Errors of Pope Gregory XIII and His Epoch

Gregory XIII, born Ugo Buoncompagni, was Pope from 1572 to 1585; he ascended the papal throne in 1572, with the death of Pope Pius V.  A man of mediocre intelligence in most things, but with a keen eye to legalities while showing little concern for the average congregant, Gregory was at best a rake.  While studying jurisprudence at the University of  Bologna, a bastard son, named Giacomo, was born to him of an unmarried woman [See: Borromeo, Agostino. “Gregorio XIII”, Enciclopedia dei papi. 3 vols. Rome : Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2000, III, 180-200; Eubel, Conradus and Gulik, Guglielmus van. Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recentioris Aevi, Münich : Sumptibus et Typis Librariae Regensbergianae, 1935; reprint, Padua : Il Messagero di S. Antonio, 1960, III, 41, 70 and 332. Ugo Buoncompagni had Giacomo legitimated on July 5, 1548, by the bishop of Feltre].   He was worldly-minded and fond of display even after entering the ranks of the clergy, although some claim that he had a spiritual epiphany when he assumed the papacy–although records indicate his fascination with young women was as acute and strong as before his conversion and acceptance of clerical status (unfounded, unsubstantiated gossip does award him three more bastards born to various women).

Gregory XIII was keenly interested in money, especially the ever-increasing treasury of the Roman Catholic Church which he used for his personal wars against local barons and distant rulers, establishing and funding seminaries, and bankrolling the Jesuits in their quest to return western Europe to obedience to the Roman Catholic church.  Battling for land and people became more important than fighting for souls and peace within the church.

At the first consistory of the Council of Trent, Gregory XIII ordered the Constitution of Pius V, which forbade the alienation of church property, to be read publicly.  The alienation of church property (defined as early as 312 CE, donation to a church or a religious institution, the latter acquired real rights to the same [L. 23, C. De sacrosanctis ecclesiis, I, 2].  The insinuatio or declaration of the gift before the public authority was required only for donations equivalent in value to 500 solidi (nearly twenty-six hundred dollars) or more, a privilege later on extended to all donations [L. 34, 36, C. De donationibus, VIII, 53])  was costing the Roman Catholic church wealth, and costing the papacy its share.  Gregory XIII pledged to execute the decrees of the Council of Trent–further entrenching the Roman Catholic Church in formation for battle against Protestant crowns and clergy–and its amassing of fortune.

Fearful of any challenge to himself or the Roman Catholic Church, Gregory XIII designated a committee of cardinals to complete the Index of Forbidden Books and imposed strict censorship on all who wrote, taught, or lectured both in public and private.  Authors of every science and art were suspect, but for a well-placed bribe by the most unscrupulous, and were warned that their works would be condemned and burned, themselves arrested and forced to confess to writing “evil and obscene” material “endangering the faith.”  Even Galileo Galilei (February 5, 1564 – January 8, 1642; he was the father of three illegitimate children: two daughters and one son–the girls entered a nunnery since bastards were considered unfit for marriage, but the son was later legitimized) found himself before a tribunal that charged him with heresy, denouncing him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615 (Gregory XIII had died).  In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offense, the Roman Catholic church nevertheless condemned heliocentricism as “false and contrary to Scripture”.  At first Galileo abandoned his position, but later retracted his confession, defending his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632.  This “return to apostasy” found Galileo tried by the Inquisition, that found Galileo “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced him to recant again, and spend the rest of his life under house arrest. [See: Sharratt, Michael (1994). Galileo: Decisive Innovator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Shea, William R. and Artigas, Mario (2003). Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

While Roman Catholic apologists frequently claim that Gregory XIII was above nepotism, the opposite is true.  He created two of his nephews, Filippo Buoncompagni and Filippo Vastavillano, cardinals because he considered them “worthy of the dignity”.  He appointed his bastard son Giacomo castellan of St. Angelo and gonfalonier of the Church, while the city-state of Venice enrolled him among its nobili and the King of Spain appointed him general of his army.

That a pope had illegitimate children was nothing new to the Roman Catholic Church (the Borgia were known for their fecundity, especially Pope Alexander VI (born Roderic Llançol, pontificate 1492-1503) who fathered Cesare Borgia (1475-1507) and Lucretia Borgia (April 18, 1480 – June 24, 1519), both mass murderers, as well as two lesser known sons: Giovanni and Goffredo all by the same “longtime mistress” Vannozza dei Cattani, a countess of the House of Candia, whom he paid “handsomely”), nor was elevating of bastards (“nephews”) to the cardinalate unique.  Pocketing contributions (tithes) from the poor and the rich was considered a prerogative, and Gregory XIII followed this practice initiated by his predecessors since 798.

A man of little tolerance and less objectivity, Gregory published his Bull “Provisionis nostrae” on January 29, 1579.  In it, he confirmed the acts of his predecessor Pius V, condemning the errors of Baius (a poor man who became a respected theologian and succeeded in procuring, in the various colleges of the Louvain University, a complete course of studies, including humanities, philosophy, and theology, and published “Opuscula omnia,” in 1566 which the Council of Trent condemned without reading–a tract that referred frequently to the writings of Augustine of Hippo who some considered one of the great Fathers of the Church; Baius wrote numerous pamphlets, including: “On Free Will”; “Justice and Justification”; “Sacrifice”; “Meritorious Works”; “Man’s Original Integrity and the Merits of the Wicked“; “The Sacraments”; “The Form of Baptism”; “Original Sin“; “Charity”; “Indulgences”; “Prayers for the Dead”) and at the same time he commissioned the Jesuit, Francis of Toledo, to demand the abjuration of Baius–and like Jesuits, who aped the Augustinians who sailed to the New World, would commit murder in the name of their god when in South America, threatened the theologian with torture and death).  In the religious orders Gregory XIII recognized a great power for the conversion of pagans (by threat, intimidation, rape and murder), the repression of heresy (defined as anything Gregory did not agree with) and the maintenance of the Roman Catholic religion.  He was especially friendly towards the Jesuits, whose rapid spread during the pontificate was greatly due to his encouragement and financial assistance.  Unlike other orders, the Jesuits made no pretense of their love for “financial assistance,” and would cover the numerous inconsistencies in the Roman Catholic church as others had shielded the anti-Semitism and errors in the writings of Augustine of Hippo.  The Jesuits, furthermore, were rewarded with numerous colleges and universities including  the Pontifical Gregorian University.  Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German College at Rome, and put them in the charge of the Jesuits whose death-like grip on learning lead to a new Dark Age of intellectual development.

Gregory XIII is best known for his reformation of the calendar, producing the Gregorian calendar with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius (March 25, 1538 – February 12, 1612; scholarship today shows that “Clavius” [Latin for “key”] was a pun on his original German name of Schlüssel).  Clavius was arrogant, in keeping with the Jesuit standard.  As an astronomer Clavius held strictly to the geocentric model of the solar system, in which all the heavens rotate about the Earth, and opposed the heliocentric model of Copernicus–although grudgingly he recognized that his geocentrism had “serious flaws.”  He changed his position (slightly) in 1611–after Galileo visited him–although he continued to reject the idea that there were mountains on the moon. [See: Christoph Clavius, Corrispondenza Edizione critica a cura di Ugo Baldini e Pier Daniele Napolitani, 7 voll., Edizioni del Dipartimento di Matematica dell’Università di Pisa, Pisa, 1992. Ref. Lattis, James M. (1994). Between Copernicus and Galileo: Christoph Clavius and the collapse of Ptolemaic cosmology (University of Chicago Press).]

Gregory XIII’s “calendar” was a theological solution to a real problem. The average length of the year in the Julian Calendar was too long, and the date of the actual Vernal Equinox had slowly slipped to March 10, whereas the computus (calculation) of the date of Easter still followed the traditional date of March 21 (although Christmas continued to be celebrated on December 25, whereas all indications in the Biblical narrative–shepherds in the fields, etc–point to August as the month of birth).  Following the observations of Clavius, Gregory XIII decreed that the day after Thursday, October 4, 1582 would not be Friday, October 5, but instead be Friday, October 15, 1582 in his papal bull Inter gravissimas that had the promulgation of the new calendar on February 24, 1582.  This effectively, replaced the Julian calendar (in use since 45 BCE) and has become universally used today–although was rejected by Imperial Russia and other nations until the twentieth century (Bolshevik Russia in 1917; Romania in 1919; and Turkey and Greece in 1923; the Eastern Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar).  The switchover was bitterly opposed by much of the populace, who feared it was an attempt by landlords to cheat them out of a week and a half’s rent, and Protestant nations in Europe refused to use it for more than 100 years.  Denmark, the remaining states of the Dutch Republic, and the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire and Switzerland adopted the Gregorian reform in 1700-01.

Not above intrigue, and launching armada after armada for invading Protestant lands, Gregory XIII outfitted Nicholas Sanders, William Allen and James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald in 1578 with a ship and 800 men to land in Ireland with the intent to invade England and topple the Protestant rule of Elizabeth I.  To Gregory XIII’s dismay Stukeley joined his forces with those of King Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdul Malik of Morocco instead.  But as Gregory’s XIII’s intrigues grew (he was linked to the plot of Henry, Duke of Guise, and his brother, Charles, Duke of Mayenne, to assassinate Elizabeth I in 1582), and various planned invasions failed Elizabeth’s Parliament justifiably declared war on Jesuits and other Catholics within England with the expressed purpose of putting to death these traitors.  The great cruelty of Gregory XIII showed its most vile moments when he ordered the horrible massacre of the Huguenots (French Protestants) on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, and celebrated in Rome by a “Te Deum” and other marks of rejoicing.  To celebrate the slaughter of newborn babies, children, women, the elderly and the males defending them on the streets and in their homes, Gregory XIII had a medal struck in memory of the event bearing his effigy on the obverse, which on the reverse under the legend Vgonotiorum Strages (overthrow of the Huguenots) stands an angel with cross and drawn sword, killing the Huguenots–as Gregory XIII argued that angels had the purpose of killing all dissent, and like his god, believed that murder was a justified way of ending opposition to his rule or those of the King and Queen of any nation that swore allegiance to Rome.

Gregory XIII spent large sums for the erection of colleges and seminaries even while people were starving, homes were destroyed by the raids of unrepentant nobility, and the poor kept in the darkness of ignorance.  No expense appeared too high to him, if only it was made for the benefit of the Roman Catholic religion as he interpreted it–regardless of what any previous pope or doctor of theology had concluded.  For the education of poor candidates for the priesthood he spent two million sendi during his pontificate but not one sendi on any other subject that would have benefited the poor, for Gregory XIII argued that the only true knowledge and learning came with the study of holy books on god and his saints–leading to a constant reprint of primal martyrologies (he had three editions of the Martyrologium Romanum Gregorii XIII jussu editum (Rome, 1583) printed during his pontificate, finding errors in the first two), and for the good of Roman Catholic control of nations and their people, Gregory XIII sent large sums of money to Austria, England, France, Malta, the Netherlands, and Spain, to put down dissent, to establish professorships that agreed with his understanding of the Council of Trent rules and regulations, and to “weed out heresy.”

To ensure uniformity, Gregory XIII issued the Corpus juris canonici patterned on the Decretum Gratiani originally written in the twelfth century (it remained the Roman Catholic church’s book of law until Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 1917, when Pope Benedict XV promulgated a revised Code of Canon Law (Codex juris canonici). It was never a scholarly work as Gratian did not have original codices to use.  Gratian’s sources were Roman law, the Bible, the writings of (or attributed to) the Church Fathers, papal bulls, the acts of church councils and synods.  In most cases, filled with “discordants” or errors, leading Gratian to entitle his work Concordia Discordantium Canonum – “Concord of Discordant Canons.”  See: Lenherr, Titus. Die Exkommunikations- und Depositionsgewalt der Häretiker bei Gratian und den Dekretisten bis zur Glossa ordinaria des Johannes Teutonicus. St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 1987. Cp. Landau, Peter. “Gratians Arbeitsplan.” In Iuri canonico promovendo: Festschrift für Heribert Schmitz zum 65. Geburtstag. Regensburg: F. Pustet, 1994. pp. 691-707.)

Gregory XIII had the same problem as the warrior pope Julius II–great schemes but little capital.  To settle this issue, Gregory XIII, acting on the advice of Bonfigliuoto, the secretary of the Camera, he confiscated various baronial estates and castles, because some forgotten feudal liabilities to the papal treasury had not been paid, or because their present owners were not the rightful heirs.  This infuriated the barons who initiated a well-orchestrated verbal campaign against Gregory XIII and incited the peasant to riot.  As papal influence over the aristocracy waned, the barons of the Romagna made war against each other, and a period of bloodshed ensued which Gregory XIII was helpless to prevent.  In desperation the pope raised taxes on imports from Venice that resulted in crippling both the economies of the papal states and Venice–and made for him yet one more enemy–the powerful Doge of Venice.  The banditti who infested the Campagna were protected by the barons and the peasantry who saw them not as gangsters but as a way to rid themselves of a cruel and overbearing Pope.  With the support of the barons and the peasants, the banditti became daily more bold, headed by young men of noble families, such as Alfonso Piccolomim, Roberto Malatesta, and others.  Rome itself was filled with these outlaws, and crime was everywhere–from theft and murder to prostitution and gambling–giving signs of a return to the lawlessness of the papacy’s of Alexander VI and Leo X that pushed the Renaissance into a corner to breed the Reformation and its radical changes.  Papal officers were always and everywhere in danger of life, and Gregory XIII lost what little power of persuasion he had, being numbered among the worse popes in history while still alive. [See: Platatius, Iohannes, Gesta Pontificum Romanorum (Venice, 1688), IV, 329-366].

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2 Comments

Filed under Church history, Leo X (Pope), Roman Catholicism, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Errors of Pope Gregory XIII and His Epoch

  1. Joe

    I sometimes think the Church is still at it. I was born into “The Church” but never really understood it and when I drifted away from it was cornered one evening and was confronted by the local priest who was determined to return me to “the fold.” My biggest problem was accepting the Pope as God’s only voice on Earth. I expressed this and the good priest just couldn’t understand that. The impass remains to this day.

    • The Petrine Doctrine (papal infallibility, primacy, and supremacy) were not even considered until after the Emperor Constantine created the Christian church, and did not become “doctrine” until Pope Pius IX decreed them (along with the myth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary that originated in pagan Egypt) at the end of the 19th century at Vatican Council I. The only other time was in 1950, when Pius XII proclaimed the “Assumption of Mary” (body and soul into heaven”–again taking an ancient Egyptian and Ethiopic story and merging them to create a new fantasy. Regretfully I wrote my thesis on this fantasy at University of Northern Iowa (“An Apology for the Petrine Doctrine” where “apology” from the Latin means “defense”) having recently converted from Lutheranism to Roman Catholicism. However, with age and further research I learned that this concept which the Roman Catholic church bases on Matthew 16:18 (although it is taken from an ancient Akkaddian script about a king hand over the “keys” to a “wine cellar” that was a fortress made of stones as “ekklesia” was not a “church” until after the second century CE, was not only absurd but that most of the warring bishops opposed it at Nicea and even at Vatican I (the most reluctant was the new convert and cardinal, Britain’s John Newman). To think that any mortal could be the mouthpiece for any god is lunacy at best, for it means that the deity is so busy that he needs a spokesperson (in the Roman Catholic church of today it would be male, but as I present in my book “Woman As Priest Bishop and Laity” (online, now) it included women originally as there was a vast shortage of men, so women became bishops (as we read in the Letters of John] and one even became a pope (no that is not a fantasy). I cannot imagine anyone being a Christian as Christianity is based on a series of plagiarised stories (Odysseus also was on a ship in a turbulent sea, and the ancient Egyptian magi(cians) changed bread into wine, while most religions had priests that could multiply bread loafs, etc.). As for Jesus, no contemporary scholars claims that he existed; even Josepheus “records that which I am told and there was, according to some, a man crucified” but the name is not given in the oldest scrolls. Tacitus does the same, as do all writers before 150 CE.

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