Saturday, April 16, 2022

By the Wellspring of the Norns

 'How should Christ be referred to?'

'By calling him the creator of heaven, earth, angels and the sun; the ruler of the world, the heavenly kingdom and the angels; the king of the heavens, the sun, angels, Jerusalem, Jordan and Greece and the counsellor of the apostles and saints. Early poets associated him with the wellspring of the norns and with Rome, as for instance in the verse from Eilif Gudrunarson:

They say he sits on a mount in the south and by the wellspring of the norns. In this way the mighty king of Rome has strengthened his realm with the lands of the heathen gods.'

[Snorri Sturuluson, 'Skaldskaparmal', Prose Edda, Byock, tr., Penguin Books (New York: 2005) p. 116.]

Friday, April 15, 2022

Renaissance Popes X: Leo X (Part II)


Early in 1518, Pope Leo X received information from Albrecht von Brandenberg about Luther's protest against the preaching on indulgences, including the fact that it was getting a considerable amount of traction in Germany. Leo took the obvious route, at least as far as we can tell; Luther was an Augustinian, and Leo was just installing a new Vicar General for the Augustinian Order, Gabriele della Volta, so he charged the new Vicar General with remonstrating with Luther, to try to get him to tone down his claims.  It's unclear exactly what Volta did; we have no indication he wrote Luther himself, although that would be common, but he seems to have written Luther's confessor. But Luther by now had become an instant celebrity. Germany had about as high an opinion of the Italians as the Italians had of the Germans, which is to say, not much, and the heavily Italianate Roman Curia they regarded with suspicion. In addition, conciliarism had been popular in the German-speaking principalities, with the somewhat anti-papal edge that conciliarism sometimes had. The indulgence preaching, on the other hand, had been very unpopular. Students came from all over Germany to hear Luther speak. It was enough to start worrying the local Dominicans, and they also reported on Luther to Rome. In the meantime, a letter from Luther, probably encouraged by his superiors, arrived; it was polite, but it apologized for nothing, recanted nothing. Leo opened a preliminary inquiry, assigning investigators. So far everything had proceeded entirely routinely, at least on Rome's end. The primary complication was that the Elector of Saxony wanted any trial to occur in Germany, rather than in Rome. Cardinal Cajetan (who was the papal legate) and the Elector, while not being able to agree on this particular point, negotiated a compromise that might perhaps avoid a formal trial, by having Luther come before Cajetan; Leo agreed to this, and gave Cajetan the authority to decide the case. Luther would not back down, and appealed from the legate to the Pope; eventually Cajetan requested that the Elector send Luther to Rome (the Elector declined until he was more certain that Luther had actually taught heresy), at which point Luther began appealing from the Pope to a general council. All of this was reported back to Leo, who responded by promulgating a letter, to be read in churches, on the Catholic doctrine of indulgences. 

While Luther's behavior was unusual, and the pope took an interest in the case, the process itself was relatively routine. Much more complicated, and consuming far more of the pope's time was the question of the imperial succession. In 1518, it was clear that Maximilian I was preparing his son, Charles, King of Spain, to succeed him, but Maximilian died very early in 1519. Besides Charles, the only other obvious candidate was Francis I, King of France. Both campaigned very hard, and some sources suggested that they did so in part with a steady river of bribes flowing toward the Electors. Neither was particular palatable to Leo, whichever one was chosen, would have to deal with a suddenly supercharged aggressive neighbor, either to the south, if Charles was chosen, or to the north, if Francis was chosen. At first, Leo looked to see if he could encourage the Electors in the direction of an alternative candidate -- perhaps one of themselves -- but when it became obvious that Charles had the upper hand, Leo decided to put his support behind Francis, deeming him the least bad of the two options. Eventually, Leo became convinced that the Electors would never vote for the French king, so he reverted to his previous plan and tried to back the Elector of Saxony. In the meantime, the pope's behavior had irritated almost all the Electors, including the Elector of Saxony, and they increasingly told that papal representatives that they had no business interfering with the process of the election. Charles won the election.

Through all of this, the question of Luther was wholly on the backburner. However Luther may have seen the matter, from the perspective of Leo everything involving Luther so far was nothing more than an interesting version of a rather routine process. The only definite problems that had been pinpointed were Luther's denial of the Treasury of Merits and his concomitant view that the pope had no authority at all to apply such merits in an indulgence; almost everybody was willing to grant that the theology of indulgences was in some ways obscure, so outside these two points, they were generally willing to leave the matter open.  In addition, Leo seems to have had the impression for part of 1519 that Luther was near to recanting, and would eventually be in Rome to do so. In 1520, having received reports that indicated otherwise, Leo opened the inquiry process again, this time also including the Elector of Saxony, who had repeatedly failed to cooperate with attempts to move the process forward. Luther, meanwhile, was increasingly clear that he was breaking with the pope. In June, the pope published the bull, Exsurge Domine, censuring forty-one propositions in the Luther's writing, and issuing the penalty of excommunication for Luther if he did not recant within a certain period of the publication of the bull. It took time to publish the bull in Saxony -- the Germans were not at all cooperative -- but it was eventually done, and Luther, with his usual restraint, responded by writing a book, Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist, and held a public bonfire where he burned copies of the bull.

It is not uncommon to treat Exsurge Domine as a significant point in the history of the times, but while this would be convenient historically, I think it can be safely said that it is not. The bull is often criticized for not giving the exact kind of censure it is applying to each proposition. It in fact does the opposite, explicitly declining to do so, and for good reason; its concern is not to analyze propositions but to clarify why Luther is in danger of being penalized and what Luther would need to do in order to avoid it (namely, recant any of the ones he had actually taught and apologize for any points at which he might have said things that led people to wrong impressions about what he taught). The bull is also often criticized for not explaining why each proposition is censured, or for ignoring the positive and substantive views of Luther, but these are absurd; Luther may have seen himself as debating the pope, but Pope Leo X certainly was not debating Luther. Luther's works had been investigated by commissions; serious concerns had been raised; he had been given chances to retract anything that could get him into trouble, and had rejected them; there was, on Leo's part, nothing more to be said. Luther's excommunication was not even based on his having taught certain things; it is based on his refusal to acknowledge that his teachings must be submitted to authority. It is possible that if Leo had had any inkling of what is to come that he would have put more care and preparation into the bull; as it was, he did not have prophetic foresight, and therefore treated the matter as what it would have seemed to him at the time to be: a professor had become a celebrity by saying edgy things and then had refused to acknowledge his responsibilities as a Christian and a professor to submit his teaching to the Church; the process of trying to convince him even to compromise had been long and drawn-out, and had failed; so his certification for preaching and teaching was being removed and he was being given one last chance before the more severe penalty of excommunication. It was not a trumpet-blast against the Reformation; it was not a declaration of theological war against Luther and his followers; it was not an entry in a theological debate between the hierarchy and the reformers. Quite the opposite; Leo saw himself as the reformer, saw Luther as the kind of thing that needed to be addressed by reforms (this was why he was interested in Luther's case to begin with), and was trying to handle the corruption being spread by the popular German professor peaceably but firmly with the minimum amount of intervention or interference.  It was just one step in a process; the bull was a standard pause in the process to allow recantation before punishment and also to give the person being investigated a chance to show that they did not meet the final criterion for punishment, obstinacy or refusal to repent. And Luther's response definitely showed that he met that criterion. Since Luther did not recant or apologize, on January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther. Papal representatives in the region were told to stand firm against Lutheran appeal to any other authority, and to request the Emperor that he be handed over to Rome, but that if Luther himself showed any desire to appeal to Rome, they should give him any reasonable guarantee of safe-conduct he required.

From the perspective of the pope, what was far more serious than anything Luther did was the refusal of Frederick, the Elector of Saxony to cooperate. The Elector insisted that Luther should be tried before a jury of 'learned men' to assess whether he was really guilty of heresy. This, of course, was unacceptable to the papal nuncios; it would have been equivalent to saying that the papal bull had no authority. It became worse when he temporarily convinced the Emperor Charles to go along with the idea of a further trial. It may seem odd to us to attribute the Protestant Reformation to Frederick III, but in a number of important ways, it was Frederick, not Luther, who created an actual crisis. Certainly this is how it would have seemed to Rome at the time. The papal nuncios were able to convince Charles that, contrary to the impression he had received from the Elector, Luther had been given legal process; however, Charles was going to the Imperial Diet at Worms and, while he issue an order to cooperate, he was not inclined to do more until he had consulted with the Diet. And the Diet in fact rejected the proposal simply to hand Luther over, primarily because it might cause unrest. Instead, Luther was to be brought to the Diet to be given a hearing. Luther defended his views before the Diet, and when the examiner pointed out that some of Luther's claims had already been condemned by the Council of Constance, thus requiring the view that a general council should err, Luther agreed and said that he would have to be convinced either by plain reason or the Holy Spirit. The Emperor was horrified, and not long afterward publicly apologized for not doing something about Luther and his followers sooner. He would likely have tolerated a preference of Church council over pope, which was a common view; to reject the authority of a general council, particular the Council of Constance, which was held through much of the continent as the great platform for the fight to reform the Church, was an intolerable confession of corruption. The Diet was slower to come around, but they eventually did pass an edict against Luther.

In the meantime, there were other things of concern, and despite having considerably less than an affection for each other, Charles and Leo formed an alliance to deal with an increasingly aggressive France. With his usual tendency not to be public about things, Leo did not even mention it to anyone until the French invaded the Papal States, at which point he asked the College of Cardinals to support a possible treaty that in reality had already been signed, and then published it to the world. Learning about the treaty, Francis was furious and threatened to seize Rome itself. Pope Leo, in the meantime, interdicted France and turned his thought to how he might drive a wedge between Francis I of France and his most important current ally, Henry VIII of England. Good fortune in retaking Milan soon made the latter less important, however, as it led to a cascade of small but important victories. France was still fighting, but it seemed a good turn. Leo was overjoyed.

He was also ill, and did not feel well through much of the war. In the latter part of 1521, he had multiple severe bouts of fever, and suddenly died around midnight in the morning of December 1. Having been young when elected, he was only forty-six. There was widespread talk of his having been poisoned, but there is no evidence of this. He had always had some health problems and he had been repeatedly sick over the past year. After death, he was not widely commemorated; the treasury having been drained by expensive wars, the funeral was not lavish, and Leo had many enemies even among the College of Cardinals.

Leo was a man with a natural tendency to secrecy and to a careful guard on his privacy, characteristics that led even his allies sometimes to regard him as treacherous and underhanded, although his own view seems to have been that some things should be secret in the cause of peace. He was also very indecisive and inclined to handle problems by temporizing. This makes him a very difficult person to read. We do not know fully know many of his motivations. He lacks the brilliant cunning and ruthless force of will that characterized Alexander VI and Julius II, but it would be a mistake to regard his consistent reluctance to fight as incompetence or weakness; he was levelheaded and able to make good use of an opportunity, thus standing with them as a pope marking in some ways the high point of the Renaissance Papacy. Many of the criticisms brought against him show themselves to be hollow when examined. But things were afoot that no one had seen before.

The Renaissance was from its very beginning an Age of Reform. Reform is its dominant concern, and one of the things it had had difficulty working out is what exactly reform should involve when it came to the Church. By the reign of Leo X, however, the essential elements had fallen into place: general councils, crusade against the Turks, humanistic books-and-buildings evangelism, maintenance of the Papal States to keep the Church independent of the government of the European states. People had had disagreements about whether and to what degree these should be qualified, and what else should be added, but there had been broad agreement about these things. But now the Renaissance reformation met something which it had not met before, and for which it was not prepared: a politically well-placed counter-reformation. The rise of the Lutheran movement created a large body of reformers who did not care about, indeed, sometimes actively opposed, all of these things, and who had political protection. There is a reason why the thing that turned the government of the Holy Roman Empire against the Lutherans, despite the fact that the Empire was not particularly inclined to side with the pope, was Luther's rejection of the authority of general councils. Before Leo X, there was one movement of reform, with its variations. From now on out, the Renaissance will see a life-and-death struggle between two opposed and completely inconsistent families of approaches to reform, which, like the fight between the red dragon and the white dragon in the old Welsh legend, would topple every night the building of the day.

The problem the Renaissance reformation will have is that the Lutherans, whether due to the acumen of Luther or merely his good fortune in staking out a position, in divesting themselves of the commitment to general councils and to war against the Turks had thereby rid themselves of the two anchors around the neck of Renaissance reform. However they may have looked on paper, both had from the beginning been sinkholes. Everybody wanted to do both, but nobody really knew how to do either. Endless quantities of time, effort, and money had been poured into both, with even very anemic results only forthcoming due to a mix of papal genius and sheer luck. The Renaissance approach to reformation was better entrenched than the Protestant approaches to reformation of which the Lutheran approach was just the first, a fact that future popes would use, sometimes to very good advantage. But it would also be fighting its rivals with commitments that sapped its energy and slowed it down, whereas its rivals had no such disadvantages.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Eostre (Re-Post)

As we enter Triduum, it seems reasonable to re-post this post from last year.


A great many people assume that Easter was originally a pagan holiday, and that many of the customs associated with it were originally pagan customs. This is not wholly implausible, as Christians would occasionally convert pagan holidays and customs. But in this case, there is not only a complete lack of evidence for it, there is plenty of evidence against it.

In most languages, the Feast of the Resurrection is known by some variation of Anastasia, the Greek word for Resurrection, or Pascha, the Greek form of the Aramaic word for Passover, and this is of course the actual origin of Easter as a holiday: it was a celebration of the resurrection of Christ based on the Jewish Passover, taking into account that Christians stopped using the Jewish calendar. The holiday is not based on any prior Greek or Roman holiday.

Languages heavily influenced by Old English, including, of course, English itself, use the word 'Easter'. This is a peculiarity that would be impossible to explain at all except that one relatively early authority gives us an explanation that seems plausible. St. Beda, also known as the Venerable Bede, tells us that the name comes from one Anglo-Saxon name for a month, roughly about April, Eosturmonath, which was named after a goddess, Eostre, who had some holidays during that period. Given that Bede is quite careful, we can be reasonably sure that this was in fact said by some people in his day; he's also not likely to be wrong about there having been such an Old English word for the month, particularly given that it fits linguistic evidence elsewhere. But we don't actually even know for sure that there was really a goddess named Eostre or whether people in Bede's time (the late seventh century, by which time the English were fully Christianized) just knew the name of the Easter season came from an old word for the month and inferred that the month was named after a goddess. Bede is our only authority, as Eostre is mentioned nowhere else at all; there is not a trace of her worship, if it existed, except in the name. The name 'Eostre' has possible cognates in some Germannic personal and place names that may possibly refer to a goddess of the dawn, and there are a number of inscriptions on the continent a couple of centuries before Bede to goddesses known as Matronae Austriahenae, who may possibly be related. Except for Bede's testimony, all of the reason for thinking there was even such a goddess is based on linguistic analogies and etymological inferences, which may or may not be any good.

As we learn nothing about the goddess from Bede except her name, the name of the spring month, and that she had some feasts in her honor at that time, and analogy tells us nothing but that she might possibly have had some association with the dawn at some time, we know nothing about the rites used to worship her, which, if like other minor gods and goddesses, in any case probably varied a lot from place to place. That the association of Easter with rabbits and hares has to do with the goddess is completely a guess based on the assumption, which may or may not be true, that a spring-worshipped goddess must be a fertility goddess; it's certainly true that rabbits and hares sometimes figured in various rites in the ancient world. But in reality, the first actual evidence of anything like a cultural bunny-association with Easter seems to be in post-medieval Germany. The Easter Bunny itself, of course, is a primarily American invention (although possibly Britain actually originated the first versions), based loosely on customs of German immigrants. We have likewise no reason to think that eggs were associated with Eostre; the probable reason for their association with the holiday was that medieval peasants would usually fast from eggs as well as milk and meat for Lent, so of course being able to eat eggs again would be an easy, and relatively cheap, way to mark the day. Conceivably a similar explanation applies to rabbits.

Major holidays are powerful attractors. We see this most forcefully with Christmas, which has managed to absorb independent customs originally associated with all the lesser holidays around it: St. Nicholas's day, St. Lucy's Day, St. Stephen's Day, Epiphany, including Winter Solstice customs, some of which likely go back to pagan times. But, of course, it's always operative; Halloween slowly absorbs every October custom, Thanksgiving in the United States slowly absorbs every November custom, etc. It would not be at all surprising if Easter, the single most important holiday in the Christian calendar, managed to absorb customs previously associated with other spring holidays in its long centuries of dominance, and there are occasional plausible examples of this. But Easter is Easter, and not some other thing.

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)

Links of Note

 * Martin Jakobsen, Are moral values overriding? How beauty challenges Robert Adams's theory of value (PDF)

* Ylwa Sjolin Wirling, Neutrality and Force in Field's Epistemological Objection to Platonism (PDF)

* Francois Osiurak et al., Technical reasoning bolsters cumulative technological culture through convergent transformations

* Michael Hickson, The Moral Certainty of Immortality in Descartes (PDF) -- This is a very nice paper, perhaps the best thing I've seen on the subject.

* Andrew Dennis Bassford, An Intuitive Solution to the Problem of Induction (PDF)

* Oliver Bateman, History Doesn't Repeat Itself

* Zena Hitz, Degenerate Regimes in Plato's Republic (PDF)

* Stephen Harrop, Thomas Reid on Induction and Natural Kinds (PDF)

* Miranda Anderson, Engaging with an artwork leaves you and the art transformed 

* Vanessa Seifert, The Chemical Bond Is a Real Pattern (PDF)

* The Georgia Legislature recently revised the official pledge to the Georgia state flag; it originally was, "I pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag and to the principles for which it stands: Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation", and they added "Courage" to it, in order to fill out the cardinal virtues.

* People around the world like the same kinds of smell. Vanilla and peach are so far the most popular ones studied.

* Tom O'Shea, Disability and Domination: Lessons from Republican Political Philosophy (PDF)

* William C. Martell, Script Secrets: Slow Burns...Are Still On Fire

Tuesday, April 12, 2022


 John W. O'Malley, Trent (Harvard University Press [Cambridge, MA: 2013]):

By now the ostentatious lifestyle of some of the cardinals had reached absurd standards. In the sixteenth century the average size of a cardinal's household (famiglia) was 100. Even after Trent, Carlo Borromeo, the most famous exemplar of a "reformed" cardinal-bishop, had a household of 150. An inventory of the wardrobe and other possessions of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este (1509-1572) ran 600 pages and listed, for instance, 79 pairs of gloves and over 50 red birettas.

...In an official list compiled in May 1514, the pope's major-domo listed a household staff of 683 persons--244 holding high office, 174 lower officials, and 244 servants. (pp. 37-38)

While the book is worth reading, this particular passage seems to me to betray a very 21st-century American idea of what a famiglia is, where we often assume that a household would consist entirely of maids and butlers. We tend to think of corporate firms as the most efficient forms of organization, which is why all forms of administration tend to approximate the ways of doing things that have become common in corporate firms. In the Renaissance, the innovations that would eventually lead to this way of thinking were only just beginning to be developed. For them, and for everyone before them, the most effective and efficient organization of administering anything was the household (famiglia). Indeed, a lot of things that we outsource to businesses would have been done in the household instead. The Medici Bank, despite having a substructure that set a standard for firms that is still followed today, did not have a 'corporate headquarters'; it was run by the Medici famiglia. Lorenzo de'Medici would not have had a separate 'office' separate from his household; all of the accountants and secretaries he (or for that matter, anyone in his family) used in the running of the bank were part of his famiglia. The same is true for royal governments, which is why many of the older positions of governmental authority have household names like 'Grand Cupbearer' and 'Keeper of the Wardrobe'. Sometimes they would be something like the real cupbearer or real keeper of the clothes and armor given additional duties; later they would be people who were given the honorary position in the household, with a whole set of duties of its own, while someone else did the literal work the title suggests. Governments were run on a household model.

In saying that the average cardinal's famiglia had 100 people, then, we have to keep in mind that this would have included not just personal, house, grounds, and stable staff, but also all administrative staff and paid advisors.  The famiglia of a bishop would include everyone who worked directly under the bishop. For instance, by my estimate, the employees of the modern-day Diocese of Austin who would plausibly have been counted in the Renaissance as part of the episcopal  famiglia is somewhere around 50 at least, and may be as much as 100 (for an archdiocese of a large metropolitan area like Chicago or New York it would number considerably more than a thousand). And this is more interesting in that we live in the Age of Machines, in which electricity, plumbing, and petroleum allow us to automate things that would originally have had to be supervised by human beings. A cardinal would have had to maintain a stable with groomsmen to care for the horses 24/7, so that he could do the travel and send the messages that the curial work of a cardinal might require, and if he didn't have someone who specialized in actually driving a carriage for extended distances and bad weather, it would mean that he was very hard up. We make the Bishop of Austin drive himself everywhere in a machine that only needs to be maintained occasionally, so there is no need for continual maintenance. A cardinal would continually have to receive guests (including messengers from other people whom he would have to put up), in a house with no electricity, no plumbing, and no sewer, and thus every area of life which these things automate would have to be overseen by what we would call a hospitality staff.  A hundred people is not very ostentatious, particularly if that were the average. Cardinals by the nature of their position would have a relatively large administrative staff.

For a not-entirely-fair comparison, the people who would be included in the famiglia of the President of the United States if the President were a Renaissance magistrate is around 1500 people at least, and perhaps even approaches twice that, depending on exactly where one draws the line. 'The White House' is just our name for the Presidential famiglia, although there are federal employees who don't literally work in Executive Mansion who would also be part of the famiglia, like the staffs at Camp David and the Presidential Guesthouse, and everyone whose job involves maintaining and flying the presidential plane. And, again, this is in the Age of Machines, where many things are automated that in the Renaissance would have had to be directly overseen by someone.

Or to take a different point of comparison. Highclere, the real-life Downton Abbey when it is not being used to film Downton Abbey, is mostly structured as a self-maintaining estate, and therefore does not have a large administrative staff the way a government household would; it has a somewhat variable staff of about 60 to 150. (The upper end of this is about what it takes just to maintain Camp David for the President; it is on the high side for administering something like Highclere, and largely due to the fact that it is going through an unusually prosperous and busy time because of tourism.)

Now, of course, the reason why the Papal Household had expanded so massively over the Renaissance is that the demands on the papacy expanded. This is not to say that the expansions were efficient or that there was no frivolous expansion (both we know to be often false); but the governing principle in even imprudent expansion of the papal household would not be ostentation but administrative bloat. The closest analogy would be modern universities, whose administrations have exploded in size, sometimes to handle demand, sometimes to handle new administrative requirements, sometimes to expand services, sometimes because administrators think that the solution to problems is to hire more administrators, and sometimes because employing more administrators is a way to tell everyone that you are a profitable and prestigious university.

So household size is not a very good indicator of ostentation. Cardinal d'Este's wardrobe is a better one, although the Renaissance is a transitional period in which modern banking is beginning but the wardrobe is still a common form of savings account -- clothing being relatively easy to buy, easy to store, easy to transport, easy to track if stolen, people would sink money into it for a rainy day, and all you would have to do is make sure that it was properly stored away from wet and moths. Cardinal d'Este was the younger brother of the Duke of Ferrara, one of the wealthiest Italian families, so it is very unsurprising that he has a large savings that he can draw on at any time. The better sign of ostentation would not be whether you had nice clothes, but whether you wore very nice clothes in the ordinary wear-and-tear of everyday life, rather than keeping them carefully locked away for the very most important occasions or some rainy day when the budget is tight. Cardinal d'Este's everyday clothes, like those of a modern-day Wall Street financier or, for that matter, a Senator, would have been considerably nicer than most people's special-occasion clothes.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Quillien on Virtue Signaling

 Tareg Quillien has an article on virtue signaling up at It's marginally better than some of the other articles I've seen, but suffers from many of the same problems. Quillien asks:

Why do we scold virtue signallers for having it easy? The urge to dismiss someone’s actions because they took no effort is powerful. But does it not make more sense to focus on what that action actually achieves? Why do we often focus on the costs people pay rather than how effective they are at making the world better?

The answers to these questions are, respectively: People don't scold virtue signalers for having it easy, people scold them for faking by substituting very easy, very showy things for very difficult, less showy ones. No, it does not make more sense to focus on what the action actually achieves; 'virtue signaling' is a moral term in the general family of 'hypocrisy', which is not about what the action actually achieves. We don't focus on the costs people pay, we focus on the fact that they are trying to manipulate people into giving them the extrinsic benefits of doing good deeds without doing good deeds, thus (among many other things) worsening the incentives for actually doing good and therefore making the world worse under the pretense of making it better. One of the things that makes Quillien's article better than most is that he at least recognizes some of this. But then on the basis of some extremely loose analogies, he continues:

So let’s concede that some virtue signalling is fake, but does that mean it is bad? Here it is useful to take a step back from our default mode of thinking. Evolution designed our brain to make us good at small-scale interaction, but we are not very good (or especially concerned) at evaluating the large-scale social effects of things. As such, it is easy for a polemist to throw discredit on someone who virtue-signals by pointing out that there is no guarantee that the person actually shares your moral values. But is this the right yardstick by which to evaluate these signals?

All actual virtue signaling by definition is a kind of fakery, like affectation and posturing; that's the whole point of the term. But the yardstick Quillien is criticizing is simply irrelevant, because it is not the standard people are using. The issue with virtue signaling is not sharing values; it's irrelevant whether the virtue signaler shares the values or not. The issue is shifting reputational benefits for virtue from difficult virtuous actions to easy symbolic gestures. Quillien goes on to argue that virtue signaling has value in solving a moral coordination problem, but this is necessarily backwards. Virtue signaling is not necessary for the common knowledge that coordinates action, but this is quite clearly because it presupposes it; virtue-signals get their force and attraction from the fact that values are already shared within one's group, and it is the force and attraction that tempt people to substitute them for serious work. Contrary to Quillien's claim, it does not create common knowledge about values and norms; it is parasitic on it.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Renaissance Popes IX: Julius II

 Birth Name: Giuliano della Rovere

Lived: 1443-1513

Regnal Name: Julius II. I have seen many people say that he chose this not out of respect for Pope St. Julius I but for Julius Caesar, but I don't know what is supposed to be the source of this. Christine Shaw, "The Motivation for the Patronage of Pope Julius II", notes that there is one medal inscription that identifies him as IULIUS.CAESAR.PONT.II, but Shaw notes that it's unclear if Julius even knew about it, it may well have been someone else's attempt at flattery, and even if he did know it, it's probably later and cannot tell us whether that was the original idea behind the name or just a later association due to a military victory. 'Julius' is a name that is already fairly close to his pre-papal name -- Giulio vs Giuliano -- so that might have been the governing idea. The one thing that does give a certain plausibility to the idea is his obsessive enmity with Pope Alexander VI, and it is entirely consistent with his pettiness elsewhere to imagine him asking what name would be more impressive than 'Alexander'. But in fact, we do not know why he chose the name.

Regnal Life: 1503-1513

At this point, we already know much about Giuliano della Rovere. He was born in 1443 in Liguria; this seems to have mattered greatly to him, since he will repeatedly throughout his papal career have himself referred to as Julius of Liguria. He was made cardinal by his maternal uncle, Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere); this also seems to have mattered greatly to him, since he keeps referring to it as well. In fact, in the scathing and extremely widely read satirical criticism of him that was published shortly after his death, Julius Excluded from Heaven, almost universally thought to have been written by Erasmus, the satirist has Julius repeatedly refer to both, to the complete bafflement of St. Peter (who, the character Julius replies dismissively, is not from Liguria, being only a Jew). Thus his references to these two facts about himself were so common that it seems practically everyone noticed them.

Rovere did very well as a cardinal under his uncle; at one point he held at least nine episcopal sees (for the income, of course). In 1483, he fathered an illegitimate daughter, Felice della Rovere, who would have an impressive career. He actively competed with Rodrigo Borgia for the papacy in the papal conclaves of 1484 and 1492; in the second, which involved intensive campaigning, simony, and bribery on both sides, Borgia outmaneuvered him to become Alexander VI. By this point the two were clear and undeniable enemies, and they did not become less so over time; Cardinal della Rovere at a number of points during Alexander's reign is seen to be throwing the weight of the Rovere family behind opponents of Alexander and encouraging temporal princes in Italy to cause problems for him. It no doubt was a relief to him when Alexander died in 1503. He tried again to become pope, but it became clear very quickly that the conclave was going to deadlock between the Spanish and the Italian factions, so Pius III was elected, and died in a few weeks. Thus there was a second conclave in 1503. But between the first and the second, it become clear that the Borgias, while formidable, did not have quite the hold on power that had originally been feared. So Giuliano della Rovere did something perhaps unexpected: he cut a deal with the family that he hated. The cardinals drew up an election capitulation, which said that anyone elected pope would call a general council in two years, would prosecute the war against the Ottoman Turks, would not go to war against the major Christian powers without the consent of two-thirds of the cardinals, and that no new cardinals would be made without consulting the College of Cardinals.  Along with this, a side-deal was made that if the Spanish faction supported Cardinal della Rovere, he would guarantee that Cesare Borgia would keep his position and lands in the Papal States. He now had the main bodies of both the Spanish faction and the Italian faction on his side; he left nothing to chance, though; he promised other cardinals big things and bribed those he could. When the conclave actually met to vote, he won immediately and almost unanimously (the only two votes that were not for him were his own and George Cardinal d'Amboise, a French cardinal who, being firmly backed by the French king, had no need to curry any favor, and who had ambitions himself to be pope, and would therefore continue to be a problem). He took the name Julius II and (it is important for later events) explicitly and publicly reaffirmed the election capitulation.

Like Alexander VI, Julius II was relatively austere as to how he himself lived; he was not so ascetic at the table, but he was so spare with housekeeping costs that people would accuse him of being miserly.  But in truth, Julius shares with his old enemy Alexander a feature that contributes a great deal to the success of both: while he could be cautious, his first thought was never for himself. Alexander's first thought was always for his family. Julius's first thought was always for something more intangible. It's noted that he was not guilty of (much) nepotism, but this is hardly an accomplishment; his uncle was Sixtus IV, who was nepotistic enough for half a dozen popes, so very few members of his family had not already been enriched and benefited by papal nepotism. Julius seems to have had a vision of a truly independent papacy, a Papal States sufficiently secure that the popes would not have to beg the temporal powers for help. Alexander VI had handled the major powers by extraordinary diplomatic dexterity, continually outmaneuvering them or, when he could not, finding a way to wiggle, in however an undignified or underhanded way, toward a better diplomatic position. Julius II was much less of a diplomat, although he had his strengths, but for Julius the diplomatic game was simply not good enough.

His first problem was the state of the papal treasury. Alexander had been very good at juggling money, but the problem was that, by the very nature of the juggling, when he died he had quite a few debts still up in the air and not yet paid. Cesare Borgia had seized a large portion of the papal treasury at Alexander's death. Pius III had only been pope for twenty-six days, but relatively speaking it was an expensive twenty-six days, with no time to pay down any outstanding debts, a major crisis, and a significant medical bill. He followed the Sistine plan for filling up the treasury; like his uncle, he sold large numbers of benefices and offices (although in some cases, this may have been in practice borrowing against future tax revenues allotted to an office rather than literal sale of the office itself). The numbers were large enough that some contemporaries were shocked. Nonetheless, it worked. He built up a war chest that, combined with continuing Papal State revenues and an extraordinary practical talent for organizing almost anything in the most efficient way, was sufficient for a huge number of projects, and by the end of his reign, despite all of those projects, the papal treasury was wealthier than it had been in a very long time.

To get into papal office, Julius had had to promise many things, and much of the early part of his papal tenure is bound up with his attempts either to fulfill or disentangle himself from these promissory obligations. But there was also another major problem: the Republic of Venice, which was entering one of its expansionary phases. The Venetians in particular wanted a number of lands under the authority of Cesare Borgia, so Julius used this as an opportunity to break the promises he had made to the man; Borgia was arrested. He was treated well, mostly because Julius did not want to do anything serious to him until the compliance of the governors in Borgia's lands could be guaranteed. Borgia eventually escaped due to the sympathies of the Spanish faction, but he was never a serious threat again and died in 1507. The Venetians, who had generally good relations with Julius when he was a cardinal and had found him so far compliant, if cautious and complaining, with their wishes, seem to have thought that they had a free hand. But Julius was biding his time for the right moment, and he was much better than the Venetians at judging the right moment. Julius began working to build an anti-Venetian coalition. His results were uneven, but they were sufficiently alarming for the Venetians to pull back somewhat. The Venetians, no doubt, thought that they would simply wait a while and return; but Julius was not sitting still. He kept an eye on the Venetians, but continued to consolidate in the Papal States and to work out the means of restoring parts of the Papal States that had been lost at various times. Setting out in 1506 to retake Bologna and Perugia, which had broken away on their own, he led the army himself. Not having had satisfactory answers from the French and the Venetians as to how they stood on the matter, he simply wrote them both, telling the French to send support and the Venetians to stay neutral. And they did (although the French later demanded payment for it). The expedition was thoroughly successful, in part because of strong backing by the Duke of Urbino (who was his relative).

Julius began to have increasing problems with the major European powers: France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, who were jockeying for influence in Italy and elsewhere. Julius's response was to give some mostly symbolic concessions and propose another anti-Venetian alliance. This usually would not have gone anywhere, since the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, did not trust the King of France, Louis XII. However, the obstinacy and aggressiveness of the Venetians themselves began to incline him toward the view that something probably did need to be done about them. The Emperor attempted to do it himself, but suffered a couple of military defeats over it and was forced to a truce. However, in 1508, the Republic attempted to install its own bishop in the city of Vicenza, bypassing the pope. Julius called for war, and it was the excuse everybody need to sign on. France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and the States of the Church signed an agreement (with Ferrara joining later) and formed the League of Cambrai, with the intention of completely dismantling the Venetian Republic and partitioning it among the allies. Faced with sizeable armies from the major powers of Europe, the Republic practically collapsed. The powers seized extensive lands, and Julius took Romagna. Venice was easier to invade than to hold, however, and the Republic armies fought back and retook much that had been lost. However, the war was so costly in terms of money and men that in 1510, the Republic conceded all of Julius's own demands, including the lands in Romagna, to get the Papal States out of the war. The other members of the League of Cambrai continued to fight. And here came a twist.

For Julius the League had been one of convenience; the Venetian Republic was powerful and he needed powerful allies. But now that he had received everything he wanted from the Venetians, and the French and the Holy Roman Empire were in Italy fighting the Venetians, they were the primary threat to the independence of the Papal States. He had also had a quarrel with the Duke of Ferrara, and thought that Ferrara would be a nice addition to the Papal States. So he hired a large band of Swiss mercenaries and sent a message to Venice, asking if they would like an ally against the French. They said they would.  For the rest of 1510, Julius attempted to deal with the French, expanding to deal with Ferrara, as well, which was perhaps a mistake, since it split his forces, and led to losing Bologna again. The French, however, gave him an opportunity to twist things again.

In 1511, a small French-backed group of cardinals opened a council at Pisa. Today it is usually called the Conciliabulum of Pisa to distinguish it from the previous Council of Pisa; due to disruptions caused by Papal agents in Tuscany, it later moved to Milan. Citing the fact that Pope Julius II had violated his promise to call a general council, they called on Julius to recognize the council. According to some sources, they even elected Bernardino L√≥pez de Carvajal as antipope, Martin VI, although it is unclear whether this actually happened or was merely feared, in part because, unpopular almost everywhere, it mostly just petered out into vague lack of definite form. What is not unclear is Julius's response; he called his own general council almost immediately. The war with the French complicated actually convening. However, again it gave the powers an excuse to recombine in a new way, this time into the Holy League of 1511. Spain, Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, and eventually England all joined forces with the Papal States to fight France and Ferrara and, not long after, the Republic of Florence for its allowing the Conciliabulum to meet in Pisa. The French were largely driven out of Italy. At Julius's request, the Republic of Florence was overthrown and put under the authority of Giuliano di Lorenzo de'Medici. Julius also demanded Ferrara, but the King of Spain put his foot down on this; giving Ferrara to the Papal States at this point would effectively make them the second military power in Italy after the Holy Roman Empire itself, and he wanted something that could counterbalance papal ambitions. On the other side, Maximilian wanted Milan, but Julius insisted that it remain independent and in the hand of the Sforzas; Julius got his way, partly by playing the ambitions of Spain against those of the Empire. Venice was cut out of the negotiations entirely; when the Republic complained, Julius threatened to form another League of Cambrai to partition her. Venice in response would eventually sign a treaty with France.

In the meantime, though, the eventual successes in the war against France allowed Julius time and space to bring his general council together, and the Fifth Lateran Council opened in May 1512. It was a small council, with mostly Italians in attendance, but better attended than the Conciliabulum it opposed; the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, and Florence all recognized it (France would recognize it later). Its first order of business was to condemn the Conciliabulum, declaring all of its acts null and void. Since the council had started so late because of the war, they adjourned till November to avoid the summer heats, then re-condemned the Conciliabulum. The council also ended the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, which had been the French interpretation of the reforms of the Council of Constance and the Council of Basel, and which had repeatedly caused problems between France and the papacy since. It condemned simony and established it as law that for a cardinal to attempt to buy the papal election would lead to a loss of the cardinalate and the nullification of the election. Given the pope's own conduct in previous conclaves, this was noted by everyone as ironic, but the penalties for simony were undeniably made harsher.

As the council had progressed, Julius II, who had been ailing for some months, had grown more and more ill, and he died in February 1513.  Thus passed Julius II of Liguria, nephew of Sixtus IV. The council would be completed by his successor. Because of his military achievements, Julius had become very popular in Rome and the surrounding areas, and many thousands of people came to pay their respects.

In his near-decade of rule, Julius poured money into architecture, art, and scholarship. Buildings were rebuilt and maintained throughout Rome and the Papal States. In January 1506, an old statue was found buried in a vineyard near the basilica of St. Mary Major. That statue, now one of the most famous sculptures in the world, was Laocoon and His Sons. Hearing of it, Julius sent the two best sculptors who were working for him at that time, Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarotti to investigate, and on their recommendation, Julius bought it, sight unseen. Julius decided that it should be put on public display, and therefore founded the Vatican Museums. That same year, Julius decided finally to go through with an idea that had been kicked around since Nicholas V: to replace the ancient but dilapidated basilica in the Vatican that was dedicated to St. Peter. Architects competed for it, and Donato Bramante, who had already designed for him the Cortile del Belvedere, won. The foundations for the new St. Peter's Basilica were laid that very year. In 1508, he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In 1509, he had Raphael and his students begin painting the rooms that today are known as the Raphael Rooms. Without any doubt, he was the patron for some of the most famous and most lasting works of the Renaissance.

Julius is not particularly associated with extensive ecclesiastical reforms, but, however much it may have been prompted by outside forces, he did open the first reform council since the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence. He did a great deal to support evangelism in the Americas and in Asia. He imposed a few important reforms on the religious orders, always one of the easiest parts of the Church to reform, although, to be sure, there was never any lack of need for reform. But it cannot be doubted that he regarded the establishment of the independence of the Papal States as his primary form of reform. In this he was not fully successful, in pursuing it he made concessions to the major political powers of Europe that inevitably caused problems, and his wars (including his actually fighting in armor on the battlefield at one point) convinced a great many people that the worldliness of the popes had reached an intolerable level. His successors would have to deal with the problems he caused, and he did not set them up for success.

Much of one's interpretation of the Renaissance Papacy is linked to how one answers a rather peculiar question: Which of the two great bad popes, Alexander VI or Julius II, was better, or at least less bad? Historically, people have tended to say Julius. I am very much in the Alexander camp. The genial, humorous, lax, nepotistic libertine, in all matters outside of art, accomplished far more that was good and lasting than the aggressive, violent-tempered, impatient warmonger. Many of the crimes attributed to Alexander are fictional and due entirely to Julius's never-ending smear campaign against him; others arose naturally from the fact that the Borgias were a Spanish family in the midst of a somewhat xenophobic Italian population. Julius pushed at the same time a propaganda campaign, trying to position himself as the savior of the papacy, which is an absurd notion, and far from the truth, and, besides, some of what he accomplished he could only accomplish due to the prior achievements of Alexander. Nonetheless they both were great men in their way, brilliant and cunning, forceful and ruthless, accomplishing far more than could have ever been anticipated even in a generation before, and under very difficult conditions. They raised the Papal States to perhaps their highest point. And, despite their very many flaws, and the many problems that followed in their wake, in some things they built better than they knew. The great crisis would come in the reign of the next Renaissance pope, Leo X. The Holy See was not prepared, and arguably both Alexander and Julius are partly to blame for that: they both, like all the Renaissance popes, advocated reform, but put other things ahead of it. The reforms they actually accomplished were slight in comparison to what needed to be done. But some things that would later be quite significant can be traced back to one of the two, or both.