Borgia Flowers, Rotten Fruit

I just finished Christopher Hibbert’s book, which the Sunday Times described as ‘a tale of greed nepotism, assassination, and relentless jostling for power.’ Of whom does it speak? Gangsters? The mafia? Some South American Junta? No, the family of Rodrigo Borgia, better known as His Holiness Pope Alexander VI. The sumptuous Borgia family apartments are still part of the Vatican tour. Rodrigo had several children, despite his vow of celibacy, whom he ennobled and enriched. They joined him at his famous parties at which prizes were awarded to the men able to fornicate with the most prostitutes. They bribed, blackmailed, poisoned, imprisoned and tortured. During Rodrigo’s pontificate (1492-1503), the papacy’s reputation was at an all-time low; it was rumoured he had intercourse with his own children.

It was, in part, this foul-spewing gutter of an institution which helped open the eyes of a young visitor to Rome just a few year later, Martin Luther. It is true that after the Reformation, the Roman Church cleaned up its act. The Alexanders VIs and Julius IIs were replaced by a different type of pope, more austere and devout. Yet the popes’ doctrines remained as polluted as ever, even if they better upheld their church’s morality on a personal level. If anything, the more moral, more earnest Roman Church of the Counter Reformation was more able to deceive and promulgate its doctrines than the debauched, dissolute sinkhole of the renaissance. Rodrigo and his ghastly family didn’t pretend to be moral, they flaunted their sin. Yet falsehood coming from an apparently pious source is more beguiling than a Vatican brothel or papal debauch. By their fruits we shall know them, but some rotten fruits hide in good compost.

Image of the Borgia Papal Crest, by ptra from Pixabay