Giuliano della Rovere began climbing the ecclesiastical ladder as a youth, aided by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. In 1503 Giuliano himself became Pope Julius II. He secured his office by promising the cardinals to seek their advice on important issues, to call a general council, and to continue the war against the Turks.

He kept his promises just as he had kept his monastic vow of celibacy, which is to say loosely. He was a powerful, restless man—massive head, deep eyes, lips tight with resolution, face somber, temper violent. He kept Italy in war and Rome in turmoil. He liberated the papal states, leading his own troops and actually scaling the walls of Bologna himself.

He tore down the old St. Peter’s Cathedral, and at age 63 climbed down a long, trembling rope ladder to lay the cornerstone for the new one; and he instituted the sale of indulgences to pay for the new basilica, provoking Luther. His love for architecture prompted prelates, nobles, bankers, and merchants to build opulent palaces. Broad avenues were cut through the ancient city, hundreds of new streets opened, and Rome again began looking like the home of a Caesar.

Julius discovered and developed Michelangelo and Raphael; moved the center of the Renaissance from Florence to Rome; financed hundreds of promising artists; and gave the world the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

But his enemies and adversities increased. Julius was stricken with a severe illness and hovered near death three days. On August 21, 1511, as he lay unconscious, the cardinals prepared to name his successor. Julius disappointed them by recovering. He wasn’t finished yet. He soon formed England’s King Henry VIII, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland into a military alliance against France. They launched the war, but during the campaign the warrior-pope’s energy finally ran out. Consumed by a fever (thought by some to be caused by venereal disease or by his immoderate eating and drinking), he gave instructions for his funeral, confessed himself a great sinner, and died.

The Lord says:
“Don’t brag about your wisdom or strength or wealth. If you feel you must brag, then have enough sense to brag about worshiping me, the Lord. What I like best is showing kindness, justice, and mercy To everyone on earth
.” (Jeremiah 9:23,24)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 21.

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