DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     May 25, 1999     vol. 10, no. 101


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     With the death of Pius III, the balance of power swung away from the long-suffering debacle of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI and his clan, to a new power on the horizon in Italy as long-time adversary of the Borgia's Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere became the 220th successor of Peter, taking the name Pope Julius II and launching a military crusade to rid Italy of the Borgias and any foreign influence. After nearly a decade of wars in which Julius II led his troops into battle aligned with France, Austria and Spain to form one League and excommunicate the powerful Doge and Venice, then aligned with the former to rid Italy of France when the latter decided to annex Milan. He was known as both the "warrior Pope" and the "Renaissance Pope" for he is best known as the Pontiff who liberated Italy and relocated the center of the Renaissance from Florence to Rome. But spiritually the Church remained in a vacuum as material, temporal matters took precedent over the more important religious matters of the soul. For this the Church would pay dearly in the years ahead with the Protestant Reformation.
Installment One-Hundred-four

Pope Julius II: the militant Renaissance Pope whose obsession was to bury the Borgias

          They say those who wait in the wings will someday fly. Such was the case with Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, bitter enemy of Pope Alexander VI and the rest of the Borgia clan that ruled and sought to ruin the Church at the turn of the century. Rovere had been born of poor parents in Albissola, Italy on December 4, 1443 and educated by the Franciscans at Perugia where he became a friar priest. His uncle was Pope Sixtus IV who appointed Giuliano bishop of Carpentras and on December 16, 1571 elevated him to the cardinalate, making him a cardinal priest of San Pietro in Vincoli. He gained in experience and influence as the years went on, being chosen by Sixtus' successor Pope Innocent VIII to mediate between France's Louis XI and Austria's Maximilian I. But all this came to a sudden halt upon Innocent's death for Alexander bribed and cajoled his way to the papal throne. Thus the balance of power had swung to the notorious Borgia Pope and Rovere was forced into exile during Alexander's eleven year pontificate. During this time the hatred ran so deep that Rovere plotted against Alexander, aligning with Charles VII of France. Upon Alexander's mysterious death on August 18, 1503, Cardinal della Rovere was prepared for the Borgia's and successfull fought off the bid of the evil Cesare Borgia, Alexander's bastard son, helping effect the election of Pope Pius III, a frail man. Don't for a moment think Rovere didn't realize this and that by electing Pius III it would give him more time to mount a way to stop the Borgia clan.

          That came during the conclave following Pius' death. Because of the Borgia track record, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere was finally able to achieve the goal he had been groomed for: the papacy. He took the name Pope Julius II as the 216th successor of Peter, the first Julius since Pope Saint Julius I who was elected the 35th successor of Peter while Constantine the Great still ruled. Julius II's coronation was on November 1, 1503. While he could have been a great Vicar of Christ and brought unity to the Church and quite possibly have averted the pending Protestant rebellion throughout Europe, he was so obsessed with eradicating the Borgia clan that it often clouded his thinking and made him a ruthless, violent ruler. He was, in a word, militant. He marshalled the papal troops to take back the Papal States confiscated by the Borgias and was relentless in slaying anyone loyal to the Borgia side and sought to make Italy free of any interference from the rest of Europe. He drove Cesare Borgia out of Italy and convinced Venice to evacuate Romagna or else. To cover his back he called on old colleagues Louis XII and Maximilian I along with Spain to form the League of Cambrai.

          Julius II donned full armor and rode at the forefront of his troops into battle, taking back Perugia and Bologna for the Papal States. When Venice balked, he officially excommunicated the residents of the city on April 27, 1508 and the following month clobbered the Venetians where they had to surrender Rimini and Faenza and all taxation rights. Control of Church appointments in Venice was taken from the Doge and placed back in the hands of the Pope. But one of the fallouts by inviting the Holy League in was France's desire to covet Milan. Julius saw this and summoned a new Holy League, this time with Venice as an ally to oust France with the battle cry, "Out with barbarians!" The battles that ensued took their toll on both sides and a new fued broke out between Julius II and Louis XII. The latter tried to depose the Pope, calling a Synod in Pisa, and reestablishing some of the decrees of King Philip IV from the Avignon days and the battles between Philip and the feisty Pope Boniface VIII. In an effort to stifle any momentum Louis had gained, Julius called the Fifth Lateran Council in Rome, the eighteenth Ecumenical Council and first since the Council of Basle-Ferrara-Firenze in which the Papacy regained superiority over conciliar power. This was called in 1512 and would last five years on and off until 1517 though Julius would not see it through to fruition. Julius expedited the beginning of this Council for Maximilian had sided with Louis and thus, being an astute military genius, sought to cut the snake off at the head rather than scatter the pit. Spain remained loyal to the Holy See and England joined as well, but King Henry VIII did not send troops right away. Nevertheless the tide truly turned when a group of Swiss troops arrived and by the end of 1512 had driven the French from Italian soil. It was the beginning of the vaunted, prestigious Swiss Guard who retain the same militia apparel today as then. Julius recaptured Parma, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia and was hailed as the liberator of Italy.

          An ambitious and impatient man by nature, when he wasn't on the front lines, Julius was seeing to the rebeautification of Rome and the Holy See, often nagging the Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarrotti into completing the Sistine Chapel, a project begun by his uncle Pope Sixtus who built it and now would be finished during his pontificate nearly thirty years later. Julius is best depicted by Rex Harrison's portrayal of him in the 1965 film "The Agony and the Ecstacy" in which Charleton Heston played Michelangelo. Julius also summoned Michelangelo's protege Raphael to work on various projects as well as Bramante to whom he entrusted the design of the new St. Peter's Basilica, laying the cornerstone on April 18, 1506. He also established the first bishopric in South America, laying the foundation of the faith there that would blossom thanks to two events - the missionary efforts of Spain and Portugal and later France, and the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the new world, most specifically at Guadalupe. Meanwhile back in the Old World, many attribute Julius' influence in transferring the center of the Renaissance movement from Florence to Rome in the early sixteenth century. Yet, sadly, much of this was financed by the sale of indulgences which was necessitated by Alexander's total gutting of the Vatican treasury. Julius left the coffers with ample funds raised through taxation, and confiscated funds from regions recaptured. He basically rid the Church and Italy of the Borgia influence, but, as historians will recount, it was too little too late. The snakes had slithered throughout Europe and were ready to strike in the middle of the darkness for the spiritual darkness had descended on the continent. Julius II died on February 21, 1513 of the fever and Italy mourned him not as a holy pope but a great liberator, a military power. The Pope had become the first power in Italy, but it would not last for a greater danger was coiled and ready to strike, bearing its fangs of resistance and enlightenment. It would not be lifted during Julius' successor's reign either for Pope Leo X would have no idea how to deal with Martin Luther and the Protestant rebellion as we shall see in the next installment.

    Next issue: Pope Leo X: no match for the world, the flesh and the devil

May 25, 1999       volume 10, no. 101


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