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Leo X

the Pope (1513-1521) responsible for sparking the Protestant Reformation

Pope Leo X

Giovanni de Medici was born in Florence on December 11, 1475, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Clarice Orsini. Destined for the Church from an early age, he received tonsure in 1482, was made Abbot of Font Douce (in the French Diocese of Saintes) and appointed Apostolic Prothonotary by Pope Sixtus IV in 1483, and became possessed of the Abbey of Passignano in 1484, and of Monte Cassino in 1486. He was created Cardinal by Pope Innocent VIII in 1489, on condition that he dispense with the insignia and privileges of his office for three years. After studying theology and canon law at Pisa, he was invested with the insignia of Cardinal on March 9, 1492, and entered Rome on March 22.

Giovanni's time in Rome was short-lived, however, as his father died on April 8 and he was recalled to Florence. Aside from participating in the conclave following the death of Innocent VIII in July, where he opposed the election of Cardinal Borgia, Giovanni remained in Florence until his family's expulsion in November of 1494. He spent the next several years trying to restore the supremacy of his family, while leading the life of a literary and artistic amateur in Germany, the Netherlands, and France. He became Legate in Bologna and Romagna on October 1, 1511. In 1512, the Spanish and Papal army with which he was traveling was defeated at Ravenna by the French; he was taken prisoner, but managed to escape. The supremacy of the Medici family in Florence was finally re-established on September 14, 1512, by means of a bloodless revolution.

His Papacy

Giovanni de Medici was elected Pope on March 11, 1513. The last non-Bishop to become Pope, he was ordained into the priesthood on March 15, consecrated Bishop on March 17, and enthroned as Pope Leo X on March 19.

Pope Leo's papal reign was marked by wars with France, which were finally ended with the conclusion of the Lateran Council that had begun under Pope Julius II, on March 16, 1517. That Council also ended the Pisan schism, ratified the censorship of books introduced by Pope Alexander VI, and imposed tithes for a war against the Turks.

Leo's reign was also known for its lavish works of charity, and for his extravagant building and beautification projects within the Vatican. His spending left the Vatican's coffers empty by the spring of 1515, and led him to institute a variety of questionable practices in order to rebuild the Vatican's treasury. Among those practices was the selling of papal offices and the imposition of "donations" in exchange for forgiveness. These acts led Martin Luther to post his "95 Theses" criticizing the church. In 1520, Pope Leo issued the papal bull Exsurge Domine, demanding that Luther retract 41 of his theses. When Luther refused to back down, Pope Leo excommunicated him, touching off what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.

Pope Leo X died in Rome on December 1, 1521.


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This page was last updated on January 14, 2019.