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Joseph Mccabe Popes And Church Pandc 6





THE Catholic theory is that God, for his inscrutable reasons – this is said in low and reverential tones permitted the Papacy to contract a stain at times from the age in which it lived. The plain historical truth is very different. It is that the Papacy was set up in a relatively decent and enlightened world; and under the rule of the Pope this world sank into appalling depths, dragging the Papacy with it. That is the story of the first thousand years of the Papacy. And the story of the next five hundred years is still more remarkable, on Catholic principles. It is that Europe, in spite of the Popes, grew slowly out of its ignorance and barbarism, and the Papacy continued to sink.

The rebirth of Europe is too often dated from what is called the Renaissance in the fifteenth century. There was, of course, a quicker growth of culture in the fifteenth century, but the rebirth of civilization had begun much earlier. The artistic flush to which I have referred: the school-life inspired by the Moors; the emancipation of the serfs and growth of free towns; the settlement of the new nations; the restoration of commerce – all these things, with which the Papacy had nothing to do, were improving Europe during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. There was a continuous growth of heresy, of angry or contemptuous protest against the Papacy; but the Popes were still strong enough to quench it in blood. The spread of a zeal for ancient Greece and Rome in the fifteenth century greatly stimulated the advance, especially as the laity now took up culture and the practice of law. Let us see how the Papacy behaved while Europe improved.

At the first Papal election in Rome after the return, the French and Italian cardinals fought as men may in a political ward of a minor South American Republic, while a mob of Romans howled through the windows, and even burst into the room. The "Holy Ghost" had not much chance, and a rough Neapolitan monk, Urban VI, was hastily elected. He was a pious man, but his manners were not at the Avignon level; and the luxurious French cardinals, whose ways he described in the rich Neapolitan dialect, chose another Pope, Clement VII, and retired with him to Avignon. It was the opening of the "Great Schism." For thirty years Christendom was hopelessly puzzled as to which of the rival anathematizers, both of whom seemed to be fluent and expert, really had "the gift of the Holy Ghost."

Both were men of vile character. We have for this period a witness of exceptionally good character for such an age, and the sophistry of Papal historians like Father Mann about his evidence is ludicrous. Dietrich of Neim was a clerical lawyer and member of the Pope’s suite: a man, in other words, of special information and ability. He wrote a Latin work On the Schism, and it shows that after four centuries of "reforms," and in spite of the progress of secular Europe, the character of the Papal Court was almost as gross as it had been during the Rule of the Whores. One of the rival Popes, Clement VII, had as cardinal led the Papal troops in person, and he had on one occasion set them to butcher every man, woman, and child in the city of Cesena. Both Popes had armies, and they raped, stole, and murdered and mutilated civilians without restraint.

But the supposedly "genuine" Pope, Urban VI, who held Rome, was even worse. He said nothing when his favourite nephew tore nuns from their convents – rather, he loaded the nephew with wealth and honours – and he raised funds to fight his rival by the most scandalous means. Driven out of Naples for his crimes, the Pope had a number of the leading cardinals tortured in his castle, while he read his breviary under the window, and, being forced by the Neapolitans to fly for his life, he dragged the cardinals with him and, according to most contemporary writers, had all but one murdered. He was himself, it appears, poisoned by the Romans; and the Catholic Encyclopædia, which glosses over these matters in the article on him, remarks that he "might have been a good Pope in more peaceful circumstances." Nor is "Catholic Truth" more candid about Urban’s successor, Boniface IX, who carried simony (traffic in sacred things), dishonesty, and nepotism to the lowest depths. Rome reeked with vice and violence, even ladies of noble rank who came for the Jubilee of 1400 being raped and robbed.

But a still greater humiliation was preparing for "the Holy See," which was now reviled and ridiculed in ribald songs from one end of Europe to the other. Boniface in his sordid greed – he discussed money matters with his secretaries at the altar – had promoted to high office an utterly unscrupulous Neapolitan pirate or irregular soldier, Baldassare Cossa, who perfected the fiscal machinery of John XXII. It will be remembered that John had declared all ecclesiastical appointments forfeit to the Holy See when the holders died. Boniface and his enterprising Chamberlain improved upon this. They had agents watching the age and health of incumbents, and they set up a market of "expectations," in their own elegant phrase. The highest clerical bidder was put on the list. But Cossa had the brilliant idea of also selling "preferences." A man who had paid for the "expectation" of the parish of, say, Montefeltro might find, when the incumbent died, that it had been sold for a larger sum to someone who had secured a "preference."

The "taxes" on dispensations, etc. continued; and we now find clearer evidence of the practice of selling indulgences. People in distant countries said that the journey to Rome for the Jubilee was ruinously expensive, the route being lined with beggars and thieves and courtesans right up to the altars of St. Peter’s. At all events, the Pope or Baldassare imagined them saying this; and, in order that Italians should not be unduly favoured in the Holy Father’s family, it was decreed that any who paid to Papal agents the price of a journey to Rome should obtain the same pardons as if he visited Rome.

Here "Catholic Truth" makes a dignified protest. It is a sheer libel, we are told, that the Church sold anything; and it is a worse libel to say that it sold pardon for sins. On the first point the reader may take it as he pleases. You pay your money – you may still do it in South America – to the priest or shopkeeper, you get your change, and you get a piece of paper assuring you of an "indulgence." Any person is free to call this "giving an alms to the Church and receiving gratuitously a spiritual benefit"; but – no alms, no benefit, and the sum is strictly stipulated. We need not waste time in quarrels about words. In Canada you may give a man money and receive a drink; and as he is very earnest that it is not a "sale," but a free "gift" on both sides, you courteously acquiesce. As to the second point, whatever is done now (which we will discuss later), we have the solemn declaration of the Council of Constance, which I will give presently, that Cossa "sold" absolution from "sin" as well as from the purgatorial punishment of sin (a pœna et culpa). The Council is rude enough to call it a "sale." Still ruder people call it a "sell." Boniface’s successor, Innocent VII, continued to have trouble with the Romans, who maintained their protest against the temporal power, and he had to fly to Viterbo. His nephew had killed some of the Romans. At the next Conclave the cardinals were resolved to end the scandalous and (for Rome) very unprofitable schism. Half the countries of Europe sent their "gifts" to Avignon. So they elected Gregory XII, an aged and venerable man, who protested with tears rolling down his cheeks that he would go on foot, if it were necessary, to meet the anti-Pope, Benedict XIII, and end the schism. But all the force in Church and State could not compel the two greedy old men to approach within less than twenty miles of each other. Gregory was the worst offender. So a number of prelates met in Council at Pisa, deposed the two, and elected Alexander V. Then there were three Vicars of Christ instead of two, as the ancient reprobates stubbornly refused to yield.

Alexander died at once, and Baldassare Cossa secured the tiara, and added fresh lustre to the name of John. He became John XXIII. Cossa had, in nursing the finances for Boniface, created a vast fortune for himself, and money had long counted in a Papal election. But I will be content in the case of John to say only what the distinguished Council of Constance said of him. Sigismund of Hungary took in hand the matter of the schism, compelled John to lay aside his tergiversations, and summoned a great Council of the Church at Constance. There were 29 cardinals, 183 archbishops and bishops, 134 abbots, 100 learned doctors of law and divinity, and – the chroniclers of the time tell us about a thousand prostitutes attracted to Constance for the trial of the three Popes. It began in the early days of 1415; and John, who at once saw the issue, fled ignominiously across Austria. [1]

This grave and representative assembly gathered evidence and drew up an indictment of John XXIII, which any person who knows Latin may read in Labbe’s collection of the Councils. There were fifty-four articles in the charge, but I must summarize. The Holy Father was described as "wicked, irreverent, unchaste, a liar, disobedient, and infected with many vices." When we read the pages of details we rather think that it would have been simpler to name the vices, if there are any, which did not infect him. He amassed an immense fortune by simony, and therewith he bought the cardinalate. As cardinal legate at Bologna he was "inhuman, unjust, and cruel." He got the Papacy by " violence and fraud," though he ridiculed and ignored the offices, fasts, etc. of the Church. As Pope he was an "oppressor of the poor, persecutor of justice, pillar of the wicked, statue of the simoniacs, addicted to magic, the dregs of vice. . . wholly given to sleep and carnal desires, a mirror of infamy, a profound inventor of every kind of wickedness." He sold benefices, bulls, sacraments, indulgences ("from sin and punishment"), ordinations, consecrations – in short, anything that would fetch money. He practised "sacrilege, adultery, murder, spoliation, rape, and theft." And so on. We may take it that the writers of the time, such as Dietrich of Niem, correctly describe the Holy Father: a man of unbounded sexual licence, ferocious cruelty, a bandit all his life, utterly irreligious, absolutely devoid of moral scruple. The three Popes were deposed, and the gift of the Holy Ghost passed to Martin V, who was to cooperate with the Council in reforming the Church, and call other Councils every few years to see that the reform was maintained. But when Martin secured the tiara he dissolved the Council before its reforming zeal became dangerous; and, though he summoned another at Pavia in 1423, he stifled that in its cradle. There was no reform. "Greed reigns supreme in the Roman Court," wrote the representative of the Teutonic Knights to his superiors in 1430. [2] The Church, especially in Germany, seethed with revolt. But Martin was busy regaining the temporal power and adorning Rome.

Martin and his two successors, Eugenius and Nicholas, had been fairly decent men who merely declined to attempt the awful task of cleansing the Augean stables of the Church and reducing its income. At the death of Nicholas a sinister development began. The Italian cardinals, having tired themselves with the customary furious and inconclusive struggle, carelessly handed the tiara to a Spanish bishop who seemed very inoffensive. But his name was Alfonso Borgia, and he planted the Borgia brood in Italy.

Calixtus III, as he was called, was quite pious, as piety went in those days. He was very assiduous at prayer, and he no doubt would like to see the Church better, if the reform did not cost much. But he was very fond of his kindred, and hosts of Spaniards crossed the sea and found office. Among them was a nephew, Rodrigo Borgia, whom Calixtus had for some years been educating for the Church. In a later age families would put into the Church a son who had morals, but no wit; in the fifteenth century it was the son who had wit and no morals. The Church provided him with an income. The morals of Rodrigo (and most of the other young Spaniards) did not exist, but his uncle at once made him a cardinal and Vice-Chancellor (or head) of the Papal Court. In the same year, 1457, the Diet of Frankfort was drawing up an indictment of the Papacy which might have been copied from the indictment of John XXIII.

At the death of Calixtus the furious Romans scattered or murdered the Spaniards, but Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia survived. The new Pope, Pius II, had been a notorious rake in his earlier days, though he was now old and gouty and virtuous. But Rodrigo had turned into his pockets very profitable benefices, and the Pope merely sent the Spanish cardinal on an honourable mission to Siena. It is true that in 1460 he had to write Rodrigo a very severe letter, [3] because he and other cardinals had created a scandal by having young women perform indecent dances before them. Pius ought to have known, and probably did know, that Cardinal Rodrigo now openly had a mistress, Vannozza dei Catanei, and their first child was born in that year. But nothing was done. It was an age when, in the words of Pius himself, "scarcely a single prince in Italy had been born in wedlock," and an official report said that "scarcely one priest in every thousand will be found chaste." Princes of the Church were not much better.

The futile Pius was followed by the futile Paul, who angered Rome so much that there was a conspiracy against his life. Then came Sixtus IV, another man of piety, a Franciscan friar, who, amid the rumbles of Europe, carried the degradation of the Papacy a long step further. He had a brother, three sisters, and fourteen nephews and nieces; and a golden shower fell upon these humble peasants and obscure friars.

The fundamental error of the Papacy at this time was the creation of a corrupt body of cardinals, and the Friar-Pope was one of the worst offenders. There is a contemporary writer, Infessura, who accuses Sixtus of unnatural vice and general unscrupulousness; but Infessura was one of the very anti-Papal Italians, and may be reproducing idle gossip. Some modern historians believe that two of the "nephews" the Pope promoted were his own illegitimate sons. But in this account of Papal history I avoid any disputable charges. The case against Sixtus is bad enough. Whatever his personal morals, he filled the college of cardinals with unworthy men, paying no regard whatever to their notorious vices. His nephews Giuliano della Rovere and Pietro Riario were at once brought from their monasteries and made cardinals. Both were notoriously immoral. Glancing over the list of Sixtus’s other promotions, I see that he was also responsible for Cardinals Sanseverino (loose and worldly), Giovanni Cibo (the father of several illegitimate children), Venier (loose and luxurious), Ascanio Sforza (a great hunter and gambler, notoriously loose), Christoforo della Rovere (another loose nephew), Battista Orsini (whose mistresses were known to all Rome), and Savelli, Sclafenati, and Giovanni Colonna (all loose and worldly).

The sequel will show what the college of cardinals had become, but if any Catholic thinks that these men hid their vices from the Pope, let him read the story of Sixtus’s young nephew, Pietro Riario. Pietro was twenty-six when he was summoned from his friary to a cardinal’s palace. Sixtus gave him bishoprics (inc1uding the archbishopric of Florence) and abbeys that yielded him £100,000 a year, and money was then worth five times as much as it now is, but this did not suffice. His clothes were laden with gold; his favourite mistress Tiresia wore hundreds of pounds worth of pearls on her slippers alone; his banquets lasted hours. When he entertained Leonora of Naples in 1473 he built a superb palace for the day, and the banquet lasted six hours. All the fastest youths of Rome and all the choicest courtesans enlivened his wonderful palace, where there were several hundred silk-clad servants. He wore out his strength in two years and one month of this kind of life, spending £600,000 and leaving to the Pope a debt of £500,000; and, says the chronicler, "all Rome wept for him."

Sixtus followed his darling nephew in 1484, and Rodrigo Borgia and Giuliano della Rovere engaged in a spirited and expensive fight for the tiara. Each of them had several known illegitimate children, but that was no obstacle. Indeed, when they found that their division of forces was letting in a respectable cardinal, they united and got the tiara for Innocent VIII, who had two illegitimate children.

There is in this no ground for alarm, say Catholic writers, because the children were born before "Innocent" became a priest. In view of his advanced age – he was already almost in senile decay – we can readily admit that during his pontificate he did not add to his family; but to attempt to whitewash such a man is monstrous. With the awful example of his predecessor before his eyes, he nevertheless entered at once upon the promotion of his kindred and the creation of questionable cardinals. His son Franceschetto had no leaning to the Church, but he was enormously enriched out of Papal money, and he quickly became the most dissolute rake in Rome. Hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands in a night when he and the fast cardinals were at cards or dice. When his eye fell upon a woman she was not safe in her house at night. His servants forced the doors for "the Pope’s son." The Vice-Chancellor (responsible for order and justice) was his friend Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who shared with Franceschetto the bribes he got from criminals.

Innocent tolerated all this without protest for five years, until he died. His moral delicacy and feeling of remorse were such that he encouraged his son and his daughter Theodorina to lead Roman society, and in 1488 he married his grand-daughter Perretta in the Vatican. Two cardinals and a number of prelates attended the festivity with him in the "sacred palace." He left the rule of the Church to Giuliano della Rovere, who had three known daughters and was currently accused by the chief nobles of Rome of unnatural vice, and of the city to Rodrigo Borgia, whose mistress and children lived openly a few yards from the Chancellory. His capacity and dignity were such that, when the Roman nobles had their inevitable quarrel with him, one of them threatened to throw him into the river.

Then there was the affair of Prince Jem. The Sultan’s younger brother had taken refuge with the Knights of St. John, and was kept prisoner in France. Innocent learned that the Sultan paid the knights £20,000 a year to keep the youth out of the East, and he felt that Rome was the proper place for such a captive. He gave the Grand Master a cardinal’s hat – for general merit, of course – and lodged Prince Jem in oriental luxury and comfort in the Vatican. In Rome Jem could select from a harem of 6,800 courtesans. It was dangerous, however, as the Sultan then sent a renegade Christian to poison the Vatican well; but Innocent discovered the plot, and had the man’s flesh torn from his bones with red-hot pincers.

Then the Sultan affected a very edifying friendship for the head of the sister-religion, and there were amiable letters; though Innocent was supposed until this time to be planning a new crusade against the Turks. The Sultan sent to Rome the spear with which Longinus had pierced the side of Christ. The Master of Ceremonies of the Vatican, John Burchard, tells us in his Diary (May 4, 1492) that the Pope ordered the cardinals to arrange a grand reception of the relic; but the French cardinals swore that the real spear of Longinus had long existed in the royal chapel at Paris, and the German cardinals heatedly protested that the genuine spear was, and had been for centuries, at Nuremberg. We know that they were quite correct, and the "relic" was a gross fabrication. But Innocent placidly silenced them all, and the relic was put with great honour in the church!

The reader may be surprised to hear that almost all the facts given in this chapter are also given by the Catholic Dr. Pastor in his History of the Popes, where (and in my own history) the authorities are quoted. But I may illustrate how even the liberal Catholic scholar winces when the facts are too painful. Dr. Pastor, in his text (vol. v, p. 316), merely describes the gorgeous reception of the spear, and in a footnote he makes a vague reference to "similar relics preserved at Nuremberg and Paris." Burchard, whose authority on such a matter is unquestionable, is quite clear. Many relics of the Middle Ages existed in three or four editions, and rival cities fought bloody battles over them.

Innocent added other improper cardinals to the college – Lorenzo Cibo, his brother’s illegitimate son, and Giovanni de Medici, a boy of fourteen – and went to his account. Then Rodrigo Borgia and Giuliano della Rovere, and their followers, joined issue in their third and last battle for the tiara. Rome was so excited that there were two hundred murders in a fortnight. Borgia won. He had the longer purse. He bribed fifteen out of the twenty-two cardinals. From Burchard’s account of his "gifts" I calculate that the tiara cost him about £600,000.[4]

The morals of Alexander VI are no longer discussed. They are described. Some of the older anti-Catholic writers erred in using uncritically the writings of his Neapolitan enemies, and found him "a monster of iniquity." They charge him with seducing a ward, incest with his daughter, countless murders, etc. I rely only on accepted documents, and leave these things open. We shall see that any Borgia was capable of anything. It is no use professing horrified incredulity. But the record is bad enough without straining evidence.

His two chief mistresses and six children are well known. The legal certificates referring to them are reproduced in the appendix to Thuasne’s Burchard (Vol. III), and are summarized by Pastor and other Catholic writers. About the time of his election as "Vicar of Christ" he took a new mistress, Giulia Farnese, a golden-haired child of fifteen. She remained his mistress throughout his pontificate, from his fifty-eighth to his seventy-second year. She had a daughter Laura, who was regarded as, and apparently was (since she lived apart from her young husband, Orso Orsini, and with the Pope’s daughter), Alexander’s child.

In 1496, moreover, a mysterious "John Borgia" was born at Rome. There are reproduced (in the above writers) two legal certificates of his birth, the first describing him as the son of Cardinal Cesare Borgia and a married woman, the second describing him as son of the Pope and a married woman. Some historians have entertained the wild hypothesis that Alexander was obliging his son – easily the most immoral man in Rome – by assuming his misdeed. It is quite clear that, on the contrary, Cesare lent his name to hide what was really too infamous, even for Rome – a Pope of sixty-five begetting a son. I have no doubt that he was Giulia’s son, and that the second certificate was to be produced, to protect the boy’s rights, in the extreme contingency of Cesare ever becoming powerless to protect him. [5] We shall see that the Pope was grossly and openly immoral long after that date.

Alexander completed the degradation of the cardinals, and Rome now presented a spectacle that eclipses Avignon. Babylon ought not to be mentioned in this connection, as we have not the least ground to suppose that the religious leaders of Babylon, or of any other civilization, ever sank to such a depth as the "Holy Fathers." In defiance of a solemn promise, and for a total sum of about £50,000, Alexander created new cardinals. One was his illegitimate and supremely unscrupulous son Cesare; one was the immoral and scapegrace brother of his pretty young mistress – whom Rome promptly called "Il Cardinale della genella," or the Petticoat-Cardinal; a third was the handsome and dissolute boy (aged fifteen) Ippolito d’Este, who some years later had the eyes of his bastard brother cut out because his own mistress admired them. Later Alexander created a new batch of cardinals – "most of them of doubtful reputation," said the Venetian envoy (in Pastor, VI, 129) – at a price of £60,000.

Of Alexander’s duplicity in war and diplomacy nothing need be said. He extricated himself from the quarrel, and returned to his gay ways. The foreign ambassadors at Rome after 1496 constantly speak of new mistresses and sordid scenes in the Vatican. The baby John was, as I said, born in 1496. In the same year, we learn from the Diary of the distinguished Venetian Senator, Sanuto, outside Rome there was found a head on a pole with the inscription: –

This is the head of my father-in-law, who prostituted his daughter to the Pope.

Worse things are said, but the evidence for these is not trustworthy. The state of Rome was, however, incredible. Lucrezia, who was only fifteen, but already immoral, was married in the Vatican, in a gorgeous ceremony; and the Pope and cardinals and younger ladies caroused until after midnight, as Burchard tells us. Later the Pope, wanting a more powerful ally, dissolved her marriage. After she had conducted a liaison for some time with Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, the Pope married her to a Neapolitan prince, whom Cesare murdered when that alliance was no longer desired. The gaiety of the Vatican was further stimulated by the Pope’s youngest son, Jofre, wedding and bringing to Rome a dissolute Neapolitan princess; by Cardinal Cesare’s constant and exotic amours; and by summoning the Pope’s second, and equally dissolute, son Juan from Spain. The Pope’s magnificent rooms and the Vatican gardens shone day and night with licentious gaiety.

In 1497 Juan was murdered, and I am now disposed to agree with the historians who regard Cesare as the murderer of his brother. For a few months Alexander, who plainly suspected Cesare, was sobered, and ordered a reform of the Church. But within six months Cesare was living again in the rooms above those of the Pope, and things went from bad to worse. The envoys to the "Holy See" mention repeatedly that Cesare is introducing notorious women in batches by night into the "sacred palace." What they did Burchard describes in a famous passage, which Thuasne (III, 167) shows to be confirmed by three good independent witnesses.

At the date of October 30, 1501, he notes in his Diary that the Pope did not attend Vespers, though it was Sunday and the Vigil of All Saints Day. But later in the evening Alexander and his daughter Lucrezia dined with Cesare and fifty prostitutes in Cesare’s rooms in the Vatican. The women, after the banquet, danced unclothed. In one dance they had to flit, nude, between lighted candles and pick nuts from the floor. And this incredible, yet indisputable, scene ends with the "Vicar of Christ" and his daughter distributing prizes of silk garments to those servants of the Vatican who "had had carnal intercourse with the courtesans the largest number of times"! Burchard, we must remember, lived in the Vatican, and wrote this down in a diary which was "not meant for publication."

Considering Alexander’s age and profession, and the fact that his most loved son had been foully murdered (probably by his cardinal brother) in the course of an amorous intrigue a few years before, one has to descend very low in the chronicle of man to find a parallel to the degradation of the Pope’s later years. After this we need not gravely weigh the evidence for his incestuous relations with his daughter, or any other misdeed. I will add only that from vice he in the end turned to crime. He released his son from the cardinalate in order to marry a French princess and get the aid of France. He then followed with great enthusiasm, fuming and cursing when it lagged, the treacherous and revolting campaign by which Cesare carved for himself a kingdom in Italy. In the end, though the legend of the Borgia poison is no doubt greatly exaggerated, he is now generally admitted to have poisoned at least two cardinals for the sake of their wealth. Legend has it that he in mistake, in 1503, himself drank the poisoned wine he had prepared for another cardinal, but the evidence seems to show that he died of malaria.

Cardinal della Rovere had a new formidable rival at the election which followed, and for a month a nonentity, Pius III, occupied the "Holy See." He died, and Giuliano made a corrupt bargain with Cesare Borgia for the vote of the Spanish cardinals. He became Julius II, One of the "great" Popes.

Julius was certainly great in his artistic achievements. It was under Alexander, Julius, and Leo X that the magnificent architects and artists and sculptors of the Roman school created their immortal work; but the Catholic who dreams of religious inspiration here lacks the sense of humour. These artists breathed an atmosphere of complete irreligion and dissoluteness. Rovere had, as I said, three known illegitimate children (Pastor, V, 369), and one of these, Felicia, he openly married at Rome while he was Pope. The leader of the Roman nobility, the Duke of Bracciano, repeatedly and publicly accused him of worse vice; but this charge we must leave open. As the Bishop of Nocera, Giovio, says, when he notices that the same charge of unnatural vice was brought against Julius’s successor, Leo X, his friend and patron, "we cannot penetrate the secrets of the chambers of princes."

Catholic writers eagerly point out that Julius, like many other "bad Popes," had abandoned his irregularities before he became Pope. Naturally; he was sixty years old, as Popes generally were. The Catholic is grateful for very small mercies when he reads the true story of his "Holy See." But the character of Julius was unaltered. He cynically broke faith with Cesare Borgia as soon as he obtained the tiara. He broke faith with his cardinals, and snapped his fingers at his election promises. He promoted cardinals of his family. He was utterly unscrupulous in his diplomacy and his wars for the restoration of the Papal States. His temper was vile, and his language odoriferous He maintained the colossal sale of offices and indulgences, though Europe was now in open revolt, and he made no serious effort to reform the cardinals. He was, the Venetian historian Bembi said, "a master of every type of cruelty," and Guicciardini himself says that if we call Julius "great" (as all Catholic literature now does), we are taking the word in a new sense. He was, soberly speaking, a vile type of man.

Leo X, who succeeded Julius, had to face the revolt of Germany, where Luther was now in arms. But he believed that the Papacy would, as usual, stifle opposition, and he encouraged the licentious gaiety of Rome. The most indecent comedies were performed before him in the Vatican, and he was the worst nepotist in the series of Popes. He promoted to the cardinalate his friend Bibbiena – the writer of the worst of these indecent comedies, one of the most notoriously immoral clerics in Rome; also his illegitimate cousin, and his notoriously loose nephew and grandson of Innocent VIII, Innocenzo Cibo. He is accused of contracting unnatural vice after his election, and the contemporary suggestions of it are serious. [6] In diplomacy his lying and duplicity are almost without parallel; and he had Cardinal Petrucci strangled in prison, and confiscated the property of other cardinals, on the ground that they conspired to kill him. He in eight years spent £10,000,000, largely in personal luxury and dissipation, which were mainly raised – while Luther stormed in Germany – by the corrupt sale of offices and indulgences.

Leo’s two successors (1521-34) were quiet and decent men, dazed by the revolt in Germany, but too weak to reform. Then came Paul III (1534-49), the Farnese, who had won his promotion by his sister Giulia’s liaison with Pope Alexander, and had had four children born in his own cardinalitial palace. As he was now seventy years old, his morals were, the Catholic will be pleased to hear, sound. But he made cardinals of his immoral nephews, and he protected the gay licence of the churchmen. Germany now spoke to Rome in stern accents, and Paul directed the few good cardinals to draft a scheme of reform. It remains "a scrap of paper" in the Vatican Archives to this day. Germany pressed for a Council, and he was compelled to yield, but he insisted that it must be held at Rome, under his presidency.

In brief, Paul III resisted and obstructed with all his power the demand for reform. In 1540 he established the Society of Jesus, and before many years the black-robed sons of Ignatius were at work. Both they and the Pope began to plot for a war which should drown the new Protestantism in blood; but, luckily, the religious revolt now had its princes and armies. Paul was compelled to summon the Council of Trent (1546), which was supposed to be a common gathering of Papalists and Reformers, to define doctrine and reform the Church "in head and members." From Paul’s instructions to his Legates we see that to the end he resisted reform, and merely sought to define doctrine, so as to have a standard for the condemnation and extinction of "the heretics." He died in 1549, the last of the long series of Unholy Fathers.

A few words will conclude this remarkable phase of the story of the "Holy See." The Reformers had refused to come to Trent, or to be duped any longer by the Papacy. The Council therefore was confronted with a formidable revolt of half of Europe. England and north Germany – the north of Europe generally – were lost, and the heresy found ample fuel in the southern lands. In face of this appalling catastrophe, infinitely more effective (by its curtailment of revenue) than the supposed gift of divine guidance, the Papacy still refused for years to check the unprecedented licence of ecclesiastical life at Rome. At the death of Paul III, in the usual odour of corruption, the cardinals were so far from reformed that in the election-chamber they fought and bid against each other for fifty days, and they then chose a man, Julius III, who cared for nothing but pleasure and gluttony. He took an ugly Italian boy from the gutter and made a cardinal of him; and nearly all Rome was convinced that the boy was either his natural son or the instrument of his unnatural vices. So there was not the least reform to 1555.

Then began what is called the Counter-Reformation. But the idea that vice was now banished from Rome and that the Papal Court has ever since been tolerably respectable is ludicrous. In the first place, the statement of Dr. G. H. Putnam, in his History of the Censorship, that the reforming Popes, Paul IV, Pius IV, Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Sixtus V, "led austere lives" and "prohibited nepotism" is quite false. Paul IV was certainly keen on sexual reform (he was seventy-nine years old), but he was a cruel, violent, hard-drinking man, and so flagrant a nepotist that he had to be buried in secret and his body protected from the Romans. Pius IV was a scandalous nepotist and so little religious that, it appears, the reformers sought to assassinate him. At his death in 1566 Rome was as immoral as ever, the higher courtesans notoriously making, largely from the prelates, up to £20,000 a year. Pius V did try to cleanse Rome, though with terrible results, but Gregory XIII was a loose and luxurious man who restored everything. One courtesan made £50,000 in Rome during his pontificate. Sixtus V at last set about sexual reform; but his Catholic biographer, Baron Hubner, admits that he was a scandalous nepotist, he got the Papacy by intrigue and bribery, he sold sacred offices flagrantly, and he was a man of the vilest temper. Clement VIII, who came soon after, distributed £1,000,000 amongst his relatives, and nearly every Pope for years continued to sell indulgences and sacred offices and enrich his relatives. Urban VIII, the persecutor of Galileo, is estimated to have spent £20,000,000 on his relatives, a century after the "reform."

And sexual licence was again soon unchecked. If we remember that Rome had been looted to the extent of over £100,000,000 in 1525 and its population reduced from 90,000 to 30,000; that half of Europe was now Protestant and sent no gold to Rome; and that syphilis had spread like a plague, we do not expect to find the same open parade as formerly. Ranke shows, however, by innumerable documents (the worst not translated, unfortunately) in the third volume of his History of the Popes, that Rome in the seventeenth century was as far from virtue as ever. The Counter-Reformation was, except for a few years and in only a few respects, a gross imposture. Nepotism and simony continued in the Papal Court: vice and violence spread again over Rome. We are told that there were ten times as many murders in Rome and its province (a total population of about half a million) in a year as there now are in London, with sixteen times larger a population! I have in my larger works shown that this was the case in every Catholic country. And this was the Church which inspired the Thirty Years’ War, the St. Bartholomew Massacre, and the Spanish Inquisition, to protect its remaining power.


[1] See the scholarly and quite impartial work of E. J. Kitts, In the Days of the Councils (1908).

[2] Quoted by the Catholic historian Dr. L. Pastor in his History of the Papacy (I, 241). Songs were sung about it all over Europe for centuries. The Emperor Sigismund, who had undertaken the reform of the Church, was himself grossly immoral. There was, in fact, hardly such a thing in Europe as sexual morality in what is called the later and better part of the Middle Ages.

[3] Reproduced in Bishop Mathew’s life of Alexander VI. The Latin text is in the Annales Ecclesiastici of Raynaldus, year 1460, No.31.

[4] Thuasne’s edition of Burchard’s Diarium (not translated) is enriched by useful notes, which confirm every point of importance. Except where Burchard confessedly reproduces gossip, his authority is very high. He was the chief official of the Vatican, and lived in it under Innocent, Alexander, and Julius. Thuasne, and to some extent Pastor, quote from unpublished documents (often in the Vatican), which make controversy superfluous.

[5] I have given a slightly romanticized picture of this period in a novel, The Pope’s Favourite. Not a single disreputable incident in the story is invented. Indeed, it falls short of the truth, as the publishers requested me to omit the worst passages, which were strictly historical.

[6] I have mentioned how his friend Bishop Giovio (Vita Leoni, X, Bk. 4) refuses to absolve him. The leading historian of the time, Guicciardini, is more explicit (Storia d’Italia, XVI, 5), and says that it was the general belief that the Pope took to sodomy after he became Pope. Pico della Mirandola, one of the most learned and sincere Italians of that age, said that in no earlier civilization had there ever been so much vice, natural and unnatural.