Leo had been born Giovanni de’ Medici, second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. At age 8 he was nominated to an archbishopric. By age 14 he had become a cardinal-deacon, the youngest ever to be so named. His father wrote to him, warning that Rome “was the sink of all iniquities” and that he must live “a virtuous life.…”
Leo ignored the advice. When he became pope at age 37, his attitude was, “Let’s enjoy the papacy, for God has given it to us.” He entered Rome on a white horse amid great pageantry and immediately became embroiled in European politics as though in a chess game. He promoted relatives to church positions and imprisoned enemies in deepest dungeons. He was nearly assassinated by poison, and the unfortunate plotters were tortured and strangled. He enjoyed ornate clothing and covered his fingers with gems. He reveled in entertainment and kept a monk able to swallow a pigeon in one mouthful and 40 eggs at one sitting. He hunted, aided by 70 dogs. He commissioned artists to elaborate projects and attended pornographic plays.
He exhausted his treasury, and that was one of the concerns of the Fifth Lateran Council. The council, which resumed shortly after Leo’s election, made several important decisions. The newly invented printing press was recognized as a gift from heaven, but only books approved by the Vatican could be published. A new crusade against the Turks was approved, and a tax was authorized to pay for it. The Roman pontiff was assured of authority over all church councils, and obedience to the pope was declared necessary for salvation. And to raise money, Pope Leo, aided by the council, lifted the prohibition against usury, took out outrageous loans, and issued his special sale of indulgences.
Having accomplished its work, the council adjourned on March 16, 1517, and Leo returned to the pleasures of his office. He once reportedly quipped, “How profitable that fable of Christ has been to us.”
Jerusalem’s prophets are proud and not to be trusted.
The priests have disgraced the place of worship
And abused God’s Law.
All who do evil are shameless,
But the Lord does right and is always fair.
With the dawn of each day, God brings about justice. (Zephaniah 3:4,5)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.16.