Leo X, Pope


Leo X, Pope
(Giovanni de'Medici, 1475-1521; pope 1513-1521)
   The second son of Lorenzo de'Medici, Giovanni was intended from boyhood for a career in the church. He received a humanistic educa-tion under the direction of Angelo Poliziano and other humanists and was made a cardinal at age 14 by Pope Innocent VIII. He studied canon law at Pisa, receiving his doctorate at age 17. He then settled in Rome, serving as papal legate on several occasions and making an extended trip to Germany, the Low Countries, and France in 1499-1500. He continued to serve as a diplomat under Pope Julius II. Giovanni was elected pope on 9 March 1513, being promptly ordained to the rank of priest on 15 March and to the rank of bishop on 17 March in preparation for his coronation as pope on 19 March. Although widely praised as a man of peace, he took a hard line in establishing stronger control over the outlying parts of the Papal States, removing the duke of Urbino from office in 1516 and replacing him with his own nephew, the younger Lorenzo de'Medici. He longed to reduce the influence of non-Italian powers in Italy, first allying himself with the Spanish against the French, then with the French against the Spansh, and again with the Spanish in the last year of his reign. Thanks to the action of Pope Julius II and the Spanish in overthrowing the reformed republican regime that dominated Florence after the Medici were driven out in 1494, he was the real ruler of Florence throughout his pontificate, exercising control through various relatives. As pope he continued the Fifth Lateran Council called by his predecessor and brought the council to its conclusion in 1517.
   Leo had been prepared from childhood to be an ecclesiastical prince and also to be an active patron of the arts and of humanistic scholarship. His career as ruler of the Papal States was moderately successful while his patronage of the visual arts was outstanding since he had at his disposal both Michelangelo and Raphael, two of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. Raphael painted a famous portrait of the pope with two of his cousins.
   But nothing had prepared Leo to cope with the profound theological issues raised by Martin Luther in Germany, and the pope's clumsy efforts to silence Luther and either secure his recantation or bring him to trial for heresy did much to ensure that the religious upheaval in Germany would rapidly grow out of control. At the crucial period when popular opinion in Germany was rallying around Luther, Pope Leo was far more concerned with his own efforts to block the election of Charles of Habsburg, king of Spain, as Holy Roman Emperor than with the spiritual issues involved in the Saxon heresy.
   Indeed, he assiduously cultivated the Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, who was protecting Luther, because he needed the highly respected elector's support in his vain effort to get virtually anyone other than the Habsburg candidate elected to the imperial throne. This policy was dictated partly by the pope's failure to grasp the seriousness of the religious issues in Germany but mainly by the way in which Italian political questions, not theological ones, were of concern to him.
   Leo did make an effort to enforce some of the modest program of monastic reform enacted by the Lateran Council, but he did not enforce the council's reforms of the central administrative system of the church, the Roman Curia, because these reforms involved giving up abuses that were important sources of revenue for the papacy. The financial requirements of his military operations, his luxurious court, and his patronage of the arts caused him to extend the sale of administrative offices, dispensations, and indulgences that the conciliar reformers had sought to abolish or reduce.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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