Monday, November 7, 2011

Pope Leo X (1475 – 1521)

Often associated with Martin Luther and the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation, Pope Leo X is also well-known for being one of the most lavish, uncontrollable spenders who ever headed the Christian church. A famous phrase attributed to Leo aptly illustrates his greatest priority: “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” According to Alexandre Dumas, “Christianity assumed a pagan character” as Leo doggedly pursued worldly pleasures.

Born Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici, Leo came from a powerful family and enjoyed early favors that helped him acquire the papal throne by the time he was 37. A patron of the arts, education, and charity, Leo certainly deserves to be recognized for elevating the church’s status, but his preference for money and political advancement rapidly exhausted the treasury. So financially unstable did his position become that he was eventually forced to pawn off furniture, jewels, and statues from the palace, as well as borrow huge sums of money from creditors (who were ultimately ruined when he died).

In addition to living a life of splendor, Leo practiced nepotism, famously used the sale of indulgences to finance the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica, and was even accused of homosexuality. In fact, some sources hold that he died in bed while getting it on with a youth. That accusation may or may not be true, of course, but one thing is for sure: Leo certainly let his love of luxury get the best of him.

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