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§ 52. Sixtus IV. 1471–1484.

The last three popes of the 15th century, Sixtus IV., Innocent VIII. and Alexander VI., completely subordinated the interests of the papacy to the advancement of their own pleasure and the enrichment and promotion of their kindred.761761    Den nächst-folgenden Trägern der Tiara schien dieselbe in erster Linie ein Mittel zur Bereicherung und Erhöhung ihrer Familien zu sein. Diesem Zwecke wurde die ganze päpstliche Macht in rücksichtslosester Weise dienstbar gemacht, Hefele-Knöpfler, Kirchengesch., p. 483. The avenues of the Vatican were filled with upstarts whose only claim to recognition was that they were the children or the nephews of its occupant, the supreme pontiff.

The chief features of the reign of Sixtus IV., a man of great decision and ability, were the insolent rule of his numerous nephews and the wars with the states of Italy in which their intrigues and ambitions involved their uncle. At the time of his election, Francesco Rovere was general of the order of the Franciscans. Born 1414, he had risen from the lowest obscurity, his father being a fisherman near Savona. He took the doctor’s degree in theology at Padua, and taught successively in Bologna, Pavia, Siena, Florence and Perugia. Paul II. appointed him cardinal. In the conclave strong support is said to have come to him through his notorious nephew, Peter Riario, who was active in conducting his canvas and making substantial promises for votes.

The effort to interest the princes in the Turkish crusade was renewed, but soon abandoned. Cardinals were despatched to the various courts of Europe, Bessarion to France, Marco Barbo to Germany, and Borgia to Spain, but only to find these governments preoccupied with other concerns or ill-disposed to the enterprise. In 1472, a papal fleet of 18 galleys actually set sail, with banners blessed by the pope in St. Peter’s, and under the command of Cardinal Caraffa. It was met at Rhodes by 30 ships from Naples and 36 from Venice and, after some plundering exploits, returned with 25 Turkish prisoners of war and 12 camels,—trophies enough to arouse the curiosity of the Romans. Moneys realized from some of Paul II.’s gems had been employed to meet the expenditure.

Sixtus’ relatives became the leading figures in Rome, and in wealth and pomp they soon rivalled or eclipsed the old Roman families and the older members of the sacred college. Sixtus was blessed or burdened with 16 nephews and grandnephews. All that was in his power to do, he did, to give them a good time and to establish them in affluence and honor all their days. The Sienese had their day under Pius II., and now it was the turn of the Ligurians. The pontiff’s two brothers and three, if not four, sisters, as well as all their progeny, had to be taken care of. The excuse made for Calixtus III. cannot be made for this indulgent uncle, that he was approaching his dotage. Sixtus was only 56 when he reached the tiara. And desperate is the suggestion that the unfitness or unwillingness of the Roman nobility to give the pope proper support made it necessary for him to raise up another and a complacent aristocracy.762762    Hergenröther-Kirsch, II. 979. These most reputable Catholic historians intimate rather than emphasize this consideration.

Sixtus deemed no less than five of his nephews and a grandnephew deserving of the red hat, and sooner or later eight of them were introduced into the college of cardinals. Two nephews in succession were appointed prefects of Rome. The nephews who achieved the rank of cardinals were Pietro Riario at 25, and Julian della Rovere at 28, in 1471, both Franciscan monks; Jerome Basso and Christopher Rovere, in 1477; Dominico Rovere, Christopher’s brother, in 1478; and the pope’s grandnephew, Raphael Sansoni, at the age of 17, in 1477. The two nephews made prefects of Rome were Julian’s brother Lionardo, who died in 1475, and his brother Giovanni, d. 1501. Lionardo was married by his uncle to the illegitimate daughter of Ferrante, king of Naples.763763    A useful genealogical tree of the Rovere is given by Creighton, III. 100. Pastor takes no pains to hide his righteous indignation at Sixtus’ exhaustive provision for his relatives,—seine zahlreiche und unwürdige Verwandten, as he calls them.

Upon Peter Riario and Julian Rovere he heaped benefice after benefice. Julian, a man of rare ability, afterwards made pope under the name of Julius II., was appointed archbishop of Avignon and then of Bologna, bishop of Lausanne, Constance, Viviers, Ostia and Velletri, and placed at the head of several abbeys. Riario, who, according to popular hearsay, was the pope’s own child, was bishop of Spoleto, Seville and Valencia, Patriarch of Constantinople, and recipient of other rich places, until his income amounted to 60,000 florins or about 2,500,000 francs. He went about with a retinue of 100 horsemen. His expenditures were lavish and his estate royal. His mistresses, whom he did not attempt to conceal, were dressed in elegant fabrics, and one of them wore slippers embroidered with pearls. Dominico received one after the other the bishoprics of Corneto, Tarentaise, Geneva and Turin.

The visit of Leonora, the daughter of Ferrante, in Rome in 1473, while on her way to Ferrara to meet her husband, Hercules of Este, was perhaps the most splendid occasion the city had witnessed since the first visit of Frederick III. It furnished Riario an opportunity for the display of a magnificent hospitality. On Whitsunday, the Neapolitan princess was conducted by two cardinals to St. Peter’s, where she heard mass said by the pope and then at high-noon witnessed the miracle play of Susanna and the Elders, acted by Florentine players. The next evening she sat down to a banquet which lasted 3 hours and combined all the skill which decorators and cooks could apply. The soft divans and costly curtainings, the silk costumes of the servants and the rich courses are described in detail by contemporary writers. In anticipation of modern electrical fans, 3 bellows were used to cool and freshen the atmosphere. In such things, remarks Infessura, the treasures of the Church were squandered.764764    Diario, p. 77. At the chief banquet, the menu comprised wild boars roasted whole, bucks, goats, hares, pheasants, fish, peacocks with their feathers, storks, cranes, and countless fruits and sweetmeats. An artificial mountain of sugar was brought into the dining-chamber, from which a man stepped forth with gestures of surprise at finding himself amid such gorgeous surroundings.

In 1474, on the death of Peter Riario, a victim of his excesses and aged only 28,765765    Sixtus reared to him a splendid monument in the Church of the Apostles. Peter and his brother Jerome are represented as kneeling and praying to the Madonna. See Pastor, II. 294 sq. his brother Jerome, a layman, came into supreme favor. Sixtus was ready to put all the possessions of the papal see at his disposal and, on his account, he became involved in feuds with Florence and Venice. He purchased for this favorite Imola, at a cost of 40,000 ducats, and married him to the illegitimate daughter of the duke of Milan, Catherine Sforza. The purchase of Imola was resented by Florence, but Sixtus did not hesitate to further antagonize the republic and the Medici. The Medici had established a branch banking-house in Rome and become the papal bankers. Sixtus chose to affront the family by patronizing the Pazzi, a rival banking-firm. At the death of Philip de’Medici, archbishop of Pisa, in 1474, Salviati was appointed his successor against the protest of the Medici. Finally, Julian de’ Medici was denied the cardinalship. These events marked the stages in the progress of the rupture between the papacy and Florence. Lorenzo, called the Magnificent, and his brother Julian represented the family which the fiscal talents of Cosmo de’Medici had founded. In his readiness to support the ambitions of his nephew, Jerome Riario, the pope seemed willing to go to any length of violence. A conspiracy was directed against Lorenzo’s life, in which Jerome was the chief actor,—one of the most cold-blooded conspiracies of history. The pope was conversant with the plot and talked it over with its chief agent, Montesecco and, though he may not have consented to murder, which Jerome and the Pazzi had included in their plan, he fully approved of the plot to seize Lorenzo’s person and overthrow the republic.766766    So Pastor, II. 535, Gregorovius, VII. 239, Karl Müller, II. 130 and Creighton, III. 75. They all agree that Sixtus knew the details of the plot, and approved them, except in the matter of the murder, which, however, he did not peremptorily forbid.

The terrible tragedy was enacted in the cathedral of Florence. When Montesecco, a captain of the papal mercenaries, hired to carry out the plot, shrank from committing sacrilege by shedding blood in the church of God, its execution was intrusted to two priests, Antonio Maffei da Volterra and Stefano of Bagnorea, the former a papal secretary. While the host was being elevated, Julian de’Medici, who was inside the choir, was struck with one dagger after another and fell dead. Lorenzo barely escaped. As he was entering the sanctuary, he was struck by Maffei and slightly wounded, and made a shield of his arm by winding his mantle around it, and escaped with friends to the sacristy, which was barred against the assassins. The bloody deed took place April 26, 1478.

The city proved true to the family which had shed so much lustre upon it, and quick revenge was taken upon the agents of the conspiracy. Archbishop Salviati, his brother, Francesco de’ Pazzi and others were hung from the signoria windows.767767    See the account of the legate of Milan, publ. by Pastor, II. 785 sq. Of Sixtus’ connivance at the plot against the Medici, Pastor, II. 541, says, "It calls for deep lament that a pope should play a part in the history of this conspiracy." The two priests were executed after having their ears and noses cut off. Montesecco was beheaded. Among those who witnessed the scene in the cathedral was the young cardinal, Raphael, the pope’s grandnephew, and without having any previous knowledge of the plot. His face, it was said, turned to an ashen pallor, which in after years he never completely threw off.

With intrepid resolution, Sixtus resented the death of his archbishop and the indignity done a cardinal in the imprisonment of Raphael as an accomplice. He hurled the interdict at the city, branding Lorenzo as the son of iniquity and the ward of perdition,—iniquitatis filius et perditionis alumnus,—and entered into an alliance with Naples against it. Louis XI. of France and Venice and other Italian states espoused the cause of Florence. Pushed to desperation, Lorenzo went to Naples and made such an impression on Ferrante that he changed his attitude and joined an alliance with Florence. The pope was checkmated. The seizure of Otranto on Italian soil by the Turks, in 1480, called attention away from the feud to the imminent danger threatening all Italy. In December of that year, Sixtus absolved Florence, and the legates of the city were received in front of St. Peter’s and touched with the rod in token of forgiveness. Six months later, May 26, 1481, Rome received the news of the death of Mohammed II., which Sixtus celebrated by special services in the church, Maria del Popolo,768768    Infessura, p. 86. and the Turks abandoned the Italian coast.

Again, in the interest of his nephew, Jerome, Sixtus took Forli, thereby giving offence to Ferrara. He joined Venice in a war against that city, and all Italy became involved. Later, the warlike pontiff again saw his league broken up and Venice and Ferrara making peace, irrespective of his counsels. He vented his mortification by putting the queen of the Adriatic under the interdict.

In Rome, the bloody pope fanned the feud between the Colonna and the Orsini, and almost succeeded in blotting out the name of the Colonna by assassination and judicial murder.

Sixtus has the distinction of having extended the efficacy of indulgences to souls in purgatory. He was most zealous in distributing briefs of indulgence.769769    Pastor, II. 610 sqq., is very cautious in his remarks on the subject of Sixtus’ indulgences, almost to reticence. The Spanish Inquisition received his solemn sanction in 1478. Himself a Franciscan, he augmented the privileges of the Franciscan order in a bull which that order calls its great ocean—mare magnum. He canonized the official biographer of Francis d’Assisi, Bonaventura.

He issued two bulls with reference to the worship of Mary and the doctrine of the immaculate conception, but he declared her sinlessness from the instant of conception a matter undecided by the Roman Church and the Apostolic see—nondum ab ecclesia romana et apostolica sede decisum.770770    Mansi, XXXII. 374 sqq., gives the bull on the immaculate conception dated Sept. 5, 1483; also Mirbt, p. 170. In all matters of ritual and outward religion, he was of all men most punctilious. The chronicler, Volterra, abounds in notices of his acts of devotion. Asa patron of art, his name has a high place. He supported Platina with four assistants in cataloguing the archives of the Vatican in three volumes.

Such was Sixtus IV., the unblushing promoter of the interests of his relatives, many of them as worthless as they were insolent, the disturber of the peace of Italy, revengeful, and yet the liberal patron of the arts. The enlightened diarist of Rome, Infessura,771771    In quo felicissimo die, etc., pp. 155-158. calls the day of the pontiff’s decease that most happy day, the day on which God liberated Christendom from the hand of an impious and iniquitous ruler, who had before him no fear of God nor love of the Christian world nor any charity whatsoever, but was actuated by avarice, the love of vain show and pomp, most cruel and given to sodomy.772772    This charge, which Infessura elaborates, Creighton, III. 115, 285, dismisses as unproved; Pastor, II. 640, also, but less confidently. Infessura was a friend of the Colonna, to whom Sixtus was bitterly hostile. Burchard, I. 10 sqq., gives a very detailed account of Sixtus’ obsequies. He spoke from observation as one of the masters of ceremonies. Pastor makes a bold effort to rescue Sixtus from most of the charges made against his character by Infessura.

During his reign, were born in obscure places in Saxony and Switzerland two men who were to strike a mighty blow at the papal rule, themselves also of peasant lineage and the coming leaders of the new spiritual movement.


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