Leo X.

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Portrait of Pope Leo X with the cardinals Giulio de 'Medici, later Clement VII and Luigi de' Rossi, painting by Raphael, around 1518–1519, Florence, Uffizi
Signature Leo X..PNG

Leo X. (born Giovanni de ' Medici ; *  December 11, 1475 in Florence , †  December 1, 1521 in Rome ) was a Roman Catholic Pope from March 11, 1513 until his death . The beginning of the Reformation falls under his pontificate .


Parents and youth

Giovanni de 'Medici was born in Florence on December 11, 1475, the sixth of nine children of the Florentine Lorenzo il Magnifico and his wife Clarice Orsini , who came from the Roman noble family of Orsini . As the second-born son destined for a career in the church, he should be brought up according to his later spiritual status at the request of his mother.

His father Lorenzo, who went down in history as il Magnifico ("the splendid"), placed more emphasis on a balanced education according to humanistic aspects, which Giovanni began at the age of three. Giovanni was first educated and taught together with his older brother Piero de 'Medici by the poet Angelo Poliziano , who was a close friend of Lorenzo's family.

But the poet's mother did not find the poet the right teacher, especially for Giovanni, so she temporarily dismissed Poliziano, who was at the time with Clarice and her children in the family's country house in Caffagiolo . After Lorenzo's energetic intervention, Poliziano returned, but Clarice was finally able to get her way. So initially Martino della Commedia and later the cleric Bernardo Michelozzi , the brother of Lorenzo's secretary Niccoló Michelozzi , took over his education. He later studied canon law and theology in Pisa .

Church career

Miter of Pope Leo X around 1515. Exhibit in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence

On June 1, 1483, when Giovanni was seven years old, he received the sacrament of Confirmation and received the tonsure as a sign of the clergy. This had become necessary because he had already received his first benefices from the French king in May . Pope Sixtus IV had agreed to this award and raised him to the rank of Apostolic Protonotary . The elevation to protonotary was necessary so that Giovanni could take over benefices at all. An appointment as Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence shortly thereafter failed because the official - contrary to news - was still alive. The King of Naples and the Duke of Milan also granted little Giovanni their favor with benefices at this time, and numerous others joined them in their native Tuscany.

On November 8, 1483, Giovanni was installed as Canon of Florence, then he was first transferred to the monasteries of San Michele in Arezzo and in 1485 to San Michele in Passignano . Here he only acted nominally as abbot; the administration of the convents was taken over by specially commissioned clerics, but the owner of the benefices received the generated and other income. However, these transfers did not always go smoothly. The resistance of the monks in Passignano was so fierce that the use of armed men was necessary to take possession of the abbey for Giovanni.

His father, who had already sought this office for his brother Giuliano, who had fallen victim to the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478, had already been intensively promoting the elevation of his son to cardinal since that year , but Pope Innocent VIII initially refused. As Florence, as an ally of the King of Naples, was soon embroiled in the so-called Baron War , Lorenzo's relations with the Curia deteriorated temporarily.

After the end of the Baron War, the Florentine ambassador Pierfilippo Pandolfini and the Archbishop of Florence, Rinaldo Orsini , Lorenzo's brother-in-law who lived in Rome, tried to improve relations from the autumn of 1486 - also with regard to the career of little Giovanni. In November 1486, Pope Innocent VIII expressed the desire to marry his son Francesco Cibo , commonly known as Franceschetto , to Lorenzo's second eldest daughter, Maddalena de 'Medici , in order to improve relations with Florence on the one hand and his son on the other Secure the future. In return, Lorenzo demanded that his son Giovanni be elevated to cardinal status. The elevation to cardinal took place in the consistory on March 9, 1489, Giovanni was then just 14 years old. The appointment was made in pectore and had to be kept secret for three years. It was published by the Pope on March 26, 1492. His titular church was Santa Maria in Domnica .

When the illegitimate son of Cosimo de 'Medici , Carlo di Cosimo de' Medici , who also held numerous benefices, died that same year , they were all transferred to Giovanni.

Innocent VIII died in the summer of 1492 and the newly appointed Cardinal Medici took part in his first conclave , which Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (as Pope Alexander VI ) won. Giovanni, who had voted against Borgia, cautiously left Rome, where he had lived in the family palace , now the Italian Senate building, Palazzo Madama , and returned to Florence. Shortly before, after the death of the head of the family, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giovanni's older brother Piero the Unfortunate had succeeded him.

In 1494, when Charles VIII crossed Italy, the Medici were driven out of France by a revolt from Florence. A long exile began for Giovanni as well, during which he traveled to various regions of Europe with his cousin Giulio, who later became Pope Clement VII . He did not return to Rome until 1500, where in 1503 Cardinal Della Rovere, who like Giovanni had been an opponent of Pope Alexander, was elected Pope when Julius II . After the death of his brother Piero, Giovanni became the new head of the family that same year. He was able to use his good relations with the Pope in the following years to prepare the return of the Medici to the ancestral Florence.

In 1512 Cardinal de Medici, who had always accompanied Julius II on his campaigns , was captured on the battlefield of Ravenna and only by chance escaped in Pieve del Cairo in June 1512 . A little later, at the Council of Mantua, the return of the Medici to Florence was finally decided. Under the leadership of the Viceroy of Naples, an army of the Holy League moved to Florence and achieved the surrender. Cardinal de Medici, who took over the management of the state, was subsequently able to assert himself against several conspiracies.

Pontificate 1513–1521

Statue of Pope Leo X in the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli


On February 21, 1513 Pope Julius II died. On March 11, 1513 Giovanni de 'Medici was elected as his successor. The only 37-year-old gave himself the name Leo X. Since he was not a priest , although he was a cardinal , he was ordained a priest on March 15 after his papal election and was ordained bishop on March 17 . Only then could the coronation follow on March 19th.

At the time of his election, Leo X is said to have already had syphilis, according to Pierre Bayle .

Arts and Culture

It is not surprising that Rome became a center of art and culture in his pontificate. But Leo was not averse to grosser pleasures. He always had his court jester with him and had him beaten as soon as he was not funny enough. Fishing and hunting were just as much a part of his passions as lavish festivals and carnival parades. It is said that in his menagerie the Indian elephant Hanno was his favorite animal as a gift from the Portuguese King Manuel I ; a rhinoceros delivered by Manuel to the elephant , which unfortunately only reached Rome in a stuffed state, was granted to be immortalized by Raphael in the papal palace .

European politics

As Pope, he intervened heavily in European politics. After the death of the German Emperor Maximilian I , he supported the French King Franz I , with whom he concluded the Bologna Concordat , in the candidacy for the dignity of Emperor. However, he later also supported the election winner Charles V and concluded with him an alliance against France in 1521. At the Fifth Lateran Council on March 16, 1517, against the backdrop of the Turkish threat , he was able to enforce the declaration of a European armistice and a crusade against the Ottoman Empire .

Bull Leo X. Contra Errores

Protestant Reformation

In the time of Leo X falls beginning of the Reformation . Obviously, Leo misjudged their importance. For the new building of St. Peter's Basilica , he promoted the indulgence trade on a large scale, which was one of the impulses for Martin Luther to communicate his 95 theses to the church people on October 31, 1517 at the castle church in Wittenberg . For the Pope, Luther's concern was not worth considering; on the contrary: in the Bull Exsurge Domine of June 15, 1520, he condemned a total of 41 writings by Luther and excommunicated him on January 3, 1521 with the Bull Decet Romanum Pontificem ; Leo X did not change anything in the internal church grievances and indulgences.

Like his predecessors and the Curia, Leo X was too involved in Italian and European politics to seriously grapple with the calls for reform at the head and members of the Church, which had long been loud. Ultimately, this is also due to Rome's self-assessment as the incontestable head of the Church.

To count the pontificate of this Pope among the most fateful in the entire history of the Pope falls short of the mark. Leo may have been the trigger for Luther's posting of the theses, but by no means the cause. The simonist and nepotist excesses, but also the ostentatiousness and generally less godly lifestyle of the popes had been exposed to incessant criticism, especially from the non-Italian clergy, for several decades. This criticism was already loud in the 1460s, when popes like Calixt III. or Sixtus IV. disregarded the rules of decency that had been customary up to that point , that is, restraint, propriety and decency. The grievances repeatedly led to calls for reform councils - e.g. B. 1494 under Pope Alexander VI. - but they always went unheard or were cleverly undermined by the officials. Alexander even set up a curial reform commission in 1497, but its work had no consequences.

There was also resistance within the Curia to overly busy popes. But these cardinals - in the 1490s for example Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini , Oliviero Carafa , Giovanni Battista Zeno or Jorge da Costa - were firstly a mostly suspicious minority, and secondly, the consistory only had an advisory function with the Pope and no decision-making power.

Breve Leo X., written by Arrighi in Cancellaresca in 1513

About the cardinalate ( De cardinalatu ) is a book published in 1510 called Paolo Cortesis , the former Apostolic Secretary of the Curia under the pontificate of Alexander. In it he impressively depicts the qualities and abilities to be expected of an ideal cardinal. The fact that he dedicated them to the then reigning Pope - and thus Julius II of all people - had no consequences.

The curia proved resistant to reform at that time. The papacy used to pay little attention to theological processes and especially disputes about them that took place outside of Italy, to the point of complete ignorance. On the one hand, the Romans, who, according to the ancient tradition, which had been highly fashionable since the beginning of the Renaissance, still saw themselves as caput mundi ("head of the world"), the Holy Roman Empire or Germany - as well as France - as a country of the barbarians. On the other hand, since the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, the constantly growing Turkish threat bound the popes. For example, in 1480 the Italian city of Otranto was temporarily conquered by the Turks, and in 1529 the Turks stood before Vienna .

The sale of indulgences and the countless additional levies that were supposed to be used for crusades or church buildings called for critics long before Leo. The humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini , who later became Pope as Pius II, felt compelled in the 1450s to reprimand the “dumb hillbilly” in his work De ritu, situ, moribus et conditione Germaniae . He reproached them that they owed their flourishing spiritual landscapes and economic well-being to the fertilizing influence of Italy and especially Rome, and that they should therefore abstain from criticizing the popes' alleged financial exploitation or wastefulness and should rather show them thanks and awe.

From the point of view of the time, Leo's reaction to Luther was the absolutely usual procedure: the bull and the ban had already had their effect several times, the last far-reaching attempt at reform by a monk by Savonarola - barely 20 years before Luther - was finally successfully mastered in this way.

When Emperor Maximilian I died in 1519, Leo wanted to prevent the election of Charles V of Spain as king and to persuade Elector Frederick the Wise to run against him by offering to appoint a candidate who was suitable for him as cardinal. Most likely Martin Luther was meant.

His death

When war raged between the imperial and papal troops and the French army in Northern Italy, Leo X died of a winter flu with severe fever attacks on the night of December 1, 1521, so suddenly that he could not even receive the sacraments . Since his corpse was quickly disfigured by swelling and black discoloration, contemporary supporters of the Medici Pope suspected that the sickly and overly corpulent pontiff might have died an unnatural death. The suspicion fell on the cupbearer Malaspina, who could have poisoned him on behalf of French sympathizers. However, neither the interrogation of the suspect nor the autopsy provided any clear indications of a poisoning. Cardinal Giulio de 'Medici, Leo's cousin, advocated the release of Malaspina so as not to make Francis I an irreconcilable enemy if he should be involved in the matter.

Due to the high debts Leo X left behind, allegedly not even the candles for his funeral could be paid for. His bones rest in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva . His monumental wall tomb in the main chapel was created by the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli and the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder from 1536 . J. , the statue of the Pope is the work of Raffaello da Montelupo .


The papal historian Georg Schwaiger described the pontificate of Leo X as “one of the most disastrous in church history”.

The following quote is often ascribed to Leo X: "How much the fable of Christ has been of use to us and ours is known." However, there is no source to support this statement. It is more likely that the quote comes from the satirical work The Pageant of the Popes by the English Protestant John Bale. In it Bale lets the Pope say: "All ages can testify enough howe profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our company".



Web links

Commons : Leo X.  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Oskar Panizza : German theses against the Pope and his dark men. With a foreword by MG Conrad . New edition (selection from the “666 theses and quotations”). Nordland-Verlag, Berlin 1940, p. 175 and 209 f.
  2. ^ LA Rebello da Silva: Corpo diplomatico Portuguez. Lisbon 1862, I, p. 236; quoted in: Stephan Oettermann : The curiosity of the elephant. An Elephantographia Curiosa. Syndikat, Frankfurt am Main 1982, p. 107.
  3. Silvio A. Bedini: The Pope's elephant. Stuttgart 2006, pp. 139-169.
  4. Michael Klein: Historical thinking and class criticism from an apocalyptic perspective . Hamm 2004, p. 67 ( PDF, 841 kB [accessed on January 28, 2013] dissertation at the Fernuni Hagen ).
  5. L. von Pastor; V. Reinhardt; J. Burckhard; M. Firpo; P. Burke; DS Chambers; JF D'Amico; LvRanke
  6. ^ Bernhard Schimmelpfennig: The papacy. Darmstadt 1988, p. 275.
  7. L. von Pastor: History of the Popes since the end of the Middle Ages. History of the Popes in the age of the Renaissance and the split in faith from the election of Leo X to the death of Clement VII (1513–1534), Vol. 4.1, Herder, Freiburg 1923, p. 347
  8. Schwaiger, in: Lexicon for Theology and Church. 3. Edition. Volume 6, Col. 825 ff.
  9. ^ Roman Piso: The Descent of Pope Leo X From Arrius Piso . ( academia.edu [accessed December 3, 2019]).
predecessor Office successor
Julius II Pope
Hadrian VI.
- Lord of Florence
Lorenzo di Piero de 'Medici