Pope Leo X
Who was Pope Leo X?
Leo X (1475 –1521), born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, was Pope of the Catholic Church from 1513 to his death in 1521. The second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of the Florentine Republic, he was elevated to the cardinalate in 1489; subsequently progressing to the rank of cardinal-deacon.
Following the death of Pope Julius II, Giovanni was elected pope after securing the backing of the younger members of the Sacred College. Early on in his reign he oversaw the closing sessions of the Fifth Council of the Lateran, but failed sufficiently to implement the reforms agreed.
In 1517 he led a costly war that succeeded in securing his nephew as duke of Urbino, but which damaged the papal finances. He later only narrowly escaped a plot by some cardinals to poison him.
He is probably best remembered for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica, which was challenged by Martin Luther's 95 Theses. He seems not to have taken seriously the demands made by the church reformers, and which would quickly grow to establish itself as the Protestant Reformation.
His Papal Bull of 1520, Exsurge Domine, simply condemned Luther on a number of areas and made ongoing engagement difficult. He did, however, grant establishment to the Oratory of Divine Love.
He borrowed and spent heavily. A significant patron of the arts, upon election Leo is alleged to have said, "Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it". Under his reign, progress was made on the rebuilding of Saint Peter's Basilica and artists such as Raphael decorated the Vatican rooms.
Leo also reorganised the Roman University, and promoted the study of literature, poetry and antiquities. His personal arrangements attracted contemporary comment on his possible homosexuality. He died in 1521 and is buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome.
Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici was born in Italy, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was head of the Florentine Republic.
From an early age, he was destined for an ecclesiastical career. He received the tonsure at the age of seven and was soon bequeathed with rich benefices and preferments.
His father prevailed on his relative Innocent VIII to name him cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica on 8 March 1489 when he was age 13. although he was not allowed to wear the insignia or share in the deliberations of the college until three years later. Meanwhile he received an education at Lorenzo's humanistic court under such men as Angelo Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino and Bernardo Dovizio Bibbiena. From 1489 to 1491 he studied theology and canon law at Pisa.
On 23 March 1492, he was formally admitted into the Sacred College of Cardinals and took up his residence at Rome, receiving a letter of advice from his father. The death of Lorenzo on the following 8 April, however, temporarily recalled the 16-year-old Giovanni to Florence.
He returned to Rome to participate in the conclave of 1492 which followed the death of Innocent VIII, and unsuccessfully opposed the election of Cardinal Borgia (elected as Pope Alexander VI). He subsequently made his home with his elder brother Piero in Florence throughout the agitation of Savonarola and the invasion of Charles VIII of France, until the uprising of the Florentines and the expulsion of the Medici in November 1494.
While Piero found refuge at Venice and Urbino, Giovanni traveled in Germany, in the Netherlands, and in France.
In May 1500, he returned to Rome, where he was received with outward cordiality by Pope Alexander VI, and where he lived for several years immersed in art and literature. In 1503 he welcomed the accession of Pope Julius II (a relative) to the pontificate; the death of Piero de' Medici in the same year made Giovanni head of his family.
On 1 October 1511 he was appointed papal legate of Bologna and the Romagna, and when the Florentine republic declared in favour of the schismatic Pisans, Julius II sent him against his native city at the head of the papal army. This and other attempts to regain political control of Florence were frustrated until a bloodless revolution permitted the return of the Medici. Giovanni's younger brother Giuliano was placed at the head of the republic, but Giovanni managed the government.
Giovanni was elected Pope on 9 March 1513, and this was proclaimed two days later. The absence of the French cardinals effectively reduced the election to a contest between Giovanni (who had the support of the younger and noble members of the College), and Raffaele Riario (who had the support of the older group). On 15 March 1513, he was ordained priest, and consecrated as bishop on 17 March. He was crowned Pope on 19 March 1513 at the age of 37. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope.
Raphael's Portrait of Leo X with cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi (Uffizi)
At the very time of Leo's accession Louis XII of France, in alliance with Venice, was making a determined effort to regain the duchy of Milan, and Leo, after fruitless endeavours to maintain peace, joined the league of Mechlin, on 5 April 1513, with the emperor Maximilian I, Ferdinand II of Aragon, and Henry VIII of England.
The French and Venetians were at first successful, but were defeated in June at the Battle of Novara. The Venetians continued the struggle until October. On 9 December 1513, the fifth Lateran council, which had been reopened by Leo in April, ratified the peace with Louis XII and officially registered the conclusion of the Pisan schism.
While the council was engaged in planning a crusade and in considering the reform of the clergy, a new crisis occurred between the pope and the new king of France, Francis I, an enthusiastic young prince, dominated by the ambition of recovering Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. Leo at once formed a new league with the emperor and the king of Spain, and to ensure English support made Thomas Wolsey a cardinal.
Francis entered Italy in August 1515, and on 14 September won the battle of Marignano. In October, Leo signed an agreement binding him to withdraw his troops from Parma and Piacenza, which had been previously gained at the expense of the duchy of Milan, on condition of French protection at Rome and Florence.
The king of Spain wrote to his ambassador at Rome "that His Holiness had hitherto played a double game and that all his zeal to drive the French from Italy had been only a mask"; this reproach seemed to receive some confirmation when Leo held a secret conference with Francis at Bologna in December 1515.
The ostensible subjects under consideration were the establishment of peace between France, Venice and the Empire, with a view to an expedition against the Turks, and the ecclesiastical affairs of France. Precisely what was arranged is unknown.
During these two or three years of incessant political intrigue and warfare, it was not to be expected that the Lateran council should accomplish much. Its three main objectives, the peace of Christendom, the crusade (against the Turks), and the reform of the church, could be secured only by general agreement among the powers, and either Leo or the council, or both, failed to secure such agreement.
Its most important achievements were the registration at its eleventh sitting (9 December 1516) of the abolition of the Pragmatic Sanction, which the popes since Pius II had unanimously condemned, and the confirmation of the concordat between Leo X and Francis I, which was destined to regulate the relations between the French Church and the Holy See until the French Revolution. Leo closed the council on 16 March 1517. It had ended the Pisan schism, ratified the censorship of books introduced by Alexander VI and imposed tithes for a war against the Turks. It raised no voice against the primacy of the pope.
War of Urbino
Leo had intended his younger brother Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo for brilliant secular careers. He had named them Roman patricians; the latter he had placed in charge of Florence; the former, for whom he planned to carve out a kingdom in central Italy of Parma, Piacenza, Ferrara and Urbino, he had taken with himself to Rome and married to Filiberta of Savoy.
The death of Giuliano in March 1516, however, caused the pope to transfer his ambitions to Lorenzo. At the very time (December 1516) that peace between France, Spain, Venice and the Empire seemed to give some promise of a Christendom united against the Turks, Leo obtained 150,000 ducats towards the expenses of the expedition from Henry VIII of England, in return for which he entered the imperial league of Spain and England against France.
The war lasted from February to September 1517 and ended with the expulsion of the duke and the triumph of Lorenzo; but it revived the policy of Alexander VI, increased brigandage and anarchy in the Papal States, hindered the preparations for a crusade and wrecked the papal finances. Francesco Guicciardini reckoned the cost of the war to Leo at the sum of 800,000 ducats.Ultimately, though, Lorenzo was confirmed as the new duke of Urbino.
Plans for a Crusade
The war of Urbino was further marked by a crisis in the relations between pope and cardinals. The sacred college had allegedly grown especially worldly and troublesome since the time of Sixtus IV, and Leo took advantage of a plot of several of its members to poison him, not only to inflict exemplary punishments by executing one (Alfonso Petrucci) and imprisoning several others, but also to make a radical change in the college.
On 3 July 1517 he published the names of thirty-one new cardinals, a number almost unprecedented in the history of the papacy. Among the nominations were such notable men such as Lorenzo Campeggio, Giambattista Pallavicini, Adrian of Utrecht, Thomas Cajetan, Cristoforo Numai and Egidio Canisio. The naming of seven members of prominent Roman families, however, reversed the policy of his predecessor which had kept the political factions of the city out of the Curia.
Other promotions were for political or family considerations or to secure money for the war against Urbino. The pope was accused of having exaggerated the conspiracy of the cardinals for purposes of financial gain, but most of such accusations appear unsubstantiated.
Leo, meanwhile, felt the need of staying the advance of the Ottoman sultan, Selim I, who was threatening western Europe, and made elaborate plans for a crusade. A truce was to be proclaimed throughout Christendom; the pope was to be the arbiter of disputes; the emperor and the king of France were to lead the army; England, Spain and Portugal were to furnish the fleet; and the combined forces were to be directed against Constantinople.
Papal diplomacy in the interests of peace failed, however; Cardinal Wolsey made England, not the pope, the arbiter between France and the Empire; and much of the money collected for the crusade from tithes and indulgences was spent in other ways.
In 1519 the Kingdom of Hungary concluded a three years' truce with Selim I, but the succeeding sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, renewed the war in June 1521 and on 28 August captured the citadel of Belgrade. The pope was greatly alarmed, and although he was then involved in war with France he sent about 30,000 ducats to the Hungarians.
Leo treated the Uniate Greeks with great loyalty, and by bull of 18 May 1521 forbade Latin clergy to celebrate mass in Greek churches and Latin bishops to ordain Greek clergy. These provisions were later strengthened by Clement VII and Paul III and went far to settle the constant disputes between the Latins and Uniate Greeks.
Leo was disturbed throughout his pontificate by schism, especially the Reformation sparked by Martin Luther.
In response to concerns about misconduct from some servants of the church, in 1517 Martin Luther read his Ninety-Five Theses on the topic of indulgences in the church courtyard at Wittenberg. Students took the theses, translated them from Latin to German, and through the printing press they spread throughout Europe.
Within two weeks, the theses had spread throughout Germany, and after two months they had spread throughout Europe. Leo failed to fully comprehend the importance of the movement, and in February 1518 he directed the vicar-general of the Augustinians to impose silence on his monks.
On 24 May, Luther sent an explanation of his theses to the pope; on 7 August he was summoned to appear at Rome. An arrangement was effected, however, whereby that summons was cancelled, and Luther went instead to Augsburg in October 1518 to meet the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan; but neither the arguments of the cardinal, nor Leo's dogmatic papal bull of 9 November requiring all Christians to believe in the pope's power to grant indulgences, moved Luther to retract.
A year of fruitless negotiations followed, during which the controversy took popular root across the German States.
A further papal bull of 15 June 1520, Exsurge Domine or Arise, O Lord, condemned forty-one propositions extracted from Luther's teachings, and was taken to Germany by Eck in his capacity as apostolic nuncio. Leo followed by formally excommunicating Luther by the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem or It Pleases the Roman Pontiff, on 3 January 1521.
In a brief the Pope also directed Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor to take energetic measures against heresy.
It was also under Leo that Lutheranism spread into Scandinavia. The pope had repeatedly used the rich northern benefices to reward members of the Roman curia, and towards the close of the year 1516 he sent the impolitic Arcimboldi as papal nuncio to Denmark to collect money for St Peter's.
This led to the Reformation in Denmark-Norway and Holstein. King Christian II took advantage of the growing dissatisfaction of the native clergy toward the papal government, and of Arcimboldi's interference in the Swedish revolt, to expel the nuncio and summon Lutheran theologians to Copenhagen in 1520. Christian approved a plan by which a formal state church should be established in Denmark, all appeals to Rome should be abolished, and the king and diet should have final jurisdiction in ecclesiastical causes.
Leo sent a new nuncio to Copenhagen (1521) in the person of the Minorite Francesco de Potentia, who readily absolved the king and received the rich bishopric of Skara. The pope or his legate, however, took no steps to remove abuses or otherwise reform the Scandinavian churches.
That Leo did not do more to check the anti-papal rebellion in Germany and Scandinavia is to be partially explained by the political complications of the time, and by his own preoccupation with papal and Medicean politics in Italy. The death of the emperor Maximilian in 1519 had seriously affected the situation.
Leo vacillated between the powerful candidates for the succession, allowing it to appear at first that he favoured Francis or a minor German prince. He finally accepted Charles V of Spain as inevitable, and the election of Charles (28 June 1519) revealed Leo's desertion of his French alliance.
Leo was now eager to unite Ferrara, Parma and Piacenza to the States of the Church (The Papal States). An attempt late in 1519 to seize Ferrara failed, and the pope recognized the need for foreign aid. In May 1521 a treaty of alliance was signed at Rome between him and the emperor. Milan and Genoa were to be taken from France and restored to the Empire, and Parma and Piacenza were to be given to the Church on the expulsion of the French.
The expense of enlisting 10,000 Swiss was to be borne equally by pope and emperor. Charles V took Florence and the Medici family under his protection and promised to punish all enemies of the Catholic faith. Leo agreed to invest Charles V with the Kingdom of Naples, to crown him Holy Roman Emperor, and to aid in a war against Venice.
It was provided that England and the Swiss might also join the league. Henry VIII announced his adherence in August 1521. Francis I had already begun war with Charles V in Navarre, and in Italy, too, the French made the first hostile movement on 23 June 1521. Leo at once announced that he would excommunicate the king of France and release his subjects from their allegiance unless Francis I laid down his arms and surrendered Parma and Piacenza to the Church.
The pope lived to hear the joyful news of the capture of Milan from the French and of the occupation by papal troops of the long-coveted provinces (November 1521).
Having fallen ill with bronchopneumonia, Pope Leo X died on 1 December 1521, so suddenly that the last sacraments could not be administered; but the contemporary suspicions of poison were unfounded. He was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
- "Pope John XXII." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.