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The growing power of the Papacy in central Italy made the Pontiff, perhaps the most important ruler in Italy<ref>Duffy, p. 317</ref>. The Pontiff began to resemble the absolute monarchies of England and France. The Pope although the head of the Catholic Church acted like any other secular leader of the time. The Pope’s with their great wealth they were able to raise armies of mercenaries and they fought wars to reclaim their lost lands in central Italy. They also played an important role in the politics of the Italian City-States and they often entered into alliances with Republics and fought wars to secure their interests. The Popes were also very active in international affairs and were often eager to build alliances against the growing power of the Ottoman Turks.<ref>Johnson, Paul. <i>[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0812966198/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0812966198&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=4bdb3f7bd3d5bb662cc6b65138fdcc95 The Renaissance: A Short History]</i> (Longman, London, 2000), p. 197</ref>
The Pope was the head of the Catholic Church and the spiritual leader of millions of Christians in Europe. However, the great wealth and power of the Papacy corrupted the various holders of the office and this was to have a marked effect on Renaissance Italy.<ref> Johnson, p. 114</ref> Many Popes were more interested in advancing the interests of their families and they often lavished money and lands on their family members. The Popes often showed great favors towards their nephews. Many nephews of Popes became very powerful in Rome in the Church and politics. For example, Pope Calixtus advanced his nephew to high office in the Curia and he eventually became Pope Alexander VI. The Papal favoritism of nephews led to the coinage of the term of ‘nepotism’. The Pontiff was usually a worldly figure at this time. Pope Leo X spend lavishly and lived the high life and Julius II was known as the ‘‘Warrior-Pope’ for his love of war.’’<ref>Johnson. 119</ref> This and their lavish patronage of the arts resulted in serious financial difficulties for the Church despite its vast wealth, by the end of the fifteenth century. Many of the Popes led scandalous lives, such as Alexander VI, who had many mistresses and several children <ref> Duffy, p 321</ref>
Papal corruption was nothing new and in the Dark Ages the Papacy had been possibly even more corrupt. The Renaissance Papacy, despite the holiness of some, such as Sixtus IV, was largely secular in its outlook. The uniquely secular culture of at least the elites in Italy was encouraged by the secularism of the Papacy. This meant that the many artists and writers at the time had no fear of offending the Pope and the Church and had therefore almost unlimited freedom of expression. This was despite the fact that many of them celebrated ancient and non-Christian values. This also allowed great writers such as Machiavelli or artists such as Leonardo to express their interest in the classical and natural world without fear of being accused of irreligion<ref> Johnson, p. 121</ref>. In previous eras, the Inquisition would have investigated their writings and beliefs of such writers and thinkers. During the Renaissance, the Inquisition was almost dormant, thanks to the lack of interest of the Popes in the enforcement of religious orthodoxy.<ref> Ruggiero, Guido, ed. <i>A Companion to the Worlds of the Renaissance</i>. ( Longman, London, 2002), p. 561 </ref> When the Papacy become more religious and spiritual during the period after the Sack of Rome, the culture of Italy was less favorable to freedom of thought and expression and this led to a decline in the arts.
====Papacy and Religion====
Perhaps the great impact of the Papacy on Italy and beyond was on religious belief. The increasing secular outlook and policies of the Pope came to be viewed with disgust and outrage by many religious people, especially outside Italy. Many people in Christendom were worried that if the Pope was corrupt, was the church also corrupt and what did this mean for their salvation.<ref>Duffy, p. 334</ref> The Church at this period was in need of reform, all over Europe. The Popes did not attempt to reform the clergy and were too preoccupied in the pursuit of their interests in Italy and especially in the Papal States. The lives of the Popes scandalized many and led to many becoming disenchanted with the Catholic Church. Martin Luther visited Rome and was appalled by what he saw in Rome and at the Papal Court. The corruption of the Popes, such as Alexander IV, led to many people losing respect for the Papacy and even the Church. People grew tired of the endless demands for money by the Popes and they especially resented the sale of indulgences. These indulgences were sold by the Pope to shorten a souls stay in Purgatory after their death and many people, including the clergy saw it as a fraudulent practice.<ref> Bradshaw, Brendan (1983). "The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation"
. History Today. 33 (11): 42–45</ref>
Leo X sold indulgences in order to raise funds for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica and this did much to harm the reputation of the Pontiff in German-speaking lands. The Renaissance Papacy inadvertently did much to spur the reform movement, that began when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to a Church Door in Wittenberg Germany and which ultimately led to a permanent schism in Christianity. The Renaissance Papacy with its worldliness greatly contributed to the Reformation and ended the unity of Christendom in Western Europe.<ref> Bradshaw, p. 43</ref>
The Renaissance was in many ways a golden age for the Popes, they returned to Rome after almost a hundred years and became once more independent of the French monarchs.<ref> Duffy, p. 302</ref> They Papacy recovered most of their lands in Central Italy and would remain a power in Italy until 1871. They also beautified Rome and did much to encourage the arts and literature by their patronage of great figures such as Michelangelo. The Papacy was also tolerant and this was essential in the great cultural flowering in Italy at his time. However, this all came at a great cost. The Popes became wealthy, powerful but corrupt and secular and neglected their spiritual role. They often advanced the interests of their families and personal ambitions no matter what the costs. The prestige of the Church declined and this lead to increasing disillusionment with the Church and ultimately it was to lead to the rise of Protestantism and the division of Christendom into two hostile religious groups, Catholics, and Protestants.