DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     April 27, 1999     vol. 10, no. 82


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      With the end of the fifteenth century we have arrived at a time in Church history that can best be considered a black mark on the glorious 2000 annals of Holy Mother Church. It didn't happen overnight but after a series of abuses by bad popes that preceded Pope Alexander VI who was a paradox of power. Few were as well prepared politically to take over the reins of the Church, but no one was as ostensibly ill-prepared to sit on the throne of Peter for this 214th successor of the first Apostle openly flaunted the sixth and ninth commandments and the vow of celibacy not to mention the sins of pride and avarice. His regime closely parallels the United States' current president today. In regards Alexander VI licentious conduct, the public looked the other way, rationalizing that if he was doing a good job and the economy was good and the Renaissance flourishing, then what did it matter what he did in private life? Sound familiar? Because of this implicit acceptance of his wayward ways and sins, Alexander VI continued unchecked exploiting everyone for his own gains, including his own children who he used as trump cards to achieve kingdoms and riches. In short, he was a poor excuse for a Pope if there ever was one as we have seen over the past few installments. Today we attempt to show some of the good that he did, which is stretching it quite a bit.
Installment One-Hundred-two

Pope Alexander VI: The lust for power and prestige
part three

          In the last few installments we have been chronicling the exploits - and we do mean "exploits" of Pope Alexander VI the man who, by and large, opened the floodgates for the reformation. They say God allows evil for good and that was truly the case in regard this Borgia Pope from Spain who masterminded his own election in Italy two months before an Italian would discover the new world for Spain - Christopher Columbus. Today, we will venture to show the good effects resulting from Alexander's pontificate - at least in the long run for there were few short term successes.

          First of all, despite the fact that Alexander was a lech and a philanderer, he was an experienced administrator and after the terrible management of the Vatican affairs over the past half century, many welcomed his acumen in this area. His first rule of order had been to dispense justice in a stern, swift manner that was often tainted to further favor his position, no matter where or what that might be. He had made grandiose plans to reform the curia and mounted a PR campaign against the Turks. In truth, there was very little good that Alexander VI accomplished in Europe but it was some of the decrees he made regarding the demarcation of the new world that changed the political climate and eased the balance of emphasis to the western hemisphere and the evangelization of millions. Columbus' discovery and subsequent conquests by both Spanish and Portuguese explorers had caused consternation over who had territorial rights and thus Alexander literally drew a line of demarcation which was as the Jesuit publication Civilta Cattolica states, was "an act of truly peaceful import, and not of usurpation and ambition." Alexander's action resulted in Brazil forever having the Portuguese influence as they will celebrate the cinquitennial this year of the first Mass said in the sprawling, jungle land of Brazilia. His move also determined that Portugal would stay clear of lands north of Brazil such as Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominica Republic, Colombia, Central America and the pride of Spain - Mexico. Because the line he drew favored Spain, there was an adjustment in the Treaty of Tordesillas on June 7, 1494 in which he also granted the monarchs of these respective nations total control over the Church in the lands they colonized. With the mad rush to discover more of the new world Alexander issued various decrees to commit missionaries to the new world, chiefly the Franciscans and Dominicans. They would play a vital role in the mass conversions that would result from the Blessed Virgin Mary's visit first at Guadalupe and various other places in Mexico after that in the earlier part of the sixteenth century.

          Alexander is the one who is credited for employing artists in the use of goldleaf from the first gold brought back from Mexico in the magnificent ceiling of St. Mary Major in Rome. He contributed much toward the Renaissance in Rome, refurbishing many cathedrals, churches and basilicas, some almost too lavishly at times given his propensity for over-indulgence. One of the lasting benefits he left was appointing the Praefectus Sacrarii Pontifici which he decreed should be selected solely from the ranks of the Augustinian priests. This position, also known as the "Pope's personal sacristan" was, and is to this day, an important office because of his intimate proximity to the Holy Father. Many regard the position as the person who oversees the Holy Father's "conscience" and the one man who handles the day to day practical functions of the Vatican. Ever since 1497 an Augustinian has served as the Pope's Sacristan.

          While Alexander was a ruthless executioner and full of revenge for his enemies, he showed a kind, tolerant side to the Jews, treating them with respect and tolerance as opposed to some of his predecessors who regarded them as a threat. This especially angered Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand who considered them a serious threat to the faith in Castille. Throughout Alexander's papacy there was never a good rapport between the monarchy and papacy and both tolerated each the other as necessary evils that could be used for their own agendas. Though Alexander did "loan" the Italian master Bramante to the Spanish royal couple to design the Tempietto which was built on the site which is traditional considered where Saint Peter was crucified. Alexander also conducted the 8th Jubilee celebration in 1500 in which, for the first time ever the Holy Door was opened at St. Peter's, St. Paul's and St. Mary Majors simultaneously. Alexander also refortified Castel Sant'Angelo and built the Borgo Nuovo which stands between St. Peter's and the Tiber as the corridor leading to the Holy See in what was called Via Allesandrina. Alexander is the one who promoted Raphael and consigned him to various projects that would honor the Pontiff for posterity. But he would not have honor in posterity because of the way he lived and conducted his life and abused the powers given him by way of the papacy. While his actions and lifestyle, though sinful, might not have been so unusual to someone in the laity or low profile position, the scandals were magnified because of the magnitude of the position of Pope who people looked to for morality and holiness. With the death of Alexander VI, any spiritual remembrance of him was washed away with the blood he had exacted on those he sought revenge on. With his passing from poison on August 18, 1503 the Church had become weaker and more vulnerable than ever before to collapse. She would be threatened greatly and Holy Mother Church would be stretched to the limit as Christ's words "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" would be put to the most strenuous test yet as the century turned and the Protestant revolt loomed on the near horizon as we shall see in the next installment when we cover Pope Pius III: a far too-short lull between two tempests

    Next issue: Pope Pius III: A far too-short lull between two tempests

April 27, 1999       volume 10, no. 82


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