Holy See was everywhere regarded with detestation. It was this temporal sovereignty which rendered possible the existence of such a succession of pontiffs as disgraced the end of the fifteenth and commencement of the sixteenth century—such careers as those of Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, such a catastrophe as the sack of Rome in 1527. Even before these evils had grown to such appalling magnitude, Dante had expressed the opinion of all thoughtful men in deploring the results which had followed the so-called Donation of Constantine. By the middle of the fifteenth century Lorenzo Valla, in his demonstration of the fraud, assumed that the corruption of the Church and the wars which desolated Italy were its direct consequence, and few more eloquent and powerful indictments of the papacy are to be found than the bold utterances in which he warned the Holy See that princes and peoples could not much longer endure its tyranny and wickedness. Remonstrances and warnings were in vain; the papacy became more and more secularised, and, as the pressure grew more inexorable, men asked themselves why, if the headship of St Peter were founded on Christ’s injunction to feed His sheep, St Peter’s successor employed that headship rather to shear and slaughter.
Papal history, in fact, as soon as the Holy See had vindicated its supremacy over general councils, becomes purely a political history of diplomatic intrigues, of alliances made and broken, of military enterprises. In following it no one would conclude, from internal evidence, that the papacy represented interests higher than those of any other petty Italian prince, or that it claimed to be the incarnation of a faith divinely revealed to ensure peace on earth and goodwill to man—save when, occasionally in a papal letter, an unctuous expression is employed to shroud some peculiarly objectionable design. The result of this, even in the hands of a man like Pius II, not wholly without loftier impulses, is seen in his complaint, March 12, 1462, to the Milanese envoy. All the States of Italy, he said, were hostile, save Naples and Milan, in both of which the existing governments were precarious; his own subjects were always on the brink of revolt, and many of his Cardinals were on the side of France, which was threatening him with a Council and was ready to provoke a schism unless he would abandon Ferdinand of Naples for René of Anjou. France, moreover, dragged Spain and Burgundy with her, while Germany was equally unfriendly. The powerful Archbishop of Mainz was hostile and was supported by most of the princes, who were offended at the papal relations with the powerless Frederick III, and he, again, was at war with the King of Hungary, while the King of Bohemia was half a heretic. The position was no better under his successor, Paul II, who, at his death in 1471, left the Holy See without a friend in Italy; everywhere it was regarded with hatred and distrust. Under Sixtus IV there was no improvement; and, in 1490, Innocent VIII threatened to leave Italy and find a refuge elsewhere. He had not a