At the Consistory of June 19, 1497 the Sacred College beheld a broken hearted old man who declared that he had done with the world, and that henceforth life could offer him nothing that should endear it to him.
" A greater sorrow than this could not be ours, for we loved him exceedingly, and now we can hold neither the Papacy nor any other thing as of concern. Had we seven Papacies, we would give them all to restore the duke to life." So ran his bitter lament.
He denounced his course of life as not having been all that it should have been, and appeared to see in the murder of his son a punishment for the evil of his ways. Much has been made of this, and quite unnecessarily. It has been taken eagerly as an admission of his unparalleled guilt. An admission of guilt it undoubtedly was; but what man is not guilty ? and how many men ay, and saints even in the hour of tribulation have cried out that they were being made to feel the wrath of God for the sins that no man is without ?
If humanity contains a type that would not have seen in such a cause for sorrow a visitation of God, it is the type of inhuman monster to which we are asked to believe that Alexander VI belonged. A sinner unquestionably he was, and a great one ; but a human sinner, and not an incarnate devil, else there could have been no such outcry from him in such an hour as this.
He announced that henceforth the spiritual needs of the Church should be his only care. He inveighed against the corruption of the ecclesiastical estate, confessing himself aware of how far it had strayed from the ancient discipline and from the laws that had been framed to bridle licence and cupidity, which were now rampant and unchecked; and he proclaimed his intention to reform the Curia and the Church of Rome. To this end he appointed a commission consisting of the Cardinal-Bishops Oliviero Caraffa and Giorgio Costa, the Cardinal-Priests Antonietto Palla vicino and Gianantonio Sangiorgio, and the Cardinal-Deacons Francesco Piccolomini and Raffaele Riario.
There was even a suggestion that he was proposing to abdicate, but that he was prevailed upon to do nothing until his grief should have abated and his judgement be restored to its habitual calm. This suggestion, however, rests upon no sound authority.
Letters of condolence reached him on every hand. Even his arch enemy, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, put aside his rancour in the face of the Pope's overwhelming grief and also because it happened to consort with his own interests, as will presently transpire. He wrote to Alexander from France that he was truly pained to the very soul of him in his concern for the Pope's Holiness a letter which, no doubt, laid the foundations to the reconciliation that was toward between them.
Still more remarkable was it that the thaumaturgical Savonarola should have paused in the atrabilious invective with which he was inflaming Florence against the Pope, should have paused to send him a letter of condolence in which he prayed that the Lord of all mercy might comfort his Holiness in his tribulation.
That letter is a singular document; singularly human, yielding a singular degree of insight into the nature of the man who penned it. A whole chapter of intelligent speculation upon the character of Savonarola, based upon a study of externals, could not reveal as much of the mentality of that fanatical demagogue as the consideration of just this letter.
The sympathy by which we cannot doubt it to have been primarily inspired is here overspread by the man's rampant fanaticism, there diluted by the prophecies from which he cannot even now refrain ; and, throughout, the manner is that of the pulpit thumping orator. The first half of his letter is a prelude in the form of a sermon upon Faith, all very trite and obvious; and the notion of this excommunicated friar holding forth to the Pope's Holiness in polemical platitudes delivered with all the authority of inspired discoveries of his own is one more proof that at the root of fanaticism in all ages and upon all questions, lies an utter lack of a sense of fitness and proportion. Having said that " the just man liveth in the Lord by faith," and that " the Lord in His mercy passeth over all our sins," he proclaims that he announces things of which he is assured, and for which he is ready to suffer all persecutions, and begs his Holiness to turn a favourable eye upon the work of faith in which he is labouring, and to give heed no more to the impious, promising the Holy Father that thus shall the Lord bestow upon him the essence of joy instead of the spirit of grief. Having begun, as we have seen, with an assurance that " the Lord in His mercy passeth over all our sins," he concludes by prophesying, with questionable logic, that " the thunders of His wrath will ere long be heard." Nor does he omit to mention with an apparent arrogance that again betrays that same want of a sense of proportion that all his predictions are true.
His letter, however, and that of Cardinal della Rovere, among so many others, show us how touched was the world by the Pope's loss and overwhelming grief, how shocked at the manner in which this had been brought about.
The commission which Alexander had appointed for the work of reform had meanwhile got to work, and the Cardinal of Naples edited the articles of a constitution which was undoubtedly the object of prolonged study and consideration, as is revealed by the numerous erasures and emendations which it bears. Unfortunately for reasons which are not apparent it was never published by Alexander. Possibly by the time that it was concluded the aggrandizement of the temporal power was claiming his entire attention to the neglect of the spiritual needs of the Holy See. It is also possible as has been abundantly suggested that the stern mood of penitence had softened with his sorrow, and was now overpast.
Nevertheless, it may have been some lingering remnant of this fervour of reform that dictated the severe punishment which fell that year upon the flagitious Bishop of Cosenza. A fine trade was being driven in Rome by the sale of forged briefs of indulgence. Raynaldus cites a Bull on that score addressed by Alexander, in the first year of his pontificate, to the bishops of Spain, enjoining them to visit with punishment all who in that kingdom should be discovered to be pursuing such a traffic. On September 4, 1497, Burchard tells us, three servants of the Pontifical Secretary, the Archbishop of Cosenza (Bartolomeo Florido) were arrested in consequence of the discovery of twenty forged briefs issued by them. In their examination they incriminated their master the archbishop, who was consequently put upon his trial and found guilty. Alexander deposed, degraded, and imprisoned him in Sant' Angelo in a dark room, where he was supplied with oil for his lamp and bread and water for his nourishment until he died. His underlings were burnt in the Campo di Fiori in the following month.