"Petriolo, June II, 1460."
Such a letter is calculated to shock us in our modern notions of a churchman. To us this conduct on the part of a prelate is scandalous beyond words; that it was scandalous even then is obvious from the Pontiff's letter ; but that it was scandalous in an infinitely lesser degree is no less obvious from the very fact that the Pontiff wrote that letter (and in such terms) instead of incontinently unfrocking the offender.
In considering Roderigo's conduct, you are to consider as has been urged already the age in which he lived. You are to remember that it was an age in which the passions and the emotions wore no such masks as they wear to day, but went naked and knew no shame of their nudity; an age in which personal modesty was as little studied as hypocrisy, and in which men wore their vices as openly as their virtues.
No amount of simple statement can convey an adequate notion of the corrupt state of the clergy at the time. To form any just appreciation of this, it is necessary to take a peep at some of the documents that have survived such a document, for instance, as that Bull of this Pope Pius II which forbade priests from plying the trades of keeping taverns, gaminghouses, and brothels.
Ponder also that under his successor, Sixtus IV, the tax levied upon the courtesans of Rome enriched the pontifical coffers to the extent of some 20,000 ducats yearly. Ponder further that when the vicar of the libidinous Innocent VIII published in 1490 an edict against the universal concubinage practised by the clergy, forbidding its continuation under pain of excommunication, all that it earned him was the severe censure of the Holy Father, who disagreed with the measure and who straightway repealed and cancelled the edict.
All this being considered, and man being admittedly a creature of his environment, can we still pretend to horror at this Roderigo and at the fact that being the man he was prelate though he might be handsome, brilliant, courted, in the full vigour of youth, and a voluptuary by nature, he should have succumbed to the temptations by which he was surrounded ?
One factor only could have caused him to use more restraint the good example of his peers. That example he most certainly had not.
Virtue is a comparative estate, when all is said; and before we can find that Roderigo was vile, that he deserves unqualified condemnation for his conduct, we must ascertain that he was more or less exceptional in his licence, that he was less scrupulous than his fellows. Do we find that ? To find the contrary we do not need to go beyond the matter which provoked that letter from the Pontiff. For we see that he was not even alone, as an ecclesiastic, in the adventure ; that he had for associate on that amorous frolic one Giacopo Ammanati, Cardinal-Presbyter of San Crisogno, Roderigo's senior and an ordained priest, which without seeking to make undue capital out of the circumstance we may mention that Roderigo was not. He was a Cardinal-Deacon, be it remembered.1 We know that the very Pontiff who admonished these young prelates, though now admittedly a man of saintly ways, had been a very pretty fellow himself in his lusty young days in Siena ; we know that Roderigo's uncle the Calixtus to whom Pius II refers in that letter as of " blessed memory " had at least one acknowledged son.2 We know that Piero and Girolamo Riario, though styled by Pope Sixtus IV his " nephews," were generally recognized to be his sons.' And we know that the numerous bastards of Innocent VIII Roderigo's immediate precursor on the Pontifical Throne were openly acknowledged by their father. We know, in short, that it was the universal custom of the clergy to forget its vows of celibacy, and to circumvent them by dispensing with the outward form and sacrament of marriage; and we have it on the word of Pius II himself, that " if there are good reasons for enjoining the celibacy of the clergy, there are better and stronger for enjoining them to marry."
1 He was not ordained priest until 1471, after the election of Sixtus IV.
2 Don Francisco de Borja, born at Valencia in 1441. 8 Macchiavelli, Istorie Fiorentine.
What more is there to say ? If we must be scandalized, let us be scandalized by the times rather than by the man. Upon what reasonable grounds can we demand that he should be different from his fellows; and if we find him no different, what right or reason have we for picking him out and rendering him the object of unparalleled obloquy ?
If we are to deal justly with Roderigo Borgia, we must admit that, in so far as his concessions to his lusts are concerned, he was a typical churchman of his day ; neither more nor less as will presently grow abundantly clear.
It may be objected by some that had such been the case the Pope would not have written him such a letter as is here cited. But consider a moment the close relations existing between them. Roderigo was the nephew of the late Pope ; in a great measure Pius II owed his election, as we have seen, to Roderigo's action in the Conclave. That his interest in him apart from that was paternal and affectionate is shown in every line of that letter. And consider further that Roderigo's companion is shown by that letter to be equally guilty in so far as the acts themselves are to be weighed, guilty in a greater degree when we remember his seniority and his actual priesthood. Yet to Cardinal Ammanati the Pope wrote no such admonition. Is not that sufficient proof that his admonition of Roderigo was dictated purely by his personal affection for him ?
In this same year 1460 was born to Cardinal Roderigo a son Don Pedro Luis de Borja by a spinster (mulier soluta) unnamed. This son was publicly acknowledged and cared for by the cardinal.
Seven years later in 1467 he became the father of a daughter Girolama de Borja by a spinster, whose name again does not transpire. Like Pedro Luis she too was openly acknowledged by Cardinal Roderigo. It was widely believed that this child's mother was Madonna Giovanna de' Catanei, who soon became quite openly the cardinal's mistress, and was maintained by him in such state as might have become a maitresse en titre. But, as we shall see later, the fact of that maternity of Girolama is doubtful in the extreme. It was never established, and it is difficult to understand why not if it were the fact.
Meanwhile Paul II Pietro Barbo, Cardinal of Venice had succeeded Pius II in 1464, and in 1471 the latter was in his turn succeeded by the formidable Sixtus IV Cardinal Francesco Maria della Rovere a Franciscan of the lowest origin, who by his energy and talents had become general of his order and had afterwards been raised to the dignity of the purple.
It was Cardinal Roderigo de Lanzol y Borja who, in his official capacity of Archdeacon of Holy Church, performed the ceremony of coronation and placed the triple crown on the head of Pope Sixtus. It is probable that this was his last official act as Archdeacon, for in that same year 1471, at the age of forty, he was ordained priest and consecrated Bishop of Albano.