Martin Luther

Excerpt from Chapter 16 of Christ’s Faithful Servants, copyright 2023

The Seeds of Reform. In Chapter Eleven, we discussed how and why the Roman Catholic Church had become corrupt by the time of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This corruption probably reached its zenith in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when it extended even to the papacy. The popes during that time indulged in war, art, concubines, nepotism, and luxurious living, severely straining the finances of the Church.

For example, Pope Calixtus III (pope from 1455 to 1458) waged numerous military campaigns in an effort to unify Italy under papal control, and appointed family members to high positions in the church. Pope Paul II (1464-1471) indulged in works of art, luxury, and concubines. Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) bribed the college of cardinals to make him pope, then used the papacy to enrich his family members, in part through an oppressive tax on wheat that inflicted terrible suffering on the poor. Pope Innocent VIII (1484-1492) vowed to refrain from nepotism and to reform the papacy, but renounced his vow as soon as he became pope. His illegitimate children profited immensely from his generosity toward his family members. He also caused the death of hundreds of innocent women by insisting that “witches” be exposed and executed.

The next pope was Rodrigo Borgia, the grandson of Pope Calixtus III. Like Sixtus IV, he obtained the papacy through bribery, in effect buying the papacy. He took the name Alexander VI (1492-1503) and became perhaps the most corrupt pope in history.[1] He fathered numerous children with other men’s wives, and involved the papacy in several wars. He was said to have publicly committed six of the “seven deadly sins”—pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, and sloth—the only exception being gluttony, due to his poor digestion.

He was succeeded by the nephew of Sixtus IV, who took the name Julius II (1503-1513) to demonstrate that his ambition was to be like Caesar rather than Christ. Julius was a patron of the arts, including Michelangelo and Raphael, and a successful military leader, all of which required lots of money. Julius’ successor, Leo X (1513-1521),[2] spent even more—on the arts, on war, and on the basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the construction of which was financed by the sale of indulgences. The sale of indulgences would be the spark to ignite the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther. . . .

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[1]. A popular joke of the time said about him: “Alexander is ready to sell the keys, the altars, and even Christ himself. He is within his rights, since he bought them.”

[2]. Pope Leo X (birth name Giovanni de Medici) was born on December 11, 1475. He was made a cardinal at age thirteen or fourteen, and was elected pope on March 11, 1513, at age 38. He served as pope until he died from malaria on December 1, 1521. His free-spending proclivities created cash-flow problems and left the papacy deeply in debt.