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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

1503 1513 2000 ducats for a vacant scrivenership


The

immense amount of business which was thus directed into the papal chancery from all parts of Europe required a horde of officials, whose salaries were provided partly from the incomes of _reserved_ benefices all over Europe, and partly from the fees and bribes of the litigants. The papal law-courts were notoriously dilatory, rapacious, and venal. Every document had to pass through an incredible number of hands, and pay a corresponding number of fees; and the costs of suits, heavy enough according to the prescribed rule of the chancery, were increased immensely beyond the regular charges by others which did not appear on the official tables. Cases are on record where the _briefs_ obtained cost from twenty-four to forty-one times the amount of the legitimate official charges. The Roman Church had become a law-court, not of the most reputable kind,--an arena of rival litigants, a chancery of writers, notaries, and tax-gatherers,--where transactions about privileges, dispensations, buying of benefices, etc., were carried on, and where suitors went wandering with their petitions from the door of one office to another.

During the half century which preceded the Reformation, things went from bad to worse. The fears aroused by the attempts at a reform through General Councils had died down, and the Curia had no desire to reform itself. The venality and rapacity increased when Popes began to sell offices in the papal court. Boniface IX. (1389-1404) was

the first to raise money by selling these official posts to the highest bidders. "In 1483, when Sixtus IV. (1471-1484) desired to redeem his tiara and jewels, pledged for a loan of 100,000 ducats, he increased his secretaries from six to twenty-four, and required each to pay 2600 florins for the office. In 1503, to raise funds for Caesar Borgia, Alexander VI. (1492-1503) created eighty new offices, and sold them for 760 ducats apiece. Julius II. formed a 'college' of one hundred and one scriveners of papal briefs, in return for which they paid him 74,000 ducats. Leo X. (1513-1521) appointed sixty chamberlains and a hundred and forty squires, with certain perquisites, for which the former paid him 90,000 ducats and the latter 112,000. Places thus paid for were personal property, transferable on sale. Burchard tells us that in 1483 he bought the mastership of ceremonies from his predecessor Patrizzi for 450 ducats, which covered all expenses; that in 1505 he vainly offered Julius II. (1503-1513) 2000 ducats for a vacant scrivenership, and that soon after he bought the succession to an abbreviatorship for 2040."(12) When Adrian VI. (1522-1523) honestly tried to cleanse this Augean stable, he found himself confronted with the fact that he would have to turn men adrift who had spent their capital in buying the places which any reform must suppress.

The papal exactions needed to support this luxurious Roman Court, especially those taken from the clergy of Europe, were so obnoxious that it was often hard to collect them, and devices were used which in the end increased the burdens of those who were required to provide the money. The papal court made bargains with the temporal rulers to share the spoils if they permitted the collection.(13) The Popes agreed that the kings or princes could seize the _Tithes_ or _Annates_ for a prescribed time provided the papal officials had their authority to collect them, as a rule, for Roman use. In the decades before the Reformation it was the common practice to collect these dues by means of agents, often bankers, whose charges were enormous, amounting sometimes to fifty per cent. The collection of such extraordinary sources of revenue as the Indulgences was marked by even worse abuses, such as the employment of pardon-sellers, who overran Europe, and whose lies and extortions were the common theme of the denunciations of the greatest preachers and patriots of the times.


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