#214 - Pope Alexander VI (bad pope alert...)
Pope from August 11, 1492 - August 18, 1503
Lived: January 1, 1431 - August 18, 1503
Birth name: Rodrigo Borgia
Who was this guy before he was pope?
Born near Valencia, Spain on New Year’s Day 1431, Rodrigo Borgia’s life was set on an ambitious path from the start. When his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, was elected pope in 1455, young Rodrigo was made a cardinal-deacon within a year. In 1471, Rodrigo was made Cardinal-bishop of Albano, and five years later he was moved to the See of Porto and made Dean of the College of Cardinals. Rodrigo was widely acknowledged for being (politically) prudent, vigilant, and shrewd, while also possessing an uncanny tact and persuasive ability to boot.
Give me the scoop on Alexander VI.
Alexander VI was elected by barely a two-thirds majority on August 11, 1492. It’s widely thought that the new pope used simony to get elected, but no hard evidence exists to prove it. Alexander seemed to have been a favorite of the Romans in particular, who lauded the new pontiff with an ovation “greater than any pontiff had ever received,” as one author put it. The pope was an admirable administrator, considering he quickly put the kibosh on Rome’s rampant lawlessness within months of his election and restored crucial order to the city.
Elsewhere in his papacy, Alexander was also protective of Jews in Spain, ushered in a Jubilee Year in 1500, and made many efforts to rebuild and continue to beautify Rome ahead of the Renaissance. Alexander VI contracted a fever in early August 1503 and died just a few days later. Don’t be surprised to find this pope in heaven, despite his misgivings; the pontiff made a final confession and received his last sacraments before he expired.
What was he known for?
Cue the sinister music. Aside from his administrative abilities, Pope Alexander VI is known for being arguably the worst and most nefarious pope in Church history. With nepotism and simony being among his more tame antics, Alexander fathered several illegitimate children -- one of whom was Cesare, the worst Borgia of the bunch -- and had more than one mistress while in office. Interestingly, however, other historical tales of Alexander and his fellow Borgias may in fact contain more embellishment and slander than truth.
Make no mistake, history books are rightfully critical of Alexander’s moral depravity, but the fact that the Borgias were Spanish folk in an Italian world (like being a Broncos fan in Raiders territory...) made them ripe for contemporaries to paint a more notorious picture than was actually the case. We didn’t think that was possible either. For example, accusations of incest and the infamous “Banquet of Chestnuts” (Google at your own risk) are only recounted by a single chronicler and were dismissed by many other writers living at the time. Even still, thankfully, as St. Leo the Great once said, “The dignity of Peter suffers no diminution even in an unworthy successor.”
Pope Alexander VI is one of the few popes to be the focal point of a popular TV series, and perhaps is the only one to also play a prominent role in an iconic video game as well. The controversial pontiff was a key figure in the Showtime’s short-lived
and also appeared in the 2009 and 2010 installments of the popular
video game series.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue (Come on, you knew that was coming). It was during Alexander VI’s pontificate that the Spanish expedition landed in the New World, and Alexander himself commissioned her first missionaries just a few years later.
Coming tomorrow...Pope Pius III
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Alexander VI -
Pope Alexander VI -
“Were the Borgias really so bad?” -
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on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 2:00AM