Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Renaissance Popes X: Leo X (Part I)

 Birth Name: Giovanni di Lorenzo de'Medici

Lived: 1475-1521

Regnal Name: Leo X

Regnal Life: 1513-1521

Born in Florence as the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Clarice Orsini, Giovanni di Lorenzo de'Medici was destined by his father to a major ecclesiastical career, and Lorenzo pulled every string he could. By the age of seven, he already had several benefices, and Lorenzo de'Medici began to turn to one of his big dreams for Giovanni: to get him a cardinalate, as soon as possible. His opportunity to do so came with the ascension of Giovanni Battista Cybo to the papacy as Innocent VIII in 1484; Innocent, wanting to make the relationship of the papacy with Florence less rocky than it had been under Pope Sixtus IV agreed to make Giovanni di Lorenzo de'Medici a cardinal, although without voting privileges until he was older. In the meantime the new Cardinal de'Medici studied theology and canon law, and in 1492 was formally admitted as a full member of the College of Cardinals. He participated in the papal conclave that year, as part of the anti-Borgia faction. However, when Rodrigo Borgia became Alexander VI, his relationship with the pope, while cool, nonetheless remained mostly cordial. He was closer to Julius II, and toward the end of Julius's papal tenure was effectively the ruler of Florence; Julius made his younger brother Giuliano di Lorenzo de'Medici the head of Florence but in practice, it was Cardinal de'Medici who decided Florentine policy.

When Julius died in 1513, it became clear that the pope would certainly be an Italian, but there weren't all that many options. Far and away the most likely candidate was Raffaele Riario, who was grand-nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, was the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and had been presiding over the Fifth Lateran Council as papal legate whenever Julius could not attend himself. Cardinal de'Medici had not been attending the council; he was ill in Florence at the time, but he rushed to Rome to attend the papal conclave. He had to have an operation in Rome, and had to be carried into the conclave on a sedan chair. The cardinals drew up a very long election capitulation with a long list of demands with which everyone agreed to comply if elected pope; it included a restriction on how many cardinals a pope could make from his own family, the usual demand for a general council, the usual vague exhortation to prosecute war against the Ottoman Empire, a set of subsidies for the poorer cardinals, and a clause that required that governing positions in the States of the Church go only to cardinals. In addition, and perhaps most amusingly, the capitulation required that the capitulation be regularly read. The pope who would be elected would be a pope with his hands tied, at least in theory. In reality, it is impossible to see how any pope could have possibly fulfilled all of the clauses of the capitulation, and one rather suspects that the cardinals were throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something would stick.

Once the conclave proper began, the cardinals read Julius's bull against simony that had been promulgated by the Fifth Lateran Council, then proceeded to the vote. To everybody's surprise, Riario received no votes, and the clear favorite was Cardinal Serra, which was inexplicable, since Serra was Spanish and not popular. This seems to have led Cardinal Riario to throw his weight behind Cardinal de'Medici; if so, he may have realized what dawned only slowly on the rest of the cardinals, that the younger cardinals were intending to support the Medici candidate by showing their numbers without being too blatant about it -- they had picked Serra precisely because they could vote for him without worrying that he would get enough votes to pass the threshold when they did. Cardinal de'Medici was elected shortly afterward and took the name Leo X.  It had been the first conclave in a while in which there were no known cases of simony or bribery, although that is not to say that there might not have been some more cautious kinds of trade and negotiation going on; much of the concern of the cardinals was likely finding a candidate with sufficiently powerful political connections to deal with the problems that the Papal States had had with France. He was thirty-eight years old, and was only a deacon; he was elected March 9, ordained as priest March 15, consecrated as bishop March 17, and crowned as pope March 19.

There were hopes that the election of Leo would bring peace, but Leo had hardly been pope two weeks when France and Venice made an alliance for the purpose of seizing Lombardy. Leo attempted to make the Papal States neutral, with the result that both sides repeatedly pestered him to join them. The Holy Roman Empire (under Maximilian I) and the Kingdom of England (under Henry VIII) formed a league and dealt the French a significant blow. The Empire and England, who saw the Papal States as a natural ally, tried to get Leo to join, with generous concessions, but he temporized and wrote letters urging both sides to mercy and peace. He did maintain whatever obligations the treaty between Julius II and the Holy Roman Emperor required, but he refused to do more. The Fifth Lateran Council was still continuing, and Leo announced in one of the sessions that he intended to send legates throughout Europe to work for peace. All of this may have had a definite set of good results: the schismatic cardinals from the Conciliabulum of Pisa were reconciled and France finally acknowledged the Fifth Lateran Council. And it is in fact clear that he saw his attempts to make peace among Christian princes to be a significant part of his platform for reform. Leo was eventually pressured into the Holy League, but, in a manner typical of him, only contributed in a limited way and repeatedly tried to negotiate with the French, to the irritation of his allies. When the French took Milan, Leo made a treaty with the French and attempted to convince the Holy Roman Empire to make peace with Venice. This only angered the Empire, and the treaty with the French eventually broke down, because French interests in Italy were not at all consistent with papal interests in Italy.

Julius II had issued an indulgence for those who would voluntarily donate to the building of St. Peter's. Leo had explicitly kept this indulgence, and in 1514 extended it, both in time and in geographical area. A new and more expansive indulgence was proclaimed in 1516; it was widely criticized throughout the Church, in part because even strong supporters of the papacy held that there were too many other indulgences already, that the missionaries preaching them were not properly vetted or supervised, and that the particular way they were organized led to underemphasizing the importance of repentance and overemphasizing the importance of money.

1517 eventually came around, and it would be quite a year. 

In March 1517, the Fifth Lateran Council had its final session. It reiterated the requirements of the previous sessions, then summoned a general expedition against the Ottoman Turks, and closed. It is difficult to assess the impact of the council as a reform council. Reforms were certainly ordered, and some would have a significant impact over time. The Church clarified its teaching on usury with respect to the pawnshops and little banks that were springing up everywhere, sometimes for helping the poor; it reaffirmed the immortality of the soul and put forward a very general plan for the teaching of philosophy and theology; it reaffirmed the authority of bishops with respect to mendicant orders and to books published in their dioceses; it required that preachers be vetted and certified; it replaced the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges with the Concordat of Bologna, which from the perspective of the papacy was not ideal, but was certainly an improvement; and it laid taxes to raise funds for war against the ever-encroaching Turks. This is a fairly disparate list. The official replacement of the Pragmatic Sanction can be said to be a major turning-point; the Pragmatic Sanction, ostensibly an attempt at reform, had done very little more than cause trouble, and is a good example of the way in which Constance's paper reforms led to real damage. And, indeed, we may mark the council as the point at which we clearly begin to move out of the baleful influence of Constance's idea of what reform should be. Contrary to what is sometimes said, all of the reforms were eventually implemented, at least as much as they could be. But implementing conciliar reforms is a very slow process. The Lateran Council had on its side that most of its proposals were much more feasible than many of the reforms that had previously been proposed, but its scattershot reforms were all based on the assumption that things would largely continue as they had been. This assumption was false.

Also this year, the War of Urbino began. Francesco Maria della Rovere had been pushed from the Duchy of Urbino by the League of Cambrai; in 1517, he made his bid to return, backed by the Republic of Venice. Pope Leo hastily pulled together an army to retake it. The army did very poorly; it had no significant military victories. Lorenzo II de'Medici, who had been one of the leaders, was wounded in the first battle and had to return to Tuscany, and his replacement was not up to the task. Leo did win the war; the war, which ended up being extremely expensive for both sides, bankrupted Francesco Maria della Rovere,  who was now in the awkward position of having a large number of soldiers whose wages he could not pay. He was forced to a treaty in which he would withdraw with some minor concessions. But the war was devastating for the papal treasury, which was now dangerously low.

In 1517 as well, Alfonso Cardinal Petrucci attempted to assassinate the pope. In March of the previous year, Leo had removed Alfonso Petrucci's brother, Borghese Petrucci, from the government of Siena. Cardinal Petrucci becomes obsessed with what he saw as Leo's ingratitude to his family, and attempted to bribe a doctor to poison Leo and then convince Leo to see the doctor to attend to his medical problems. This attempt failed, because Leo, a rather private person to begin with, was very cautious as to whom he'd trust on medical issues. In the meantime, Petrucci was so obviously something with his brother, that Leo, unaware of the poisoning plot, wrote Petrucci a letter saying that any attempt to incite a revolution in Siena or elsewhere would not be tolerated. In fact, Petrucci was still trying to pull off some version of his poisoning conspiracy, which was his downfall, because a letter about the subject was discovered. Leo then sent Petrucci a letter inviting him to Rome to discuss the possibility of a reinstatement to the government of Siena; Petrucci, not aware that his correspondence had been discovered, went and was arrested, along with Bandinello Cardinal Sauli, who was implicated by the correspondence. A big question was now in the air. Were the two cardinals acting alone? Were other people, like Francesco Maria della Rovere (with whom Borghese Petrucci was staying), involved?  Given that the accused was a cardinal, Leo called a consistory and worked out with the cardinals a way to proceed with the trial; in effect, it would be a normal trial, but a committee of cardinals would observe, report upon everything to the Sacred College, and make any recommendations if there were any issues that needed to be resolved. Things would get more complicated soon, as Petrucci claimed that Raffaele Cardinal Riario was also involved in the conspiracy. Leo arrested Riario, despite the tendency among the cardinals to be skeptical about the claim. 

Things might have ended there, but Riario confessed. We do not know the precise details of the conditions under which he confessed, beyond the fact that he was imprisoned in the harsh conditions of Castel Sant'Angelo, of which he had been terrified before (he had to be carried there, because he refused to walk). Then two more cardinals were named. Leo gave the consistory an offer: he would pardon anyone involved if they would only confess, right then and there. No one did publicly, but the cardinals agreed that perhaps each cardinal should go up and make his profession of innocence or guilt for the pope's ears alone. Cardinal Soderini refused, and Leo responded angrily that he was one of the cardinals who had been named.  At this, fearing what the pope would do, Soderini and another cardinal, Castellesi, threw themselves on Leo's mercy. Leo granted pardon, but the consistory itself, probably hoping to put an end to this and keep it quiet, fined each cardinal a significant sum. Not long after, Soderini and Castellesi fled the city. It is unclear to this day how far they were actually involved, although it seems likely that they had at least had indirect knowledge of the conspiracy. 

Everybody expected Petrucci to be fully punished, and he was soon executed, along with a number of other non-cardinal co-conspirators, but Sauli and Riario still had their supporters, who hoped to sway the pope to leniency. Leo struck a deal in which Riario was pardoned on the condition that he recognize in public that his deposition was lawful and his restoration (but without voting privileges) was entirely due to the mercy of the pope, vow to support the pope in the future, and pay a large fine, which included his famously beautiful palazzo (which Leo made into the offices of the Apostolic Chancery, thus giving it its current name, the Palazzo della Cancellaria). Riario accepted, and later, when the fine was paid, Leo restored his voting rights, as well. But Riario's political career was in substance ended. A similar deal was made with Sauli. Nonetheless, people could not help but wonder if all of the conspirators had really been found. It is clear from Leo's next actions that he had been wondering this, too.

In June, Leo announced to the cardinals that he was creating new cardinals. The rumor was that there were going to be twelve -- a number that many cardinals thought an intolerable attempt to take control of the college. (The election capitulation had stipulated, for instance, that there should be no more than twenty-four cardinals total.) In fact, when Leo actually gave the names in July, there were thirty-one. They were of all kinds. Some were extraordinary men of known intelligence and character, like Adriaan Florens Boyoens or Tomasso de Vio Cajetan. Others were clearly political choices, giving Roman families a place at the table (something popes previously had been reluctant to do lest it bring even more of the rough-and-tumble of Roman politics into the college). Some were probably also chosen to try to pre-empt any protest about the action from the major European powers by giving them beforehand cardinals they would approve. Yet others were almost certainly chosen because of wealth or wealthy connections, as various political problems, the expenses of the Fifth Lateran Council, and a lack of the money-sense of Alexander and Julius had drained the papal treasury. It is perhaps worth noting at this point that in many places in Europe, and perhaps especially in Germany, the treatment of Petrucci and his co-conspirators was understood by them as just part of a scheme for raising money -- Leo had clearly used the occasion to increase the number of cardinals, and he had clearly given at least a few of those cardinals the red hat because they were wealthy. In any case, until John Paul II, who unlike Leo had the approval of the cardinals and did it as part of a specific reform of the College of Cardinals, no other pope ever appointed so many cardinals. 

And it marks a turning-point. From long before the Council of Constance, the College of Cardinals had begun to see itself as the fundamental legislative authority in the Church. This is what had caused the Western Schism to begin with; it is what led to the rise of conciliarism, which was sometimes seen as a sort of generalization of this idea. When the plans for recurring general councils fell through, it is clear that the Sacred College saw itself as the alternative. Every electoral capitulation had had provisions that were clearly and obviously designed to try to limit the power of the popes over the college. With the 1517 consistory it becomes clear that the College of Cardinals did not have the power and authority for which it had been grasping. This by no means resulted in powerlessness. Popes do not have magical powers; they cannot make things happen by speaking. They need people of influence to carry out their plans faithfully and reasonably, and as the primary such people of influence, the cardinals even today have a considerable amount of power. A pope with a significant majority of the college unhappy with him is a pope who is lamed. And indeed, Leo will run into some problems down the road due to the fact that he made a number of enemies in the college over this. But he was able to do it because the assassination conspiracy put the College of Cardinals in an unusually weak position, so that their ability to protest was not what it normally would have been.

And finally, but in some ways most significantly, on October 31, 1517, a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, named Martin Luther, sent a protest against sale of indulgences, entitled "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", to his archbishop, the young Albrecht von Brandenberg (who was in his twenties). Albrecht, of liberal inclinations but very ambitious, held multiple sees, and had to pay a heavy tax to maintain them. Out of courtesy to him, and perhaps also out of courtesy to his important family connections, Rome had given him a special privilege of receiving a commission from donations associated with the St. Peter's indulgence, to help defray the cost. However, Albrecht, who wanted to make sure he was legally safe, had delayed it until this year, 1517, to make sure that all the legal and canonical details were on his side and that Rome was serious about the commission. He would not receive much on commission; the indulgence was not popular anywhere, for reasons mentioned above, and the campaign, which was supposed to last for eight years, only lasted two due to Luther's protest. It is perhaps worth noting precisely what was being done. 

Technically speaking, an indulgence cannot be bought or sold; it requires doing a particular kind of action that the Church wishes to encourage, and doing it with a spirit of repentance. This action, by the issuing of indulgence, becomes in a sense an action not just of the individual but part of the overall prayer of the Church, and thereby becomes imputed a remedy for the negative consequences of sins already repented. What was being given out in response to the donations was a letter certifying that you had at least done the action; these letters of indulgence could also be given out with letters of confession that gave the penitent the right to receive sacramental absolution  from an ordinary confessor even in cases of sins that would normally require a higher authority like a bishop or the pope. The primary issue at hand, however, was not indulgences for oneself, but indulgences applied by suffrage to others, that is, cases in which one does the action and prays that the effect of it be given to someone who is dead. It was a common view, although not generally accepted by authorities, that such an indulgence required no penitence beyond the action itself, and it is certain that many German preachers were going around preaching the view that you could get an indulgence, with guaranteed effect, for someone who had died, simply by donating.

Luther's protest took a very professorial form, ninety-five theses about the practice of indulgences that he was willing to defend against any and all. The document may or may not have been put up on the church door, as later legend says; it's not impossible, but the legend is based on comments later by Melanchthon, who was not there, and who may have been speaking more figuratively than he was taken to be, the church door being where you publish public news. Receiving Luther's letter, the bishop looked the theses over, consulted the professors at his own local university, the University of Mayence, as well as a number of other advisors. Many of his advisors recommended that a judicial process for heresy be started against Luther. The professors at Mayence were more circumspect in the advice they gave in December; they identified one thesis that they regarded as theologically unsafe due to its inconsistency with traditional doctrine (the thesis that the Pope had only limited authority over indulgences), but declined to say whether anything in the document was actually heretical. They recommended that the archbishop consult Rome. Albrecht took their advice and sent the protest on to Rome. 

(to be continued)