Pope Sixtus IV
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The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves
by Valérie Pirie
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PAUL II, in spite of the immense sums he squandered, had left the treasury well filled, and Cardinal della Rovere having promised to
divide the proceeds equally among the cardinals, was elected without demur. He was the first Pope of humble birth to found a great and
powerful house. Under his reign nepotism developed with such alarming rapidity that it had soon reached the proportions of a giant
octopus, whose suckers were so firmly fastened into the institution on which it fed that it took centuries to hack away the last of its
tentacles. The money with which Sixtus supplied his insatiable family, or which he himself needed for his debauches and the perpetual
warfare waged against his neighbours, was raised by the most cruel extortions on his subjects, the sale of all ecclesiastical dignities and
benefices, taxes on houses of prostitution and a tariff for the absolution of all crimes with plenary indulgence to anyone who killed a
Venetian. His hatred of the powerful Republic was maniacal. He had of course anathematised and excommunicated its citizens time and
again. So much for the spiritual side. But not content with consigning them to the everlasting furnace, he threatened to seize any Venetian
ecclesiastics found outside the dominions of the Republic and to sell them as slaves to the Turks.
We are told, no doubt quite rightly, that a man should be judged by the standards of the epoch in which he lived, but this precept is difficult
to put into practice. To get the exact focus across such a wide space of time calls for a keenness of vision granted to few. At whatever angle
one places oneself, Sixtus IV still appears as a singularly unattractive specimen of humanity. If one turns to his contemporaries for a verdict
one finds little mercy shown him. The indictment of his crimes compiled by Infessura is a revelation of all that human turpitude can devise;
but then Infessura hated him, so cannot be trusted. The most moderate, however, seemed to consider that he would be in need of some of
his own most potent indulgences [p. 26] when the reckoning came, for the cautious envoy of the Medici in Rome announces the news of
the Pontiff's death to his master in these words: "To-day at 5 o'clock His Holiness Sixtus IV departed this life—may God forgive him!"
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