Julius Excluded from Heaven: A Dialogue
Speakers: Julius, his Genius, Peter
JULIUS: What the devil is this? The doors don't open? Somebody must have
changed the lock or broken it.
GENIUS: It seems more likely that you didn't bring the proper key; for this door
doesn't open to the same key as a secret money-chest. Why didn't you bring
both the keys you have? This is the key of power, not of wisdom.
JULIUS: I didn't have any other key but this; I don't see why we need a different
one when we've got this.
GENIUS: I don't either; but the fact is, we're still on the outside.
JULIUS: Now I'm really getting mad; I'll knock the doors down. Ho! Ho!
Somebody come and open this door right away! What's the hang-up? nobody
home? What's the matter with the doorman? He's asleep, I guess, or else drunk.
GENIUS: This fellow judges everyone else by himself.
PETER: A good thing our gates are of adamant, otherwise this one, whoever he
is, would have kicked them in. He must be a giant of some sort, a general of the
armies, a stormer of cities. But oh my God, what a sewer-stench is this! I
certainly won't open the gates right away, but take a seat up here by a grated
window where I can look out and keep an eye on the scene. Who are you and
what do you want?
JULIUS: Open the door, will you? at least, if you can. And if you were really doing
your job, it should have been open long ago, and decorated with all the heraldry
PETER: Pretty lordly. But first tell me who you are.
JULIUS: As if you couldn't see for yourself.
PETER: See? What I see is new to me, like nothing I ever saw before, and I
might say monstrous.
JULIUS: But if you're not stone-blind, you're bound to recognize this key, even if
you aren't familiar with the golden oak tree. You can certainly see my triple
crown, as well as my cloak all gleaming with gold and gems.
PETER: That silver key of yours I do recognize, though there's only one of them,
and it's very different from those that were given to me long ago by the one true
shepherd of the church, that is, Christ. But that glorious crown of yours, how
could I possibly recognize it? No tyrant ruling over barbarian peoples ever
ventured to wear one like it, much less anyone who came here asking for
admission. Your cloak doesn't impress me either; for I always used to consider
gold and jewels as trash to be despised. But what does this amount to really? In
all this stuff-the key, the crown, the cloak-I recognize marks of that rascally cheat
and impostor who shared a name with me but not a faith, that scoundrel Simon
whom I once flung down with the aid of Christ.
JULIUS: Enough of these jokes, and watch yourself; for I, if you don't know, am
Julius of Liguria, and I don't doubt you recognize these two letters P. M., unless
you've forgotten how to read.
PETER: I expect they stand for "Pestiferous Maximus."
GENIUS: Ha ha ha! This porter is as good as a wizard; he's got the needle's
JULIUS: What it means is "Pontifex Maximus."
PETER: If you were triply great, greater even than Hermes Trismegistus, you still
wouldn't get in here unless you were supremely good, that is, holy.
JULIUS: Well, if it comes down to comparative holiness, you've got some nerve
to keep me waiting outside here when for all these centuries you've only been
called "holy," whereas nobody ever called me anything but "most holy." I have six
thousand bulls to prove it.
GENIUS: That's what he said, bulls!
JULIUS: -in which I am not only named "Lord most holy," but addressed as "your
holiness," so that whatever I chose to do.
GENIUS: -Even when he was drunk.
JULIUS: -people used to say that the holiness of the most holy lord Julius had
PETER: Then you'd better ask those flatterers of yours to let you into heaven,
because they're the ones who made you so holy. They provided the holiness,
now let them provide the bliss. By the way, though I know you don't think it
matters, do you actually imagine you were a holy man?
JULIUS: You really vex me. If I were only allowed to go on living, I wouldn't envy
you your holiness or your bliss, either one.
PETER: The proper expression of a pious mind! But apart from that, when I look
you over from head to foot, I see many a sign of impiety and none of holiness.
What's the meaning of these many comrades of yours? They're certainly not a
papal retinue. You have almost twenty thousand men at your back, and in this
entire crowd I can't find one single individual who has so much as the face of a
Christian. I see a horrifying mob of ruffians, reeking of nothing but brothels,
booze shops, and gunpowder. They look to me like plain highway robbers or
spooks stolen out of hell and now intent on stirring up wars in heaven. As for
yourself, the more I look at you, the fewer traces do I see of any apostolic
character. What sort of unnatural arrangement is it, that while you wear the robes
of a priest of God, under them you are dressed in the bloody armor of a warrior?
Besides that, what a savage pair of eyes, what baleful features, what a menacing
brow, what a disdainful and arrogant expression! I'm ashamed to say, and even
to see, that there's no part of your body not marked with traces of outrageous
and abominable lust; in addition, you belch and stink like a man just come from a
drunken debauch and fresh from a fit of vomiting. Judging from the appearance
of your whole body, you seem to me, not worn out by age or disease, but broken
down and shriveled up by drunken excesses.
GENIUS: How vividly he portrays the man in his own colors!
PETER: I see you threatening me with your lofty expression; but my feelings
won't be suppressed. I suspect you may be that most pestilent pagan of all,
Julius the Roman, returned from hell to make mock of our system. Certainly
everything about you agrees well with him.
JULIUS: Ma di si!
PETER: What did he say?
GENIUS: He's angry. At that expression, every one of the cardinals used to take
flight, otherwise they'd feel the stick of his holiness on their backs, especially if he
hadn't had his supper.
PETER: You seem to me to have some understanding of the man; tell me, who
GENIUS: I am the particular Genius of Julius.
PETER: His bad Genius, no doubt.
GENIUS: Whatever I may be, I'm Julius's man.
JULIUS: Why don't you stop all this nonsense and open the doors? Perhaps
you'd rather I broke them down. Why do we need all this palaver? You see the
sort of troops I have at my command.
PETER: I do indeed see some highly practiced thieves. But you must be aware
that these doors can only be opened in other ways.
JULIUS: Enough words, I say. If you don't hurry up and open the gates, I'll
unleash my thunderbolt of excommunication with which I used to terrify great
kings on earth and their kingdoms too. You see, I’ve, already got a bull prepared
for the occasion.
PETER: Just tell me, please, what you mean by all this bombast about bulls,
bolts of thunder, and maledictions. I never heard from Christ a single one of
JULIUS: You'll feel their full force, if you don't watch out.
PETER: Perhaps you used to terrify people with that bluster, but it counts for
nothing here. Here we deal only in the truth. This is a fortress to be captured with
good deeds, not ugly words. But let me ask you, since you threaten men with the
thunder of excommunication; what's your legal authority for that?
JULIUS: Very well: I take it you are now out of office and have no more standing
than any other unbeneficed priest; indeed, you're not even a complete priest,
since you lack the power to consecrate.
PETER: Doubtless because I happen to be dead.
PETER: But for the same reason, you have no more standing with me than any
other dead man.
JULIUS: But as long as the cardinals are arguing over the election of a new
pope, it counts as my administration.
GENIUS: He's still dreaming dreams about being alive!
JULIUS: But now, open the door, I tell you.
PETER: And I won't do a thing, I tell you, unless you give me a full account of
JULIUS: What merits?
PETER: Let me explain the idea. Did you distinguish yourself in theology?
JULIUS: Not at all. I had no time for it, being continually engaged in warfare.
Besides, there are plenty of priests to do that sort of work.
PETER: Then by the holiness of your life you gained many souls for Christ?
GENIUS: Many more for hell, I'd say.
PETER: You performed miracles?
JULIUS: You're talking old-fashioned nonsense.
PETER: You prayed earnestly and constantly?
JULIUS: This is pure foolishness.
PETER: You subdued the lusts of the flesh with fasts and long vigils?
GENIUS: Enough of this, please; with this line of questioning, you're just wasting
PETER: I never heard of any other gifts that an outstanding pope was supposed
to possess. If he has some more apostolic talents, let him tell me about them
JULIUS: Though it's a disgraceful thing for Julius who never lowered his crest
before anyone else to yield to Peter-who was, to say nothing worse, a lowly
fisherman and almost a beggar-still, just to let you know what sort of prince
you're slighting in this way, now hear this. In the first place, I am from Liguria, not
a Jew like you; but I'm afraid that like you I was once a boatman.
GENIUS: It's nothing to be ashamed of, for there's still this difference, that Peter
fished for a living, while Julius plied the oar on a barge for minimum wages.
JULIUS: Then, as it happened that I was the nephew of Pope Sixtus the great.
GENIUS: Great in vices, he means.
JULIUS: -on his sister's side, his special favor combined with my industry first
gave me access to ecclesiastical office; and so I gradually rose to the dignity of a
cardinal's cap. Having undergone many reverses of fortune, and been tossed to
and fro by various accidents-having suffered, among other diseases, from
epilepsy and the pox they call French -I found myself quite overwhelmed; I was
exiled, rejected, despised, despaired of, and almost given over as lost. Yet I
never doubted that some day I would attain the papacy. That showed real
strength of character, compared with you, who were terrified at the question of a
serving girl, and gave up your faith on the spot. She weakened your courage,
but I got new courage from a woman, a soothsayer and prophetess of sorts, who
when she saw me overwhelmed with misfortunes secretly whispered in my ear,
"Bear up, Julius! Don't be ashamed of anything you have to do or put up with-
some day you will attain the triple crown. You will be king of kings and ruler of all
rulers." And in fact neither her prophecy nor my own instincts deceived me.
Beyond all expectations I achieved my goal, partly with the help of the French
who sheltered me in my hour of need, partly by the marvelous power of money in
large quantities, which I increased by taking usurious rates of interest. And finally
my own ready wit helped me.
PETER: What's this ready wit you're talking about?
JULIUS: -to coin money from the bare promise of ecclesiastical offices, making
skillful use of brokers in the process, since the sums I demanded couldn't have
been paid in cash by a man as rich as Croesus. But it's useless to describe the
schemes to you, since not even all my bankers understood them. Anyhow, that's
how I made my way. Now as for how I bore myself in the pontificate, I'll venture
to say that none of the early popes (who seem to me to have been popes in
name only), nor even of the later ones, deserve so well of the church and of
Christ himself as I do.
GENIUS: Only listen to the bragging of the beast!
PETER: I'm waiting to hear how you got away with it all.
JULIUS: I discovered a great many new offices (that's what they're called) which
in themselves brought goodly sums into the papal treasury. Then I found a
brand-new way by which bishoprics could be bought without any taint of simony.
For my predecessors had made a law that any man appointed bishop should lie
down his previous office. I interpreted it this way; "You are ordered to lay down
your previous office; but if you don't have one you can't lay it down, therefore you
must buy it." By this means each individual bishopric brought in its six or seven
thousand ducats over and above those that are traditionally extorted for bulls.
Also the new money that I spread all over Italy brought in a very healthy sum.
And I never let up on accumulating money, understanding as I did that without it
nothing is managed properly, whether sacred or profane. Now, to come to my
major achievements, I conquered Bologna, which had long been ruled by the
Bentivogli, and restored it to the control of Rome. The previously undefeated
Venetians I crushed with my army. For a long time I harassed the duke of
Ferrara, and nearly caught him in a trap. I cleverly escaped from a schismatic
council set up against me by convoking a fraudulent counter-council, and so, as
they say, drove out one nail with another. Finally, I expelled from Italy the French,
who at that time were the terrors of the whole world, and I would have driven out
the Spanish too (for I had that project under way), if the fates had not suddenly
removed me from the earth. And I ask you to admire my undaunted spirit
throughout these trials. When the French looked like winners, I was already
looking around for a good hiding place; when my position seemed almost
desperate, I grew a long white beard as a disguise. But then the golden
messenger of victory alighted unexpectedly on me at Ravenna, where a good
many thousand Frenchmen were killed; and that was the resurrection of Julius. In
fact, for three days I was believed to be at death's door; I thought so myself; and
yet here again, against everyone's hopes and even my own expectations, I lived
anew. In fact my power and my political shrewdness are so great to this day that
there's none of the Christian kings whom I haven't brought to blows, breaking up
the treaties by which they had painfully made peace with one another, ripping
them to pieces, and trampling them underfoot. Indeed, I was so successful in
abolishing the treaty of Cambria, made between me, the king of France, the
emperor Maximilian, and several other rulers, that nobody ever mentions it any
more. Over and above all this, I raised several different armies, celebrated many
grandiose triumphs, put on splendid shows, built numerous impressive
structures, and then at my death left at least five million ducats, which I would
have increased even further if that Jewish physician who saved my life on one
occasion had been able to stretch it out a little longer. And I really wish now that
some magician could be found to restore my earthly existence, so that I could put
the finishing touches on the really marvelous projects that I had under way. Still,
on my deathbed I tried to ensure that none of the wars I had stirred up
throughout the world should be settled; I ordered that moneys set aside for those
wars should not be diverted elsewhere; and that was my last wish as I breathed
out my dying breath. Now do you hesitate to open the gates for a pontiff who has
deserved so well of Christ and the church? And I expect you to be all the more
impressed because all this was achieved by my individual constancy of mind
alone. I had none of those helpers and favoring circumstances that others have
enjoyed; I had no ancestors, for I didn't even know my own father (which indeed I
say proudly); I had no personal attractions, since most people shuddered at my
face as at an ogre; I had no education, since with me it never took; I had no
physical strength, for reasons mentioned above; I was not possessed of youthful
energy, for I did all these things as an old man; popularity played no part, for
there was nobody who didn't hate me; and I got no credit for clerqency because I
punished savagely those whom other rulers commonly let off scot-free.
PETER: What's this all about?
GENIUS: He talks very tough, but there's something soft in it.
JULIUS: Thus, with everything against me-fortune, age, strength, briefly, without
help from gods or men, by the unaided power of my spirit and my money, I
accomplished in a few years so much, that my successors will be busy for at
least a decade deciding what to do next. I've said all this about myself with the
utmost truth and also, for that matter, with the utmost honesty. If one of those
preachers who orate before me in Rome had been here to cover my account with
his decorations, you'd have thought a god was being described, not a man.
PETER: Unconquerable warrior, since all these things you talk about are new to
me and unheard-of, I beg your pardon for my amazement or inexperience; I hope
it won't be too tiresome for you to answer a few clumsy questions about the
details. Who, for example, are these little curly-headed striplings?
JULIUS: I brought them up for my diversion.
PETER: Who are these smoke-blackened and mutilated fellows?
JULIUS: They are soldiers and warriors who in behalf of me and the church
bravely encountered death in battle. Some died in the siege of Bologna, many in
the war against the Venetians, others still at Ravenna. They are all to be
admitted to heaven by the terms of our contract, in which I promised, by
promulgating some mighty bulls, to send anyone straight to heaven who died
fighting for Julius, whatever his previous life had been like.
PETER: As far as I can see, these people must have been the very lot who
before your coming were most hateful to me because they were always trying to
break in by force, using leaden bulls to force their way.
JULIUS: Then, as I understand it, you didn't let any of them in?
PETER: Not a single one of that crowd did I admit. That's what Christ told me; he
didn't say to admit those who came here lugging heavy leaden bulls, but only
those who had clothed the naked, fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty,
visited the prisoners, aided the pilgrims. If he wanted me to keep out those who
prophesied in his name, cast our devils, and did wonderful works, I do you
suppose he would want people let in who just walk up with a bull in the name of
JULIUS: If I had only known!
PETER: I understand; if some demon out of hell had told you about it, you would
have declared war on me.
JULIUS: I would have excommunicated you first.
PETER: But go on, why do you go about wearing armor?
JULIUS: As if you didn't know the holy pope wields two swords; you wouldn't
want me to go into battle unarmed, would you?
PETER: When I held your position, I followed that rule in the word of God which
says to use no sword save that of the spirit.
JULIUS: That would surprise Malchus, whose ear you cut off-without a sword, no
PETER: I recall the event, and it's true; but at that time I was fighting for my
master, Christ, not for myself; for the life of the Lord, not for loot or worldly booty;
and I fought, not as pope, but as one to whom the keys had only been promised,
not delivered, nor had I yet received the Holy Spirit. All the same, I was ordered to
put up my sword as a clear warning that warfare of that sort was unbecoming to
priests and even to Christians in general. But more of this elsewhere. Why are
you so careful about calling yourself a Ligurian as if it mattered what part of the
earth the Vicar of Christ came from?
JULIUS: But I consider it an act of the highest piety to shed renown on my
people; that's why I have this title inscribed on all my coins, statues, structures,
PETER: So a man can recognize his fatherland who doesn't know his father? At
first I thought you had in mind that heavenly Jerusalem, the home of all true
believers and of its unique prince in whose name those believers are eager to be
sanctified and exalted. But why do you describe yourself as "nephew to Sixtus on
his sister's side"? I'm surprised that this man Sixtus never showed up here,
though he was pope and related to such a leader as yourself. Do tell me, if you
will, what kind of man he was: was he a priest?
JULIUS: A might soldier he was, and a man of exemplary religion too; he was a
PETER: Indeed, I once knew a man named Francis, a layman distinguished
among his fellows for virtue as well as his scorn for wealth, pleasure, and
ambition. Does that poor man now have command of military commanders like
JULIUS: As far as I can see, you don't want anyone to better himself; even
Benedict was a poor man once, but now his followers are so rich that even I am
envious of them.
PETER: Fine! but let's go back a ways: you are the nephew of Sixtus.
JULIUS: Glad to confirm it; I'd like to stop the mouths of those who say I'm his
son. That's slanderous.
PETER: Slanderous indeed-unless perhaps it's true.
JULIUS: It's an insult to papal dignity, which must always be protected. PETER:
But I think popes should protect their own dignity by not doing anything offensive
to the moral law. Speaking of papal dignity, let me ask you, is that the common
and accepted way of achieving the papacy that you were describing just now?
JULIUS: For some centuries now, that's been the way of it, unless my successor
is created by some other procedure. For as soon as I achieved the papacy
myself, I issued a formidable bull that no one else should seek the office by the
means I had used; and I renewed that bull shortly before my death. How it will be
observed is up to other people.
PETER: I don't see how anyone could describe a bad state of affairs any better.
But this puzzles me, how anybody can be found to undertake the job, since so
much hard work attaches to the office and so many difficulties must be overcome
to acquire it. When I was pope, hardly anyone could be persuaded to accept the
office of a presbyter or a deacon.
JULIUS: No wonder; for in those days the reward of bishops was nothing but
hard work, sleepless nights, constant study, and very often death: now, it's a
kingdom, with the privileges of a tyrant. And who, if he has a chance of a
kingdom, won't grab at it?
PETER: Well, tell me now about Bologna. Had it departed from the faith that it
had to be brought back to Rome?
JULIUS: Absurd! that wasn't the question at all.
PETER: Perhaps the Bentivogli were poor administrators and destroying the
prosperity of the city.
JULIUS: Not a bit of it; the town was flourishing as never before, they had
enlarged it and adorned it with many new buildings. That only made me more
eager for it.
PETER: I understand; they had taken possession of it illegally.
JULIUS: No, again; the city was theirs by treaty.
PETER: Perhaps the citizens hated their ruler?
JULIUS: On the contrary; they clung to him tooth and nail, whereas they almost
all loathed me.
PETER: What was the reason for it then?
JULIUS: Because, as the ruler arranged things, out of the immense sums that he
collected from the citizens, only a few paltry thousands ever reached my
treasury. Besides, its capture helped on some other plans that I had in mind. And
so, with the French doing the work (mostly out of fear of my thunderbolt), I drove
out the Bentivogli and put bishops and cardinals in charge of the town, so that all
the money collected there, down to the last penny, came into the hands of the
church of Rome. Besides, in the old days, all the titles and dignities of imperial
rule seemed to belong to him. Now you see everywhere statues of me; my titles
are inscribed everywhere, my trophies are admired; nothing to be seen but stone
and bronze images of Julius. Finally, if you had seen the royal procession in
which I entered Bologna, you would surely despise all the triumphs celebrated by
the Octavii and Scipios; you would understand that there were good reasons why
I fought so hard for Bologna; and you would see that at the same time the church
was fighting and triumphing alongside me.
PETER: So when you were the monarch, as I understand it, that condition had
come about for which Christ ordered us to pray: "Thy kingdom come." Now tell
me what the Venetians did wrong.
JULIUS: First of all, they ran after Greek fashions, and they treated me almost as
a joke, putting all sorts of obstacles in my way.
PETER: Were they right or wrong?
JULIUS: What does that matter? It's sacrilege even to mumble about the pope of
Rome, except in the way of praise. Then they bestowed their priesthoods as they
saw fit; they wouldn't allow lawsuits to be transferred to Rome; and they wouldn't
allow the selling of dispensations. Do I have to go on? They inflicted unbearable
damage on the authority of Rome, and took command of a significant part of your
PETER: My patrimony? What patrimony are you talking about to me, who left all
my possessions behind to follow, unclad, a barefoot Christ?
JULIUS: I say that various cities are the property of the Roman church, and it has
pleased the most holy fathers to call by that name these their own special
PETER: Thus you use my shame to cover your own greed. And so this is what
you call unbearable damage?
JULIUS: Why not?
PETER: Were their manners corrupted? Was piety growing cold?
JULIUS: Forget it! you're talking about trifles. We were being deprived of
thousands upon thousands of ducats, enough to furnish out a legion of soldiers.
PETER: A terrible loss for a usurer, I'm sure. And now about the duke of Ferrara,
what was the matter with him?
JULIUS: What did he do, that most ungrateful of men? Alexander the vicar of
Christ did this miserable rogue the honor of bestowing on him, as a wife, his
second daughter, and with her he gave an enormous dowry, more than a man so
base of birth could have expected. I, yet, indifferent to such humane treatment, he
made nothing but trouble for me, accusing me of simony, pederasty, and mental
instability. And besides, he held back some taxes, not the major ones, I concede,
but still important enough not to be overlooked by a diligent shepherd.
GENIUS: Or a skinflint.
JULIUS: Besides, which is more to the point, Ferrara helped along the main
project I had in mind to join this territory to my own because of its strategic
location. At first I wanted to bestow the city on my kinsman, a man of energy who
would have ventured anything in behalf of the dignity of the church. In fact, he
recently killed the cardinal of Pavia with his own hands, in my behalf. As for my
daughter's husband, he isn't the political sort.
PETER: What's this I hear? Do popes have wives and children nowadays?
JULIUS: Proper wives they don't have; but what's so strange about their having
children, since they're men and not eunuchs?
PETER: But what sort of events led to the calling of that schismatic council?
JULIUS: It's a long story, but I'll cut it short. For a long time some people have
been discontented with the Roman church. They complained of the shameful
money-grubbing, of monstrous and abominable lusts, of poisonings, sacrilege,
murders, public sales of simoniacal positions, pollution of every description. They
called me a simonist, a drunkard, a low villain swollen with earthly lusts, and on
every count the man least worthy of occupying the position that in fact I occupied;
they called me the greatest of all perils to the Christian community. And in this
troubled state of affairs they thought help was to be sought from a general
council of the church. They added that I had sworn when I was created pope to
call a general council within two years, asserting that I was created pope only on
PETER: Were they right about that?
JULIUS: Absolutely. But when it suited my convenience to do so, I
absolved myself of my own oath. When a king wants to break his solemn oath,
who has any doubt that he can do it? Keep your piety for another occasion, as
the first Julius, my other self, used to say. But only note the audacity of these
men, the schemes they devised. Nine cardinals made a separation, notified me
of a council to be called, and invited me to attend, even to preside. When I
declined, they announced the council to the whole world in the name of the
emperor Maximilian (under the pretext that years ago councils used to be called
by Roman emperors) and likewise Louis of France, the twelfth of that name.
What they proposed-I shudder to say it-was to rip up the seamless garment of
Christ, which even those who crucified the Savior left untorn.
PETER: But were you the sort of man they said?
JULIUS: What has that got to do with it? I was pope. Suppose I was a worse
rascal than the Cercopes, stupider than a wooden statue or the log from which it
was made, more foul than the swamp of Lerna; whoever holds this key of power
must be revered as the vicar of Christ and reverenced as the holiest of men.
PETER: Even if he's openly evil?
JULIUS: As open as you like. It's just unthinkable that God's vicar on earth, who
represents God himself before men, should be rebuked by any puny mortal or
disturbed by any sort of popular outcry.
PETER: But common sense is outraged if we must feel warmly toward one whom
we see to be evil, or speak well of one about whom we think ill. JULIUS: Let
every man think as he will, as long as he speaks well or at least holds his tongue.
The pope of Rome cannot be censured by anyone, not by a general council.
PETER: This one thing I know, that Christ's vicar on earth should be as much like
him as possible, and lead his life in such a way that nobody can blame any part
of it, or justifiably speak evil of him. Things go badly with popes when, instead of
earning men's commendations by good deeds, they extort praises with threats.
Such popes cannot be praised without lying; indeed, they can't expect anything
more than the sullen silence of those who hate them. Tell me now truly, is there
no way at all to correct a criminal, infectious pope?
JULIUS: Absurd. Who is going to remove the highest authority of all?
PETER: That's exactly why he should be removed, because he's the highest
figure; for the higher he is, the more pernicious his influence may be. If secular
laws allow for a king who rules his land badly to be not only deposed but
executed, why should the church be so helpless that it must put up with a pope
who ruins everything, instead of expelling him as a public nuisance? JULIUS: If
the pope is to be corrected, it ought to be by a council; but against the will of the
pope a council can't be called; otherwise it would be a mere convention, not a
proper council. Even if it were called, it couldn't issue any decrees if the pope
objected. And finally, my last defense is absolute power, of which the pope
possesses more, all by himself, than an entire council. In short, the pope can't be
removed from office for any crime whatever.
PETER: Not for homicide?
JULIUS: Not for parricide.
PETER: Not for fornication?
JULIUS: Ridiculous! not even for incest.
PETER: Not for the sin of simony?
JULIUS: Not for six hundred such sins.
PETER: Not for poisoning someone?
JULIUS: Not even for sacrilege.
PETER: Not for blasphemy?
JULIUS: No, I say.
PETER: Not for all these crimes poured together in a single sewer of a man?
JULIUS: Add if you like the names of six hundred other vices, each one worse
than any of these, and still the pope cannot be removed from his throne for any
PETER: This is a new doctrine about the dignity of the pope that I've picked up
here; he alone, it seems, is entitled to be the worst of men. I've also learned
about a new misery for the church, that she alone is unable to rid herself of such
a monster, but is forced to adore a pope with a character that nobody would
endure in a stable-boy.
JULIUS: Some say there is a single reason for which a pope can be removed.
PETER: What kind of good deed is that, please tell me-since he can't be
removed for evil deeds, such as those I've mentioned.
JULIUS: For the crime of heresy; but only if he's been publicly convicted of it. In
reality, this is just a flimsy thread of an exception, that doesn't limit papal
authority by a single scintilla. The pope can always repeal the law, if it bothers
him in the least. And then who would dare to accuse the pope himself,
entrenched as he is behind so many lines of defense? Besides, if he were hard
pressed by a council, it would be easy to save face with a recantation if a flat
denial didn't dispose of the matter. Finally, there are a thousand different
deceptions and evasions by which he could get away, unless he were a plain
wooden stock instead of a man.
PETER: But tell me on your papal authority, who thought up such splendid laws
JULIUS: Who else but the wellspring of all laws, the Roman pope? And by the
same token, it's his privilege to abrogate the law, interpret it, expand it, or shrink
it, just as suits his convenience.
PETER: A happy pope he must be if he can propound a law by which he can get
around Christ and even a council. Though as a matter of fact, against a pope of
the sort you've just described-an open criminal, a drunkard, a murderer, a
simoniac, a poisoner, a perjurer, a skinflint, a man befouled in every part of his
life with the most atrocious and disgusting lusts, and completely shameless about
it all-I wouldn't propose a general council but a public uprising: the people should
arm themselves with stones and expel such an infectious plague forever from
their midst. -Tell me now, what reason you have as pope of Rome to avoid a
JULIUS: You might as well ask monarchs why they hate senates and assemblies
of the nobility. Because a gathering of so many excellent men casts a shadow
over the royal dignity. Those who are learned gain assurance from their reading;
those who answer only to a clear conscience speak their minds more freely than
I like; those who have been granted dignities make use of their new authority.
Among them some are always to be found who envy my glory, and approach
every issue with an eye to diminishing the wealth and authority of the pope. In
short, nobody sits in such assemblies who doesn't think himself entitled to put
forth, under the authority of the council, something prejudicial to the pope-whom
otherwise he wouldn't dare assail. Thus hardly any council concludes its work
without the pope's suffering some diminution of his authority; he departs less
supreme than he came. You yourself can provide an example of this, if you recall
the incident; for although in those days only trifles were being discussed, not
empires and kingdoms as now, nonetheless James ventured to add something to
your decision. The case was that you had freed converted gentiles entirely from
the Mosaic law, but James made an exception for fornication, idolatry, and
crimes of blood, as if correcting your judgment. Some people, if they were
judging this matter today, would think the supreme authority of the church should
be granted to James instead of Peter.
PETER: You think, then, that the only thing to be considered is the royal authority
of the papacy rather than the welfare of the entire Christian community?
JULIUS: Every man must look to his own interests; I mind my own affairs.
PETER: But if Christ had felt this way, there would be no church for you to boast
of ruling; and I still don't think it right that one who claims to be Christ's vicar on
earth should follow a path different from Christ's. But tell me now, what tricks did
you use to get rid of that schismatic council, as you call it?
JULIUS: I can tell you if you can follow the story. First of all I got to the emperor
Maximilian (as they call him); he was the easiest to manipulate, and though he
had solemnly proclaimed the council, by methods that I'd rather not describe, I
got him to withdraw. Then I persuaded various cardinals in the same way that
they ought to withdraw their support for the council as publicly as they had
PETER: Was that legal?
JULIUS: What isn't legal if the pope with his full authority approves it? PETER:
What! Then if he chooses to say so an oath is not an oath, since he can dissolve
it whenever he wants, with regard to anyone?
JULIUS: Well, to speak frankly, this particular maneuver was a little shady, but I
couldn't come up with a better one at the moment. Then when I saw that some
people hostile to me were determined to have a council, and had drawn up the
call so that, far from being excluded, I was humbly invited and asked to preside,
see what a trick I made use of, taking a hint from my predecessors. I called a
council of my own, declaring that the place and time set for the other were quite
unsuitable. I called my council to meet on very short notice at Rome, where I
knew nobody would come except a friend of Julius, or at least someone
compliant to his wishes-it was a lesson I had taught many times over. And just to
make things sure, I created a number of new cardinals with views favorable to
GENIUS: Criminal views, that is.
JULIUS: If I hadn't authorized the council, it would not have been one; yet it didn't
really suit my purposes to assemble a great crowd of bishops and abbots, among
whom there might conceivably be some honorable and pious men; so I decreed
that in the name of economy, each district should send only one delegate, or at
most two. Then when I still didn't feel quite safe enough, since there were so
many districts that only a few from each would make a great number, when they
were already on the way, I issued an order forbidding them to continue and
putting off the council till a later date; for this I gave some trifling reason that lay
to hand. Then, when I had excluded practically everybody, I called my council at
Rome, anticipating the date I had set, and with nobody there except those I
wanted. And even if a few were present who might disagree with me, I knew
there was nobody who would dare to challenge Julius directly because I had the
upper hand in both troops and weapons. And in this way I was able to bring
enormous disrepute on that French council, sending out letters everywhere in
which I talked about our sacrosanct council, but denounced theirs as a
conventicle of Satan, a gathering of diabolic agents, a conspiracy of schismatics-
and repeating these epithets over and over.
PETER: The cardinals and princes who instigated that council must have been
very great rascals.
JULIUS: About their morals I never asked. The head of their group was cardinal
d' Amboise of Rouen, who out of some quirk of conscience was always trying to
reform the church; and so he did in a number of places. Death removed him from
the arena, to my enormous gratification. His successor was cardinal Santa
Croce, a Spaniard, a man of blameless life, but elderly, set in his ways, and a
theologian; it's a breed of men particularly dangerous to the popes of Rome.
PETER: And did this theologian have no arguments to justify his behavior?
JULIUS: Plenty. He said the times had never been more disturbed, nor the
church more afflicted with more intolerable diseases; and he called for a general
council to heal them. He and his colleagues reminded me that when I was
received into the papacy, I solemnly swore to call a council within two years; and
the oath was so phrased that not even the college of cardinals could absolve me
of it. Though I had often been reminded of it by my fellow cardinals, queried and
prodded by princes, they said I would listen to anything rather than this, so that
now it was apparent that during Julius's lifetime there would never be a council.
They cited the examples of previous councils, and quoted various papal decrees,
purporting to show that in refusing to call a council I was betraying the law itself;
and with the connivance of the other princes, they declared it was the duty of the
Roman emperor (who used to have sole responsibility in the matter) and the
French king now to convoke a council.
PETER: No doubt they addressed you in vitriolic language?
JULIUS: No, the rascals were too smart for that; I'd have preferred some abuse.
Painful though the matter was, they treated it with the utmost discretion and not
only refrained from bad language but were careful to use all my titles of honor,
begging and praying me by all things holy and good to behave as was worthy of
me, and as I had promised, by calling a council and presiding over it, taking part
with them in the work of curing the ailments of the church. I can't tell you how
much hostility this gentle temper of theirs raised against me, especially since
they grounded all their suggestions on holy scriptures- i for apparently they had
some men of learning in their camp. And meanwhile they fasted and prayed and
maintained a marvelously frugal existence, to oppress me with the opinion of
PETER: And you, on the other hand, on what grounds did you propose your
JULIUS: On the most magnificent grounds of all: I explained that it was my
intention to reform first the head of the church, that is, myself; then all the princes
of the Christian world; and finally the general population.
PETER: It sounds like a fine comedy; but what was the conclusion? I want to
hear what those theologians in the assembly of Satan determined.
JULIUS: Horrible, abominable things; my mind shrinks from remembering them.
PETER: Good lord! Was it as bad as that?
JULIUS: Downright impiety, sacrilege, worse than heresy; if I hadn't opposed
them tooth and nail, with every bit of my strength and craft, all the dignity of the
Christian church would have gone to rack and rum.
PETER: You make me even more eager to hear what it was.
JULIUS: Oh, I shudder to pronounce it. This is what the scoundrels were up to,
that the church should be stripped of all her wealth and
all her splendor, returned to her primitive squalor and wretched frugality. That
cardinals, who now outdo princes in the pomp of their equipage, should be
reduced to poverty; that bishops should live more moderately, without retainers,
and without so many horses in their stables. They proposed that cardinals should
not accumulate extra positions, as for example bishops, abbots, and priests. Lest
anybody hold more than one bishopric, they proposed that those who by one
dodge or another, as they say, have accumulated livings by the hundred, should
be deprived of some of them, and forced to content themselves with the income
intended for a single frugal priest. They said that nobody should be created pope
or bishop or priest as a result of money changing hands, or because of worldly
favor or base flattery, but only because of the purity of his life-which if he
compromised, it would be cause for removal. That a Roman pope convicted of
flagrant crimes might be deposed; that bishops guilty of whoredom and
drunkenness should be dismissed; that criminal priests should not only be
deprived but mutilated on some part of their body; along with many other notions
of the sort which it would weary me to recite but all tending to one point, loading
me down with religious duties and stripping me of my wealth and power.
PETER: What was decreed in the other direction by the sacrosanct council at
JULIUS: Now you seem to have forgotten what I told you, that I wanted nothing
out of my council except to drive out one nail with another. After the first session
had been devoted to a number of solemn ceremonies handed down from
antiquity and generally acceptable, though they had nothing to do with the matter
to hand, two masses were said, one to the holy cross and the other to the holy
ghost, .as if everything was to be done in his name; and then there was a long
oration full of my praises. At the next session I turned the worst threats of my
thunderbolt against those cardinals, declaring that whatever they had said or
would say in the future was worse than impiety, more vicious than sacrilege, viler
than heresy. In the third session I threatened France with the same thunderbolt,
transferring the trade fairs out of Lyons and making an exception for certain parts
of France, which I named, in order to alienate the affections of the people from
their king, and stir up seditions among them. And to give extra authority to all
these deeds, I issued a bull which I addressed to all the princes, especially those
who seemed inclined to favor me.
PETER: And that was all you accomplished?
JULIUS: I got what I wanted. I won out, at least if my decrees hold up. In public
ceremonies I deprived of their offices the three cardinals who remained
obstinate, conferring their posts on others in such a way that they could not
easily be restored. Their persons I consigned to Satan, though if they'd fallen in
my hands I'd have been glad to consign them to the flames.
PETER: But if what you say is right, the decrees of that schismatic assembly
seem to me a good deal more holy than those of your sacrosanct council. I don't
see that you produced anything but tyrannical threats, curses, and cruelty
combined with cunning. If Satan inspired that other assembly, he seems closer to
Christ than the spirit, for whom I don't even have a name, who presided over your
JULIUS: Watch your step now; for in all my bulls I cursed thoroughly anyone who
in any way favored that assembly.
PETER: Wretch, in whom I seem to see old Julius born again! But what was the
outcome of this business?
JULIUS: I left it in the state I described; how it will come out is up to the future.
PETER: SO the schism survives?
JULIUS: It survives, and grows every day more dangerous.
PETER: And you as the vicar of Christ preferred a schism before a genuine
JULIUS: Three hundred schisms rather than find myself forced into submission
and a reformation of my entire life.
PETER: SO you're as guilty as that?
JULIUS: What's that to you?
PETER: I understand; you couldn't face the draining of that pestilential swamp.
But which of the two groups do you think will win out?
JULIUS: As I said, it's in the hands of fortune, though we have more money.
France is exhausted by her many long drawn-out wars; the English have
mountains of gold still untouched. This I can confidently predict: if the French win
(which God forbid), all the names will be turned around. My sacrosanct council
will be an assembly of Satan; I will be, not a pope, but the idol of a pope; they will
have acted on the impulse of the holy ghost, and everything we did will bear the
mark of the devil. But I feel confident that the money I left behind will keep that
PETER: But what inspired this hatred of the French and their king, on whom your
predecessors bestowed the title of the Most Christian King? Especially since you
admit you lived under their protection for a long time, and after they helped raise
you to this more than imperial throne, you received from them Bologna and other
cities-and since, finally, with their help you dominated the previously unbeaten
Venetians? How did you wipe out the memory of such recent assistance, and
break such firm bonds?
JULIUS: It would take a long story to explain the whole thing; but to put it briefly,
the change wasn't an abrupt one; what I had been maturing in my mind for a long
time I gradually began to put into effect. At first, things standing as they did, I had
to dissimulate, then I came out openly. I never really liked the French, I tell you
this from my heart, nor does any Italian actually like the barbarians-any more, for
God's sake, than a wolf is fond of lambs. But I'm not just an Italian, I'm from
Genoa; I treated them like friends as long as I needed their help, in the way one
always takes advantage of barbarians. In the process, I put up with a good deal, I
concealed my feelings, I did plenty of pretending. I endured a lot; I achieved a lot.
But then when things had reached the stage where I wanted them, I had only to
act the role of the real Julius and drive that barbarian trash out of Italy.
PETER: What kind of animals are those you call barbarians?
JULIUS: They are men.
PETER: Men, then, but not Christians?
JULIUS: Yes, Christians too, but what does that matter?
PETER: Christians, then, but without laws or letters, leading a rude, uncultured
JULIUS: In some respects they're quite civilized; and besides, which is the thing
we principally envy them, they are very rich.
PETER: Why then this name of barbarian? What's that you're grumbling?
GENIUS: Let me speak for him. The Italians when they were overwhelmed and
completely submerged under a flood of really barbaric nations, as if from an
overflowing sewer, picked up this mannerism from classical literature of calling
everyone born outside Italy a barbarian; this epithet is more scornful, as they use
it, than if they called someone a parricide or accused him of robbing a church.
PETER: So it seems. But since Christ died for all men, and showed no respect of
persons; and since you claim to be Christ's vicar on earth; why don't you accept
all men in the same spirit, seeing that Christ himself did not discriminate?
JULIUS: I would be delighted to accept everyone-Indians, Africans, Ethiopians,
Greeks-as long as they can count money and pay taxes. But we were right to cut
them all off, and especially the Greeks, because they are too stubborn in refusing
to recognize the authority of the Roman pope.
PETER: So the court of Rome is to be, as it were, the treasure chest of the whole
JULIUS: Is it such a great matter if we collect all their carnal wealth, seeing we
spread our spiritual gifts far and wide?
PETER: What spiritual gifts are you talking about? Up to now I've heard only
about worldly things. No doubt you attract men to Christ by preaching his holy
JULIUS: There are people who preach it, and I don't prevent them, as long as
they don't in any way question my authority.
PETER: What then?
JULIUS: What then? Why are kings given whatever they demand except that
individuals attribute to them whatever they have as if it were their gift even
though in reality the monarchs have contributed nothing at all? In the same way,
everything that's holy is imputed to us popes, even if we've done nothing but
snore our life away. But we do more: we give extensive indulgences for very
small sums of money; in more serious cases we provide dispensations for less
than the maximum price; and wherever we go, we bless everyone, and for free.
PETER: I don't understand a word of this. But let's go back to our former subject:
why does your most holy majesty hate the barbarians so much that you'll move
heaven and earth to drive them out of Italy?
JULIUS: I’ll tell you: there's a superstitious streak runs through the whole lot of
these barbarians, especially the French; for I don't get along badly with the
Spanish, whether you consider their language or their manners; though in fact I
had to drive them out too in order to be free to act in my own independent way.
PETER: Apart from Christ, do they have any other gods?
JULIUS: No, the trouble is they worship Christ himself too precisely. You wouldn't
believe how seriously these foolish people take certain obsolete, antiquated
PETER: Magic formulas?
JULIUS: You're joking. No, words like "simony," "blasphemy," "sodomy,"
PETER: Fine words, indeed!
JULIUS: Just as you abominate them, so do they.
PETER: Never mind the names; the things themselves are found in your part of
the world, aren't they? or are they perhaps common to all Christians?
JULIUS: I daresay the barbarians have vices of their own, but different from ours;
they denounce ours and indulge their own, while we in turn flatter our own and
despise theirs. We consider poverty a horrible crime to be avoided by any
possible means; they seem to think it's barely Christian to enjoy your own money,
even if it was innocently acquired. We hardly dare to speak of drunkenness
(though in this particular I might not differ with them very sharply if on other
matters we saw eye to eye); but the Germans consider it a minor and rather jolly
error, not a crime. They hate usury; we consider money-lenders, of all men, most
useful to the church of Christ. They view pederasty as such a disgraceful act that
if someone even mentions it, you would think the atmosphere and the sun itself
had been polluted; we look at it otherwise. Likewise with simony, a word long
since completely antiquated and dropped from the common vocabulary; they still
fear the very shadow of it and cling furiously to the outmoded laws made against
it-not so with us. And there are many other matters of this sort in which we don't
agree with the barbarians. Since we're so different in our manners of life, they
have to be kept away from the mysteries of our business, which they will respect
more if they don't understand them. For if once they knew all the inner workings
of my court, they would spread the story abroad and noise about all the vices
they would be quick to uncover. Already they write bitter and malignant letters to
their people at home; they cry abroad that this is not the seat of Christ but the
cesspool of Satan; they argue over me, asking whether, since I got the papacy
as I did and live as I do, I should be considered a pope at all. In this way they
threaten my reputation for holiness as well as my papal authority among the
common folk, who formerly knew nothing about me, except that I was Christ's
vicar and wielded power next to that of God himself. And from these events rise
intolerable difficulties for the church of Christ: we sell fewer dispensations and
get less for them; our revenues from bishoprics and priesthoods diminish; if we
demand anything from the people, it's given only grudgingly; our revenues are
off, our business ventures are losing money; people even care less and less
about the terrible menace of my thunderbolt. If things once reach the point where
they say I'm a scoundrel of a pope who does nothing and only pretends to wield
a make-believe thunderbolt, then outright hunger will be staring me in the face.
Now if they were at a safe distance (for barbarians aren't very smart), they would
worship more zealously, and I could rule over them as I choose by written
PETER: Things can't be going well with you if the apostolic authority depends
only on their ignorance of your sly tricks and your way of life. In my day we
wanted people to know all about us, whatever we did, even in our cells; we
thought we would become many by becoming well known. But explain this to me,
are the princes of the world so religious nowadays, and so respectful of priests,
that at the beck of a single one--especially such a one as yourself-they will all at
once plunge into war? For in my time we considered princes our most bitter
JULIUS: As far as the character of their life is concerned, they are not much like
believing Christians. They openly despise us and consider us buffoons, except
for a few of the weaker ones who may be a bit afraid of that terrible thunderbolt of
excommunication-and even they are more upset by the publicity about it than by
the thing itself. There are some princes who hope to share in our wealth or are
afraid of it, and for those reasons they may defer to our authority; we've
persuaded them, in addition, that some horrible misfortune awaits those who
meddle in our priestly business. Almost all of them, having been thoroughly
indoctrinated, feel respect for the rituals, especially as we observe them; for
ceremonies are given to people as fairy stories are told to children. Meanwhile,
the show goes on. Even if they are rascals, we bestow splendid titles on them,
calling them "catholic," "your most serene highness," "most illustrious majesty,"
and "most worshipful
monarch"; we also call them all our "beloved sons." Meanwhile in their letters
they refer to us as "most holy father," and sometimes abase themselves so far as
to kiss our feet; and when some really trivial question comes up, they go through
the form of submitting to our authority, which gives them a great name for piety
among the masses. We send them consecrated roses, crowns, swords; they in
turn send us horses, soldiers, money, and sometimes boys; thus a pair of mules
scratch each other, turn and turn about.
PETER: If that's the sort of men they are, I understand even less how you can
incite such powerful kings to terrible wars and to the breaking of all their treaties.
JULIUS: If you can follow what I tell you, you'll pick up some better than apostolic
PETER: I'll do the best I can.
JULIUS: The first thing I undertook to do was to acquaint myself with all the
peoples and especially their princes-to know their minds, manners, emotions,
their wealth and their ambitions, as well as who got along with whom, and who
was at odds with whom. All this information was to be used for my own
advantage. Then I found it easy to stir up the French against the Venetians
because there was an ancient, ingrained hostility between the two parties. I knew
the French were eager to expand their power, and the Venetians were occupying
some of their towns, so I made the French cause my own. Then the Emperor,
though otherwise no great friend of the French, saw he had no other hope of
getting back from the Venetians what they held of his (and they held a number of
fine cities); so he too made an alliance with the French for the time being. Then
when I saw that the French were growing in power more than suited me (for the
alliance had succeeded better than I wanted it to), I began to stir up the king of
Spain against them. He was not all that strict about keeping his promises, I and
he had a great interest in holding down the power of the French because he did
not want to be barricaded out of his possessions at Naples. Then I pretended to
take the Venetians back into favor, though I really didn't like or trust them, so
that, playing on their grief over loss of the recent battle, I could rouse them
against the French. Next I took the Emperor, whom I'd recently joined with the
French, and detached him from them. A major argument with him was money,
which always works wonders with a man who needs it; I also sent letters and
envoys to renew his ancient hatred of the French, which was always on the point
of flaring up, even when he had no real chance to get at them. I knew the English
at this time really hated the French, who were in close alliance with the Scots.
They were a nation, as I well knew, of exceptional ferocity, eager for war and
especially avid for loot rather given to superstition as well, because far removed
from Rome. Finally, they were enjoying at the moment a new liberty, resulting
from the recent death of an old and very severe king. Exuberant and almost
riotous at their sudden release, they could easily be directed into any insane
venture lying to hand-which was my dearest wish. My chances were improved by
the temper of the new king, a young man little more than a boy, newly come to
power, sharp, bold, and, like most young men, restless, even belligerent; he was
naturally ambitious, and had been trained up to great deeds. From earliest youth
he was said to have been planning an attack on the French; besides which, his
marriage made him a kinsman of the king of Spain whom at that very moment I
was inciting to war. All these circumstances I turned to the advantage of the
church, and by a great number of artfully composed letters managed to embroil
all the princes in the most furious wars conceivable. I did my best not to leave
anyone out, trying to involve the king of Hungary, the king of Portugal, and the
duke of Burgundy, who is the equal of many monarchs. But since they had no
particular interest in the war, I couldn't get them in. I knew that in any case, with
those I already had involved, there would be no peace for anyone else. The
combatants, though they really fought for their own interests, accepted
distinguished awards and titles from me, as if the more death and destruction
they visited on Christian folk, the more they might seem to be defending
devotedly the church of God. And so that you may appreciate the full extent of
my luck or skill, I will tell you that though the king of Spain was warring at the
time on the Turks, and had enjoyed hitherto enormous success and taken lots
of loot, I got him to abandon that enterprise and turn all his forces against the
French. The Emperor too was bound to France by many treaties and even more
by the enormous assistance he had received from them in regaining his
possessions and cities in Italy. And he had major problems in Italy, because
Padua had deserted to Venice-as well as in Burgundy, where the Gelderlanders
had proved dangerous enemies of his grandson, then duke of Burgundy, in a
war he himself had provoked. And yet I arranged that he should neglect his own
affairs in order to do my business. Then, there is no people among whom papal
authority counts for less than the English (that will be clear to anyone who looks
over the life of Thomas archbishop of Canterbury and the ancient constitutions of
the kingdom); yet that nation, though otherwise most impatient of impositions,
almost allowed itself to be skinned alive by me. It's practically a miracle the way I
got the priests, who used to skim off for themselves whatever they could, to bring
in taxes to the king, without ever thinking of the precedent they were setting for
future royal exactions-though indeed the king himself never noticed the example
he was setting for action against his own and his successors' interests whenever
the pope in Rome might become impatient with England. In fact, the young king
went at the matter with more energy than I wanted or advised, even though I
thought he was erring in the right direction. But it would be a long story to explain
in detail how artfully I stirred up these various princes to make war on their fellow
Christians, when no previous pope had ever even been able to rouse them
against the Turks.
PETER: But it may be that the flames of war that you fanned will spread out of
control across the entire world.
JULIUS: Let them spread, as long as the Roman church retains its dignities and
prerogatives. Actually, I've tried to let the whole weight of the war fall on the
barbarians rather than the Italians; let them fight it out as long as they want, we'll
stand by, and perhaps applaud their idiocy.
PETER: And is this the proper attitude of a pastor, a most holy father, a vicar of
JULIUS: Why did they stir up the schism?
PETER: But some evils must simply be endured if the remedy is Worse. Besides,
if you had permitted a council, there would have been no occasion for a schism.
JULIUS: Don't be silly! I'd sooner have six hundred wars than one Council. What
if they had removed me from the papacy as a simoniac and a buyer of the papal
office, not a true pope at all? What if they learned the whole truth about my life,
and made it public information?
PETER: Even if you were a true pope, you would have done better to resign the
office than to protect your dignity by spreading such evils across the face of the
Christian world. It's even Worse when the office has been bestowed on an
unworthy person, or not even bestowed but bought and snatched away by force.
And it occurs to me that God in his wisdom may have created you as a plague for
the French in retribution for their having raised you up to be a plague for the
JULIUS: By my triple crown, and by my heroic triumphs, I swear if you stir my
anger, you, even you, will feel the wrath of Julius.
PETER: Oh, madman! So far I have heard nothing but the words of a warlord,
not a churchman but a worldling, not a mere worldling but a pagan, and a
scoundrel lower than any pagan! You boast of having dissolved treaties, stirred
up wars, and encouraged the slaughter of men. That is the power of Satan, not a
pope. Anyone who becomes the vicar of Christ should try to follow as closely as
possible the example provided by Christ. In him the ultimate power coincided
with ultimate goodness; his wisdom was supreme, but of the utmost simplicity. In
you I see an image of power joined with the ultimate in malice and the ultimate in
stupidity. If the devil, that prince of darkness, wanted to send to earth a vicar of
hell, whom would he choose but someone like you? In what way did you ever act
like an apostolic person?
JULIUS: What could be more apostolic than strengthening the church of Christ?
PETER: But if the church is the flock of Christian believers held together by the
spirit of Christ, then you seem to me to have subverted the church by inciting the
entire world to bloody wars, while you yourself remained wicked, noisome, and
JULIUS: I think the church consists of the holy buildings, the priests, and
especially the court at Rome, myself most of all, who am the head of the church.
PETER: But Christ made us servants and himself the head, unless you think a
second head is needed. But in what way has the church been strengthened?
JULIUS: Now you're getting to the core of the matter, so I'll tell you. That hungry,
impoverished church of yours is now adorned with a thousand impressive
PETER: Such as? An earnest faith?
JULIUS: More of your jokes.
PETER: Holy doctrine?
JULIUS: Don't play dumb.
PETER: Contempt for the things of this world?
JULIUS: Let me tell you: real ornaments are what I mean. Those things you've
mentioned are just words.
PETER: What do you mean then?
JULIUS: Regal palaces, spirited horses and fine mules, crowds of servants, well-
trained troops, assiduous retainers.
GENIUS: -high-class whores and oily pimps.
JULIUS: -plenty of gold, purple, and so much money in taxes that there's not a
king in the world who wouldn't appear base and poor if his wealth and state were
compared with those of the Roman pontiff. Nobody is so ambitious that he
wouldn't confess himself outdone, nobody so extravagant that he wouldn't
condemn his own frugality, nobody so wealthy, not even a usurer, that he
wouldn't envy my riches. These are what I call ornaments; I've protected what I
inherited and added to them.
PETER: But tell me who first of all befouled and burdened with these ornaments
of yours the church that Christ wanted to be supremely pure and unencumbered?
JULIUS: What does that matter? The main thing is that I've got them, I possess
them, I enjoy them. Some people do say that a certain Constantine transferred all
the riches of his empire to pope Sylvester, armor, horses, chariots, helmets,
belts, cloaks, guardsmen, swords, gold crowns (of the very finest gold), armies,
machines of war, cities, entire kingdoms.
PETER: Are there any proper records of this magnificent donation?
JULIUS: None, except one codicil mixed in with some old decrees.
PETER: Maybe it's a fable.
JULIUS: I've often suspected as much. What sane man, after all, would bestow
such a magnificent gift even on his own father? But still, it's a very pleasant thing
to believe, and when anyone has tried to question it, I've been able to silence him
completely with a timely threat or two.
PETER: And still I hear nothing from you but worldly concerns.
JULIUS: Evidently you are dreaming on about the old church in which you, with a
couple of hungry bishops, acted out the role of a meager pope afflicted with
poverty, labor, danger, and a thousand other troubles. The new age has changed
all that for the better. Nowadays the high pontiff of Rome is another creature
altogether; you were a pope in name only. What if you could now see all the holy
churches decorated with the wealth of kingdoms, the thousands of priests
everywhere, many of them with splendid incomes, all the bishops equal in wealth
and military power to so many kings, all the splendid episcopal palaces? If we
were at Rome now, you couldn't fail to admire all the cardinals in their purple
robes, attended by legions of servants, followed by riders on imperial horses and
mules glittering with linen caparisons studded with gold and gems, shod with gold
and silver shoes, like so many blazing suns. Then you might see the pope
himself born aloft on the shoulders of his guards, seated on his golden throne,
and blessing as he passes all the adoring faithful. If you then heard the crash of
the cannon, the applause of the people and their acclamations, if you could see
the splendor of the massed torches, and the highest princes barely allowed to
kiss the holy feet, if you saw the supreme pontiff of Rome placing a golden crown
on the head of the Roman emperor who is king of all kings (that is, if written
words carry any weight, though in reality he carries nothing but the shadow of a
great name)-well, I say, if you heard and saw all this, what would you think?
PETER: That I had seen the worst tyranny in the world, the enemy of Christ, and
the church's bane.
JULIUS: You would think very differently if you had seen just one of my triumphs,
either the one that I celebrated at Bologna, or that which I held at Rome after
subduing the Venetians, or that in which, fleeing from Bologna, I returned to
Rome; or the latest one, celebrating the defeat of the French, after almost all
hope was gone, at Ravenna. If you could see the long lines of steeds and
stallions, the files of armed soldiers, the gaudy uniforms of the commanders, the
choirs of specially chosen boys, the gleaming insignia, the wagon-loads of booty,
the splendor of the bishops, the magnificence of the cardinals, the trophies, the
piles of prize-money, the cheers of the people and the soldiers echoing up to the
heavens, if you could hear the roars and thunders of applause, the blast of horns,
the thunder of trumpets, the roar of cannon, and then if you could see me carried
aloft like a very god, scattering coins among the people, the center and creator of
all this splendor, then you would say the Scipios, Aemilii, and Augusti were
shoddy, parsimonious fellows compared to me.
PETER: Oh, enough of your triumphs, you braggart soldier! You surpass in
hatefulness even those pagans-you who, while claiming to be the most holy
father in Christ, have caused thousands of Christian soldiers to be killed for your
own personal advantage, who have created only new legions of the dead, and
who never by words or deeds brought one single soul to Christ! By the bowels of
the Father! Oh you worthy vicar of that Christ who sacrificed himself for the good
of all mankind! You, to preserve your own accursed skin, have driven to their
deaths entire populations!
JULIUS: That's what you say because you are envious of my glory, when you
see how puny your career as a bishop was, when compared with me. PETER:
Have you the audacity, you scoundrel, to compare your glory with mine-though in
fact my glory is the glory of Christ, not my own? First, if you concede that Christ
was the best and true prince of the church, then it was he who gave me the keys
of the kingdom, he told me to care for his flock, he approved of my faith by
granting me his authority. What made you pope was money in the first place,
then flattery, and finally fraud-if in fact you should bear the title of pope at all. I
gained thousands of souls for Christ; you drew just as many to death and hell. I
first taught pagan Rome the lesson of Christ; you made yourself master of a kind
of pseudo-Christian paganism. I with the mere shadow of my body healed the
sick, exorcised the diabolically afflicted, recalled the dead to life, and wherever 1
went left my blessing on everything. What does that have in common with your
triumphs? By a single word I could give over to Satan anyone 1 chose; and what
1 could do Sapphira and her husband found out. Yet what power I had I exercised
for the good of all; you were not only useless to everyone, but you used what
power you had (and where didn't you have it?) to harm people throughout the
JULIUS: I'm surprised that when you list your achievements you don't include
poverty, wakeful nights, heavy labor, criminal courts, prisons, chains, abuse,
stripes, and last of all the cross.
PETER: You're right, and I'm glad you reminded me; for I've more reason to be
proud of those sufferings than of miracles. It was in the name of these things that
Christ told us to rejoice and be exceeding glad; in the name of these he called
us blessed. So Paul, my former fellow-apostle, when he prides himself on his
achievements, has nothing to say of cities captured by armed force, or legions
cut to pieces with cold steel, princes incited to war, or celebrations worthy of an
autocrat; nothing but shipwrecks, chains, lashings, dangers, acts of betrayal.
There is the really apostolic triumph, that is the glory of the Christian leader. Let
him boast of those whom he saved from sin, not of how many thousands of
ducats he piled up. Then when we celebrate our perpetual triumph with Christ,
even evildoers will join in our praise; but nobody will fail to curse you, except
perhaps someone just like you or your flatterer.
JULIUS: What you say is unheard-of; I never heard the like.
PETER: I believe it; for when did you ever take time to read the gospels or to
study the epistles of Paul and myself-busy as you were with so many
delegations, treaties, schemes, expeditions, and celebrations? Even the other
arts call for a spirit empty of sordid concerns; but the discipline of Christ requires
a heart completely purged of any sort of earthly interest. For a teacher like the
one we revere does not come down from heaven to give men any sort of facile or
vulgar philosophy. Being a Christian is no lazy or comfortable profession. All the
pleasures must be avoided like poison, riches trodden underfoot like dirt, and life
itself treated as valueless; this is the profession of a Christian man. This sort of
life, because it seems unbearable to those who do not act in the spirit of Christ, is
easily reduced to a few idle words and empty ceremonies; and thus to a
fraudulent head of Christ men add a fraudulent body.
JULIUS: What's left of me that's any good at all if you take away my money, strip
me of my power, deprive me of my usury, forbid my pleasures, and even destroy
PETER: You might as well say Christ was wretched when he, who had been at
the peak of all things, was made a mockery before men. In poverty and painful
labor, in fasts and deprivation he passed his entire life, and then died the most
shameful of deaths.
JULIUS: He may find people to praise his example, but not to follow it, not in
these days anyway.
PETER: But to praise him is really to imitate him. Though Christ doesn't deprive
his followers of all good things, in place of false goods he provides them with true
and eternal goods. But he does not enrich anyone who has not first renounced
and rejected all the good things of this world. As he himself was altogether
heavenly, so he wanted his body, that is, the church, to be exactly like him, pure
from the contagions of mundane life. Otherwise, how could anyone be united
with him if he were still contaminated with the filth of earthly existence? But when
the church has got rid of all the pleasures of this world, and, what is more, of all
secret hankerings after them, then Christ will reveal his true riches, exchanging
heavenly joys for earthly ones (too often plentifully mixed with bitter flavors) and
in place of lost riches substituting riches of another, far better, sort.
JULIUS: What are those, may I ask?
PETER: You shouldn't think the gift of prophecy, the gift of wisdom, and the gift
of miracles are like any form of vulgar riches; you shouldn't suppose Christ
himself is some common commodity that you can possess entirely and in him
possess everything; and you shouldn't think that we here live a meager life. The
more anyone is afflicted in the world below, the more delight does he feel in
Christ; the poorer he is in the world, the richer in Christ; the more lowly in the
world, the more exalted and honorable in Christ; the less he lives in the world,
the more he lives in Christ. As he wished his entire body to be of the utmost
purity, so he placed special importance on his ministers, that is, the bishops; and
among these, the loftier anyone's position, the more closely he should resemble
Christ in being completely free of and unencumbered by any worldly
considerations. Now here, on the other hand, I see one who wants to be thought
close to, and almost on a par with, Christ, yet who is immersed in all the dirty
business he can find, in accumulating money, displays of wealth, possessions of
every sort, wars, treaties, and private vices I won't even try to describe. And
though you are utterly alien to Christ, you abuse the titles of Christ to serve your
own pride. Hiding behind him who despised the rule of the world, you act the
tyrant; and though really the enemy of Christ, usurp for yourself the honor due to
him. While blessing others, you are accursed yourself; you open to others the
gates of heaven, yet cannot get yourself admitted; as you consecrate, you are
execrated; you excommunicate when you yourself are out of all communion with
the sacred. What after all is the difference between you and the leader of the
Turks, except that you pretend to use the name of Christ? You have the same
sort of mind, you lead the same sordid lives; you are a worse misfortune for the
church even than he.
JULIUS: I wanted to see the church adorned with every sort of good thing. But
they say Aristotle distinguished three sorts of good: goods of fortune, goods of
the body, and goods of the mind. I didn't want to change his order, so I began
with goods of fortune, and I might have worked up to goods of the mind if
untimely death hadn't called me away.'
PETER: Untimely you call it, and you seventy years old! In any case, how could
you expect to mingle fire with water?
JULIUS: But if we have to do without earthly shows, the common people won't
respect us at all; as it is, they hate us almost as much as they fear us. Then the
whole Christian community will go to rack and ruin when it can't defend itself
against its enemies.
PETER: But if ordinary Christians recognized in you the real gifts of Christ, that
is, a holy life, a sacred teaching, ardent charity, prophetic wisdom, and genuine
virtue, they would look up to you as one purified from the impulses of the world;
and the Christian community would expand even further if its leaders won
respect from the unbelievers for the purity of their life, their contempt for
pleasure, wealth, conquest, and death. As things stand, Christianity has shrunk
within narrow bounds indeed, and if you look closely, even within those bounds
you will find many merely nominal Christians. Let me ask you, didn't you ever
consider, when you became supreme pastor of the church, how this church was
born, how it grew, what sort of men gave it strength? Was this accomplished by
wars, by chests full of treasure, by cavalry raids? No: by patience under
suffering, by the blood of martyrs and our own, by enduring prisons and whips.
You say the church has grown when all its ministers are burdened with earthly
goods; you say it's been adorned when it's weighed down with worldly
possessions and pleasures; you say it's being defended when the entire world is
ripped apart by ferocious wars for the private gain of the priests; you say it's in
flourishing estate when it's drunk on the pleasures of this world; you call it quiet
when, because nobody complains about your riches, you are free to cultivate
your vices; and you grant glorious titles to princes who recognize you as their
teacher in the art of perpetrating shameless robberies and atrocious murders
under the name of "the defense of Christ."
JULIUS: Such things as this I never heard before.
PETER: What did your preachers tell you, then?
JULIUS: I never heard anything from them but fulsome praise. They exercised
their fanciest rhetoric in thundering out my glories, they compared me to Jove
wielding his thunderbolt, they practically deified me, they called me the savior of
the world, and a great many other things of that sort.
PETER: I'm not surprised there was nobody to give you good advice, for you
yourself were the salt that had lost its savor. For that is the special function of
the apostles and those that follow them, to teach others the lesson of Christ, and
in the purest form possible.
JULIUS: You're not going to open the gates, then?
PETER: To anyone, rather than a contagious disease like you. As far as you're
concerned, we're all excommunicated anyway. But would you care for a word of
practical advice? You have here a gang of muscle-men; you have a pile of
money; you’re a good builder. Go make yourself a new private paradise; but
make it good and strong to keep the demons of hell from dragging you out of it.
JULIUS: I’ll act in accordance with my own dignity. I’ll take a couple pf months to
build up my forces; then we’ll besiege you here and if you don’t surrender, drive
you out. For I don’t doubt to receive shortly, from the wars I started, fresh
recruits of sixty thousand souls or more.
PETER: Oh, you hateful disease! Oh, the poor church! But tell me, Genius, for
I’d rather talk with you than with this hideous monster!
GENIUS: What’s your problem?
PETER: Are all the other bishops on earth like this one?
GENIUS: A good number are of this general type; but this one is, as you might
PETER: Are you the one who stirred him up to such atrocious crimes?
GENIUS: I did hardly anything; he was so eager in his vices that even with
wooings I could hardly have followed him.
PETER: Well, I’m not surprised that we get so few candidates for admission,
when monsters like this are in charge of governing the church. But perhaps the
common people may be curable—or so I conjecture from the fact that because of
the mere empty title of pope, they gave honor to such a filthy piece of garbage as
GENIUS: You’ve hit the nail on the head. But my master is getting under way,
and has been shaking his stick at me. So farewell!
Source: Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly and Other Writings, trans.
Robert M. Adams (New York and London: Norton Critical Edition:, 1989), pp.