Papal Bribes

Many different side payments were offered by the papacy in order to avoid calling councils that might weaken papal control over doctrine and over church revenues. Before the Reformation these side payments performed the dual functions of keeping the conciliarists at bay and forestalling defections by non-Italian nations, which favored conciliarism. Robert Bireley contends,

Rulers, especially the French kings, used the threat of a council to extract concessions from the papacy. Louis XII called a council for Pisa in 1511 in an attempt to counter Pope Julius Il's policy toward France in Italy, but the pope outmanoeuvred him. Pope Leo X, then, in the concordat of Bologna of 1516, yielded to Francis I the predominant voice in nearly all the major ecclesiastical appointments in the realm in exchange, in part, for the king's disavowal of conciliarism. Starting with Nicholas V (1447-1455), the popes concentrated increasingly on their role as rulers of an Italian state and were themselves elected from aristocratic Italian families.27

Medievalist C. M. D. Crowder claims, "By the time of the Great Schism the more influential monarchies of Christendom had established a practical understanding with the papacy for a rough and ready division of their conflicting interests of patronage. Nevertheless this was frequently achieved by contention and adjudication.''28 He further explains how the Roman Catholic Church granted concessions to France, England, and Germany in order to keep them in the fold, usually through formal agreements that conceded powers to civil authorities: "In a series of concordats the reforms which met their own demands were agreed with each of the French, English, and German nations. All were promised better representation among the cardinals. The French were given concessions chiefly from the burden of papal taxation.29 The English obtained the promise of papal restraint in grants to monasteries, of exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, and of the appropriation of parish churches. The German concordat had many of the features of the other two, but claimed more explicitly a better representation in a reformed curia than Germans had enjoyed in the past.''30 Bribes of this sort did not prevent breakaways, as the Protestant Reformation demonstrated.

Indeed, the papacy seemed to make higher side payments to some countries as time went on, right up to Protestant entry. Thus, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the papacy did not intervene while England gradually converted papal taxation to royal taxation. Historian J. J. Scarisbrick calculated that the average tax collections from clerical operations in England between 1486 and 1534 resulted in £4,816 per year paid to Rome and £12,500 per year to the King. He concludes, "before the breach, Henry VII and his son were receiving well over two and half times the annual average of money paid to Rome.''31

In many respects, the successes of the Protestant Reformation may be traced to a failure of side payments by the Catholic Church to achieve their desired effect in certain nations such as England, Germany, and parts of Switzerland and Scotland. Outside Italy, the pope's main interest was to suppress heresy, to keep rebellious nations within the fold of Catholicism, and, of course, to collect rents from downstream church organizations in as many countries as possible. The papacy and its bureaucracy needed revenues to fight wars (e.g., the French incursions into Italy) and to support massive building projects such as the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. These concerns set the stage for the "Italianiza-tion'' and "Romanization" of the church as it strove to protect the papal monopoly and its declining revenues.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment