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XV: A HISTORY OF THE PAPACY DURING THE PERIOD OF THE REFORMATION - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies 
Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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A HISTORY OF THE PAPACY DURING THE PERIOD OF THE REFORMATION1
Mr. Creighton’s new volumes tell the story of the Papacy as an Italian power during the last half-century that preceded and prepared the rise of Protestantism. Next to the merits of moderation and sobriety which the preface rightly claims, their first characteristic is the economy of evidence, and the severity with which the raw material is repressed and so kept out of sight as not to divert the reader’s attention or turn his pleasure into toil. The author prefers the larger public that takes history in the shape of literature, to scholars whose souls are vexed with the insolubility of problems and who get their meals in the kitchen. The extent of his research appears whenever there is a favourite point to illustrate; but he generally resembles a writer on the Long Parliament who should treat Rushworth and Clarendon as too trite for quotation, or Mr. Walpole if he were to strike out several hundred references to Hansard and the Annual Register. There is some risk in attempting a smooth narrative of transactions belonging to an age so rich in disputed matter and dispersed material, and quick with the causes of the Reformation. As the author rarely takes stock or shows the limit of his lore, the grateful student, on whom proofs are not obtruded, cannot tell whether they abound, and may be led wrongly and injuriously to doubt whether the sources of information and suggestion have been fully explored. Nobody should stand better with Mr. Creighton than Ranke. The late John Richard Green used to complain that it was from him that he had learnt to be so dispassionate and inattentive to everything but the chain of uncoloured fact. In reserve of language, exclusion of all that is not history, dislike of purple patchwork and emotional effect, their ways are one. At the same time, the chapter on Savonarola has been more distinctly a labour of love than any other part of these volumes. Yet the essay on Savonarola, which is among Ranke’s later writings, has not been suffered to influence the account of the friar’s constitution and of the challenge. Burckhardt, the most instructive of all writers on the Renaissance, is missed where he is wanted, though there is a trace of him in the description of Caterina Sforza. The sketch of Gemistus Pletho is founded on Alexandre’s edition of his Laws, irrespective of Schulze’s later and more comprehensive treatise. Schulze is as well known to Mr. Creighton as Ranke or Burckhardt, and his studious exclusion needlessly raises a question as to whether this book is written up to date. It relates from the usual authorities the story of the ancient Roman corpse that was discovered in 1485, carried to the Capitol, and tumultuously admired by the enthusiasts of the revival. Another account, written by an eye-witness, at the time, has been published by Janitschek, and reproduced by Geiger in works only second to those of Voigt and Burckhardt. The Regesta Leonis X. should be an indispensable aid in the study of his pontificate, and should have roused a suspicion that the act confirming the legitimacy of Clement VII. has long been known, and that the page of Balan’s Monumenta to which we are referred for it is misprinted. They also prove (p. 323) that the Bullarium Magnum cannot be trusted by critical scholars. In the character of Paul II. there is no notice of a statement made by Gregorovius (vol. vii. p. 212), whom Mr. Creighton has studied carefully, though not, I think, in the last edition.
To make this good and to strengthen confidence, we have many valuable extracts from unpublished works, such as the history of the Augustinian, Cardinal Egidius of Viterbo, one of the least inefficient among the Italian priesthood of that age, and the diaries of the master of the ceremonies and Bishop of Pesaro, whose manuscripts have been the mainstay of papal historians from Panvini and Raynaldus to Hergenröther. But the desire to reject superfluous notes and paraded erudition has influenced the author’s manner in another way. No scrupulous and self-respecting writer will speak his mind or say things that challenge inquiry unless the proof is prompt. To relieve his text of the burden of incessant quotation, he must understate his meaning and lose in definiteness and precision what he gains in lightness. His chisel is necessarily blunted, and he cannot work in high relief. It has cost Mr. Creighton but little to accept this drawback on his method. He is not striving to prove a case, or burrowing towards a conclusion, but wishes to pass through scenes of raging controversy and passion with a serene curiosity, a suspended judgment, a divided jury, and a pair of white gloves. Avoiding both alternatives of the prophet’s mission, he will neither bless nor curse, and seldom invites his readers to execrate or to admire. His tints are sometimes pale, and his tones indecisive. I do not refer to such ambiguous sayings as that Matilda left all her lands to St. Peter, or that the sudden death of Paul II. was regarded as a judgment upon him for his want of faith, or that Julius II. felt the calls of nature strong at the last. But there are places where, in the author’s solicitude to be within the mark, the reader misses the point. There was a time when the schemes of ecclesiastical reform found a last refuge in the sacred college itself. In letters written from Rome on 23rd and 28th September 1503, we read: “Li Signori Cardinali essendo in Conclavi, hano ordinati multi Capituli tendenti a proponere de la Sede apostolica, et del Collegio, et creato el Pontefice, li hano facto giurare de observarli. . . . Tutti li Signori Cardinali furno chiamati per N. S. in Congregatione a Palatio, et per farse mentione de Concilio et de reformatione de la Corte neli Capituli del Conclavi, La Santità Sua propose et concluse, se habi a fare el Concilio, et se habi ad intimare ali Principi Christiani. Ma circa el loco et lo tempo de esso Concilio se reservò a deliberare un altra volta. Fu bene ragionato che lo ultimo Concilio fu facto in Basilea, et per Monsignor de Rohano fu ricordato, quando se tractarà del loco, se habi a chiamare lo Procuratore del Christianissimo Re, dimon-strando che essendo stato facto lo ultimo in Allamagna, seria conveniente questo farse in Franza. La Santità Sua anchora propose la reformatione dela Corte, et concluse se havesse a riformare.” Mr. Creighton, who has no faith in the conciliar and spiritual movement, and is satisfied with the printed edition of Giustinian, merely says that Pius III. “spoke of reforming the church.” The flavour has evaporated. A patriotic Florentine, Boscoli, compassed the death of the Medicean monopolist of power, and suffered, reasonably, for his crime. We are told that the great question for his friends was the opinion of Aquinas on the sinfulness of tyrannicide; and that his confessor declared afterwards that his soul was in peace. The difficulty for his friends was to make him believe that St. Thomas condemned tyrannicide utterly, and what his confessor afterwards said was that they had contrived to deceive him. There is a report that Alexander objected to the ordeal of fire, because he feared it might succeed. We are only told, in a note, that it would have been very awkward for him if by any chance Savonarola had been successful. Cæsar Borgia “awakened the mingled terror and admiration of bystanders.” This is true of others, besides Machiavelli. When the news of Cæsar’s most conspicuous crime reached Venice, a citizen who hated him, and who kept in secret a diary which has not seen the light, made this entry: “Tutto il mondo cridava contro di lui; tamen per questo li morti non resusciteranno, e dimostrava haver un gran coraggio, e di farsi signor di tutta l’Italia.” And somewhat later: “Di quanta riputatione, e fausto, e gloria s’ attrovava all’ hora il Signor Duca Valentino in Italia, non lo posso per hora dichiarire, perche l’effetto delli suoi successi, delli sue vittorie, e del stato acquistato, lo dimostrava. Onde di lui si parlava variamente: alcuni lo volevano far Re dell’ Italia, a coronarlo; altri lo volevano far Imperator.” The picture of Julius at the Lateran council, when “he had forgotten to prepare a speech,” and when he “could only stammer through a few sentences,” is less vivid than the account of his oratory given by Paris de Grassis: “Non facio mentionem de Julio, qui cum oraturus esset semper per triduum ante actus occupatus erat in studio memorandi sermonis; et tamen cum in consistorio publico dicere vellet semper semimori videbatur, ita ut mihi esset necesse occurrere et excitare eum in stupore membrorum occupatum et exinanitum, sicut omnes viderunt, et Sua Sanctitas saepe mihi hoc idem dixit.”
Mr. Creighton has a decided opinion on the question whether Alexander VI. died a natural death, but the arguments on either side might be strengthened. “Contemporaries saw a proof of the effects of poison in the rapid decomposition of the pope’s body, which grew black and swollen. . . . It was evidence only of the state of the atmosphere.” Compared with the report in Sanuto, this is a tame description: “El sangue ge abondava da le rechie, da la bocha e dal naso, adeo che non potevano tanto sugar quanto l’abondava: i labri erano più grossi che ’l pugno di un homo: era con la bocha aperta, e ne la bocha ge bogliva il sangue, come faria una pignata che boglisse al focho, e per la bocha ge saltava el sangue a modo de una spina, e sempre abondava: e questo è de visu.” Alexander fell ill on the 12th, not on the 13th, of August. The error may be due to the omission, by Villari, of the first sentence in a despatch of 14th August. In the original it begins with the following words: “Sabato passato, dovendo andare N. S. in signatura, secondo el consueto, la signatura fu’ destinata. Et de la causa non se ne intese altro per quella sera. Ma fu ascripto ad uno pocho de indispositione havea havuto el Signor Duca, el dl inante.” The despised Leonetti has the right date. “It is not surprising that two men, living under the same conditions and in the same place, should suffer from fever at the same time.” It is a case, not of two men, but of three; for Cardinal Hadrian afterwards assured Jovius that he had been poisoned. When three men who have dined together are seized with such illness that the oldest dies, and the youngest is prostrated during the most critical week of his life, we even now suspect verdigris in the saucepan or a toadstool in the mushrooms. Villari, whose authority stands high, maintains that the suspicion of poison arose when the pope was dead. But on 18th August Sanuto writes: “Si divulga per Roma sia stà atosegado”; and Priuli has the following entry on the 16th: “Furono lettere da Roma volantissime, per le qual s’ intendeva come il Sommo Pontifice essendo stato a solazzo a cena del Rmo Cardinale chiamato Adriano, insieme col Duca Valentino et alcuni altri Cardinali, havendo crapulato ad sobrietatem, essendo ritornato al Pontificale Palazzo, s’ era buttato al letto con la febre molto grave, per la qual infermità si giudicava fosse stato avvelenato, e questo perchè etiam il giorno seguente il prefato Duca Valentino et il Cardinal s’ erano buttati al letto con la febre.” On the other hand, the only direct authorities available—Giustinian, Costabili, and Burchard—report that Alexander died a natural death, and it would appear that the famous supper took place nearly a week before the guests were taken ill. Giustinian writes on 13th August: “Uno di questi zorni, e fo ozi otto di, andorno a cena ad una vigna del Rmo Adriano, e stettero fin a notte; dove intravennero etiam altre persone, e tutti se ne hanno risentito.”
Mr. Creighton warns us against the credulous malignity of the writers he is compelled to use. It must be appraised, he says, as carefully as the credulity of earlier chroniclers in believing miraculous stories. It will not do to press the analogy between Cæsarius or the Liber Conformitatum, and Infessura or Burchard. Mr. Creighton accepts the most scandalous of the scenes recorded by the latter; he assuredly would not accept what is gravely testified in the Beatification of Ximenes, that he stopped the sun at Oran, so that several Moors, seeing the prodigy, asked to be baptized. But his reluctance to rely on common gossip is justified by the rank growth of myths in the journals of the cinque cento Grevilles. On the death of the Venetian Cardinal Michiel in April 1503, Priuli writes: “Fù discoperto, come qui sotto appar, che ’l detto Cardinal fù attossicato per intelligenza del Duca Valentino per haver li danari, e fù squartato et abbruciato questo tale, che era Cameriere del detto Cardinale.” In August the same story is repeated: “Morse da morte repentina. un Cardinale nepote del Pontefice, chiamato il Cardinale Monreale, huomo di grandissima auttorità, in due giorni, al qual fu trovato tra argenti e denari 120 M. ducati, e si diceva, e giudicavasi per certo, il detto povero Cardinale esser stato avvelenato dal Duca Valentino per li suoi danari, che all’ hora era consueto ammazzare le persone c’ havevano danari a Roma da questo Duca.” The news of the pope’s illness suggests the following reflections: “Si dubitava assai che ’l detto Pontefice non dovesse da questa infermità morire, perche, ut vulgo dicebatur, questo Pontefice havea dato l’ anima et il corpo al gran Diavolo dell’ Inferno; e però che non potesse morire ancora per far delli altri mali.” Another relates that an ape was caught in the apartments of Alexander, who exclaimed, “Lasolo, lasolo, chè il diavolo.” Sanuto has a detailed account of the supper party, according to which there was no mistake; but Hadrian, knowing his danger, gave the butler a heavy bribe to make the exchange. “El Cardinal, che pur havia paura, se medicinò e vomitò, et non have mal alcuno.” A ghastly tale is told in the life of a man who, fifty years later, rose to the summit of power and dignity and historic fame, but who was then an obscure prelate about the court. When Alexander came to the villa of Cardinal Hadrian, it was found that the box containing a consecrated host, which he wore as a protection, had been forgotten. The prelate, who was sent for it, on arriving at the Vatican, beheld the pontiff lying dead in his chamber.
No authority is more often cited for the early part of the sixteenth century than the diary of Marin Sanuto. Mr. Creighton quotes sometimes from the printed edition, sometimes apparently from the Vienna transcript, which does not always agree with the original. In the conspiracy of the cardinals in 1517 his reliance on the fidelity of Marin Sanuto’s précis of despatches raises an interesting problem of historical criticism. The statement of Pope Leo, as quoted vol. iv. p. 245, is inaccurate. There is no question of a letter written by Sauli, or of a promise made by him, or of a prisoner having confessed that the cardinal had actually plotted the death of the pope. The text of the despatch, which, upon all these points, has been distorted, is as follows: “Sapiate che za alchuni giorni io feci retenir uno de i suo, apresso dil qual furono ritrovate alchune scritture, et tandem alchune lettere che lui scriveva al Cardinal, per che ’l non si havea potuto exeguir quanto lui li havea commesso cum molte altre parole; per modo che si poteva judicar ditto Cardinal haver trattato di voler avenenar Sua Bne. et posto de tormento confessò la verità, et etiam chel Cardinal de Sauli era conscio di tal ribaldaria.” This prisoner, who was in the service of Petrucci, not of Sauli, confessed under torture; but the words auto corda assai do not apply to him, as Mr. Creighton supposes. They describe the fate of the physician whom he denounced. Marin Sanuto writes in the passage which seems to have been misunderstood: “Quel Zuan Baptista di Verzei a confessato il tutto, qual a auto corda assai.” On the next page Leo is made to say: “4 zorni poi fussemo fatti Papa tramono questi di darmi la morte.” The Venetian copy of the diary has: “4 zorni poi fossimo Papa tramono questi darne la morte.” The words actually reported by the envoy are: “Quatro giorni da poi la nostra creatione questi Cardinali tractorono de far un altro Pontefice, da poi la nostra morte.” Of Riario, whom the Venetians call the cardinal of St. George, Mr. Creighton writes: “Riario denied all knowledge of the matter till the confessions of the others were read to him; then he said, ‘Since they have said so, it must be true.’ He added that he had spoken about it to Soderini and Hadrian, who laughed and said they would make him pope.” Marco Minio says: “Per le depositione del Sauli et etiam de qualche uno de li altri si vede come etiam haveano communicato questa cum li Rmi Cardinali Voltera et Adriano, et quel Adriano, intesa la cosa, si messe a rider stringendosi nelle spalle, che è uno atto solito per lui farsi molte volte, et il Rmo Volterra disse, ‘Faciate pur presto.’ Si che tutti loro dimostrar haver grandissimo odio al Pontefice. Ma San Zorzi dimostra haver havuto più presto grande desiderio al papato che altro; et loro promettevano di farlo papa.” It does not appear that Riario admitted having sounded Soderini and Hadrian, nor that it was proved by the evidence of others, nor that the two cardinals implicated made any promise to elect him. All this is taken from Sanuto’s summary: “Quando fo letto al Cardinal San Zorzi quello havia detto Siena e Sauli, qual primo negava, disse, za che lhoro hanno dito cussi el dia esser el vero, et chel comunichoe con Voltera et Hadriano Cardinali quali se la riseno come solito è a far Hadriano, et Voltera disse, ‘Faziate pur presto,’ e che li prometteva far esso San Zorzi Papa.”
Mr. Creighton judges his half-century as an epoch of religious decline, during which the Papacy came down from the elevation at which it was left by Pius to the degeneracy in which it was found by Luther. With Paul II. it starts well. Then the temptations of politics, the victorious creation of the temporal state, bring his successors into degrading and contaminating rivalry with wicked statesmen, and they learn to expend spiritual authority in exchange for worldly gains, until at last, when they have to face new antagonists, their dignity is tarnished and their credit gone. At each pontificate the judgment becomes more severe. Sixtus is worse than Paul, and Alexander than Sixtus. But worst of all are those prosperous pontiffs who, in their ambition to become great monarchs, sacrificed their country and their church. The reformers rose up in opposition to a vast political machine, to a faggot of secular motives, which had usurped the seat of Gregory VII. and Innocent IV. The Papacy to which they were untrue had become untrue to itself.
This increasing rigour and occasional indignation, as the plot thickens, is assuredly in no wise due to the irrelevant detail that Cambridge does not elect its Dixie professor among the adherents of Rome. Religious differences do not tinge his judgment or obstruct the emollient influence of ingenuous arts. If Mr. Creighton, as a theologian, does not accept the claims of the prereformation popes, as an historian he prefers them to their adversaries. The members of the Council of Pisa are renegades and schismatics. When Paul II. refused to be bound by the compact he had signed with the other cardinals, he was not to blame. “The attempt to bind the pope was a legacy of the schism, and rested upon the principles laid down by the conciliar movement. Such a proceeding was entirely contrary to the canonical conception of the plenitude of the papal power.” The character of Pius III. “stood high in all men’s estimation, though he was the father of a large family of children.” Mr. Creighton insists on the liberality of the popes, not only at the time of which he treats, but generally. “Fanaticism had no place in Rome, nor did the papal court trouble itself about trifles. It allowed free thought beyond the extremest limits of ecclesiastical prudence. The Papacy in the Middle Ages always showed a tolerant spirit in matters of opinion. We cannot think that Roman inquisitors were likely to err on the side of severity.” The last sentence shows that in varying disinterested history with passages which might be taken from the polemics of Cardinal Newman, Mr. Creighton is not unmindful of the Inquisition. But he shows no strong feeling for the liberty of conscience. He speaks coldly of “writers who themselves regard toleration as a virtue,” and say that Pomponatius “was judged in the papal court with a judicial calmness and impartiality which the modern advocates of religious tolerance might well admire.” When speaking of Gemistus, the last original thinker of the tolerant eastern church, he passes unheeded the most curious passage of the Laws: οὑ̑ καὶ σοϕιστω̑ν, ἤν τις παρὰ τὰς ἡμετέρας ταύτας δόξας σοϕιζόμενος άλῳ̑, ζω̑ν καὶ οὑ̑τος κεκαύσεται. He declares that it is unjust to brand Sixtus IV. as a persecutor because he granted the powers asked for in the shape of the Spanish Inquisition. And this is prompted by no tenderness for the memory of Sixtus; for we find elsewhere that “he allowed himself to become an accomplice in a scheme for assassination which shocked even the blunted conscience of Italy.” It may be safely said that Mr. Creighton esteems Ximenes a better specimen of the Christian priest than Julius or Leo, with all their religious liberality.
The spirit of retrospective indulgence and reverence for the operation of authority, whether it be due to want of certitude or to definite theory, is an advantage in writing on this portion of history. From a less conservative point of view the scenery is more gloomy, and the contending parties, tarred with the same brush, are apt to prove less interesting. Mr. Creighton is able to be considerate and appreciative both to popes and reformers. He has no love for the Italian humanists, and may reserve his harshest censures for the pseudonymous liberalism of More and Socinus. It is not necessary, he says, to moralise at every turn; and he neither worries and vilipends his culprits, like Carlyle and Taine, nor adapts his judgments to dogma, like Hook and Mozley. He goes farther, and declares that it is not becoming to adopt an attitude of lofty superiority over any one who ever played a prominent part in European affairs, or charitable to lavish undiscriminating censure. Of course this does not imply that justice has one law for the mighty and another for the fallen. If it means that every age ought to be tried by its own canons, the application of that sliding scale is a branch of ethical and historical inquiry that is yet in its teens, and practically of no avail. Or it may mean that power goes where power is due, that the will of Providence is made manifest by success, that the judgment of history is the judgment of heaven. That is undoubtedly a theory of singular interest and influence as the groundwork of historic conservatism; but it has never been brought to the test of exact definition. Mr. Creighton perceives the sunken rock of moral scepticism, and promises that he will not lower the standard of moral judgment. In this transition stage of struggling and straggling ethical science, the familiar tendency to employ mesology in history, to judge a man by his cause and the cause by its result, to obviate criticism by assuming the unity and wholeness of character, to conjure with great names and restore damaged reputations, not only serves to debase the moral standard, but aims at excluding it. And it is the office of historical science to maintain morality as the sole impartial criterion of men and things, and the only one on which honest minds can be made to agree.
I dwell on the spirit and method and morale of the History of the Papacy, not only because it is difficult to contend in detail with such a master of solid fact, but because it is by the spirit and not the letter that his book will live. Studious men who have examined the hidden treasures of many Italian libraries, and have grown grey with the dust of papal archives, are on the track behind him. Pastor’s history has only just reached Pius II.; but it is dense with new knowledge, and announces a worthy competitor to Ranke, Gregorovius, and Creighton. But not a hole must be left unpicked; and there are several particulars on which reader and writer may join issue. The account of the conclave of 1471 seems scarcely just to Bessarion. According to Panvini, he lost the tiara not from national or political jealousy, but because he refused an uncanonical compact: “Res ad Bessarionem, tum senatus principem senem doctrina et vitae integritate clarissimum, spectare videbatur. Quem Ursinus obtinendi pontificatus spe deposita, Mantuanus, Cancellarius convenientes certis sub conditionibus pontificatum se ei daturos polliciti sunt. Quumque ille se ea ratione pontificem creari velle pernegasset, ut scilicet pacto aliquo intercedente papatum obtineret, illi, intempestivam senis severitatem stomachati, ad Cardinalem Sancti Petri ad Vincula, Magistrum Franciscum Savonensem, sunt conversi, virum doctrina praestantissimum.” In a passage apparently inspired by aversion for the irreligious renaissance, Savonarola is called “the most sincere man amongst the Italians of the time.” It is invidious to disparage a man whose faith was strong enough to resist authority both in Church and State, and who impressed a doctrine which was newer if not more true then than now, that an awakened conscience must be traced and proved in public as much as in private life, so that a zealous priest is, normally, a zealous politician. And it may be that the shrill utterance of opportune prophecy is not always inconsistent with integrity. But the man who described in the pulpit his mission from Florence to heaven, and what he heard there, and afterwards explained that this was all a trope, cannot well be pronounced perfectly sincere on any hypothesis of sanity. How far the plea of partial insanity, which is gaining ground in society, may serve for the interpretation of history, is a problem which should commend itself to a writer so slow to use hard words and to associate dolus and culpa. Mr. Creighton describes the constitution of Julius against simony as a bold measure, showing a strong sense of the need of amendment. But he speaks of it as an incident in the annals of the year, a feature in the portrait of a pope, a plant sprung from no buried root. The prohibition of bribery at conclaves was old in the law of the Church. Four hundred and sixty years before, one of the popes wrote that he had been raised to the papal throne in place of three others, deposed for bribery—“explosis tribus illis, quibus nomen papatus rapina dederat.” The rising against Alexander VI., the coalition between Julian and Savonarola to eject him, would hardly be intelligible if the law against simony had been no more than an abrupt innovation. It is not quite accurate to say that the first care of the cardinals on the death of Julius was to lay hands on the treasure which he left behind. The Venetian envoy wrote, 25th February: “Alcuni Cardinali voleano partir questo tesoro tra tutti li Cardinali, tamen li altri non hanno voluto, et si riserverà al novo Pontefice.” On 2nd March he adds: “Hanno tratto li Cardinali di Castello ducati 30,000; et perche li Cardinali che non hanno intrada ducati 600 per uno, Julio fo una constitution di darli di danari del Papato fin a quella somma, perhòse li darà perlio se.” The letter of the protonotary Marcello from which the dubious words are cited—“siche partivano duc. 120,000 tra lhoro”—goes on to say that they got less than this. The election of Leo X. is told with the aid of extracts from Paris de Grassis; but neither text nor note speaks of the capitulations in which the future pope pledged himself to revoke, under pain of excommunication, the sale of indulgences for the fabric of St. Peter’s. “Promittet, iurabit, et vovebit, statim post assumptionem suam omnes et singulas indulgentias revocare fratribus Sancti Francisci ordinis minorum, pro fabrica Sancti Petri concessas, sub quibusvis verborum formis, eisque mandabit, sub excommunicationis latae sententiae poena, ne illis ullo modo utantur.” The terms of this covenant are not very comprehensive, yet they should possess some significance for one who thinks that a pope weak enough to keep an oath taken in conclave would betray his trust. They show that Rome was in some measure aware of present evil and impending danger; and that the refusal of remedy and precaution was not due to the corruption of courtiers, but to the plenitude of sovereignty.
Although it is not easy to detect a wrong quotation, a false inference, or an unjust judgment in these records of discredited popes, whoever consults them for the key to the coming Reformation will go away conscious of things left out and replenished with more political than religious secrets. He will know by what means the Papacy, borne on the stormy tide of absolutism which opens modern history, established an independent state on the subjugation of Italy. But the marrow of things does not lie in the making of a distinct principality, or in the price paid for it, or in the means by which its makers wrought. Other causes changed the axis of the world. Within the folds of temporal monarchy an ecclesiastical process was going on of more concern to us than the possession or the partition of Italy. De Maistre’s argument that those who deem absolutism legitimate in the State have no foothold to resist it in the Church, had been proclaimed already by a writer favourably known to Mr. Creighton: “Nemo est tam parvae urbis dominus, qui a se appellari ferat: et nos Papam appellationi subiectum dicemus? At si me, ais, Pontifex indigne premit, quid agam? Redi ad eum supplex; ora, onus levet. At si rogatus, interpellatus nolit subvenire misero, quid agam? Quid agis, ubi tuus te princeps saecularis urget? Feram, dices, nam aliud nullum est remedium. Et hic ergo feras!” The miscarriage of reform left the Holy See on a solitary height never reached before. It was followed by indifference and despair, by patient watching for a new departure, by helpless schemes to push philosophy across the margin exposed by the religious ebb. We are familiar with the antipathy of Machiavelli and the banter of Erasmus; but the primary fact in the papal economy of that age is not the manifold and ineffective opposition, but the positive strengthening of authority and its claims. The change is marked by the extremity of adulation which came in about the time of Alexander. He is semideus, deus alter in terris, and, in poetry, simply deus. The belief that a soul might be rescued from purgatory for a few coppers, and the sudden expansion of the dispensing power, facts that alienated Germany and England, throve naturally in this atmosphere; and between the parallel and contemporaneous growth of the twin monarchies a close and constant connection prevails. From that last phase of mediæval society to modern, there could be no evolution. But Mr. Creighton’s second title is The Italian Princes. He describes the things that vary rather than the things that endure. We see the successive acts, the passing figures, the transitory forms, to which the spiritual element imparts an occasional relish; but we see little of the impersonal force behind. The system, the idea, is masked by a crowd of ingenious, picturesque, and unedifying characters, who exhibit the springs of Italian politics more truly than the solemn realities of the Church. We are seldom face to face with the institution. Very rarely, indeed, we are sent to the Bullarium Magnum; but that work, unwieldy as it is, contains an infinitesimal proportion of the acts of the mediæval pontiffs. The inner mind of the Papacy has to be perused through many other collections pertaining to the several countries, churches, and religious orders; and these are so voluminous that three large folios are filled with the bulls that belong to St. Peter’s alone. By giving us life and action for thought and law, Mr. Creighton lifts an enormous burden. The issues which he has so far deliberately avoided will force their way to the front when he reaches the commission given by Leo to the master of the sacred palace, Cajetan’s expedition into Germany, and the pilgrimage of Eck to Rome. Without reversing his views, or modifying any statement, he has yet to disclose the reason, deeper and more interior than the worldliness, ignorance, and corruption of ecclesiastics, which compelled the new life of nations to begin by a convulsion.
[1 ] By M. Creighton, M.A. Vols. III. and IV.—The Italian Princes, 1464-1518. English Historical Review, 1887.