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Saturday, August 01, 2009

THE FATHER OF ROME

I think the very best argument for clerical chastity is not that it is sinful but that it is very hard on the children. Lord knows we have plenty of examples. Clerical marriage was officially outlawed in 1123, and as somebody once said, offenses are not declared illegal unless people are actively offending. Historian Henri Daniel-Rops has estimated that half of the children born out of wedlock in entire 15th century in Burgundy were fathered by priests, Bishops and Cardinals. The general validity of that estimate was personified in the Papacy of Alexander VI.The church in the 1400’s had lost its moral ascendancy by aligning itself with politicians. Each of the Royal houses of Europe had come to expect their “share” of the 24 members of the College of Cardinals. And the cardinals echoed in small the behavior of their royal masters. Consider the three cardinals vying to replace that “…inert mass of flesh” that had been Pope Innocent VII, the pope who did his best to become the literal “…father of Rome”. The three were Ascanio Sfiorza, Guiliano della Rovere and Rodrigo Borgia. Sfiorza (above) was the front man for his father, the Duke of Milan, who was allied with the Kingdom Naples, which controlled all of southern Italy.Rovere (above) was the archbishop of Avignon, and front man for King Charles VIII of France. Charles bankrolled Rovere’s campaign for the papacy to the tune of 200,000 ducats. Borgia was, presumably, representing the newly united Spanish House of Castile, Ferdinand and Isabella. But the truth was that the Borgias paid allegiance to no one but themselves.The papal election of 1492 took place for the first time in the Sistine Chapel and required four votes between August 8th and the 11th to select a new nuncio. Eight of the cardinals were pledged that anyone other than Rodrigo Borgia should be chosen. Winning over the remaining 16 Cardinals (to achieve the required 2/3rds majority) cost Rodrigo so much silver that his preferred source of funds in Rome, the Spannocchi-Miraballi Bank, came close to collapsing. Sfiorza, who had thrown the election to Borgia, was rewarded with the Vatican Chancellorship. The defeated della Rovere slunk back to France complaining that the “pontifex maximus” had been sold –but not to him. A poem popular at the time echoed his envy. Rodrigo Borgia, it said, “sells the Keys, the Altar, Christ Himself—he has a right to, for he bought them.”Rodrigo (above) was, according to The Catholic History of the Popes, handsome and imposing. He had a “…cheerful countenance, persuasive manner, brilliant conversation, and intimate mastery of the ways of polite society.” The new Pope chose the title of “Alexander VI”, but that was about all that he changed. Alexander kept his mistress, Giulia Bella, and publically used his children (by an earlier mistress), to reinforce his Papacy.In 1493 Alexander married his 13 year old daughter Lucrezia (above), to Giovanni Sforza, a cousin of his Chancellor. An elder son, Juan, was named Duke of Gandia, and presented with several large chunks of Church property as a kingdom.And Alexander appointed his 17 year old son Cesare (above), as one of twelve new Cardinals he named (each of whom paid the Pope about 120,000 ducats). But Alexander’s largess to his children only proved the dangers of prelate parenthood. On June 16th 1497, Juan’s body was pulled from the Tiber. His throat had been slashed and his corpse was riddled with knife wounds.In that same year Rodrigo decided that he no longer needed to appease the Sfiorza family, and annulled Lucrezia’s marriage, alleging that Giovanni was impotent. Lucrezia (above again) was described by Niccolo Cagnolo as “…of middle height and graceful of form…Her whole being exudes good humor and gaiety.” That “gaiety” could not have been helped by Giovanni’s reaction to being labeled impotent by the Pope. He spread the nasty story that Lucrezia was actually the concubine of her father the Pope, and her brother, Cesare. Rodrigo responded by writing to Lucrezia, “Do people say that I am both your father and your lover? You must know that for those destined to dominate others, the ordinary rules of life are turned upside down…” Well, it was not exactly a denial. And Alexander then married the now 17 year old girl to Alphonse, the son of the Duke of Naples. That marriage seems to have been an actual love match, if only by accident.But then, one afternoon in July of 1500, while crossing St. Peter’s Square, Alfonso was set upon by a gang, beaten and stabbed. Wounded, Alfonso was brought into the Vatican, where Lucrezia helped nurse him. Returning one afternoon to his chamber she discovered his corpse. It seemed that, as was reported at the time, “Since Don Alfonso refused to die of his wounds, he was strangled in his bed.” On 30 December, 1501, Lucrezia was wed by for a third time to the heir of the Duke of Ferrara, giving Alexander influence over one of the richest estates in Italy.It was all almost enough to remind you that the original name “Vatican” was from the Latin “Vaticanus”, or “Place of Sorcery”. In ancient times the hill across the Tiber from Rome had been occupied by the stalls of fortune tellers who sold their predictions in open competition. But now the Church had a monopoly on divination, and frankly what followed was far too predictable.Cesare resigned his Cardinalship and began a career of military conquests, building his own empire and eliminating anyone who competed with him, or his father. At the end of December 1502, his enemies were lured to Cesare’s camp and killed.Cardinal Orsini, leader of the twelve who had originally opposed Rodrigo, was like wise lured to the Vatican with the offer of a truce and thrown into the dungeon of the Castle St. Angelo (above). Twelve days later he was dead. His jailer admitted, “I turned the business over to my assistant, for I did not want to know more than was good for me.” That was the way politics was run in the 14th century Holy See. Alexander then seized Orsini’s property and even had Orsini’s mother thrown out of her home.Another old enemy, Cardinal Michiel, was poisoned by Cesare in April of 1503, supposedly using a ring with a secret compartment. The Cardinal's wealth was gobbled up by Alexander. Even when one of Alexander’s allies, Cardinal Ferrari, died of natural causes, the Pope seized his property as well. With the Borgia’s around, no death went to waste.In the summer of 1503 , an observer noted that the 72 year old Pope Alexander VI “…grows younger every day, and is extremely cheerful” Johann Burchard, the Papal Master of Ceremonies, recorded in his diary that “On Saturday morning, August 12th, the pope felt unwell, and at about three o'clock in the afternoon he became feverish. Fourteen ounces of blood were taken from him…Early on August 17th, he was given some medicine, but he worsened and at about six o'clock on the following morning, he made his confession…”. He sat up in bed and said, “Wait a minute.” He then died, August 18, 1503.Continued don Burchard, “Don Cesare, …(sent) a large number of retainers to close all the doors…One of the men took out a dagger and threatened to cut Cardinal Casanova's throat and to throw him out of the window unless he handed over the keys to all the pope's treasure. Terrified, the cardinal surrendered the keys, whereupon the others entered the room…and seized all the silver that they found, …about a hundred thousand ducats….In the meantime, valets took what had been left behind….nothing of value remained except the papal chairs, some cushions and the tapestries on the walls.”And Burchard recorded that the final insult came with the coffin. “Six laborers or porters, making blasphemous jokes about the pope or in contempt of his corpse, together with two master carpenters, performed this task. The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope's miter at his side, rolled his body up in an old carpet, and pummeled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists.” It was a sorry ending for an “extremely cheerful”, extremely greedy Pope. Alexander VI's successor forbade praying for him because, “It is blasphemous to pray for the damned”. Cesare died trying to hold onto his empire in 1507. And Lucrezia died at the age of 38 trying to give birth to her eighth child, in June of 1519.You have to believe they would have all been happier if Rodrigo had not chosen to become Pope.


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