Cardinal Balue. The pontificate of Alexander VI was notorious for the splendour of its banquets and public solemnities, as well as for the enormous sums consumed in the ambitious enterprises of Cesare Borgia. Julius II lavished money without stint on his wars as well as on architecture and art; yet he left 200,000 ducats in the treasury besides jewels and regalia to a large amount. The careless magnificence of Leo X, his schemes for the aggrandisement of his family, and his patronage of art and letters, soon exhausted this reserve as well as all available sources of revenue; he was always in need of money and employed ruinous expedients to raise it; when he died he left nothing but debts, through which his nearest friends were ruined, and a treasury so empty that at his funeral the candles used were those which had already seen service at the obsequies of Cardinal Riario. When we consider that this lavish and unceasing expenditure, incurred to gratify the ambition and vanity of successive Vicars of Christ, was ultimately drawn from the toil of the peasantry of Europe, and that probably the larger part of the sums thus exacted disappeared in the handling before the residue reached Rome, we can understand the incessant complaints of the oppressed populations, and the hatred which was silently stored up to await the time of explosion. Thus, we may reasonably conclude that in its essence the Reformation was due more largely to financial than to religious considerations. The terrible indictment of the papacy which Ulrich von Hutten addressed to Leo X, December 1, 1517, contains not a word about faith or doctrine; the whole gravamen consists in the abuse of power—the spoliations, the exactions, the oppression, the sale of dispensations and pardons, the fraudulent devices whereby the wealth of Germany was cunningly transferred to Rome, and the stirring up of strife among Christians in order to defend or to extend the Patrimony of St Peter.
In every way the revenues thus enjoyed and squandered by the Curia were scandalous and oppressive. To begin with, the cost of their collection was enormous. The accounts of the papal agent for first-fruits in Hungary, for the year 1320, show that of 1913 florins collected only 732 reached the papal treasury. With a more thorough organisation in later periods the returns were better; but when the device was adopted of employing bankers to collect the proceeds of annates and indulgences, the share allotted to those who conducted the business and made advances, was ruinously large. In the contract for the fateful St Peter’s indulgence with the Fuggers of Augsburg, their portion of the receipts was to be fifty per cent. Even worse was it when these revenues were farmed out, for the banker who depended for his profits on the extent of his sales or collections was not likely to be overnice in his methods, nor to exercise much restraint over his agents. Europe was overrun with pardon-sellers who had purchased letters empowering them to sell indulgences, whether of a general character or for some church or hospital; and for centuries their lies, their frauds, their exactions, and