writing it all down, it would take all night. And have we not said, energetically and in strong faith, that the dog – in the face of whose power even our tepid and cold Christian powers hesitated to take up the fight, unless almost all the world joined in – conquered so much because no Catholic resisted him, but that when he finally faced Catholic resistance, he would be destroyed? I not only said this in private but preached it from the rooftops. If only you would now do the same – and with God’s help we wish and command that you do so. For it has happened just as we always said and firmly believed it would: the resistance of the Greeks and of Serbia and of other heretics and schismatics could not hurt him, insofar as it came from outside the ranks of the church. But the resistance of Catholics could, just as it has, drain away his power. And more than all of this will come to pass.

1 See documents 7 and 8.

2 September 8.

3 The origin of this story is unknown, but the joke, in reference to the “large yoke” of Mehmed’s rule over Christians, is clear.

4 Cf. Philippians 1:18.

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