Pope Pius II Wrote An Erotic Novel That Became A Best Seller

Controversies aside, the Catholic Church has always had some hot takes on "hot" subject matter. Most of us know that it's more or less customary for members of the clergy to take a vow of celibacy — though some don't adhere to this rule as much as others. Many popes have entertained secret wives, affair partners, and even illegitimate children at different points in the Vatican's history (per Vatican City Tours). Regardless, propriety and reservation generally predominate the outlook on sexuality and intimate affairs in the eyes of the priesthood. 

Having said that, one particular man of the cloth made a significant contribution to the world of sensuality that might surprise you. Before he was Pope Pius II, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini was a diplomat and a secretary to bishops/cardinals. He traveled vast distances on behalf of the clergy and carried messages across Italy, Scotland, and other provinces of Europe throughout the mid-15th century. He also entertained a secret career as a writer — and as a writer of erotic fiction, no less.

Did Pope Pius II write a work of erotic fiction?

In 1444, after several treks across the European map on behalf of the Holy community, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini began work on what would later become one of the best-selling erotic novels of the century. Titled "The Tale of Two Lovers" (or, as it's called in Italian, "Historia de duobus amantibus"), the work tells the story of a forbidden love that takes place between a married woman and a representative of the Duke of Austria, both of whom develop feelings for one another despite their better judgment. While it's certainly not akin to anything the Marquis De Sade would deem erotic, the notion of a pope publishing a story about lust and marital malfeasance was highly controversial. 

Of course, Piccolomini wasn't actually a pope at the time the work was penned. Per the National Library of Scotland, he received his holy coronation in  1458 and officially became Pope Pius II on September 3. However, he only held the title for a total of six years, dying in August of 1464. "A Tale of Two Lovers" was published posthumously three years later.

The Catholic Church's current views on sex and marriage

Prior to assuming his seat at the head of the Vatican, Pope Pius II was by no means celibate. According to a 2017 scholarly article published by the University of Toronto Quarterly, he actually fathered two children during his travels across Europe. Today, there's much debate within the Catholic community about the rules that may or may not apply to representatives of the papacy. Some say that priests deserve to choose whether or not they should abstain from marriage. Others claim that the timeless institution of purity should be preserved. The subject recently gained a resurgence of conversational traction when individuals in the Amazonian community proposed that those men amongst them who were married should still be allowed to apply for the priesthood; a number of Roman Catholic bishops recommended this to Pope Francis in 2019, per The New York Times

In February 2022, Pope Francis — despite his reputation of having more lax views on certain issues — commended the notion of priestly celibacy and praised it as a gift. "Celibacy is a gift that the Latin Church preserves," the pope said to attendees at a Catholic conference at the time, per Crux Now. "It is a gift that, to be lived as a means of sanctification, calls for healthy relationships, relationships of true esteem and true goodness that are deeply rooted in Christ."