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Historical Notes

Pope Leo X

Born: 1475 ~ Florence, Italy
Pope: 1513-21
Died: 1521 ~ Rome, Italy
Note: Extravagant, renovated Vatican, indirectly caused Reformation

He was born Giovanni de' Medici, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Clarice Orsini of the powerful de' Medici family of Florence, Italy. This politically and culturally oriented family gave him every advantage and opportunity to excel in public life. They were patrons of the arts and easily garnered clout with the Church, their main societal rival and the primary gateway for political control. At only the age of thirteen, Giovanni was made Cardinal in 1489 by Pope Innocent VIII and eventually secured the Papal office at the young age of thirty-eight under the title of Pope Leo X.

Tremendous pressures and dangers faced the young Pope but the pleasure-loving nature and lack of seriousness which characterized his Florentine youth remained dominant. He retained the distinctive traits of the de' Medici, an insatiable love for pleasure, amusement, music, art, poetry, science, banqueting, revelry, and expensive entertainments. The austere buildings of the Vatican were an offence to him, so he expanded previous renovations into an extensive building program. Raphael and Michelangelo did some of their finest work. Rome quickly became an important center of literature, art, and extravagance. Cardinal Riario writing to Erasmus stated in 1515, "men of letters are hurrying to the Eternal City, their common country, their support, and their patroness." A financially stable Vatican left to him by the preceding Julius II was exhausted in just a few years. He is alleged to have remarked: "How much we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages." With a treasury in ruin, he set about various and often reprehensible methods for raising money to support his ravenous expenditures. Sacred jubilees and indulgences became mere financial transactions. This latter scheme was an indirect cause of the Reformation. Indulgences were promises of relief from eternal penalties, and Johann Tetzel's administration of them in Germany aroused the ire of a Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.

The Church at Rome was badly in need of ecclesiastical reform before Pope Leo X and these new deceptive money-making schemes were the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." Luther responded by posting his ninety-five arguments for reform. German nobility saw Luther's cause as an opportunity to stop the flow of their much needed money to Rome. The word Protestant comes not from Luther but from the "protesting" of these German princes to the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which sought to impose limits on the new religion and increase toleration for Catholicism. Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther on January 3, 1521, denouncing him as a heretic. The rest of Leo's life was a series of military treaties and alliances when he should have been correcting the religious turmoil that resulted from his own excesses and lack of focus. Leo died of malaria and was buried without pomp or recognition. Sienese chronicler Sigismondo Tizio writes: "In the general opinion it was injurious to the Church that her Head should delight in plays, music, the chase and nonsense, instead of paying serious attention to the needs of his flock and mourning over their misfortunes."

Written by Ronald J. Gordon as extended information for other major articles

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