Life and work
Making much progress in canon law and civil law, by 1440 he had attained distinction at Rome as auditor of the Rota and governor of the City. His life was to be spent mostly in the foreign service of the Holy See; his contemporary, Cardinal Jacopo Ammanati, says (Comment., I, 2, 7) that he was sent twenty-two times as papal legate to various rulers and countries.
Between 1441 and 1448 he spent much time in Germany and laboured, in union with Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, to placate the strong feelings of the German princes against Pope Eugene IV, to overcome their "neutrality" in the last, and schismatic phase of the Council of Basel, and to bring about the treaties known as the Concordat of the Princes (1447) and the Concordat of Aschaffenburg (or Vienna) (1448). He was rewarded by Pope Eugene IV,(1383 – February 23, 1447) on the December 14, 1446 with the Cardinal's hat and the title of St. Angelo in Foro Piscium or "in Pescheria". He had been promoted in Spain as a bishop of Plasencia, an episcopal seat in Extremadura since about 1189, to replace Bishop Gonzalo García de Santamaria, (Burgos, 1379 - Burgos, 12 December 1448), Bishop there from 2 July 1423 to 1446. (This Bishop Gonzalo García de Santamaria was from a family of Catholic bishops and archbishops representing Spanish Catholicism in the councils of the first half of the 15th century. They were originally converted in Burgos in 1390 as a result of the attacks on Spanish Jews connected to the preaching of St. Vincent Ferrer.)
In 1444 and again in 1448 Juan Carvajal was sent to Bohemia to promote the cause of religious unity; but he failed both times, owing to the stubbornness of the Calixtines or Utraquists and the influence of John Rokyczana, Archbishop of Prague, whose orthodoxy was suspected at Rome.
In 1455 Carvajal was sent by Pope Callistus III, "Alonso Borgia", (* Canals, Valencia, Spain 31 de diciembre de 1378 - Pope in 1455 - † Rome, 6 de agosto de 1458 ) to Hungary to preach a vigorous crusade against the Turks, and for six years was the soul of the first effectual resistance made by Christian Europe to the progress of the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople (1453). Aided by the famous Franciscan observant preacher, John Capistran, he gathered an army of about 40,000 men, effected a union with the troops of John Hunyadi, and on 22 July 1456, the siege of Belgrade, the key of the Danube, was raised by a victory that inaugurated the century-long resistance of Christian Hungary to Islam.
He reconciled King Ladislaus the Posthumous (1457), with Emperor Frederick III, and in 1458 made peace between the Magyar nobles in favour of Matthias Corvinus as successor of Ladislaus. He was still in Hungary when Pope Pius II invited the princes of Christian Europe to meet him at Mantua (1459) to confer on the common danger and the need of a general crusade. While Cardinal Bessarion sought in Germany something more than brilliant promises, Carvajal continued his labours in Hungary, which he left only in the autumn of 1461, "grown old and feeble", says Pastor (History of the Popes), "in that severe climate, amid the turmoils of the Court and the camp, and the fatigues of travel … [in] that bleak country of moorlands and marshes".
He was made Cardinal-Bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina on his return. He had long held the See of Plasencia in Spain, where a noble bridge across the Tagus, built by him, is still known as "the cardinal's bridge". In spite of his age and feeble health, he was still willing to take a foremost part in the crusade that Pius II was preparing at Ancona in 1464, when the death of that pope (August 14) put an end to the enterprise. His last legation was to Venice in 1466.
From all his journeys Carvajal brought back nothing but the reputation of an unspotted priesthood (Pastor, op. cit., IV, 131). "Such a legate", wrote the King of Hungary, "truly corresponds to the greatness of our need" (op. cit., II, 391). By his contemporaries he was considered the ornament of the Church, comparable to her ancient Fathers (Cardinal Ammanati) and the sole reminder of the heroic grandeur of Rome's earliest founders (Pomponius Laetus). Though genial in intercourse, there was something awe-inspiring about this saintly man whose ascetic life enabled him to provide liberally for the poor and for needy churches. Denifle mentions (Die Universitäten, I, 813) a college founded by him at Salamanca. His discourse in the papal consistories, says Pastor, was brief, simple, clear, logical, and devoid of contemporary rhetoric; his legatine reports have the same "restrained and impersonal character".
Palacky, the non-Catholic historian of Bohemia writes of Carvajal (Geschichte Böhmens, IV, ii, 372): "Not only in zeal for the Faith, in moral purity and strength of character, was he unsurpassed, but he was also unequalled in knowledge of the world, in experience of ecclesiastical affairs, and in the services which he rendered to the papal authority. It was chiefly due to his labours, prolonged during a period of twenty years, that Rome at last got the better of Constance and Basle, that the nations returned to their allegiance, and that her power and glory again shone before the world with a splendour that they had not seen since the time of Boniface VIII." Pastor says of him that he was absolutely free from the restless ambition and self-glorification so common among the men of the Renaissance, and seemed born for ecclesiastical diplomacy. His dominant idea was the consecration of his life to the Church and the promotion of the glory and power of Christ's Vicar. "Pars hæc vitæ ultima Christo neganda non est" (I must not refuse to Christ this last portion of my life) were the words in which he offered himself to Pius II as leader of a relief to the diminutive Christian Republic of Ragusa hard pressed in 1464 by the Turks.
He left no printed works, though he heard from Pius II about the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in a famous letter of 1455, and had an Aquinas edition posthumously dedicated to him by the first printers of Italy in 1469. Among his manuscript remains are a defence of the Holy See, reports of his legations, a volume of letters, and discourses sacred and profane. He was buried in San Marcello al Corso. A monument erected to him there by Bessarion bears these words: Hic anima Petrus, pectore Cæsar erat (A Peter in spirit, a Cæsar in courage).
- Pastor, History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (tr. London, 1894), IV, 131-35 and passim;
- Lopez, De rebus gestis S. R. E. Card. Carvajal commentarius (Rome, 1754)the chief source of information
- Pray, Annales regni Hungariæ stirpis mixtæ (Pesth, 1780), VI, xiii, ii, 1448–58
- Antonio, Nicolás, Bibliotheca Hispana vetus, sive, Hispani scriptores qui ab Octaviani Augusti aevo ad annum Christi MD. floruerunt, Matriti : Apud viduam et heredes D. Ioachimi Ibarrae ..., 1788, II, 296.
- Vast, Henri, Le Cardinal Bessarion, Paris, Hachette et Cie, 1878.
- Stieber, Joachim W., Pope Eugenius IV, the Council of Basel and the secular and ecclesiastical authorities in the Empire: the conflict over supreme authority and power in the church, Leiden: Brill, 1978.
- Gómez Canedo, Lino, Un español al servicio de la Santa Sede, Don Juan de Carvajal: cardenal de Sant'Angelo legado en Alemania y Hungria, 1399?-1469, Madrid : Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto Jeronimo Zurita, 1947.
- Davies, Martin, Juan de Carvajal and Early Printing: The 42-line Bible and the Sweynheym and Pannartz Aquinas in The Library, 18 (1996) 193-215.
- "Juan Carvajal". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.