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Innocent VIII. 1484-1492

This pope, whose real name was Loranzo Gibo, was born in Genoa, 1943. At the death of his predecessor, Sixtus IV, pandemonium reigned supreme in Rome. The nobles and the cardinals barricaded their homes in mortal fear of the mob that rioted in the streets. Houses were broken into and robbed. The instigators of the wild confusion was the aristocracy. What it aimed at was to intimidate the papacy into renouncing its claims to the headship of the political government of Rome. Quiet was restored when the two leading families responsible for the disorder agreed to withdraw from the city. The cardinals now assembled for the election of a new pope, and Gibo was chosen. He had sat up all night securing by promises of benefices and money the votes of all but six of the cardinals. The next morning two cardinals awakened the six who had not been approached. “Come”, they said, “let us make a pope”. “Who?” asked the six. “Cardinal Gibo”. “How is that?” they countered. “While you were drowsy with sleep, we gathered all the votes except yours,” was the answer.

After the election the aristocrat family of the Orsini returned, and lawlessness and confusion were again rampant in Rome. Women were kidnapped during the night. The corpses of the murdered were found in the streets in the morning. The life of the pope—Innocent VIII—was so greatly endangered by the disturbances of this family—the Orsini—that he had to save himself by an alliance with Naples.

Innocent the VIII was a voluptuous sinner. He was the unmarried father of sixteen children, all of whom he openly acknowledged. He loved ease and was without ideals. He did not foster wars, as several of his predecessors had done, but he engaged in the crimes of extortion and luxurious indulgence. He was indebted for his election to the pontifical throne to Ferdinand of Naples. He repaid the debt by complying with all the wishes of his patron. His extortions were notorious. He set for sale all the offices of the church. Eighteen new papal secretaries paid 62,400 ducats into the papal treasury for their appointments.

Innocent published a decree allowing concubinage in Rome to clergy and laity alike. It declared celibacy contrary to the law of God and hurtful to the honor of the clergy, seeing that almost all the clergy had concubines, or mistresses. The moral degeneracy of the clergy, from the highest to the lowest is further indicated by the presence in the Holy City of 6,800 prostitutes. This could be expected with the supreme pontiff and the sacred senate setting examples in lose morals. Many of the cardinals led lives notoriously scandalous. They dwelt in palaces furnished with princely splendor and numbered their servants by the scores. They set the fashions in extravagant dress and sumptuous banqueting. They had their stables, kennels and falcons.

Though sinner that he was, Innocent was an implacable enemy of heretics. It remained for him to call a relentless crusade against the Waldensians of Italy and France. In a bull of May 5, 1487, he enjoined the king of France, the duke of Savoy and other princes to take up arms against them and exterminate them “as venomous serpents”. Their worst crimes were that they did not allow women to preach, denied the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s supper, adjured oaths, extreme unction, infant baptism, and rejected the doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead. French Waldensianism was as good as blotted out.

In his last sickness, Innocent was fed by a woman’s milk. He left a fortune of 1,200,000 ducats, 48,000 of which were distributed, by his request, among his relatives.

Pope Alexander VI—Borgia. 1492-1503.

Like his predecessor, Innocent VIII, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia bought the spiritual crown of Christendom with promises of ecclesiastical offices and money. His elevation to the papal throne occurred in his 61st year. He had been cardinal for 37 years. During these years he was laden with ecclesiastical offices by his uncle, pope Calixtus III.

Alexander was highly gifted intellectually. Had he used his natural endowment aright he might have been one of the most brilliant popes in the annals of papacy. But he was lacking in moral principle. He was easily the most corrupt of the popes of the Renaissance period. During his reign the papacy sank into its deepest moral degradation since the days of the pornocracy in the 10th century.

Alexander was the unmarried father of seven children, all of whom he acknowledged. The conspicuous features of his career as pope were, besides his dissolute way of life, his passion to advance the worldly fortunes of these children, themselves notorious for their gayety, escapades, marriages, worldly distinction and crimes. The misfortunes and the scandals of the papal household were several. In 1497 Alexander’s son of 24 years, the duke of Gandia, was mysteriously murdered. The perpetrator of the crime was never known. Alexander was disconsolate; for he was passionately fond of his children. He declared that he loved Don Juan more than anything in the world, and that if he had seven papacies he would give them all to restore his son’s life. As bowed down under the weight of his grief, his thoughts turned to reforming the church. But his reformatory zeal was soon spent; and for the next two years he was wholly occupied with the marriage and careers of his children, Caesar and Lucretia.

Another fearful tragedy of the Borgia family was the murder of Lucretia’s husband, the duke of Besiglia, to whom she had born a son. The pope’s son, Caesar, openly declared that he had been the murderer.

Alexander’s last achievement for his family was the marriage of Lucretia to Alfonso, son of Hercules, duke of Ferrara, in 1502. The duke was a widower and 24. Though the pope’s daughter was only 21 at the time she had been four times betrothed and twice married. But as the husband of Alfonso, she lived a quiet and domestic life till her death in 1519. She was not forty years when she died. Her son, Herculles, was the husband of Renee, the princess who welcomed Calvin and Clement Marot to her court.

The scandals of Alexander’s reign were finally ended by death. It is reported that he died of poison, which he had prepared for a cardinal, but which was accidentally put into his own cup. The day before he died he played cards in bed with some of his cardinals. At the approach of death he received the Eucharist and extreme unction. Death finally came to him in the presence of five members of the sacred college.

Few were the acts of Alexander that bore not the aspects of depravity. He was the pope to accomplish the task of the slaughter of the family of the Colonna. It was the last blow dealt to the Roman aristocracy, and thus the temporal dominion of the papacy was finally assured in the city of Rome.

There are at best only two acts of Alexander that do not have the aspect of depravity. Alexander canonized Anselm a saint. Secondly, in 1493 he divided the western world between Portugal and Spain in two bulls. The documents make mention of Christopher Columbus as a worthy man, much to be praised.