Simony was rampant at the time, and it is the rankest hypocrisy to make this outcry against Alexander's uses of it, and to forget the others.
Whether he really was elected by simony or not depends largely so far as the evidence available goes upon what we are to consider as simony. If payment in the literal sense was made or promised, then unquestionably simony there was. But this, though often asserted, still awaits proof. If the conferring of the benefices vacated by a cardinal on his elevation to the Pontificate is to be considered simony, then there never was a Pope yet against whom the charge could not be levelled and established.
Consider that by his election to the Pontificate his Archbishoprics, offices, nay, his very house itself which at the time of which we write it was customary to abandon to pillage are vacated ; and remember that, as Pope, they are now in his gift and that they must of necessity be bestowed upon somebody. In a time in which Pontiffs are imbued with a spiritual sense of their office and duties, they will naturally make such bestowals upon those whom they consider best fitted to use them for the greater honour and glory of God. But we are dealing with no such spiritual golden age as that when we deal with the Cinquecento, as we have already seen; and, therefore, all that we can expect of a Pope is that he should bestow the preferment he has vacated upon those among the cardinals whom he believes to be devoted to himself. Considering his election in a temporal sense, it is natural that he should behave as any other temporal prince; that he should remember those to whom he owes the Pontificate, and that he should reward them suitably. Alexander VI certainly pursued such a course, and the greatest profit from his election was derived by the Cardinal Sforza who as Roderigo himself admitted had certainly exerted all his influence with the Sacred College to gain him the Pontificate. Alexander gave him the vacated Vice-Chancellorship (for which, when all is said, Ascanio Sforza was excellently fitted), his vacated palace on Banchi Vecchi, the town of Nepi, and the bishopric of Agri.
To Orsini he gave the Church of Carthage and the legation of Marche ; to Colonna the Abbey of Subiaco; to Savelli the legation of Perugia (from which he afterwards recalled him, not finding him suited to so difficult a charge) ; to Raffaele Riario went Spanish benefices worth four thousand ducats yearly; to Sanseverino Roderigo's house in Milan, whilst he consented that Sanseverino's nephew known as Fracassa should enter the service of the Church with a condotta of a hundred men at arms and a stipend of thirteen thousand ducats yearly.
Guicciardini says of all this that Ascanio Sforza induced many of the cardinals " to that abominable contract, and not only by request and persuasion, but by example; because, corrupt and of an insatiable appetite for riches, he bargained for himself, as the reward of so much turpitude, the Vice-Chancellorships, churches, fortresses [the very plurals betray the frenzy of exaggeration dictated by his malice] and his [Roderigo's] palace in Rome full of furniture of great value."
What possible proof can Guicciardini have what Possible proof can there be of such a " bargain " ? t rests upon purest assumption formed after those properties had changed hands Ascanio being rewarded by them for his valuable services, and, also so far as the Vice-Chancellorship was concerned Lord Acton in his essay upon this subject has not been content to rest the imputation of simony upon such grounds as satisfied M. Yriarte. He has realized that the only testimony of any real value in such a case would be the actual evidence of such cardinals as might be willing to bear witness to the attempt to bribe them. And he takes it for granted as who would not at this time of day, and in view of such positive statements as abound ? that such evidence has been duly collected ; thus, he tells us confidently that the charge rests upon the evidence of those cardinals who refused Roderigo's bribes.
That it most certainly does not. If it did there would be an end to the matter, and so much ink would not have been spilled over it; but no single cardinal has left any such evidence as Lord Acton supposes and alleges. It suffices to consider that, according to the only evidences available the Casanatense Codices1 and the dispatches of that same Valori2 whom M. Yriarte so confidently cites, Roderigo Borgia's election was unanimous. Who, then, were these cardinals who refused his bribes ? Or are we to suppose that, notwithstanding that refusal a refusal which we may justifiably suppose to have been a scandalized and righteously indignant one they still afforded him their votes ?
This charge of simony was levelled with the object of making Alexander VI appear singularly heinous. So much has that object engrossed and blinded those inspired by it, that, of itself, it betrays them. Had their horror been honest, had it sprung from true principles, had it been born of any but a desire to befoul and bespatter at all costs Roderigo Borgia, it is not against him that they would have hurled their denunciations, but against the whole College of Cardinals which took part in the sacrilege and which included three future Popes.1
1 " . . . essendo concordi tutti i cardinali, quasi da contran voti rivolti tutti in favore di uno solo, crearono lui sommo pontefice " (Casanatense MSS). See P. Leonetti, Alessandro VI.
2 " Fu pubblicato il Cardinale Vice-Cancelliere in Sommo Pontefice Alessandro VIto nuncupato, el quale dopo una lunga contentione fu creato omnium consensum ne li manco un solo voto " (Valori's letter to the Otto di Pratica, August 12,1492). See Supplement to Appendix in E. Thuasne's edition of Burchard's Diarium.
Assuming not only that there was simony, but that it was on as wholesale a scale as was alleged, and that for gold coined or in the form of benefices Roderigo bought the cardinal's votes, what then ? He bought them, true. But they they sold him their sacred trust, their duty to their God, their priestly honour, their holy vows. For the gold he offered them they bartered these. So much admitted, then surely, in that transaction, those cardinals were the prostitutes! The man who bought so much of them, at least, was on no baser level than were they. Yet invective singles him out for its one object, and so betrays the aforethought malice of its inspiration.