When Claire dared to criticize the Papacy a couple of months ago, this column endured the slings and arrows of outraged readers. Well, fair enough… the column wasn't very kind to the latest successor to St. Peter. We were unimpressed that, as a cardinal, Pope Francis rode a bus to work. Tit for tat is the reader's right. As Editor Bob Urban put it, we stirred up a hornet's nest. When you do that, you're bound to get stung a time or two.
Meanwhile – and purely by coincidence, unless the attraction was subconscious – I started watching season three of a Showtime series called "The Borgias." Jeremy Irons, whose naturally wicked voice breathed life into Scar in "The Lion King," stars as Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia patriarch who ruled Vatican City from 1492 until August 1503. Irons/Alexander does it all: marriage, fatherhood, adultery, murder, warfare, extortion… you name it, he's been doing it since the show debuted in 2011.
Inevitably, I began to wonder how accurate this depiction of His Holiness (Ha Ha) really is. The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that Al was "corrupt, worldly, and ambitious." His "[n]eglect of the spiritual inheritance of the church contributed to the development of the Protestant Reformation." (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/14138/Alexander-VI)
Here are a few other things that the EB adds about Big Al (yeh, he was a fatty; take a look at his portrait):
"Despite the shadow of simony that surrounded the disposal of his benefices among the papal electors, Rodrigo emerged from a tumultuous conclave on the night of Aug. 10–11, 1492, as Pope Alexander VI and received the acclaim of the Roman populace."
·"By a Roman noblewoman, Vannozza Catanei, he had four subsequently legitimized offspringJuan, Cesare, Jofré, and Lucreziawhose complicated careers troubled his pontificate."
·"In September 1493 Alexander created his teenaged son Cesare a cardinal…."
· "Attempts to whitewash Alexander's private conduct have proved abortive. While his religious convictions cannot be challenged, scandal accompanied his activities throughout his career. Even from a Renaissance viewpoint, his relentless pursuit of political goals and unremitting efforts to aggrandize his family were seen as excessive."
Even the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01289a.htm) adds, "Alexander, still hale and vigorous in his seventy-third year, and looking forward to many more years of reign, proceeded to strengthen his position by depleting his treasury in ways that were more than dubious. The Sacred College now contained so many of his adherents and countrymen that he had nothing to fear from that quarter. He enjoyed and laughed at the scurrilous lampoons that were in circulation in which he was accused of incredible crimes, and took no steps to shield his reputation."
Wikipedia contributes the following additional information: "Three of his other children, Girolama, Isabella and Pedro-Luiz, were of uncertain parentage. However, his son, Bernardo, was birthed by Vittoria (Victoria) Sailór dei Venezia in 1469. Bernardo is typically not known of, because his father kept him in hiding, most likely due to shame, for he was a cardinal, who aspired to become the pope. He obviously gave up hiding his many children after he fathered four more."
Thanks to his unrelenting fornicating, "He is an ancestor of virtually all royal houses of Europe…." ((https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Alexander_VI)
The Borgias are best remembered for their love of poison as the preferred means of dispatching their enemies. According to one source, "Rodrigo died in 1503. Having dinner with a Cardinal, he took ill. His intestines bled and there was hideous purpling and peeling of the skin. The death may have been from malaria – but the legend may be true and fits perfectly – it was poetic justice when the Pope accidentally drank from the poisoned grail he'd intended for the Cardinal Adriano." (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2009/07/the-unholy-grail-...)
I can't wait to see if that's how the Showtime series ends.
I have a sneaking suspicion my dad is just trying to get me into trouble here… but unlike the Pope, I'm not taking this bait!