Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Julius II
Well Popes may  be infallible at times but they are never immortal.  (The “t” is crucial in that word, they are often, as we have seen, immoral.)  Julius died in 1513.  It was only at the very end of his life, in those last few days, that he thought to ask the members of his household for their prayers for his soul.  Better late than never.  And Julius, though not a good man, was a good pope—in fact a great pope.  That is how it often is.  Saints almost invariably make bad kings, presidents, rulers-for-life, and popes.  And they are, of course, absolute failures at being despots.   Nevertheless, Julius went off to his reward, whatever it may have been (and would, of course, still be).  Personally, I am inclined to trust in the mercy of God even for someone like Julius, but the Dutch humanist Erasmus wasn’t.  He wrote a scathing essay: Julius Exclusus de Caelis (Julius kicked out of heaven) a biting satirical dialogue between an adamant Peter and a Julius bewildered that with all his power and wealth Peter won’t admit him to paradise.  After all what is a little pederasty (and a lot of simony) compared to all the art he sponsored, the battles won, the wealth accumulated for the Church.  (Boy it sounds like Bernie Cardinal Law, doesn’t it???   Of course Bernie’s battles were with people like Cardinal Bernadin and Joan Chittister and I don’t recall any art. Well, moving on--)    
     Julius died and he left Michelangelo 10,000 ducats (approximately 450,000.00 in toda’s money).  The tomb was never built.  But the Basilica would continue.  Julius was interred in the vault of his uncle, Sixtus IV.  The arrangement was meant to be temporary and in a certain way it was.  About fifteen years later, during the sack of Rome, the tomb was violated and the graves desecrated.  The elegant bronze tomb of Sixtus IV was  displaced (it is now in the museum of the Treasury in Saint Peter’s Basilica) and replaced--a cenutry anhd a half later--by stone slab marking the vault as the grave of Clement X who died in 1676.  The three popes are jammed in the vault like the poor three to a bed.  Sic transit gloria mundi. 
      Julius died leaving the Church quite secure financially—with the equivalent of about  18,000,000 USD in the treasury—half in gold the other in jewels and ornaments.  It wouldn’t go far in the Vatican today but was a lot in those days.  Nevertheless, Julius was anxious to provide a steady flow of income for his basilica and so only a few months before he died he approved his banker, Agostino Chigi’s, scheme of selling indulgences.  Julius didn’t know it, but it was an unfortunate note to go out on.    On the brighter side he also called a Council—Lateran V—for the reform of the Church.  It was not totally a noble gesture; it was meant to ward off the threat from calls for Reform coming from papal enemies such as Louis XII of France, but better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do the right thing.  We’ll talk more about Lateran V when our blog entries on Reformations catches up to this point.  In the meantime stay tuned. 

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