Born as Pietro Barbo at Venice, of a wealthy Venetian merchant family, son of Niccolo Barbo and Polixena Condulmer, sister of Pope Eugene IV. Although he studied for a business career he received a religious education and, at the elevation of his uncle to the papacy, entered the ecclesiastical state.
He became Archdeacon of Bologna, Bishop of Cervia and of Vicenza, and in 1440 cardinal-deacon. Noted for his generosity and imposing appearance, the Cardinal of Venice, as he was called, was very influential under Eugene IV, Nicholas V, and Calixtus III, less so under Pius II.
After Pius II had died at Ancona, the cardinals hurried back to Rome and proceeded to hold an election. The conclave was short; after the first ballot the cardinals elected Pietro Barbo, August 30, 1464. He owed his election partly to the dissatisfaction of some of the cardinals with the policy of his predecessor. To this could be traced the oath which Barbo swore to at the conclave, but which he set aside after election, since it was opposed to the constitution of the Church.
He wished to take the name Formosus II, but since that name means handsome, the cardinals dissuaded him out of fear that the people would consider it a vulgar allusion to Pietro's striking good looks. He next chose Mark, but since the second evangelist's name was used as a war cry by the armed forces of Venice, the cardinals likewise vetoed it. Finally he chose Paul II. No one objected to the apostle of the gentiles.
Paul's election was popular, and with reason. He was a large-hearted man who loved to do things for the people. He took very good care of Rome itself. He saw to it that adequate provisions reached the city. He made war on robber barons. He tried to stamp out the vendetta which disgraced the section. Other rulers had done as much, but Paul stands out as a pope who provided not only spiritual and temporal care for the people, but even saw to it that they had fun!
Pageants, glowing with all the color of the Renaissance, delighted the Romans. Games, races, fun for every class marked the holiday season under this genial pontiff. The Pope himself loved to stand at the window of his palace and watch the merrymaking. Paul II delighted in display. He introduced splendid carnival festivities, built the Palace of S. Marco (now Palace Venezia), revised the municipal statutes of Rome, organized relief work among the poor, granted pensions to some cardinals.
His suppression in 1466 of the college of abbreviators aroused much opposition, intensified by a similar measure against the Roman Academy. Paul II was not opposed to Humanistic studies, and this is evidenced by the fact that he protected universities, encouraged the art of printing, and was himself a collector of works of ancient art.
The pope punished the Fraticelli in the Papal States, prosecuted heretics in France and Germany, decreed in 1470 the observance of the jubilee every twenty-five years, and made an unsuccessful attempt at uniting Russia with the Church. The Turkish question received his earnest attention, particularly after the fall of Negropont (1470).
Quite alive to the danger from the Moslem, he welcomed the epic Albanian hero Skanderbeg and sent him home to renew the fight, with a blessing and a substantial sum of money. Like his predecessors, Paul tried to arouse Europe to a sense of its danger, but like his predecessors, he failed. He was very good to those poor refugees from the Ottoman onslaught who had come to Rome for a refuge.
Pope Paul II died suddenly of heart attack, allegedly while being the top in anal intercourse with one of his favorite boys.