DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     June 15, 1999     vol. 10, no. 115


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      It was the best of times Renaiissance-wise and the worst of times religious-wise as the sixteenth century introduced the world to the opposite polars better recognized as Pope Alexander VI and Pope Julius II. Into the mix with the latter's death came Pope Leo X a young pope who was as directly opposite both previous pontiffs as anyone could be. While Alexander was a strong, political-minded leader with no regard for scruples or morals, Leo X was schooled at a very early age in the vow of chastity becoming an abbot at seven and a cardinal deacon at thirteen. While Julius was a shrewd leader of men and military genius, Leo X had no idea of the hows and wherefores of military strategy and cared even less for the grueling business of war. But both Leo's predecessors shared one thing in common with him, the love of the arts and this Leo perpetuated for he had come from the seed of the powerful and influential de Medici family of Florence - a family in the eye of the storm during the turbulent reigns of Julius's uncle Pope Sixtus IV and Alexander's. Leo X would be one of the youngest to ever assume the papal throne and his youth and inexperience shown as we shall see in future installments on this pivotal pope who, like the proverbial ostrich, hid his head in the sands of the arts hoping the distractions of schism and apostasy would just go away on their own. Of course, nothing was further from this for the reality was that the Protestant Reformation was strongly planted in Europe partly because of the enlightenment movement, partly because of the political intrigue among Europe's princes and the rivalry with Italy, and partly because of the lack of a strong moral compass emanating from Rome. The skipper of the Barque of Peter had no clue and when he did make moves, they were the wrong ones. The result would be a shipwreck of dire proportions that would weaken the Church's fleet for decades to come.
Installment One-Hundred-six

Pope Leo X: no match for the world, the flesh and the devil part two: the Ivory Tower

          When Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici assumed the papal throne on March 11, 1513 as Pope Leo X the first thing he promised was to continue the Fifth Lateran Council - the 18th Ecumenical Council convened by his predecessor Pope Julius II. What the faithful did not count on was that the speed with which Leo would go through the coffers left by Julius who had built up a sizeable amount before he died. Within two years into Leo's papacy, the Vatican was basically broke due to Leo's splurges and theatrical excess where the papal palace became a pleasure palace for many indecent and immoral performances that further imploded the confidence the people had on their pontiffs. As we alluded to in the last installment, Giovanni himself was a man of good morals. He prayed his Daily Office, said Mass daily, and fasted three times a week but he was immature in judgment and the people he surrounded himself with were definitely of questionable character. Because Leo wanted to please so much he basically gave away the store, so to speak, and made the Vatican a revolving door for the world, the flesh and the devil. He was so enamored with the arts that he attracted both good artists and imposters to the Holy See and paid these artists and poets all too well. Because of a personality clash with Michelangelo who had been so faithful to Julius, he shortchanged the master artist in favor of his own favorites in the architect Bramante and Michelangelo's young protege Raphael. This further disallusioned Michelangelo. The rest, with little integrity, swarmed to Leo like bees to honey and by the time this 217th succesor of Peter had passed on, the treasury was empty. He had gone hog-wild in appointments and creating new offices within the Vatican, most that weren't necessary but they accommodated the majority of his vast entourage of relatives. If historians thought his predecessors had been guilty of nepotism, they hadn't seen anything compared to this de' Medici nobleman who was referred to more as the "Renaissance Prince" than the Supreme Pontiff.

          That says volumes when one looks at the political climate in Europe at this time in history. The enlightenment had caused man to become more brash in questioning authority and ushered in a new philosophy of life - a pagan one called humanism. For centuries the Church had stood as thee authority with respect earned but in the last part of the fifteenth century and the early part of the sixteenth century that respect eroded because of the worldliness and debauchery of some of the Church's leaders. Thus these questionable popes and prelates opened the door for this humanistic enlightenment to gain a foothold for those who disagreed with what was going on in the Church to take matters into their own hands. When we better understand this climate and the causes and effects of the times, we can better understand how Martin Luther came to the forefront. Hopefully we will not scandalize anyone when we say that many of the things Martin Luther stood for were right. That's right, because this Augustinian monk was dead set against the way indulgences were being bought and sold like favors. It is no secret that the popes of these times were literally selling God and that was wrong. Many of the reforms Luther proposed were indeed enacted at the Council of Trent, but it was like closing the barn door after the horses were out.

          Luther was right in many of his theses, just as Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve was right on many of his issues regarding maintaining the Traditional Latin Mass and providing for those who wanted to retain the Orthodoxy of the faith as decreed at Trent which Pope John Paul II did with Ecclesia Dei afterwards. But the problem with both was the matter of obedience. When push came to shove both men said "non serviam." They failed to remember Christ's words in Matthew that He would be with His Church always and "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Luther and many other held out great hope when Leo opened the sixth session of the 18th Ecumenical Council called by Julius II. But after after the eighth and ninth sessions, it was all to evident that any reforms approved by the council would not be enforced. When he closed the Council on March 16, 1517 it was also quite evident that Leo didn't have a clue. He didn't want to be bothered with serious matters. He was basically living in la-la land, thinking that being pope meant furthering culture and lavishing the Vatican with more artistic treasures as the Vatican Library began to swell with gifts, many not as valuable as many thought due to the second-hand work of inept artists who rode the coat-tails of other more accomplished artisans. As mentioned earlier, he sold indulgences to raise more money and when he decreed that this would be universal and encouraged that this be preached Luther took exception to one Father John Tetzel, O.P. who was preaching the Pope's wishes in January 1517. Luther took exception and posted his famous or infamous 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg in the fall of 1517. When word reached Leo in early 1518 he was insensed, not so much for the disobedience aspect but because Luther's actions had definitely made a dent in Leo's plans and was hampering sales of indulgences as well as fracturing various political alliances forthe alignment of powerful European princes with the Protestant sympathisers was weakening what strength he had. While many have long considered the Protestant Reformation a religious issue, it should be noted that politics played more of a major part than religion per se, for politics were the cause and the effects were the faith. Therefore Leo ordered Luther silenced, not directly but through the Superior General of the Augustinians. When that failed Leo tried to persuade the Elector Frederick of Saxony, Luther's protector to stop Luther. That also failed. He then sent theologian John Eck to Leipzig, Germany in 1519 to debate Luther. When that did not convince Luther to cease and desist or his growing number of followers Leo painted himself into a corner. To save his own face he published the bull Exsurge Domine on this very day June 15, 1520. It condemned Luther on forty-one counts, but not yet handing him the bell, book and Rather than repent, Luther sold his soul to the devil by burning the bull. Leo followed that with another bull Decet Romanum pontificem on January 3, 1521 which this time did excommunicate the rebellious Augustinian monk. This further alienated Luther's supporters. In effect Leo's final action provoked war on the Church as the political camps were delineated, a war that would take its toll in the ensuing centuries. Also, in effect, Leo's failure to act promptly allotted the enemies of the Church to regroup, to dig in and to build up a formidable fortress.

          It was no secret Leo was Italian to the core and wanted no foreign intervention in his homeland and city of Florence where the de' Medici family was so powerful. But the same held true for all of Europe who resented the mannerisms of Leo and his resentment of everything non-Italian. France manipulated its way back into Italy by playing on Leo's weaknesses and Leo essentially sold some of his country down the river by surrendering to the French in cahoots with the Venetians the territories of Milan and Naples in return for assurance that Florence would be spared. Spain, led by Emperor Maximilian I and England naturally aligned against France, giving Leo an ally for Italy. The Holy Roman Empire or Germany opted to remain independent but it was no secret the majority of protestors were turned off by the Italian influence and Leo's actions played right into Luther's strength politically. Despite Spain and England's alliance against France, Leo went against common sense and his advisors' advice and called for conference with King Louis XII successor King Francis I receiving the French assurance that the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges would be revoked and a special concordat be signed that would greatly favor the French interests in regards the Holy See. This did not sit well with his own curia. Spain, meanwhile, was in the throes of a succession from grandfather to grandson in Charles V of Haptsburg who would play an integral role in the Reformation battles to come. Covering his backside, Leo proclaimed the king of England Henry VIII as "Defender of the Faith" to add another "prestigious name" against Luther in his war of words with the deposed German monk. The accolade would also keep Henry at bay as he relished the acclamation, a proud, vain man. More vices that would be Henry's own downfall. What Leo was doing, in effect, was laying the groundwork for more rebellion by downplaying the commandments and true essence of the faith. Like many of his predecessors, he used the office of the Supreme Pontiff to "get even" by executing his enemies within the Church and blanketing the Conclave with relatives who were not qualified to be cardinals, let alone be bishops or priests.

          In the end, Leo was left without any allies for all used him just as he used them. When he died of malaria on December 1, 1921 Italy was once again in political turmoil, the treasury was bare and the moral coffers badly lacking as well. Northern Europe was on the verge of all-out rebellion against Italy and the Church whom most Europeans looked upon as synonymous. This was truly the darkest of times for the Church and it would get much worse very, very soon.

    Next issue: Pope Hadrian VI: the Dutch pope who tries desperately to plug the dike before the waters of rebellion cascade over Europe

June 15, 1999       volume 10, no. 115


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