Can a "Renaissance Pope" be justified?

In general, can it be justified for a Pope to live a luxurious lifestyle, own vast swathes of land and military might, and just even be rich? As the Servant of the Servants of God it seems strange to be in such power. I know the last few Popes have been great regarding these things, but I’m asking generally of Popes throughout history.

Now, I’m not saying is it right for the Pope to be sinful, because it isn’t, but generally is there any theological justification for the Pope having temporal power (like when he used to own the Papal States), large sums of wealth and life in a luxurious palace? One could argue for the necessity of temporal power for the purposes of security, but can one justify the luxurious, kingly lifestyle?

Some may be quick to say it isn’t right, but then we have the problem of condemning the majority of Popes since the Middle Ages who had these things. Could they all be so wrong? Or could it be a prerogative of God to give the Popes of that time temporal power and a kingly lifestyle?

Is being blessed with wealth and power necessarily a bad thing? No. But is it prudent? Probably not. It must be remembered that the Catholic church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Sometimes, a pope has been a total moral reprobate (Alexander VI, I’m looking at you) but the thing is, even he never changed church teaching. He didn’t say it was okay to have mistresses and illegitimate children, even though he had those. He was a sinner… just like every other Christian trying to follow Jesus. The first pope even denied Christ himself!

We cannot condemn any pope, or anyone for that matter. We can make rational judgements based on actions, so I think it reasonable to say it’s imprudent to have wealth and power and whatnot, but I can’t say that the vicars of Christ who have had such luxuries should be condemned as ‘bad.’

God can justify anyone he wishes to. It’s his call. Weather we approve is not a part of the equation. Justice is HIS, not ours.

I understand that not every pope is a saint, we’re all sinners etc.

But my issue is, this isn’t a chance one off pope like Alexander VI, this is a majority of Popes throughout history who have all held great wealth and power. I am merely trying to see if there is any sort of theological reasoning behind such power and wealth. Perhaps the Vicar of Christ deserves to live like a King, I don’t know!

So can we not judge that murder is wrong?

I’m talking about actions and lifestyles here, not people in particular.

You’d have to cite your sources for your “A majority” statement, as I believe it to be patently false. There were a hand full of Popes during the Renaissance era (and at other times, I’m sure) who were more attached to worldly good than they ought to be as the Vicar of Christ; however, material wealth is not in and of itself a bad thing. During that time, and times before, the Church was basically a governing body, and as such was responsible for the welfare of the society as a whole. They amassed great amounts of wealth during this period, true, but much of it was put back into the society to help it develop. Similarly, the Swiss Guard was a necessity because it was the job of the Church to protect its citizenry.

So yeah, there were a few Popes who abused their power, but that’s not something to “justify,” it’s something to learn from. The Church has always fared best when it separates itself from the attachment to material good. I would like to emphasize, however, that this does not mean that we are obligated to sell our material goods. The Church’s collection of artwork was mostly donated and commissioned for the greater glory of God. Much of what we have was donated by the artisans to express their love for God; and the Church cares for all of that artwork out of its own pockets. It does not count them as collateral for the purpose of taxation, and any money made from their viewing (which is not much in comparison to, say, the Louvre)is put back into their upkeep and restoration.

I quoted these two posts because of something you said in the second one that has a great bearing on the general question posed in the first one.
Note in your second post above you say that popes “held great power and wealth”. The reason that this is important is because there is a fundamental difference between “holding” something and “possessing” it.
The wealth and power you speak of were, in most cases, not the pope’s but the Church’s. He held it in trust by virtue of the office. Now certainly some did abuse this power and wealth, but one needs to separate the personal sin of the officeholder from the office itself.

Now getting to your OP question.
Can it be justified? Yes it can when one considers how the office of pope developed over the centuries. When Constantine moved the imperial capital East to Constantinople, the pope (with the approval of the Emperor) began exercising greater temporal authority. AT the time this was not seen as a conflict. Indeed the idea of establishing God’s kingdom on earth in this way was surely as a positive. What was not seen was the terrible conflict of interest such dual leadership would place on the office.

So - in discussing what happened and whether this or that aspect was justified, we need to consider that the pope was not only the leader of the Church but also a temporal ruler. As a temporal ruler he ruled over lands and acquired many of the rituals and trappings associated with a temporal ruler. Sadly, he also acquired many of the temptations and other difficulties associated with being a temporal ruler. One can even see that the selection of the pope would necessarily be an attempt to compromise between who would be a better spiritual ruler or a better temporal ruler at a given time in history.

It is my belief that the losing of the papal states was a great blessing to the Church for since then the Pope has been free of the many conflicts associated with the dual office and can concentrate on being the best spiritual leader he can be. We can certainly see this in the wonderfully spiritual papal selections that we have seen since this occurred.

Not sure if this really answers your question but I hope it helps some…


I’d like to know which Pope’s lived luxurious lifestyles, owned vast swathes of land and commanded military might? I think that a wealthy and powerful papacy is a myth for the most part.


We need to keep in mind that the Popes of the medieval and renaissance lived when the social organization was through monarchy. It was probably for that reason that style was adopted by the Church of that time. It clearly also led to some abuses, much as temporal power does today - excesses, greed, less regard for human life across a wide spectrum, etc. I cannot be exhaustive in this regard.

In my lifetime there have been a series of Popes who continue to draw us back from repeating those issues. Are some imperfect? Yes, probably all of them since they are human. But with all of that look at how dogma has been preserved pristinely. The Popes in my lifetime have done well I think. Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, JPI, JPii and now Francis. if one looks over that timeline, there have been clarifications and checks. In the vernacular, “market corrections” have occurred. Somehow we get refocused to what we are called to.

I think God is still driving the bus!

Well - Pope Julius II is called “the warrior pope”…so one can certainly say he commanded military might.

HERE are links to maps on the “Papal States” so depending on how one defines “vast swathes of land” it seems the pope did have these.

Then of course the wealthy lifestyle aspect is a combination of the fact that some popes came from wealthy families along with the fact that the Church herself contained a fair amount of wealth. The lifestyles of the various pontiffs could easily bee seen as “luxurious”.


How did the Popes “have” the papal states? The OP states that various Popes “owned vast swathes of land.” Were the papal states private property owned by these various Popes?

I think that is a bit like saying that President of the USA owns the United States of America. It is all myth.


Quite right. Thanks for correcting me on this.

In an earlier reply I had commented that some popes came from wealthy families and so these may have possessed large tracts of land outright, but the papal states were a different thing.

That said - I think that it is important that we not write this off as “it is all myth”. After all, another part of your question had to do with commanding military forces and Julius II seems to have doe this.
So rather than to dismiss the accusations as myth, I believe it is better to say that such things are “overblown” and to look into the facts so that everybody has better information in the future.


Fair enough.

The OP specifically said, “the majority of Popes since the Middle Ages who had these things.”

Can we settle on wildly overblown? :wink:


lol - - Yea - sounds right…:thumbsup::smiley:


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