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The Renaissance’s Papacy Term Paper

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2021


This paper presents a vivid discussion on renaissance papacy which was experienced in Western Europe. It is important to understand that papacy represents perpetual rule by the Pope in the catholic community. This role of Pope is divided into time period spanning from the early church, the middle ages and ultimately the present times. In brief, the Pope lacked power during the early church and only served as the bishop. The Middle Ages span from the 14th century until 1870. It was during this period that rule by Pope reached the maximum point of uniting churches in Western Europe and subsequently infiltrating many geographical areas. During the 19th century, Pope’s power declined to mark the beginning of modern age. Major role played by the Pope in the modern age is leading the church in a spiritual orientation only. The essay paper will focus on these time periods in order to understand well papacy rule in Western Europe. It will also involve a chronological description of the office of the Pope making reference to various occupiers like Nicholas V (1447-1455) to Leo X (1513 – 1521). Furthermore, critiques of the power structure of the Catholic Church are worth evaluating for its effectiveness and efficiency in Europe. Finally, the paper will highlight on the strengths and weakness of the papacy rule with reference to reformation age.

The Renaissance Papacy

This was a ruled by Popes and took place in time period between Western Schism and the Protestant reformation. Starting with the election of Martin in 1417 to the protestant age, Christianity in the West was not influenced by schism. Disputes which arose in the course of Papal rule was evaluated and settled by adhering to due processes of dispute resolution of papal conclave. The Popes of the renaissance period were elected by a constituted cardinals dominated by relatives to the Pope, members of the powerful Italians and the representatives of the catholic monarchs in the Europe (Janz, 21). The two Popes were each sourced from houses of Della Rovere, Medici and Borgia. Popes who were wealthy supported art and architecture therefore reshaping Rome.

There exist distinguishing features of renaissance in Western Europe. In a study by Norris (43), ‘‘The first one is the focus on new learning which prompted people to shape their artistic skills, knowledge of architecture, poetry and even literature’’. Boccaccio and Michaelangelo were among the contributors to the new beginning which saw the formation of magnificent art. The second distinguishing mark for the renaissance period was the increasing immorality in the community. Boccaccio, a prolific writer and artist brought forward the discussion on immoral act by the Popes ad other religious personnel.

Another distinguishing mark for this renaissance period was a diversion of attention from the divine to paying attention to creatures by worshiping them (Spielvogel, 32). This was an inexcusable violation of the moral rules and regulations. Furthermore, the trait where people strayed away from teachings and descriptions of Godly acts described vividly the insurgences of new way of life. Nicholas V (1447-1455) advanced his artistic work by using the funds which belonged to church. This is clear demonstration of immoral and absolute infringement of a regular course of Christian life which should have be free of corrupt practices. After the rule by Nicholas came Callixtus III (1455-1458) from the Borgia family who further practiced nepotism. This is well expressed when he appointed two nephews as cardinals.

Pius II (1458 – 1464) is recognized as the third to rule the catholic community. He was identified as a humanist hence classified as a better ruler. Contrary to teachings of the church, Pius revealed his immoral self by fathering illegitimate children. His extraordinary work was in poetry although he was criticized for practicing nepotism by appointing one of his nephews as a cardinal. The nephew later occupied the office of the Pope as Pope Paul II in 1464 – 1471. Paul was uncivilized and therefore employed the policies used by Pius. He subsequently disregarded humanistic theories perpetuated by Pius. One of the substantial contribution made by Paul was the establishment of German printers in the Vatican (1467) and the construction of building projects, a pragmatic aspect (Rabb, 70).

Sixtus IV (1471 – 1481) is agreed by historians as a person who succeeded Paul II. He showed support for artist who produced excellent work of art but on a large scale practiced nepotism by appointing relatives to various positions of authority. This was a significant contrast to his description as a scholar and teacher. Sixtus also gave an order for the destruction of archaeological evidence (ancient temples and tombs) to pave way for the construction of Sistine Chapel which was made holy in 1483. In the year1484 – 1492, Innocent VIII took over as Pope when Sixtus died. Contrary to previous Popes, Innocent revealed having a legitimate child and many illegitimate ones. On a positive note, Innocent showed assistance to painters. Rodrigo Borgia took over as Pope after the death of Innocent. He assumed the name Alexander VI (1492 – 1503). To succeed Alexander was Pius III who only ruled for 26 days because of his poor health status. Julius II took over the office (1503 – 1513), after returning from exile. His main point of contention was in punishing those guilty of simony. ‘‘Julius also can be identified as a warrior after leading papal armies into an encounter and an astute supporter of art when he hired Michaelangelo to paint Sistine chapel ceilings’’ (Spielvogel, 50). A further contribution made by Julius was his role in laying the foundation for St. Peter’s Basilica. Leo X, who had less spiritual commitment, came in next as a Pope in 1513 – 1521. It was during his papacy that Protestant reformation took its roots in the system of rule.

Contribution of renaissance/ strengths and weakness

Renaissance encouraged practical reformers demonstrated by Nicholas of Cusa when he paid much attention to reshaping monks who had dismissed their monastic vows (Norris, 54). Monasteries in Paris also went through major change during the 16th century. One of the outstanding contributions to reformation was made by cardinal Ximenes who set the prerequisite for teaching and instilling discipline in the church leaders. The stated changes acted as a trigger for widespread transformation. Although the background of the renaissance period is marked by weak religious conditions, people expressed their hope for a better tomorrow.

The work of a German writer and monk formed a basis for teachings in schools. Churches and chapels which were built during the renaissance period formed a ground for people to worship and exercise their devotion. In the 15th century, printing press introduced in Europe assisted in production of religious books and subsequent distribution to ready market. This made people to be aware of the church which was run as an institution. John Wycliffe who was a British philosopher substantially attacked the institution of the church in his writings.

The general objective of the renaissance period was to link the classical form with the Christian faith which made people to observe Christianity in a different angle. Educationally, the task of renaissance was to uphold a rigorous study in order to improve a Christian way of life. Many reformers who aimed at changing the existing context of the church were a complete description of the renaissance. Influential theologians like Jean de Gerson supported conciliar theory. The theory simply was intended at reforming the Roman Catholic Church by emphasizing on authority placed on a general council instead of the executive authority of the Pope. Spiritualist intended to enrich the religious life of the people while on the contrary, humanist emphasized on educating the general public through a detailed curriculum instead of use of faith.


It is now apparent from this discussion that renaissance papacy was a period of rule by the Pope between western schism and the protestant reconstruction. They demonstrated a strong religious base in addition to their political orientation. The paper presented a chronology of rule by Pope beginning with Nicholas V (1447-1455) to Leo X (1513 – 1521). Each Pope had personal interests and weakness but it was obvious that their basis of operation was family, Rome and Italy. Some of the major achievements made during the renaissance papacy included; construction of chapels and printing press in the 15th century. Attackers on church emanating from prolific writers like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus contributed to change from running a church as an institute to its management as a religious ground for worship and devotion.

Works cited

Janz, Denis. A Reformation Reader. Pottstown, PA: Fortress Press, 2008.

Norris, Michael. “The Papacy during the Renaissance”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.

Rabb, Theodore. The Last Days of the Renaissance. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization: Alternate Volume: Since 1300. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2008.

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