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Pope Leo X
Leo X, né Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (December 11, 1475 – December 1, 1521), pope between 1513 and his death, is known primarily for his failure to stem the Protestant Reformation, which began during his reign when Martin Luther first attacked the Roman Catholic Church.
Leo is considered the only pope who has bestowed his own name upon his age, and one of the few whose original extraction has corresponded in some measure with the splendour of the pontifical dignity. He was the second son of Lorenzo de' Medici and was born in Florence.
Like his contemporary Henry VIII, he was from the first destined for the ecclesiastical condition; he received the tonsure at seven, held benefices at eight, and before he was thirteen negotiations were in active progress for his elevation to the cardinalate. Innocent VIII, the reigning pope, was bound to Lorenzo by domestic ties and a common policy and interest; in October 1488 Giovanni was created a cardinal under the condition that he should not be publicly recognised as such for three years. The interval was devoted to the study of theology and canon law, pursuits less congenial to the young prince of the church than the elegant literature for which he inherited his father's taste, and in which he had already made great progress under the tuition of Politian and Bibbiena.
In March 1492 he became a Cardinal and took up residence in Rome, receiving a letter of advice from his parent which ranks among the wisest and weightiest compositions of its class. Within a few months his prospects were clouded by the nearly simultaneous deaths of his father and the pope, a double bereavement closing the era of peace which Lorenzo's prudent policy had given to Italy, and inaugurating a period of foreign invasion and domestic strife.
One of the first consequences of the French eruption into Italy which shortly ensued was the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence (November 1494). Having resisted to the best of his ability, the Cardinal de' Medici found a refuge at Bologna and, being obnoxious to Innocent's successor, Alexander VI as well as seeing himself deprived of political importance for the time being, undertook a journey to several foreign countries with a party of friends. Upon his return he settled in Rome, withdrawing himself from public life as much as possible, and disarming the jealousy of Alexander by displaying an unaffected devotion to literary pursuits.
Election to Papacy
When he became pope on March 11, 1513, Leo rejoiced; he is reported to have said to his brother Giuliano, "Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it." The Venetian ambassador who related this of him was not unbiased, nor was he in Rome at the time, nevertheless the phrase illustrates fairly the pope's pleasure-loving nature and the lack of seriousness that characterized him. And he did, traveling around Rome at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, a white elephant.
He was also lavish in works of charity: hospitals, convents, discharged soldiers, pilgrims, poor students, exiles, cripples, the sick, the unfortunate of every description were generously remembered, and more than 6000 ducats were annually distributed in alms.
His extravagance offended even some cardinals, who, led by Alfonso Petrucci of Siena, allegedly plotted an assassination attempt (which was foiled); the plan was to inject poison into his formidable hemorrhoids. Some people argue that the pope and his followers simply concocted the assassination charges in a moneymaking scheme to collect fines from the various wealthy cardinals Leo detested.
Short on funds, Leo colluded with a German archbishop to sell indulgences, using the showy services of the monk Johann Tetzel, who entered German towns bearing the Bull of Indulgence aloft on a velvet cushion. Soon afterward, Martin Luther nailed his Disputation...on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg.
Most historians agree Leo completely underestimated Luther's position. He initially labeled him as a "drunken German monk" who could be easily returned to the fold. However, Luther and his followers' attacks on the church continued; as a result, Leo was widely painted as a corrupt papal leader more concerned with luxury than religion.
"How much we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages." John Bale, the apostate English Carmelite, the first to give prevalence to these words in the time of Queen Elizabeth, was not even a contemporary of Leo.
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