DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     June 1, 1999     vol. 10, no. 105


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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 and partly because of the lack of a strong moral compass emanating from Rome.
Installment One-Hundred-five

Pope Leo X: no match for the world, the flesh and the devil part one: Renaissance child

          Over the next several issues we shall deal with Pope Leo X, one of the youngest popes ever. This 217th successor of Peter was pivotal in the causes and effects of the Protestant Reformation and, sadly, contributed in a very negative way to the mass exodus of so many from the Church during his eight year papacy. From birth Giovanni de Medici was weaned for a life in the Church as one of two sons born to Lorenzo de Medici and his wife Clarice Orsini from the equally powerful Orsini clan. This was a power marriage that promised a power protege in young Giovanni. Born in Florence on December 11, 1475 at the height of the Renaissance movement there to the most influential family union in the city, one could plot the direction Lorenzo and Clarice were taking for their second son. He was tonsured at only seven years old and a year later made Abbot of Font Douce in the French Diocese of Saintes as well as Apostolic ProthoNotary by Pope Sixtus IV who sought to reconcile with the Medici family after Lorenzo narrowly escaped death in an ambush by those who had aligned with Sixtus. Lorenzo's brother Giuliano was murdered, thus provoking war between Florence and the Papal States. After several years of fruitless fighting, Sixtus sought a truce and received Lorenzo's assurance of support by granting his son the aforementioned offices in the Church. The price was worth it to Sixtus who then allied with his former Florentine foe and turned on Venice in the great Italian battles that would end with Sixtus' nephew Pope Julius II liberating Italy and solidifying the Papal States, but not after much bloodshed and a decline in Church morals and values that would lay open the path for the Protestant Revolt to slither in and strike. After granting this unusual favor to the young boy, the de Medici family convinced his successor Pope Innocent VIII to allow the Benedictine Abbot Giovanni de Medici to possess riches accrued at the Abbey of Passignano and then the more abundant Abbey of Monte Cassino when Giovanni was a ripe eleven years-old. You can just imagine the hard feelings and resentment the Benedictine monks must have felt, being forced to be obedient to a boy.

          In 1489, Lorenzo cajoled Innocent VIII into bestowing the cardinalate on young Giovanni at the ridiculous age of thirteen. Innocent, to avoid ridicule by fellow cardinals, did this in peccatore, asking Lorenzo to keep it secret for at least three years during which Innocent would provide the the best humanists and scholars to educate the young Church protege. He was sent to Pisa to study Theology and Canon Law and received his doctorate there. True to his word, Innocent made it public in March 1492 by investing the sixteen-year old de Medici with the red hat during a special Consistory. Because of his training and upbringing, his maturity belied his age and the Roman populace were pleasantly surprised at his virtuousness. This could be attributed to both his training and his father's unending loyalty to the faith and what it stood for. While Popes and cardinals fell into sin, Lorenzo was a stickler for the commandments, especially the sixth and ninth for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary prompted his insistence on purity for his son's life. He instilled in young Giovanni the importance of remaining loyal to his vow of chastity. Lorenzo advised his son not to follow the poor example of his fellow cardinals who had fallen into debauchery, but to set a new standard for what a Prince of the Church should be. It was one of Lorenzo's last requests for he died in the summer of 1492 and Giovanni returned to Florence to be with the family and his mother. This mourning period was interrupted by another death - Innocent's on July 25th. Giovanni's dedication to uphold chastity and be virtuous would become even more difficult with the death of Innocent and the election of Pope Alexander VI whose immoral exploits we documented in these pages for several installments prior to this one.

          To Giovanni's credit, he in no way supported the new Borgia pope, nor did he cast a vote for him. Rather, Giovanni cast a prophetic stance of Alexander's ten-year pontificate by warning his fellow cardinals of the consequences if Rodrigo de Borgia were elected. This naturally alienated him from Alexander VI and thus Giovanni returned to Florence where he was safe. In 1494 Giovanni's uncle and his mother's brother Virginio Orsini, who had been the Pope's commander of his Papal troops, resigned his post and left the employ of Alexander in total disallusionment of the pope's policies. This angered Alexander who sought to wage war on Florence and marched into the city seeking to eliminate the Orsini and expell the influential de Medici family. Giovanni escaped with his life by fleeing the city masquerading as a mendicant Franciscan, more bent on ridding the world of this terrible pope than ever before. He joined fellow conclave member Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere in calling for Alexander's ouster. The results failed and Alexander took out his revenge on other high citizens of Florence, most notably the Florentine friar and reformer Girolamo Savonarola by wrongfully excommunicating the preacher who tweaked the conscience of the people over the immoral actions and murderous ways of the pontiff. Alexander sent his hatchetman Cardinal Cesare Borgia, the evil bastard son of the pope who made life miserable for the Florentines and ended any chance for the resurgence of the de Medici family in their own city during Alexander's reign. Because Cesare had aligned with the French, a great anti-French sentiment surged throughout the city which ultimately would lead to a unification of Italy under Pope Julius II.

          Before Julius would come the short-lived pontificate of Pope Pius III who Giovanni had favored over Alexander's son Cesare. In other words, Giovanni and the rest of the conclave would vote for anyone other than the vile bastard son of Alexander's. Of course, Pius' papacy lasted less than a month and that paved the way for Cardinal della Rovere's elevation as Pope Julius II and a resurgence of the Renaissance which Giovanni favored. However there was some resentment for Julius was slowly but surely transferring the center of the Renaissance movement from his beloved Florence to Rome. Yet it was inevitable that the de Medici clan were also going through a metamorphosis that would have them bloom anew in 1512 both in Florence and in Rome with Giovanni's eventual election. Julius made Giovanni Papal legate in Bologna and Romagna in late 1511 and the de Medici balked at joining the schismatic people of Pisa even while most of Florence failed to see the faux pais in this action. This endeared Julius to the loyal de Medici family and alienated the French toward the family. The latter captured Giovanni and much of his family as well as the Papal troops and Spanish affiliates in 1512 and imprisoned them but it was their last hurrah for it rallied the rest of Italy to oust the French as Julius sounded the battle cry and the de Medici, specifically Giovanni came out as heroes, especially after succeeding in a masterful escape from his French captors. Julius was so grateful that he restored the de Medici family to their rightful place of heritage in Florence. Julius had basically paved the way for Giovanni to assume his position as Vicar of Christ and when the former died on February 21, 1513 the way had been cleared for Giovanni's coronation.

          While Giovanni was a man of good morals, he was also a young man with no political savvy and even worse diplomatic skills. He had reached his level of incompetency or "peter principle" before he turned twenty and spent the rest of his life with tunnel vision toward one goal - the resurgence of the Renaissance and his family. This myopic focus would be his downfall as pope for history would show that as Leo X young Giovanni didn't have a clue how to deal with the upstart Augustinian monk Martin Luther or his followers and rather than tackling the issues head-on, he retreated to his "ivory tower" at the Vatican allowing Rome to burn in schism while he fiddled with the arts, unrealistically thinking that by hiding his head in the sands of music, theater, carnival and dance it would save the Church from the mass defections that were occurring as we shall see in the next installment.

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

June 1, 1999       volume 10, no. 105


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