A History of the Popes
by Joseph McCabe
Excerpts from: A History of the Popes by Joseph McCabe,
| 16th to 18th Century
SECTION - SEVEN
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The age of disintegration of the Papal Church coincides with what historians call the Modern Age. It is true that the reasons they give for dating the commencement of the Modern Age or Modern Times in the second half of the sixteenth century are not convincing, but we find the true relation of Papal history to world-history if we recognize that what does most to raise life from a semi-barbaric to a civilized level is freedom to acquire, diffuse, and discuss knowledge. The Papal system was fabricated in a small community, of a low grade of culture, which isolated itself from the life of the city of Rome. It developed its more monstrous pretensions in an age of dense general ignorance. When at length better economic conditions and the proximity of a fine civilization reawakened the mind of Europe, there was a widespread rebellion against the Popes. They resorted to the familiar weapons — repression and bloodshed — of an authority which cannot afford to have its credentials examined, and in three centuries they slew between one and two million rebels and intimidated further millions.
The consciousness of power which the victory gave them encouraged them to become more greedy and more corrupt than ever, and the strain which this laid upon the fretting impatience of Europe coincided with the emergence of new social and political conditions which at last afforded a chance of success to the rebels. Half of Europe threw off the yoke. The Popes then, by the massacre and persecution of the Huguenots, the Thirty Years' War, and an intensified activity of the Index and the Inquisition, succeeded in retaining the other half, but new — conditions the growing independence of Catholic monarchs and the rapid increase of knowledge and literature — led to the great revolt of the eighteenth century. The Catholic monarchs were persuaded by the violence of the revolutionary movement that they had erred, and in the bloody Papal-royalist reaction that followed half a million martyrs were added to the list. In the second half of the nineteenth century new social and political conditions checked the murderous violence in most countries, and the Popes pretended to accept a regime of free discussion, while relying upon a monstrously untruthful literature and a stern prohibition of the reading of critics to retain their followers. The atmosphere of freedom proved deadly, nevertheless; and by the year 1925 the Papacy contemplated a disintegration, as serious as that of the sixteenth century, so it again entered into alliance with brutal coercive forces. When these last allies fall, when freedom is restored from Warsaw to Santiago, the Papacy will pass into the final stage of its evolution.
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The historical writers — rarely themselves Europeans — who gratify Catholics by reconstructing the history of Europe pretend that the Reformation was so preponderantly due to social and political changes that we need no longer discuss the Papal and clerical debasement, and that the Popes themselves corrected, without pressure from the Reformers, such disorder as really existed. The procedure is much the same as when they prove that there never was a Dark Age. The thousand ugly facts — I repeat that what I have said about the moral condition of Rome and Italy will be found in such standard authorities as the Cambridge History, the Catholic Dr. Pastor, Gregorovius, L. von Ranke, and Burckhardt — are concealed, and the occasional patches of virtue are thus deceptively put out of proportion in the general picture. The fact that there was no serious attempt to reform the Papacy and the Church until, fifty years after the revolt of Luther, half of Europe had seceded, is treated as insignificant; and the more serious fact that when the failure of the Thirty Years' War left this half of Europe definitely irrecoverable, the Papal Church substantially returned to its corruption is suppressed.
We never contended that the Reformation was simply a virtuous revolt against the Papacy. The Europe I have described was not puritanical. Certainly large bodies of good folk in every country deeply resented the obscene farce which the Papal religion had become, and even frivolous folk disdained this uncouth structure of theoretical virtue and almost universal vice, of praise of poverty and humility yet towering pride and princely luxury; especially since they, the laity, were called upon to pay for it. They had resented it since the twelfth century. The diatribes against the Popes and the Church for their "greed" from 1100 to 1500 would fill a large and piquant volume. The picture of a devout and docile medieval Europe which many offer us is ludicrously unhistorical. Now printing was well developed, and the scholarly criticisms of Erasmus and Lorenzo Valla, the penetrating shafts of Ulrich von Hutten and a score of other writers, and the heavier indictments of evangelical pamphleteers reached a very wide public. The medieval Papacy had become an anachronism.
On the other hand, the writers who would persuade us that new social and political developments were the cause of the revolt, not merely the conditions of its success, are not impressive. The one problem which the Papacy had to Face as a result of the Renaissance was the vicious luxury of the Papal Court and the Church. The Popes of the sixteenth century knew nothing about a cultural problem; and the only political problem they saw was the very old problem of intriguing with the various Powers for the recovery of the Papal States and the destruction of rebels. They did not succeed in retaining the southern countries and Poland by adapting themselves to new conditions but by the suppression of critics, a rigorous censorship, a refusal to educate ninetenths of the people, and a Jesuit education of the remainder that was a tissue of untruth.
The political situation is, as I said, of importance in explaining the success of the revolt, and will be considered later on. Here it is enough to say that when Luther in 1517 nailed his theses about indulgences to the church-door (a sort of public noticeboard) at Wittenberg, Leo XIII treated the news much as if a fly annoyed him at one of his sordid banquets. Three years later Luther issued two pamphlets and burned the Pope's Bull which condemned him. The Emperor got him sentenced and driven into retirement, and the Papacy passed into the gay days of Clement VII: a frivolous prince, of illegitimate birth, of reckless extravagance and nepotism, and of such cynicism in public conduct that he brought upon Rome, we saw, the most terrible of its visitations. But while the Emperor dealt with Clement and pursued his other ambitions in the south, his nine years' absence from Germany permitted the revolt to spread like a fire in a dry forest. And that the chief cause was the degradation of the Church we have mounds of testimony. The Emperor saw no other cause and pressed for a reform-council. Hadrian VI said:
We freely acknowledge that God permits the persecution of the Church on account of the sins of men, especially the prelates and the clergy.
Pius V in a letter to the monks of Germany in 1567 said:
The chief cause of the evil is the corrupt morals of the prelates, who, giving the same licence to the clergy under them and corrupting them by their example, not undeservedly brought upon themselves the greatest hatred, contempt, and anger of the laity.
But we shall see plenty of this in the next chapter. We must remember that at this stage the Reformers differed little from Rome in doctrine and laid almost the entire stress upon corruption of morals.
And the Popes, instead of being busy with a counter-reform, opposed the idea of a Council and kept insolently to the primrose path. At the death of Clement the cardinals awarded, or sold, the tiara to the father of four children, the brother of a Pope's mistress, the patron of indecent comedies and gay ladies, a flagrant nepotist and voluptuary, Paul III (1534-1549). He resisted for three years the demand for a reform Council, and then announced that a Council would be held in Italy. This was so Futile a proposal that at the opening date in 1538 only five prelates had arrived, and it was abandoned. Rome resumed its gaiety, but at last the Emperor compelled the Pope to convoke a Council at Trent, across the northern frontier of Italy, where the Reformers would be beyond the arm of the Roman Inquisition. But when the Papal Legates arrived, three weeks late, for the opening in 1541, there were no bishops to meet them. The Emperor was furious at the deception — especially as the Pope chose just this time to enrich his granddaughter out of the Papal States — and the German and Spanish envoys at the Vatican, supported by the minority of strict cardinals, used violent language. Paul, however, just removed a few barnacles from the "barque of Peter" and shelved the scheme of reform which the cardinals drafted. Pastor shows from documents in the Vatican Archives that he relied to the end upon his intrigues with the Catholic monarchs to get the rebels and their demand of reform violently suppressed. He secretly offered to allow the Emperor to sell monastic property — on the ground of corruption — to the value of 250,000 if he would attack the rebels and consent to the holding of the Council in Italy. Charles refused.
It was under this pressure that the "great" Council of Trent opened in the last month of 1545, but the hypocrisy of the Vatican was known, and only twenty-five prelates were present. Paul was determined that it should merely formulate doctrine as a standard for the condemnation of heretics. When at length the Emperor found it necessary to attack the Lutheran League, the Pope was outraged because he refused to follow up his victory with drastic persecution. Paul to the end frustrated the design that the Council should discuss the reform of the Church; and when he died, in 1549, the frivolous Papal Court defied the world by electing Julius III (1550-1555), who, we saw, was one of the most scandalous Popes of the century and was widely believed in Rome to be as secretly vicious as he was openly coarse and sensual.
Such, thirty years after Luther's outbreak, was "the reform from within." But with the loss of England, the richest milch-cow of the Papacy, and the growth of the revolt in France the situation had become so serious, financially, that the cardinals, with a sigh, elected a reforming Pope, Paul IV (1555-1559). At least Cardinal Caraffa, a fiery Neapolitan puritan, had for many years fought clerical and monastic vice in South Italy and had founded a religious congregation, the Theatines, for men who wanted an ascetic life without the irresistible temptations of a monastery. But the wealth and power of the Papacy once more poisoned the mind of a religious man. Paul at once effected a few reforms at Rome and appointed a commission to plan a comprehensive reform of the Church. But he soon turned his back upon reform, suspended the sittings of the Council of Trent, and devoted himself to the recovery of the Papal dominion and the enrichment of as sorry a group of relatives as any Pope had ever had. Paul himself was a quaint type of reformer. His love of strong wine and elaborate dinners (sometimes of twenty-five dishes) and his violent temper were the talk of Europe; and his nepotism was shameful. His nephew Carlo, a drunken and dissipated soldier, was made a cardinal and his chief officer. Pastor refutes Ranke's suggestion that Carlo and the other nephews concealed their vices from the Pope. They became at last so intolerable that Paul had to disown them. He died soon afterwards, in mortification and remorse, and he had to be buried secretly, by night, while the Romans took a fierce revenge upon his relatives.
To the dismay of the strict Catholics and the elation of the Protestants, the cardinals then elected a Pope, Pius IV (1559-1565), whose character was so well known that, Pastor says, "the evil elements immediately awakened once more into activity." He was a man of "worldly tendencies" and "little imbued with the ecclesiastical spirit." He was an unblushing nepotist, as Pastor proves against Ranke; and he used the Council of Trent, which he convoked again in 1562, on the lines of the traditional Papal policy of stifling as far as possible the discussion of corruption, which would have opened up a debate on the Papal Court itself, and confining its work to dogma. The Council was, the wits said, "guided by the Holy Ghost, who was sent there from time to time in a knapsack from Rome." It had the smallest attendance of prelates of any Ecumenical Council, and its discussions were so seasoned with clerical paprika and so hypocritically directed that the full account of it which was afterwards written by the Venetian priest Paolo Sarpi was put on the Index.
Its "reforms" were a mockery. It condemned the sale of indulgences (which, to the great profit of the Popes, continued to be sold) and the duel (which lasted even longer); and it decreed the reform of clerical and monastic morals, which, we shall see, were as bad as ever in the next generation and were never seriously altered. Then the Pope, Pastor says, began to "live according to his inclination." Pastor does not admit that the plot to murder him with poisoned daggers in 1564 was the work of men who resented his neglect of reform, but Ranke quotes impressive contemporary evidence that it was.
Rome was so far from being reformed that one of the most disgusting of the old group of cardinals, Ippolito d'Este — a man who had had the eyes of his brother cut out when his (Ippolito's) mistress admired them — boasted that he won or bought twenty votes at the Conclave which followed the death of Pius IV (1565). But the aspect of Europe was now formidable, and a Dominican monk of stern character, Pius V (1566-1572), was elected and directed to undertake reform. His decrees show that Rome was, fifty years after the outbreak of the revolt, as foul as ever. Monasteries and nunneries were corrupt, and courtesans of the higher type, whom prelates openly visited, still made, in spite of the reduced revenue of the Vatican, incomes which in some cases rose to 20,000 a year. Ordinary prostitution was sordid and superabundant. A nephew of Pius IV who had turned to religion had induced the Governor of Rome to forbid girls of seven to sell flowers in the streets, for even at that age they began the trade, and Pius IV had quashed the regulation. Pius V now drove most of the women from Rome, though he was tearfully implored to see that he would ruin the city, and he enclosed the remnant of common girls in a sort of ghetto. The result, his decrees show, was a growth of worse vices. He forbade bachelors to have female servants: he even forbade nuns to keep male watch-dogs. Adulterers of both sexes were flogged in public. Blasphemers had their tongues pierced with a red-hot iron. Hundreds of heretics were burned alive, as Pastor tells us, and a new palace was built for the Roman Inquisition; which, English Catholics now say, was a very polite institution which never killed anybody.
For six years Rome fumed under this system of compulsory virtue, and the effect was what one would expect. At the death of Pius the cardinals elected a man, Gregory XIII (1572-1585), who had been notoriously immoral, who even now proposed to make a cardinal of his illegitimate son and abolish the restrictions of his predecessor. He was an amiable old man who thought more of promoting culture — he is the Gregory who gives his name to the Gregorian Calendar, though he did no work on it — than of puritanism and, between his personal inclination and the pressure of the Jesuits and zealots, his long pontificate was a feeble compromise. So much freedom was won that we read in Rodocanachi of a courtesan who made a fortune of 150,000 and was the idol of the city. Gregory dare not restore the vast fiscal abuses of the Vatican, and, as he enriched several nephews and had large schemes to finance, he raised money by quite unscrupulous confiscations in Italy. The patent injustice of his exactions led to a wide spread of banditry and violence. How he blessed the St. Bartholomew Massacre we shall see in a little while.
The counter-reform of Pius was thus largely undone in thirteen years of considerable laxity, but the scandal of the Popes supporting this regime while they pressed the kings to crush the Protestants was painful, and in 1585 the cardinals had to admit another reforming Pope, Sixtus V (1585-1590). We must not, it is true, at once infer from the election of an ascetic that the Papal Court was now cleansed. Gregory had hated Sixtus and had relieved him of ecclesiastical office. Yet instead of retiring to a monastery of the Franciscan Order, to which he belonged, he had lived with his sister in a small palace at Rome, and it can hardly be doubted that the cardinals were mistaken about his character.
We have an exhaustive biography of this Pope by the Catholic Baron Hubner (Sixte Quint, 2 vols, 1870), and I do not propose to say anything about him which is not stated in that work. It is admitted, for instance, that he indulged heavily in the chronic and most mischievous Papal vice of nepotism. His sister — they were of peasant extraction — became the richest woman in Rome; and, although one of his early decrees ordered that a new cardinal must be at least twenty-one years old, he made a cardinal of and greatly enriched a grand-nephew of the age of thirteen, settled the highest offices upon another grand-nephew, and later married their sisters to nobles.
Baron Hubner's account of his reforms shows us that as late as 1585 Rome was still remarkably corrupt. From the decrees of Sixtus V the Catholic writer extracts this picture of the nunneries (II, 15):
There was at the time such licence that the parlours were continually full of idlers, and these conversed all the time with the nuns, diverted them from their vocation, and caused the greatest scandals. As it had happened that young men had violated nuns, and others had, in order to get into convents, broken down the grilles, windows, and doors, Sixtus demanded that they should be punished at once and with extreme rigour.
Two years earlier the President of the French Parlement had opposed the publication of the decrees of the Council of Trent in France on the ground, among others, that the order to reform clerical and monastic morals had not been carried out in Italy. Graft was still universally practised in the Papal offices, and banditry and murder were so common that in Rome itself nobles had their bands of cut-throats who would rob or murder pedestrians for them and drag women from their homes.
So for five years there was a real, if peculiar, Counter-Reformation: not a change of heart, but a murderous assault upon the vicious and criminal. Thousands were executed for carrying arms, misconduct in nunneries, prostituting their daughters, and so on. The more elegant courtesans were again banished, and the poorer women were drastically restricted. Yet this puritan savagery was balanced by the Pope's own vices. He did much to promote the prosperity of Rome, but, Hubner admits, he sold clerical offices more flagrantly than any Pope had done since Leo X. He mutilated prisoners — an English spy had his tongue cut out and one hand cut off before he was beheaded — his nepotism gave great offence, and his language was as violent as his methods. Catholic writers boast that he protected the Jews. He, says Hubner (I, 349), "protected the Jews in order to exploit them." His foreign policy was, as we should expect, blundering and unscrupulous, his one aim being to drive the Catholic monarchs to exterminate the heretics.
This short spell of puritan fury allied with other vices was the high-water mark of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which is now represented as a real and permanent improvement of the Church. The Papal pressure relaxed after the death of Sixtus, which was hailed with joy, and only one Pope in the next hundred years pressed for reform; and that not so much from personal desire of it as from a consciousness that the fight against the heretics required it. Except that the Pope and cardinals could no longer live as they had lived in the time of Alexander VI or Leo X, Rome, we shall see, sank back into its corruption. The next twenty years were mainly spent by the Popes in intrigue with the Catholic Powers to bring about a war upon the Protestants of the North; and the war broke out in 1618 and spread its futile savagery over the next thirty years. We shall return later to the character of the Popes of that period.
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Every Pope from the time of Leo X onward pressed for the violent destruction of the heretics. The Popes had, we saw, compelled all Christian monarchs to make heresy a lethal crime in their civil codes, and most of them relied upon this to spare them the unpleasant need to reform their luxurious Court and the Church. Of that wise and informed statesmanship with which so many writers endow them they do not at this critical stage, if at any other stage, reveal the least trace. Indeed, the slovenliness of their international organization is amusingly exhibited in the early versions of the famous Index of Forbidden Books. This work grew out of short lists which had been compiled for the use of Inquisitors. With the growth of heresy and the multiplication of printed books in the sixteenth century longer lists were drawn up in various countries, and at length Pope Paul IV ordered his most learned theologians to compile an international list. It was the joke of Germany and England. Our mythical King Arthur appeared in it as the heretical writer Arturus Britannus; and in the next edition this was carefully corrected to (if we translate the Latin) "the Englishman Thomas Arthur." The wizard Merlin kept him company. William of Ockham, a famous Schoolman, was "Ochan." A German Commentary on Tacitus was included as heretical, and even a perfectly orthodox book by a Dominican Inquisitor.
It was largely due to this inefficiency as well as the voluptuous insouciance of the Papal Court that Protestantism spread with remarkable rapidity to so many million people. This is easily understood if we do not strain after originality in assigning the causes of the rebellion. Every preacher of revolt against the Popes from the twelfth century onward had had a large following. John Wycliffe, who denounced the Popes as "the most cursed of clippers and purse-kervers," had had hundreds of thousands of adherents in England, and John Hus almost as many in Bohemia. The violent suppression of them gave the Popes very short relief. Before the year 1500, long before the revolt of Luther, lay preachers of the Gospel drew crowds in the streets of London to listen to their attacks upon the priests and monks, whose moral condition was such that it clearly needed only a spark to kindle into flame the disdain of the people. These preacher-critics are mentioned in a discourse of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486, who admits that the laity "hate the clergy," and that their moral condition is foul. While Catholic writers press upon us the pretentious piece of sophistry in which their Cardinal Gasquet is supposed to have refuted the charge of moral corruption, we have, besides such documents as the above and others which I quoted in the preceding chapter, a collection of cases from the official Registers of the Ecclesiastical Courts of London which authentically disclose a state of clerical and monastic morals, in the half-century before the Reformation, that would be incredible if it were not a court record.
A priest gets a light penance for bawling in church at his parishioners a phrase which I may not even paraphrase here. Another, who was not punished because he swore that he was not guilty, had a woman in his bed every night and walked the streets of London naked. There are several such cases of exhibitionism. Several married couples are sentenced for keeping special brothels for "priests, friars, monks, and canons." Since all these wore distinctive costumes, hundreds would see them visiting their brothels. Other priests are fined for incest or for procuring for priests. A priest tries to rape his servant and to strangle her when she resists. Priests fight each other at the altar or fight laymen in the church; they drink all day with women in their houses; they carouse in the taverns and wear daggers in the streets. Laymen are found in bed with the nuns of the Kilburn Convent, and a priest is convicted of being the father of the child of one of the nuns: which is really serious, so he is fined eight shillings. The convent is found to be a common brothel and is "reformed"; and a few years later a priest is fined three shillings and sixpence for misconduct with the prioress.
This Kilburn convent-brothel was on the main road only a few miles from Westminster. On the eastern main road into London was the famous Benedictine Abbey of St. Albans, with a ring of nunneries. It was the last halt on the journey to London and a busy town. In 1496 the Archbishop of Canterbury complained in a letter to the Abbot (in Wilkins's Concilia, III, 632) that the monks "lead a lascivious life and hesitate not to profane the sacred places, and the temple of God, by fornication with nuns and the shedding of blood and seed." The Abbot has made a loose married woman head of a neighbouring nunnery, and he and his monks "notoriously go to fornicate there." In the outlying houses or priories under the Abbot's jurisdiction the monks "prostitute themselves to whores inside and out of the monasteries, almost publicly and continuously." They steal and sell the most sacred ornaments of their churches in order to pay for their dissipations. And twenty years later we find the archbishop's successor still deploring the debauchery of the monks of St. Albans.
This general condition of the clergy, monks, and nuns, this depravity openly displayed on the high roads into and out of London where thousands passed or halted on a summer's day, was, we saw, denounced by lay preachers in the streets of the city and was known to all. It is, therefore, idle to discuss the lust of Henry VIII and his greed for the wealth of the monasteries. We can understand his anger when, solely out of fear of Spain as Lord Acton pointed out years ago the Pope refused him a divorce (or annulment) such as the Papacy had been wont to sell to princes and nobles during four centuries. There is no need to consider how far this and the wealth of the corrupt monks moved him to act; for his action would have been impossible if it had not had behind it a national consciousness that religion had become a mockery under the Papal system. There was far less opposition to Henry's breach with Rome than to Mary's violent attempt to restore its authority. England had never admitted the Inquisition, though it had been compelled by the usual Papal threats to make heresy a lethal crime. In the hundred and fifty years before the accession of Queen Mary, however, we read of only about fifty executions under the law, whereas in her attempt to restore Catholicism "Blood Mary" put to death in three years about three hundred men, women, and youths, and the nation burst into wild rejoicing at the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth. It is not honest to represent, as much of our historical teaching now does, royal lusts and greeds and political developments as substantial causes of the English Reformation. They were just contributory causes of its success.
Lutheranism spread at once to Denmark and Scandinavia, where there was the same corruption of the clergy; and Zwingli, who was more advanced than Luther, prepared the way for Calvin in Switzerland. Holland and Belgium then belonged to Spain, and the Inquisition had to make vigorous efforts to exclude the new ideas from all three countries. In Spain, however, the chief work of the Inquisition was to detect heresy in the nominally converted Moors and Jews, and Llorente found from its own archives that by the end of the eighteenth century it had put 341,042 to death. Catholic writers make futile attempts to disprove this, and they remind us that, in any case, the Spanish Inquisition was not under the control of the Popes, who rebuked it for its severity. The truth is that Pope Sixtus IV, one of the most truculent of the Popes, supplied the Spanish Inquisition with its rules, and then, when Spain refused to put it under the Vatican, which would have received a third of the handsome profit of its confiscations, found fault with it. Pope after Pope tried to get control, but the Spanish crown preferred to keep the profit itself.
In France Jean Cauvin, now known as Calvin from the Latin form of his name, won so large a following, including the King's pious sister, that at one time Francis I received him with respect. Calvin estimated that there were 300,000 Protestants in the country. But Francis I depended upon his rich Church for large voluntary contributions to his treasury, and the Popes were prompt at all times to exploit the danger of his position between England, Spain, and Germany. Calvin was driven to Switzerland and thousands of Protestants were executed or sent to the galleys. There remained, however, a very large and increasing body of Huguenots, as they came to be called, and some of the most eminent men — the heir to the throne and his sons, Admiral Coligny, etc. — joined them. They were strong enough to meet the royal armies in the field and compel the King and Church to abandon the idea of persecution. As usual, the Catholics turned to fouler means, and in 1572 perpetrated what is known as the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.
The Jesuits prepared the way for this by pretending to discover a Huguenot plot to burn the city. It was fantastic, but the Queen-mother, a neurotic Italian who corrupted her son so as to retain power and who is herself suspected of corrupt habits, had no scruples. Seeing that her son leaned to a policy of conciliation and of hostility to Spain, she and her friends concerted the appalling plot. No responsible historian entertains the Catholic plea that it was an unorganized rising of the people. Most of the leading Huguenots had gathered in Paris for the marriage of the King's sister to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, and at midnight, the commencement of the feast of St. Bartholomew, the church bells rang and soldiers and people rushed to the slaughter. The flames spread to the provinces, and tens of thousands — the respectable estimates vary from 20,000 to 50,000 (which L. von Ranke accepts) — of Protestants, including most of the leaders, perished.
Catholic writers, besides making fatuous attempts to show that there was no organized plot, gravely misrepresent the conduct of the Pope, Gregory XIII. It is acknowledged that, when the news reached Rome, he had the cannon fired from Sant' Angelo and ordered special services of thanksgiving, but Catholic writers say that he had received false information and was grieved when he heard the truth. They omit to state that, as is equally unquestioned in history, he had a gold medal struck with the express inscription that it was in honour of the "massacre [strages] of the Huguenots" and a large fresco of it painted. These were not done in a day. The truth is that the savage orgy sent such a shudder through Europe that the French court began to disavow it as a rising of the rabble, and, when the Pope's special Legate arrived with fulsome congratulations, they received him coldly. Had it not been for the massacre, France would have become, like some of the German States, a land of mixed religions with a steady growth of Protestantism. As it was, the Huguenots withdrew to towns in the west until, in 1685, the Church induced Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes, their charter of toleration, and drive half a million of the finest workers of France overseas; to the irreparable injury of France and the great profit of England.
In Germany princes and nobles had been easily persuaded by Luther to rebel against the arrogant and avaricious Church, and here the political circumstances, which had in France and Spain helped the Church, favoured the revolt. The Emperor was a foreigner, a Spaniard, and at the critical period he was, as we saw, absent from Germany for nine or ten years. When he returned he found, after a few conflicts, that the rebels were too powerful, and, to the anger of the Popes, he decreed toleration.
Protestantism spread so rapidly that in 1558 the Venetian ambassador declared that it had won nine-tenths of the German Empire, which included Austria. But a new force, the Jesuits, now entered the service of the Papacy. They were from the first regarded with just suspicion, but their peculiar blend of melodrama and unscrupulous cunning disarmed Popes and princes. Their first aim was to ruin Protestantism in Bavaria and Austria, where it was feeblest. They penetrated Bavaria by bribery, and at once inspired heavy persecution; and Ignatius, who had sworn that none of his sons should ever accept an ecclesiastical dignity, allowed one to become Archbishop of Vienna. They intrigued everywhere for the confiscated estates of Protestants, and from their rapidly increasing wealth they built colleges for the sons of nobles and the rich in which the boldest Catholic mendacity pervaded the whole curriculum. No trick was too dishonest, no disguise too ridiculous, for these Black Shirts of the shrinking Church.
The Popes and the Jesuits concluded that, especially after the recovery of Bavaria and Austria, Catholic Europe was strong enough to drown the heresy in blood, and they awaited a favourable hour. The opportunity might have occurred when, in 1556, Charles V abdicated, leaving Spain and the Netherlands to his son Philip, and Germany and the imperial title to his brother Ferdinand. Had France united with these monarchs the Catholic strength would have been formidable, but the Popes, in their narrow concern for their temporal possessions, fed the mutual hostility of France and Spain, and the Emperor, who would get no aid from Italy — since the fall of the ancient Empire Italian troops have hardly ever fought for any cause outside Italy until Mussolini found weak countries for the display of their valour — would not risk a war. However, in 1618, which counts as the first year of the Thirty Years' War, the hour struck. Ferdinand of Bohemia, soon to become Emperor Ferdinand II, a product of Jesuit education, stung his Protestant subjects into rebellion by his unjust measures.
At this time the reigning Pope was Paul V (1605-1621). After the death of Sixtus V (1585-1590) three futile Popes had succeeded each other within a year and a half — Urban VII (Sept. 1590) — Gregory XIV (1590-1591) — Innocent IX (Oct.-Nov. 1591). Clement VIII (1592-1605), the next Pope, was a vigorous man, but the thirteen years of his pontificate did little to advance the Papal cause. His reign coincides with the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, when the plots of the Jesuits in England served only to make the Queen, who had no mind for persecution on religious grounds, apply to the conspiring Catholics the blood-sodden machinery which the Popes had created four centuries earlier; though Catholic writers now tell their readers that this beastly business of killing for creed was just a temporary outcome of the conflict of passions in Reformation days, and that the priests who conspired in England are saints and martyrs. In Rome graft and simony continued in all the Papal offices. Clement promoted his nephew, Cardinal Aldobrandini, to the highest position, but forbade him to acctept the usual bribes from France or Spain. Put them secretly to my credit in the bank until the Pope dies, the Cardinal told them. This was the Pope under whom the Roman Inquisition committed what the Cambridge History calls "one of the most infamous of its acts,"the burning of Giordano Bruno, the noblest man and finest scholar of his age in Italy.
The foreign ambassadors reported that Henry IV of France spent 125,000 in bribes during the next Conclave to secure the election of Leo XI (1605), whom Spain opposed. He died within a month, (April 1605). The next Pope, Paul V (1605-1621), was a man of correct conduct — how ironic that one should have to say such a thing about a "Vicar of Christ" — but a nepotist. He compelled the Knights of Malta and the Duke of Savoy to enrich his nephew, and he was an ardent patron of astrologers, as several Popes and cardinals of this period were. The Thirty Years' War now opened, and he heavily subsidized the Catholic armies. His successor, Gregory XV (1621-1623), an enthusiastic supporter of the Jesuits, doubled the subsidy, and he is praised for his patronage of art and learning. Yet Gregory has the invidious distinction of compelling the great pioneer of science, Galileo, to suppress and disown the truth (1615).
Catholic sophistry, indeed mendacity, is on this point particularly audacious. That the Pope was not consulted about this most serious episode of the year is an idle suggestion, and that Galileo wantonly invaded theological territory — he was dragged into it by his monk-opponents — is sheer untruth. But it is even worse to say that the cardinals, including the famous Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine, whom Catholics now represent as remarkably modern in his ideas, did not condemn the truth as heresy. The two propositions they examined were:
The sun is the centre of the world, therefore immovable from its place.
The earth is not the centre of the world and is not immovable, but it moves with a diurnal motion.
The first of these purely scientific truths was condemned as "formally heretical, inasmuch as it directly contradicts the doctrine of Holy Scripture in many passages," and the second was denounced as "at least erroneous in faith." We may grant that Gregory, who was absorbed in enriching himself and his family — in which he was, says the Cambridge History, brilliantly successful — and urging the massacre of heretics, did not pay much attention to the mere condemnation of a man of science, and we shall see later how deeply the Papacy was implicated in the second condemnation of Galileo.
The course of the Thirty Years' War, which began by the Jesuits prompting Ferdinand to break his election oath and persecute Protestants, need not be traced here. Bohemia, until then one of the most advanced civilizations of Europe, suffered its first betrayal — its allies in the north were divided — and martyrdom. Its 30,000 villages were reduced to 6000, its 730 cities to 130, its 3,000,000 people to 780,000. But how the victorious advance of Spain and Austria drove France into jealous hostility to them and into alliance with the northern Protestants, and how civilization was put back a hundred years and Spain ruined by the three decades of quite savage fighting, does not concern us here. Armies of nearly every country and race in Europe — Spaniards, French, Slavs, Hungarians, Scandinavians, etc. — wandered over Germany and, in the manner of the Ages of Faith, raped the women everywhere. Indeed, large regiments of women, mainly destitute Germans, followed the troops and settled in the camps. One Catholic army of 34,000 men had 127,000 women and other camp-followers. And in the Year of Science 1939 a monstrous national aspiration is based upon, and a vast cruelty exercised in the name of, a theory of pure Aryan blood.
The story of the Popes again becomes ironic and disgusting just at this crisis in the fortunes of the Church. With the accession of Urban VIII (1623-1644), whose pontificate covers the greater part of the period of the war, English Protestants had the hilarious experience of seeing the fanatics of Spain and Austria denounce their Pope as an ally of the heretics. Even the modern Catholic writer is compelled to admit that if Urban had sent to the Catholic League the enormous fortune, the property of the Papacy, which he squandered upon his relatives or spent in securing possessions, the Catholics might have triumphed and possibly extinguished Protestantism.
All admit that Urban VIII was the most arrogant and conceited Pope that Rome had yet seen. He consulted nobody and exacted the most servile respect from all. Since the statues of several Popes had been dragged through the mud after their death by the Romans, a law had been passed that no statue must be raised to a Pope during his life. The law, Urban said, could not apply to such a Pope as he was. He refused to continue the annual subsidy which his predecessors had granted to the Emperor, or to send to the Catholic princes any of the vast sum, amounting to several millions, which Sixtus V stored in the vaults of the Castle of Sant' Angelo for such a contingency. While hundreds of thousands of soldiers laboured for the triumph of his Church in Germany, he spent his time and money in fortifying the Papal States, completing the artistic adornment of Rome, and enriching his family.
His greatest fault, says the article on him in the Catholic Encyclopedia, was his "excessive nepotism." While the fate of his Church in the north hung in the balance, he, as all admit, cultivated this Papal vice more assiduously than any other Pope. He conferred such offices upon and permitted such licence to his brother and three nephews that the income of their house, the Barberini, rose from 20,000 to 400,000 crowns (a crown was about ten shillings) a year. L. von Ranke, after a careful study, estimated that they made a fortune during his pontificate of 105,000,000 crowns. They emptied the war-treasury in Sant' Angelo and "made enemies on all hands by their rapacity and insolence." They so pillaged the ancient monuments that the Romans said, proverbially: "What the barbarians left undone the Barberini have done." In his later years they dragged the Pope into a war with the Duke of Parma. When the stricken Duke got help from Venice and other Italian States and forced the Pope to make reparation, he was so angry that he fell into a mortal illness. Several times the general resentment of his conduct had induced him to submit his enrichment of his nephews to a committee of theologians, including a Jesuit, and they had obsequiously confirmed his conduct.
But nepotism was not his worst fault, and the apologists try desperately, and quite inconsistently, to excuse his alliance with France, which entered the League of the Protestant Powers. Cardinal Richelieu now dominated France and, when the Protestant cause was in danger, induced the brilliant Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to take the field and turn the scale in their favour. He feared that a triumph of Spain and Austria would injure France; and Richelieu was more of a Frenchman than a Catholic, and at one time threatened to make the French Church independent of Rome. But no excuse can be made for the Pope. He clung to France solely because the alliance was favourable to his own plans and those of his relatives. He followed with interest, some historians say with joy, the victories of the Protestant King.
It is amusing to observe the contortions of apologists when they reach this shameful page in the history of the Papacy. Hayward's History of the Popes is, it is true, candid, and severely censures Urban. The author agrees with his Catholic colleague Mourret that from this time "the Papacy began to abandon the guidance of the world." But the Short History of the Popes of the Catholic Professors Seppelt and Loffler boldly says that "documents have recently become available" which show that Urban "did not approve the alliance between France and Sweden, but condemned it as soon as he received reliable information regarding its existence, and made every effort to have it annulled" (p. 323). For this flagrant contradiction of what every responsible historian teaches, not a shred of authority is given or any reference to such documents; and the authors have presently to confess that Urban could have turned the war in favour of the Catholic Powers by sending to them Sixtus V's millions! The Catholic Encyclopedia does quote a new document, but this merely refutes a story that the Pope shed tears when he heard of the death of Gustavus Adolphus. The writer on Urban in the Encyclopedia is content with the ingenuous plea that the Pope was the common father of all the faithful and could not join a league (the Catholic League!) which fought France as well as Sweden.
L. von Ranke quotes in his Popes of Rome the official report of the Venetian ambassador, Alvise Contarini, one of the most respected diplomats of the time and one who took part in the negotiations in France. He says:
The Pope's Nuncios always favoured Richelieu's undertakings, both when they had for their object his own safety and when they aimed at uniting Bavaria and the League with France. With regard to his alliance with Holland and the Protestant Powers generally, they held their peace, that it might not be said that they sanctioned it. Other Popes would, perhaps, have had this connivance upon their conscience, but the Nuncios of Urban VIII found this the road to greater consideration and to personal advancement.
Even more damaging to the Papacy is the account in the Cambridge Modern History (IV). The Emperor, the writer says, was to be weakened before the Swedes attacked, and this "Richelieu and the Pope understood to bring-about with masterly skill" (as the Venetian ambassador describes). Urban defied the protests of the German and Spanish ambassadors, and in a public speech to the Romans he said that Gustavus Adolphus was "rendering to Christian Rome services like those of Camillus to the pagan city" (p. 68). The Pope changed his policy only after the death of Gustavus Adolphus, probably from fear that Spain might now win, but it was too late to avert the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which left Protestantism in possession of the north.
It was this scandalous Pope who directed the second condemnation of Galileo, who, in the caustic attack which he made upon his critics in his Dialogues (1632), was generally understood to belittle the conceited Pope. The documents published by Favaro make an end of the Catholic claim that the Pope was not involved — he angrily directed the persecution — or that Galileo was "treated with consideration." When he replied to the summons to Rome that he was ill, as he was, he was harshly told that the Pope would send an official to see if he was shamming and that if this were true he would be brought to Rome "bound and in irons." At Rome he was kept in suspense for several months. Catholic writers glibly say that the charge of dungeons and torture has been disproved, but the documents show that we cannot trace where he was from June 21 to 24, and they refer to threats of torture. His promise to recant probably saved him from actual torture, but the recantation must have been torture enough. It runs, to quote the essential words:
I, Galileo Galilei, being in my seventieth year, a prisoner on my knees before your Eminences . . . abjure, curse, and detest the said errors and heresies [of the movement of the earth and the stationary sun].
And the one Catholic scientist (medical professor) of whom the richest (American) branch of the Church can boast, Dr. J.J. Walsh, tells his readers in his Popes and Science that Galileo's life was "the most serene and enviable in the history of science." The works of Galileo and Copernicus and "all other works teaching the same" remained on the Index until 1835, and prohibition to read them was enforced as late as 1822.
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The scandalous pontificate of Urban VIII, which lasted twenty-one years, makes a mockery alike of the claim, which so many historians lightly endorse, that the Popes had reformed their Court and Church and the even more widely accepted legend of the serene wisdom and statesmanship of the Vatican. How cultivated men and women, or even ordinarily educated folk, can continue in our time to speak of a divinely-guided "Holy Church" and a series of Holy Fathers and Vicars of Christ we should find it difficult to explain if we did not know the unscrupulous nature of Catholic literature and the way in which priests slander all critics of their Church and prevent their people from reading the truth. Even the educated Catholic imagines that the only historical objection to his conception of his Church and its leaders is that there were in remote days "a few bad Popes"; and he somehow persuades himself that the Holy Ghost could direct the election of these vicious or dishonourable men and in some sense "dwell" in them, content only to see that they taught no heresy. It is fantastic and pathetic. Such Popes as Urban VIII, a century after the beginning of the Reformation, did far more harm to the Church than the adulterers, sodomists, and murderers of earlier years. Yet such was still the corruption of Rome at the middle of the seventeenth century that Urban's successor was an even more wanton nepotist than he, and the Papal offices, the city, and the States of the Church remained foul with graft, simony, and injustice.
Since there were in the Conclave which followed the death of Urban in 1644 no less than forty-eight cardinals of his own creation, his nephews boasted that the wealth he had showered upon them was safe. They could not secure the office for their favourite, but at least the new Pope, Innocent X (1644-1655), owed his hat to their uncle. What passed between them in the Conclave we, of course, do not know; but they were outraged when Innocent's first act was to turn upon them and demand the Papal treasure. They fled to France, and Innocent publicly deplored the nepotism by which his predecessor had brought shame and ruin upon the Church. When, a few years later, the Catholic princes were, largely on account of Urban's conduct, compelled to sign the inglorious Peace of Westphalia, Innocent austerely complained that they were "intent upon their own interests rather than upon those of God." "Unfortunately," says the Catholic Hayward, "the prestige of the Holy See had sunk so low at this time that nobody took any notice of him." A thorough and genuine counter-reform was needed to restore that prestige, yet Innocent entered upon a career of nepotism and simony that was even more scandalous than that of his predecessor.
There are Catholic writers who deny that Innocent indulged in the classic Papal vice of nepotism. It is a good sample of their work. Nepotism means, literally, a promotion of nephews (nepotes), whereas it was chiefly upon his sister-in-law Olimpia that the Pope conferred his favours. She had, in marrying the Pope's brother, brought considerable wealth into the family, and Innocent owed much of his own advancement to this. He now permitted her to add enormously to her fortune by so gross a practice of simony that it was known all over Europe. All ecclesiastical appointments were made through her, and she exacted a monthly payment or pension from every bishop, abbot, or priest who received such appointment. Just at the time when Protestant literature most heavily reviled the Papacy it tolerated or encouraged one of the gravest scandals since the Reign of the Whores. Olimpia built a magnificent palace, and queues of office-seekers and the carriages of the leading cardinals and ambassadors beset it. Her daughters married into the richest and most aristocratic families of Rome. Such was her reputation that in Paris it was generally believed that she had 150 rich men poisoned to get their wealth.
But Innocent X was a nepotist also in the strict sense, and the scandal grew to outrageous proportions. Olimpia had one son, Camillo. He had little ability, and had therefore been put into the Church. But in the golden prospect which opened out at the accession of her brother-in-law, Olimpia withdrew him from the seminary and married him to the wealthiest heiress in Rome. To the delight of Rome, Camillo's wife despised Olimpia and made a spirited fight against the virago. Olimpia then selected a young adventurer, thrust him upon the Pope's notice, and secured his adoption as "nephew." He lived in Innocent's palace and exercised a considerable influence over him. But he refused, once he was established, to share the spoils with Olimpia, and the quarrel became public, vulgar, and complicated. The amusement of Rome increased when the Pope, discovering that his chief secretary had for years duped and exploited him by affixing a false summary to every document he presented for signature — the Pope never read the documents — dismissed him and put in his place the man who had committed the forgeries.
Money oozed out at every pore of the Papal system. In 1652 Innocent suppressed and confiscated the property of a number of Roman monasteries and nunneries which still were, his Bull tells us, hotbeds of vice. Such was the Papal system seventy years after the death of Sixtus V, and under the eyes of the Pope. And Innocent, whose love of justice is reverently extolled by Catholic writers, presided over this sordid system for eleven years; and when he died, in 1655, the relatives he had enriched refused to spend a ducat on his remains. His body lay neglected by all for three days, and a poor canon whom he had dismissed from office then paid a few shillings to get cheap attention for it. The cardinals were too busy with the Conclave, "Now we'll choose an honest man," they are reported to have said. So the "squadrons," as Rome called the factions of cardinal voters, engaged in the usual skirmishes, and they elected a man who had criticized the abuses which, Ranke says, "had never been more flagrant than of late." Yet they must have known the man they chose: an indolent, comfortable man, more disposed for rural quiet and a book of profane poems than for the kind of fight which a reformer would have to wage. Soon nepotism flourished as verdantly as ever.
Alexander VII (1655-1667) ignored for a whole year the hungry looks of the relatives who lingered in Siena, while cardinals, who found it easier to approach a Pope through his family, tactfully blamed him. He laid the matter very solemnly before the head of the Jesuit College and later General of the Society, Father Oliva, and the astute priest as solemnly told him that it was a sin to keep his relatives away from Rome. They came in droves. The Pope made his brother, Don Mario, Governor of the Borgo, or the part of the city round St. Peter's, which was, we shall see, sodden with corruption. A nephew became what Rome was accustomed to call "the Cardinal Nephew," and his slender income rose to 50,000 a year. Another nephew got the best lay appointments, and more distant relatives shared the golden shower. Rome was again a prosperous city of 120,000 inhabitants and opulent palaces; though when the Venetians asked the Pope for a subsidy in their defence against the Turks, he told them to raise money by suppressing some of their corrupt monasteries and nunneries.
We are assured that the next Pope, Clement IX (1667-1669), was really virtuous. It is true that his relatives were not enriched out of ecclesiastical funds — he was content to arrange good marriages for them — and, though the large sums which he distributed amongst the cardinals were said by evil folk to be the price of his election, we have no proof or very firm evidence of this. But Clement's virtue was not the rugged and austere type that was needed. He was a quiet and amiable man who did not like the stink of cleaning a stable, and he knew well that the reform of this "reformed" Church would raise a prodigious stink. We have a letter in which Cardinal Sachetti, one of the zealots, calls his attention to the vile condition of the city and the Church; the appalling exploitation of the poor, the complete corruption of the law-courts, the burden of the taxes and cruelty of the collectors, the scandal of the traffic in ecclesiastical offices, and so on. Clement wearily made a few alterations, but he dare not boldly attack the monstrous parasitism of the higher clergy and the Papal officials. Instead, he raised further loans, and before he died the public debt of the Papacy amounted to 52,000,000 crowns — a crown was worth to the Roman what a pound is to us — on which interest (which the Church officially condemned as usury) had to be paid. Rome was approaching bankruptcy. Yet when Clement died, in a little over two years, the cardinals, reaching a deadlock in their war of ambitions, elected an old man of eighty, Clement X (1670-1676), who, having no relatives, adopted a "nephew" to do the work while he went on with his game of whist and found 300,000 crowns for the building of a family palace.
Here ends the learned and most useful work (The Popes of Rome) of L. von Ranke, which is based upon such a mass of hitherto unpublished documents, in Italian and Latin, that they occupy nearly the whole of his third volume. It is amusing to find Catholic writers who do not know that research means tilting at the erudite German historian. Before he quits the field, however, he gives us a long account of the state of the Church, the city, and the Papal States; and this is fully confirmed by the letter of Cardinal Sachetti to which I have referred and other documents which Ranke reproduces. One document he quotes is an unpublished catalogue, the manuscript of which is in Vienna, of abuses in the administration of justice which was written for the Pope by an official who had practised for twenty-eight years in the Roman courts. The vacation of the judges and officials lasted four months, and "during the remainder of the year the members of the court led a life of dissipation and excitement" (III, 83). Rich Romans paid for crooked decisions, and every judge received large gifts of money at Christmas. "The administration of the law," says the historian, "must have been utterly perverted and corrupt," and "these evils extended from the highest court of law to the inferior ones and to the civil and judicial administration of the provinces."
This universal graft in the civil and judicial systems was inspired by the equally universal graft — in this case we should say simony — of the Papal Curia. A pension for some ecclesiastic or Papal official was attached to every appointment: every bishopric, abbey, and even common benefice (priest's income). The morality of this is on just the same level as the periodical fee for "protection" levied by racketeers in America, yet the system was quite open and familiar to everybody. The burden on the bishoprics, in particular, was so heavy that only rich men could accept some of them, and the scrutiny of the character of candidates could not be exacting. A case is recorded of a bishop who, after paying all dues, had less than 50 a year for himself. The office was frequently refused by good but poor men. In 1667 twenty-eight Neapolitan bishops and archbishops were deposed because they no longer paid the pensions to Rome. Business men from Venice and Genoa bought the appointments in Rome for lump sums and proceeded to wring the money out of the priests and people. In Spain as well as Italy these Roman pensions were levied even upon the benefices of the lower clergy, and "the least evil that could result from such a system was the entire corruption of the parochial clergy and the utter neglect of their flocks." Hundreds of small monasteries and nunneries were suppressed, on the usual charge of vice, and monks were rarely seen in the new Rome, "where nothing but scorn and insults awaited them."
Historical writers of the new school who tell their readers that the Roman Church purified itself by a Counter-Reformation do as much violence to the facts as when they represent the monks of the Middle Ages as a generally virtuous and industrious body of men, the Age of Chivalry as a beautifully romantic period, the people of Europe as docile and devoted to the Church, and the Popes as effective guardians of justice and morals. The only change was one which was inevitable now that the Papacy had twenty million Protestant critics free and eager to discuss its life. The scandal of an Alexander VI, a Leo X, or a Julius III could not occur again, and the parade of sexual licence and heavy gambling of their prominent cardinals was equally impossible; though we shall find cardinals occasionally maintaining mistresses, with little or no concealment, to the end of the nineteenth century. Mussolini, in what the Church would call his unregenerate days, wrote a novel about one of them.
Whether the story of Donna Olimpia or of the vast fortune of the Barberini is much more edifying the reader may judge, but there was no other serious change of the system. Simony was, we saw, a fully organized business. Graft was universal. Violence was almost as unchecked as ever. In the Papal States, apart from Rome, a thousand murders were committed every year, and banditry was worse than in any other civilized country. As we shall find all these things unaltered in the first half of the nineteenth century, when we have an exact knowledge of them, we need not hesitate to accept the more casual references to the condition of the Papal States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It will hardly be claimed that they fell into corruption from a state of grace just after the purge of the French Revolution and Napoleon had passed through Italy. But the state of Rome and the Papal Court, which I have described, is proof enough of the general degradation.
It is now necessary to make a short survey of Catholic lands in order to see if there is any reality whatever in the alleged Counter-Reformation. And, since Catholics regard sexual morality as the peculiar concern of their Church and chief test of character, it will be enough to consider this.
Down to our own time the so-called Latin countries were so notorious for sexual freedom that Catholics foolishly pleaded in excuse the "hot blood" of the southerner; as if sexual conduct was superior in Tsarist St. Petersburg or imperialist Berlin to what is was in Naples or Madrid! The vice and violence of Catholic countries were simply survivals in the nineteenth century, like the illiteracy and general inefficiency, of medieval conditions: the most solid proof that, whatever the Popes did, they did not effectively inculcate virtue, justice, and self-control. For Italy we might be content with what we saw about Rome and the Papal States, but there is special evidence about the condition of Tuscany.
The later Medici and their successors, the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, had been degenerate and generally stupid princes who had permitted that once-glorious part of Italy, of which Florence was the centre, to sink into the same decay and ignorance as all other parts of Papal Southern Europe. It must not be supposed that some of the scepticism of Renaissance days lingered there and impeded the action of the Church. "No State had been so priest-ridden," says the Cambridge Modern History, and "it was sunk in ignorance and superstition, for the Inquisition and the moral espionage of the friars had crushed its ancient intellectual qualities." The Duchy passed in the second half of the eighteenth century to Leopold of Austria, and, although he was himself "almost indecently false and immoral" (a contemporary said), he permitted his ministers to carry out extensive reforms. The reform of the clergy and monks he entrusted to Bishop Ricci of Pistoia, a man of strict life, and an appalling description is given in the Bishop's Memoirs (English translation, 1829).
"For a century and a half before this," Ricci says, "the total corruption of the Dominican order had been a matter of scandal throughout Tuscany": so that it is not a question of a lapse after a reform, or of a temporary or local scandal that might be unknown at Rome. The Dominican monks controlled the nunneries of the Duchy and indulged in "the basest profligacy." In some convents two monks slept every night in the open dormitory with the nuns, who were wholly corrupted. They told Bishop Ricci, when he would reform them, to mind his own business, because they were, they said, subject to the monks, not the Pope; and the Papal Nuncio at Florence, who used to dine in the convents and enjoy the gay comedies and masked balls which the nuns gave, supported them and their monk-paramours. When evidence was forced upon the Vatican that every nunnery was in effect a brothel, the General of the Dominican Order, who "attended every week a dinner-party of infidels and libertines," induced the Pope to condemn Ricci (1781), and it was only the threats of the Grand Duke that got him freedom to reform. Monks and nuns of other orders were little better. Catholic writers boast of the merciful Right of Asylum (Shelter) by which in the Middle Ages a hunted man had protection in a church or monastery. Ricci shows that in Italy in the eighteenth century this led to colonies of criminals living with prostitutes in the churches and monasteries, the monks "using them as instruments of the frauds which they were desirous of executing." Every part of Italy was just as foul. Naples, which had one priest to seventy-six people, and Venice, which had one priest to every fifty people, were as notorious for the practice of unnatural vice as for the licence of the priests, monks, and nuns.
Of France, the classic land of royal, aristocratic, and episcopal vice, it is hardly necessary to speak. Cardinals and Archbishops were as free as dukes. Even the famous Bishop Bossuet had what he called a "wife" and children in secret. A cleric, the Abbe Dubois, who was the most corrupt figure in what is probably the most corrupt period in history, the Regency, was made a cardinal by the Pope; and the Pope knew his vices so well that he fell seriously ill from shame of his act. Harlay de Champvallon, Archbishop of Paris and head of the French Church, had four mistresses of noble rank. The Cardinal de Retz, the Cardinal de Bouillon, Cardinal de Guise ... But the state of the clergy, higher and lower, until the outbreak of the Revolution is notorious, and the most amazing excesses are recorded. How the monks and the laity lived, with such encouragement, need not be told. And the Papacy fiercely persecuted, for a shade of incorrectness in doctrine, the one body of Puritans in France, the Jansenists.
All this is known; but there are many who fancy that the clergy and monks were better-behaved in Spain. There is no ground for the belief. There is hardly a parallel in history to the degeneration, without external influence, of Spain economically, intellectually, and morally under its strictly Catholic regime after the year 1600. A characteristic vice in Spain was the seduction of young women in the confessional, and Lea shows that in 3775 cases of such seduction in the records of the Inquisition, which merely judged cases that were denounced to it, 981 offenders were secular priests and 2794 friars. In short, we may quote from Professor Chapman's History of Spain (p. 282) this picture of the condition of Spain at this period drawn by Professor Altamira:
. . . the most abominable of nefarious sins [sodomy] scattered to an almost unbelievable extent among all classes of Madrid society ... the very fewness of the number of the virtuous stands out the more strongly from the general stock of that society, as accustomed to laziness, hypocrisy, routine, and external practices as it was removed from the true paths of virtue, wisdom, and progress.
The situation was the same in Portugal, and it was worse in Spanish America, but I must refer to other works of mine (The True Story of the Roman Catholic Church, History of Morals, etc.) for details. No picture of ingenuous and unblushing immorality in any literature can surpass the account of the life of the South American priests and monks in Noticias secretas de America, a report of two Spanish scientists of the eighteenth century, published in London in 1826.
This moral condition of Catholic countries remained the same until the French Revolution, and it was, we shall see, substantially restored after the fall of Napoleon. Just in those countries the vice and violence of the Middle Ages survived most vigorously. Although Rome was in constant and intimate communication with every part of this Catholic world, Pope after Pope tolerated its depravity. It is almost just to say, in fact, that the only Pope in these two centuries of sufficient ability to win the respect of Europe, Benedict XIV, was also known throughout Europe for his love of Rabelaisian stories and conversation. We may, therefore, dismiss briefly the successors of Clement X until the accession of Benedict XIV.
Innocent XI (1676-1689) is officially described as a gentle, humble, virtuous man who avoided nepotism and effected many reforms of the ecclesiastical system. As the deficit of the Papal Budget now rose to 170,000 ducats a year on a total revenue of 2,500,000, reform was urgently needed; and none will question the genuineness of his desire to improve the Church. But the fatal hereditary concern of the Popes about their temporal possessions caused him to begin a disastrous struggle with France. While sexual licence in France grew bolder from one reign to another, and scepticism spread rapidly in Paris, the Pope entered upon an acrid struggle with Louis XIV about the extent of Papal jurisdiction over his clergy, and this caused the French clergy, led by Bishop Bossuet, to draw up the famous charter of the Liberties of the Galilean Church (1681). To the great anger of Rome, they declared that a Pope had no jurisdiction over Kings and was himself subject to a General Council of the Church; and that differences about doctrine must be settled by bishops and Pope acting together. To sustain this grave conflict the cardinals at the next Conclave elected a man of eighty-nine, Alexander VIII (1689-1691), and he condemned the Gallican Declaration, But he did not impress the French. The Catholic Encyclopedia praises his virtue and generosity, but adds that "the same generous nature led him to bestow upon his relatives the riches they were eager to accumulate, and in their behalf and to the discredit of his pontificate he revived sinecure offices which had been suppressed by his predecessor."
So in two years Alexander VIII contrived to undo the reform of Innocent XI; and his successor, Innocent XII (1691-1700), who deserves honourable mention for charitable and educational (religious) foundations in Rome, nevertheless blundered into a policy which brought a new war upon Europe and strengthened the growing determination of the Catholic monarchs to conduct their national and international affairs without Papal interference. Charles II of Spain had no heirs to his faded throne, and, as he neared the end of his wretched career, the leading Powers agreed that the Archduke Charles of Austria should succeed him. But in pursuance of the new policy of conciliating France the Pope got the Archbishop of Toledo to work upon the superstitious mind of the dying King and induce him to leave his throne to the grandson of Louis XIV. Innocent escaped the consequences by dying before Charles, and Cardinal Albani, who had encouraged him, was elected and became Clement XI (1700-1721). Charles died during the Conclave, but the terms of his will were concealed at Rome, or Albani would never have been Pope.
"Clement", said King Victor Amadeo, "would always have been esteemed worthy of the Papacy if he had never obtained it"; and the Cambridge History observes that this might justly be said of all the Popes of this period, so we may dismiss them with few words. It is true that the long pontificate of Clement XI, who was a man of austere life and genuine desire of reform, was crowded with events; but the Pope's personal share was one of such blunders that in the end the Catholic monarchs ignored him. He had, we saw, inspired the plot of securing the crown of Spain by a secret will to a French prince, and he supported the coronation of this man as Philip V, the founder of the corrupt line of the Spanish Bourbons. This led to the twelve-year War of the Spanish Succession, in the course of which the Austrians invaded Italy and compelled the Pope to submit; which in turn angered the French, and at the settlement by the Peace of Utrecht (1713) the Pope's claims were disdainfully ignored by all parties. In spite of his threats, Sicily was awarded to Victor Amadeo of Savoy, and Parma and Piacenza to a Spanish prince. Clement deeply offended strict Catholics in all countries by issuing the Bull Unigenitus against the Jansenists (Puritans) of France to please the royal sinner and his lax Jesuit advisers; and he incurred contempt throughout Europe when, on the archaic plea that it was the Pope's business to accord royal titles, he solemnly rebuked the Protestant Elector of Brandenburg for taking the title of King of Prussia and maintained in royal state at Rome the pretender to the English throne, James III.
Thus thirty years of "good Popes" had merely lowered still further the prestige of the Papacy, and the disdain of Europe deepened when the cardinals fought more violent and protracted quarrels than ever at the next three Conclaves, yet elected futile old men. Innocent XIII (1721-1724) was, says even the Catholic Encyclopedia, "weak enough to yield to French pressure and raise the unworthy Prime Minister Dubois to the cardinalate." Dubois was the most infamous cleric in the foulest period of French history. He died two years later "of hard work and the wildest debauchery"; and Pope Innocent soon, followed him, dying, it is said, of shame and remorse. His successor, Benedict XIII (1724-1730), scandalized Europe and infuriate Rome by leaving everything to his corrupt favourite Cardinal Coscia. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes him as "saintly" — "very pious, very weak, and very stupid" is the verdict of the shrewd President de Brosses — and suggests that he knew nothing of the crimes and vices of Coscia. But they were so notorious that at the Pope's death the Romans cried, "Now let's go and burn Coscia," and so serious that the next Pope, Clement XII (1730-1740) condemned him to ten years in prison and a fine of 100,000 ducats. Clement was seventy-nine years old, though the Conclave had lasted four stormy months, and was in the hands of relatives who enriched themselves. He restored the public lottery and made half a million a year from it, out of which, we will admit, he made many improvements in Rome. In short, it was not until near the middle of the century that the "reformed" Church got a Pope whom Europe respected, and by that time even the Catholic half of it had passed into so grave a condition that the next half-century would see the Pope compelled to suppress the Jesuits and to shudder before the fury of the French Revolution.
History of the Popes - 7