In a 1520 letter to Pope Leo, Martin Luther said he was not so foolish as to attack Pope Leo X, whom everybody praises.
How did this cultured Renaissance pope and patron of the arts become Luther’s archenemy?
Giovanni de’ Medici (the future Leo X) took after his father, Florence’s Lorenzo the Magnificent, who appreciated and bankrolled art and culture. Giovanni’s family funneled him into the religious life at the age of eight, and he became a cardinal at the age of seventeen. In 1513, when Giovanni was only thirty-seven, the College of Cardinals elected this peace-loving cardinal as pope.
Now the new Pope Leo X could spend the Church’s resources, as well as his family’s, to finish renovating St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, as well as funding the expansion of the Vatican Library’s collections and the arts.
But Leo soon ran out of money for these projects. He encouraged the sale of indulgences, promoted to commoners as a way to speed the passage of dead souls to heaven.
When indulgence sellers came to German lands in 1517, Martin Luther protested this practice in his 95 Theses.
Pope Leo didn’t take Luther’s criticisms seriously, perhaps because he was so far removed from the common people. If he had embraced church reform (as many in the Roman Church had hoped), perhaps the Church wouldn’t have split, the Peasant Revolt wouldn’t have happend, the 30 Years’ War wouldn’t have killed six million people, and Leo X would be remembered as a reformer instead of a pleasure-loving spendthrift.
What do you think? Could Pope Leo X have prevented the Reformation?