The Purpose of the Papacy
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Sixtus, a Franciscan friar from a poor family in the region of Genoa, brings the papal practice of nepotism to new heights.
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While greatly enriching his nephews seven of whom he makes cardinals , he also uses them as his agents in the power politics of rival Italian states. The scheming of one nephew even results in the murder of one of the Medici in the cathedral at Florence during High Mass. Another nephew learns his trade so well with Sixtus that he easily outdoes his uncle, both in politics and patronage, when he is elected to the papacy as Julius II. He manipulates Italian politics not with the help of nephews but through his son, Cesare Borgia see the Borgias.
Alexander's successor Julius II is even more a man of his time. He is a pope who rides out in person to direct military campaigns, but he also commissions work from Raphael and Michelangelo. The frescoes of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel are created among the abuses which prompt the Reformation. Pope Julius II, reigning from to , represents the best and the worst of the newly self-confident Rome of the Renaissance.
His energetic sense of purpose on behalf of the holy see emerges as naked aggression in territorial matters; yet the same boldness and ambition makes him the greatest patron of the arts in the history of the papacy. In , his first year in office, Julius launches the great scheme to rebuild St Peter's. In the pope invites Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and persuades Raphael to decorate three rooms in the Vatican. Christian Rome's greatest glories have been conceived within a space of six years.
Julius's territorial ambitions are fired by a determination to restore the papal states, recently much reduced by the activities of Cesare Borgia and by encroachment from Venice. To achieve his purposes, this pope even marches into battle in armour at the head of the papal forces.
Erasmus is in Italy in when Julius II scores his first military success with the capture of Bologna. Erasmus is so shocked that he writes a play satirising this militant pope. Entitled Julius Exclusus and published anonymously, it depicts a furious Julius, after death, arriving in armour at the gates of heaven and finding them locked against him.
The Barbed comments of St Peter, as the gatekeeper in conversation with the excluded pope, reflect a hostility to the Renaissance papacy which will soon find violent expression in the Reformation. The temporal schemes of Julius II are designed to serve Rome's best interest within the turmoil of Italy. By the time of his death, in , that seems to have been largely achieved.
Papal land has been recovered from the Venetians.
The French have been driven from northern Italy. But a more lasting threat to the papacy is about to emerge in Germany - prompted, ironically, by Julius's ambitious scheme for the rebuilding of St Peter's. A commemorative medal is struck with the classical inscription Templi Petri Instauracio Renewal of the Temple of Peter , showing a view of a great domed basilica with a classical portico. In spirit - though not in detail - this design is similar to the church which is eventually completed in , by which time Raphael and Michelangelo and several others have succeeded Bramante as official architect for the scheme.
Meanwhile the need for funds for the vast new project, together with the unscrupulous manner in which Renaissance popes are willing to raise them, provokes the great central crisis of Europe in the 16th century - the Reformation. The flash point proves to be Germany. And it is not hard to see why.
The end of papal authority
Germany provides a context in which materialism within the Roman Catholic church is offensively evident. Some of the principalities, which together make up the Holy Roman empire, are ruled by unscrupulous prelates living in the style of Renaissance princes. Foremost among them is Albert, archbishop of Mainz and one of the seven imperial electors. By the age of twenty-four Albert holds a bishopric and a second archbishopric in addition to Mainz.
Such plurality is against canon law. But the pope, Leo X, agrees to overlook the irregularity in return for a large donation to the building costs of the new St Peter's. Both pope and archbishop are men of the world the pope is a Medici. Leo makes it possible for Albert to recover his costs by granting him the concession for the sale of indulgences towards the building of St Peter's. Half the money for each indulgence is go to Rome; the other half will help to pay off Albert's debts he has borrowed the money for the original donation from the Fuggers of Augsburg.
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This secret arrangement might distress the faithful if they knew of it. But more immediately shocking to some is the behaviour of the friar Johann Tetzel, whom Albert employs to sell the indulgences. Tetzel is a showman. When preaching to gullible crowds in German towns he goes far beyond the official doctrine of indulgences. He promises the immediate release of loved ones from the pain of Purgatory as soon as a purchase is made.
He even has a catchy jingle to make the point: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from Purgatory springs. News of this travesty reaches the ears of a professor at the university of Wittenberg. Martin Luther, a man both solemn and passionate, is an Augustinian friar teaching theology at the university recently founded in Wittenberg by Frederick the Wise, the elector of Saxony. Obsessed by his own unworthiness, he comes to the conclusion that no amount of virtue or good behaviour can be the basis of salvation as proposed in the doctrine known as justification by works. If the Christian life is not to be meaningless, he argues, a sinner's faith must be the only merit for which God's grace might be granted.
Luther therefore becomes a passionate believer in an alternative doctrine, justification by faith, for which he finds evidence in the writings of St Paul. Nothing could be further from the concept of justification by faith than Tetzel 's impudent selling of God's grace. Luther has often argued against the sale of indulgences in his sermons.
Now he takes a more public stand. He writes out ninety-five propositions about the nature of faith and contemporary church practice. The tone of these 'theses', as they come to be known, is academic.
But the underlying gist, apart from overt criticism of indulgences , is that truth is to be sought in scripture rather than in the teaching of the church. By nailing his theses to the door of All Saints' in Wittenberg, as Luther does on 31 October , he is merely proposing them as subjects for debate. Instead of launching a debate in Wittenberg, the ninety-five theses spark off a European conflagration of unparalleled violence. The Reformation ravages western Christendom for more than a century, bringing violent intolerance and hatred which lasts in some Christian communities down to the present day.
No sectarian dispute in any other religion has matched the destructive force, the brutality and the bitterness which begins in Wittenberg in Luther is as surprised as anyone else by the eruption which now engulfs him - slowly at first but with accelerating pace after a year or two. Its violence derives from several unusual elements. The papacy is determined to suppress this impertinence. Luther's writings are burnt in Rome in ; his excommunication follows in This is the predictable part.
The unexpected elements are the groundswell of support in Germany, nourished by a deep resentment of papal interference; and the effect of the relatively new craft of printing. Before Gutenberg , news of Luther's heresy would have circulated only slowly. But now copies of the ninety-five theses are all over Europe within weeks.
A fierce debate develops, with pamphlets pouring from the presses - many of them from Luther's pen. Within six years, by , Europe's printers produce different editions of his tracts. In these circumstances it is impossible for the issue to be swept under the carpet. Any action taken against Luther in person is certain to provoke a crisis - though in the early years his safety depends heavily on the protection of Frederick the Wise, proud of his university and reluctant to hand over to Rome its famous theologian, however controversial.
The Purpose of the Papacy by John S. Vaughan D. D.
Support for the excommunicated monk is so strong among German knights that the young emperor, Charles V , is prevailed upon to hear his case at a diet held in in Worms. Luther is given a safe conduct for his journey to and from the diet. He is no doubt aware of the value of an imperial safe conduct to John Huss a century earlier, but he accepts the challenge. Was his voice heard condemning to death those who did not accept him? The Romish Church now presents a fair front to the world, covering with apologies her record of horrible cruelties.
She has clothed herself in Christ-like garments; but she is unchanged.
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Every principle of popery that existed in past ages exists today. The doctrines devised in the darkest ages are still held. Let none deceive themselves.
The popery that Protestants are now so ready to honor is the same that ruled the world in the days of the Reformation, when men of God stood up, at the peril of their lives, to expose her iniquity. She possesses the same pride and arrogant assumption that lorded it over kings and princes, and claimed the prerogatives of God.
Her spirit is no less cruel and despotic now than when she crushed out human liberty, and slew the saints of the Most High. Popery is just what prophecy declared that she would be, the apostasy of the latter times. Shall this power, whose record for a thousand years is written in the blood of the saints, be now acknowledged as a part of the church of Christ?
The Great Controversy (1888 ed.)
It is not without reason that the claim has been put forth in Protestant countries, that Catholicism differs less widely from Protestantism than in former times. There has been a change; but the change is not in the papacy. Catholicism indeed resembles much of the Protestantism that now exists, because Protestantism has so greatly degenerated since the days of the reformers. As the Protestant churches have been seeking the favor of the world, false charity has blinded their eyes. They do not see but that it is right to believe good of all evil; and as the inevitable result, they will finally believe evil of all good.
Instead of standing in defense of the faith once delivered to the saints, they are now, as it were, apologizing to Rome for their uncharitable opinion of her, begging pardon for their bigotry. A large class, even of those who look upon Romanism with no favor, apprehend little danger from her power and influence. Many urge that the intellectual and moral darkness prevailing during the Middle Ages favored the spread of her dogmas, superstitions, and oppression, and that the greater intelligence of modern times, the general diffusion of knowledge, and the increasing liberality in matters of religion, forbid a revival of intolerance and tyranny.
The very thought that such a state of things will exist in this enlightened age is ridiculed.