The Roman Church is the cause of all the calamities in Italy.
The Roman Church is the cause that Italy, which of old was the most flourishing province of the Roman empire, is at this day dismembered and cut into petty seignories, as is seen. By the means thereof, she that was wont to subjugate and vanquish other provinces is not exposed as a prey for all foreign kings, who will attempt it with a strong arm. And although of all Christianity it be nearest unto the Roman Church, yet has it of all others the least religion; because therein, that most holy court does little else but sow partialities and disorders. And he who will prove whether such evils proceed from the Roman Church, let him procure that she may remove her seat for a small time unto Switzerland, where men live in great rest and unity. For there you would shortly see it fill the whole country with disorder and confusion.
Although the Roman Church is contaminated with many vices, yet Machiavelli shows himself here a notable slanderer against it; for experience has made us long know that it rather does mischief far off than near at hand, and that it ordinarily enriches the place where it abides. We read that it held its place at Avignon for the space of seventy years, so that by the affluence and plenty of gold and silver which arrived there, the town became so opulent and rich that it yet tastes thereof, and gladly desires it might be always there. As for the Swiss, of whom Machiavelli speaks, I am assured that some would have the seat of the Roman Church among them, even if it cost them much money. And if it were there, the pope should not lack people for his guard, for they would furnish him with as many as he would, and his cardinals also, for their pay. And I am also of the mind that they would accord them letters to be denizens and free burghers in all their towns, though it is contrary to their custom to receive strangers. For so there would every day arrive in their country plenty of silver, which they cannot but love better than either the pope’s benedictions or pardons; yet would they also be glad to reap their pardons at a low price. And notwithstanding what Machiavelli says, that if the Roman seat were there placed, there would be no good peace from sowing divisions among the Swiss; that is unlikely, no more than it did so in Avignon or the countries around it. For whereas Machiavelli says it sows divisions and partialities in Italy; that rather happens by the humor of that country’s people, who are naturally subject to nourish divisions among both themselves and other nations where they have the credit, as experience is in France. Moreover, the Romans themselves are not of Machiavelli’s opinion, neither do they complain that the Roman seat brings them any damage. At the beginning of that great schism of popes, they showed well how greatly they feared to lose their seat. For so much were they afraid that the cardinals should again have a French pope, who might again dwell at Avignon, where the seat had before so long remained, that they constrained the cardinals by force, cries, and popular violence, to elect a pope of their own nation. All through the town of Rome, and before the place where the cardinals were assembled to make their election, all the people in a mutiny cried with a high voice, “We will have a Roman, or at least an Italian.” This was the cause that the cardinals gave them a Roman, whereof the Roman inhabitants were so joyous that they took him on their shoulders to honor him the more, and carried him so long and so far through Rome that they stifled and smothered him with the great press of their arms. When they saw their terrestrial god dead, they straight returned to the cardinals, saying their pope was dead, and they must give them another. So by their cries and popular tumult, they were constrained to give them a new Italian. But afterwards they made another in Avignon, who was antipope to him of Rome; so that it may well be said, that the too immoderate desire of the Romans to have the holy seat at Rome, was the cause of a papal schism which endured near forty years, and was the spring of many evils.
I have before said, and it is true, that the holy seat does more harm far off than near, and it is easy to prove by examples. For by tithes, bulls of benefices, pardons, and other expenses, the holy father has ever had cunning enough to draw store of silver from far provinces, as from France, Germany, England, Spain, and from elsewhere. And all those huge heaps of treasure fell in no other place than at Rome and Italy. So that a good old civilian lawyer was wont to say, the court of Rome has long had good skill to change lead into gold; which act the greatest alchemists and the best exercised Paracelsians of our time could never do. We also see the Romans, by the means of their bullish and leaden art, maintain themselves brave, fine, and in good order; whereas these Paracelsians commonly go all ragged and torn, in great poverty and necessity, having spent their fortunes and patrimonies with blowing the coal, and are by all men a despised people and of no account.
Yet we read in our histories that our kings of France have many times hindered popes from drawing silver out of the realm, by annates, tenths, bulls, and other means; as in the time of Boniface VIII, Benit XI, Julius II and third. But concerning this matter, it is good to mark the determination made in 1410 by our masters of the faculty of the Sorbonne, and by all the University of Paris; who resolved in a general congregation that the French church was not bound to pay any silver to the pope in any manner whatsoever, unless by the way of a charitable subsidy, and that in three cases only. Namely, to employ the said silver to the conquest of the holy land; for the reunion of the Greeks with the Latins; and lastly to preach the Gospel to all creatures. In which cases only, they said, men ought to provide a charitable subsidy for the pope; yet with this condition, that the said pope touch no silver but what the French church appoints treasurers to distribute for the aforesaid purposes, and not otherwise. If this determination were observed, truly the pope would not be contented, but the realm would be much bettered; and if all Christian princes agreed in the observation of this determination, certainly it would come to pass what friar John of Rochetaillade preached in his time against the pope. And because his sermon will not be far from our purpose, I will here briefly rehearse it.
In the time that the holy seat was at Avignon, about the year 1360, there was a minor friar called friar John de Rochetaillade, who set himself to preach against the pride, gormandizers, and superfluities of the pope and his cardinals, and generally against all the prelates and clergy; also against princes who too sorely oppressed their subjects. He always took for his text or theme some part of the Apocalypse, and properly applied it to the pope, cardinals, and prelates. Our historians say he was a great clerk, and that he foretold the captivity of King John; and that Pope Innocent VI, much grieved at his sermons, caused him to be imprisoned, fearing that by his great knowledge he caused all the world to err; for the good Saint Peter was of opinion that ignorance preserves men from erring, and that knowledge brings them into error. And indeed, he that knows nothing, wherein can he err? But this good friar John, among other sermons preached one which was the chief cause of his imprisonment, and this was the substance thereof.
“Masters and ladies, I will tell you a strange case, which in time past of old happened among birds; and it is very likely that now we see, and hereafter shall see, the like happen to our holy father, the pope. You must then understand that in old time a bird was engendered in the world, which was the fairest and most beautiful to see that was possible, but it had no feathers. The other birds, hearing speak of this featherless bird, thought it good to go see it; and arriving within view of her, they found her most excellent, and pitied her because she could not fly as they did, for want of feathers. Then they held a council to advise what best to do, so that this goodly bird might not die with hunger, because she could not fly to get her living. They then resolved among themselves that each bird should give her part of their feathers, which they did. As she took the feathers, she appeared more and more beautiful; and the other birds gave her still more feathers. As soon as this bird saw herself well plumed and feathered, and that all the other birds honored her, she began to become fierce and proud, and to despise the other birds; and yet not contented with the said contempt and spite, she bucked and went contrary to them in all she could. Then the other birds again thought it best to advise what was best to do touching this new bird, who they had plumed, and who had become so stately and insolent. They concluded in their council that it was best for every one of them to demand their feathers, by the means of which she was so exalted in pride that she made no account of them. Then, after they had showed her the proud incognizance of herself and them, each took his feathers; the peacocks first, the falcons after, and all the other birds, so that they left her all naked and featherless. So, masters, shall it happen to you, and no doubt. For when the emperors, kings, and Christian princes have taken from you the goods and riches that in former times they have given you, which you bestow in extreme pride and superfluity, then shall you remain all naked. Where do you find that Saint Peter or Saint Sylvester rode with two or three hundred horses? Contrary, their estate was very simple, enclosed and hid within Rome.”
Thus friar John preaching spoke but the truth; yet this truth, which is so odious to the world, brought him to prison, where he finished his days. I will then conclude this recital, that if all Christian princes would practice the determination of our masters of Sorbonne and the University of Paris, the same would fall unto Saint Peter which full unto friar John’s bird.
Yet it is not only by the change of lead into gold that his holiness does much evil to provinces far from Rome, but also by his interdicts and excommunications. In the time of the schism of popes, he of Rome who was called Urban, sent bulls unto King Richard of England (who took his part and was an Urbanist), by which he commanded him to make war upon the king of France, a Clementine, and gave him power to levy silver upon the English clergy. Moreover, he gave so great a quantity of pardons to all those who with a good heart furnished silver for that war, that it seemed he meant clean to have emptied both hell and purgatory of Englishmen; for every man or woman might draw out his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncles, aunts, children, nephews, and other ascendants, descendants, and collaterals, by paying so much for every poll. He further promised their souls to be guided right into paradise, who died in this war, or who died the year after they had paid the money for that war; nor that there should be any necessity for the said souls to stray out of their way by purgatory and limbo, but go right into paradise. The said bulls being thus preached and published through England, there was everywhere a great press that year to die, and to give silver, so that in a small time was heaped up the sum of 2,500,000 francs. One part of this silver was given to the Bishop of London, who was chosen general to make war upon the Clementines in Spain; and the other part was delivered to the Bishop of Norwich, who was elected general of another army to make war upon France, which also was Clementine. And indeed these two armies did much harm, as well in Spain as in France; yet the Bishop of Norwich, being a young man and inconsiderate, on entering Flanders met an Urbanist, the King of France, who with 100,000 men constrained him to retire homeward with shame and great loss.
In 1513 great damage happened unto the kings of France and Navarre, by the means of an interdict and excommunication which Pope Julius II cast against all the princes who had sent their ambassadors to the Council of Pisa, whose lands and seignories he exposed and gave as a prey to all men that would invade them. For under color of those wicked and detestable bulls, Emperor Maximilian and the Swiss constrained King Louis XII to abandon Milan and almost all that he held in Italy. And on the other side, the King of England fell upon France with an army of 3000, assaying to conquer part thereof. But God suffered it not; for in the meantime this wicked pope died, the interdict was revoked, and peace was made with the English. On the other side also, King Ferdinand of Aragon, feigning he would come to prey upon France, entered into the kingdom of Navarre and usurped it from King John d’Albret, who was defeated thereof without being defied, even before he knew the King of Aragon’s purpose. Whose successors have since detained the kingdom of Navarre, usurped from John and his lawful successors; yet notwithstanding the said unjust usurpers call themselves most Catholic.
And as for what Machiavelli says, that Italy is the province of Christendom where there is least religion, he says very true; but what would he say now if he were alive? He would find that if in his time they had so well profited in his school as to be very great atheists and contemners of God and of all religion, that now his scholars know far more than their master. And there is no doubt but already long ago all religion was contemned in Italy, even the Roman Catholic. Will you have a better example than what M. Comines rehearses? He says that in the time of Louis XII there were two principal houses at Florence, the Medicis and the Pacis, who were in quarrel and enmity together. Those of the house of Pacis favored the pope and the King of Naples, by whose counsel and advice they enterprised to slay Lorenzo de Medici and all his race. And to surprise him the better, unprovided and without taking heed, they resolved to massacre him with all his race and sequel upon a solemn feast day, at the hour that the great mass was sung; and that when the priest began to sing Sanctus, Sanctus, it should be the watchword to rush upon them. And indeed they executed their enterprise, except that they slew not Lorenzo, who saved himself in the vestry, but his brother Julian and certain others of his race were slain. I demand of you, if those who enterprised and gave counsel to attempt such an act believed in the mass? We need not doubt but they were very atheists. But if in that time, some forty years ago, Italy was so furnished with atheists and contemners of religion, what think you it is now.
In conclusion, Italy, Rome, the pope, and his seat, are truly the spring and fountain of all spite of religion, and the school of all impiety. And as they already were in Machiavelli’s time, as he confesses, so are they far more today. For although the Church of Rome has heretofore made, and yet does, certain demonstrations to sustain a religion, yet in effect it maintains it not otherwise but by subtleties and words. For it commands indeed to fast the vigils and Lent; but is there any place in the world where they care less for fasting vigils and Lent than at Rome? It commands chastity to priests; but is there any place in the world where priests, cardinals, and others, are more furnished with whores and bawds? It also commands them to serve their benefices, but of a hundred priests at Rome there is scarcely one that does it. Their religion forbids the sale of benefices, sepulchers, sacraments, and dispensations; but is there any place in the world where there is a greater traffic of them, than at Rome? It forbids simony; but where are there any simonacs, if not at Rome and in Italy? I speak only of the ordinances which the Roman Church has made, yet herself does not observe. For if I would cite the ordinances of God, which she observes no more than the other, I should too tediously rehearse them all. But briefly, the Roman Church has invented a thousand traditions wherewith it has burdened the shoulders of poor Christians to their great abashment, but meanwhile the Church itself will keep none of them. Rather that holy seat dispenses with all them of Italy and Rome; and indeed there is no place in the world where the pope’s ordinances are less observed, nor where all religion is in more contempt, as Machiavelli himself confesses. Let Christians then make their profit from this confession of Machiavelli, and so let them fly the spring of impiety, of atheism, of corruption of manners, and of the contempt of all religion, lest God punish them and make them perish with such wicked men as make open profession thereof.