Now Julius II was a formidable statesman and even led troops into battle he was also a great builder and a patron of Michelangelo, (the Sistine Chapel and other projects, including the rebuilding of St. Peters). However he was also a relentlessly earthly man obsessed with money and power who put off and fatally undermined any effort to reform the Church.1
Erasmus was a reformer keenly interested in reforming the Church of abuses and eliminating corruption and Julius was an outstanding example of corruption within the Church.2 So that a few years later, (1517/18), after Julius’ death this work appeared.
Erasmus never stated bluntly that he wrote this work although he also never denied authorship. It is in fact rather revealing that he in fact said that those who made this piece public were more to blame than the actual author. Which is rather significant. Other people were given credit for this piece but the opinion of most of Erasmus’ contemporaries and later scholarship is that Erasmus wrote it.3
The piece states with Julius banging on to heaven’s gate accompanied by his Genius or guiding spirit. St. Peter comes to see what is the commotion is all about.
Peter is not too impressed with Julius:
…I see that all your equipment, key, crown, and robe, bears the marks of that villainous huckster and impostor, who had my name but not my nature, Simon, whom I humbled long ago with the aid of Christ.
Julius Stop this nonsense, if you know what’s good for you; for your information, I am Julius, the famous Ligurian; and unless you’ve completely forgotten your alphabet, I’m sure you recognize those two letters, P.M.
Peter I suppose they stand for Pestis Maxima.
Genius Ha ha ha! Our soothsayer has hit the nail on the head!
Julius Of course not! Pontifex Maximus.4
…you’re all belches and that you stink of boozing and hangovers and you look as if you’ve just thrown up. Your whole body is in such a state that I should guess that it’s been wasted, withered and rotted less by old age and illness than by drink.
Genius A fine portrait: Julius to the life!5
Peter Well. Did you win many souls for Christ by the saintliness of your life?
Genius He sent a good many to Tartarus.
Peter Were you famous for your miracles?
Julius This is old-fashioned stuff.
Peter Did you pray simply and regularly?
Julius What’s he jabbering about? Lot of nonsense!6
…today there is not one Christian king whom I have not incited to battle, after breaking, tearing, and shattering all the treaties by which they had painstakingly come to agreement among themselves;…7
Julius Simply that, under his administration, our treasury got only a miserable few thousand out of the enormous sums he collected from his citizens. But in any case, his deposition fitted in well with the plans I was making at the time. So the French, and some others who were intimidated by my thunderbolt, set to work with a will; Bentivoglio was overthrown, and I installed cardinals and bishops to run the city so that the whole of its revenue would be at the service of the Roman church.8
Peter Were they true or false?
Julius What’s the difference? It’s sacrilege even to whisper anything about the Roman pontiff, except in praise of him.9
They said that all our doings were tainted by a shameful obsession with money, by monstrous and unspeakable vices, sorcery, sacrilege, murder, and graft and simony. They said that I myself was a simoniac, a drunkard, and a lecher, obsessed with the things of this world, an absolute disaster for the Christian commonwealth, and in every way unworthy to occupy my position.10
Was what they said true?
Julius Indeed it was.11
Peter also asks:
But were you as bad as they claimed?
Julius Does it matter? I was supreme pontiff. Suppose I were more vicious than the Cercopes, stupider than Morychus, more ignorant than a log, fouler than Lerna: any holder of this key of power must be venerated as the vicar of Christ and looked on as most holy.12
In fact, he cannot be deprived of his jurisdiction for any crime at all.
Peter Not for murder?
Julius Not for parricide.
Peter Not for fornication?
Julius Such language! No, not even for incest.
Peter Not for unholy simony?
Julius Not even for hundreds of simoniacal acts.
Peter Not for sorcery?
Julius Not even for sacrilege.
Peter Not for blasphemy?
Julius No, I tell you.
Peter Not for all these combined in one monstrous creature?
Julius Look, you can run through a thousand other crimes if you like, all more hideous than these: the Roman pontiff still cannot be deposed for them.13
I’d be quite willing to welcome Indians, Africans, Ethiopians, Greeks, so long as they paid up and acknowledged our supremacy by sending in their taxes.14
Julius Ah, now you’re coming to it: listen. The church, once poor and staving, is now enriched with every possible ornament.
Peter What ornaments? Warm faith?
Julius You’re talking nonsense again.
Peter Sacred learning?
Julius You don’t give up, do you?
Peter Contempt for the world?
Julius Allow me to explain. I’m talking about real ornaments, not mere words like those.
Peter What then?
Julius Royal palaces, the most handsome horses and mules, hordes servants, well trained troops, dainty courtiers…15
That I was looking at a tyrant worse than any in the world, the enemy of Christ, the bane of the church.16
O worthy vicar of Christ who gave himself to save all men, while you have engineered the ruin of the whole world to save your own pestilent head!
Julius You’re only saying that because you begrudge us our glory, realizing how insignificant your pontificate was compared to ours.17
I’ve never heard such things.18
But now I see the opposite of this: the man who wishes to be thought the closest Christ, even his equal, is involved with all the most sordid things, money, power, armies, wars, treaties, not to mention vices. And yet, although you are furthest from Christ, you use the name of Christ to bolster your pride; you act like an earthy tyrant in the name of him who despised the kingdoms of earth, and you claim the honour due Christ although you are truly Christ’s enemy.19
The last person I’d let in is a pestilent fellow like you. In any case, we’re excommunicated, according to you. But would you like some friendly advice? You have a band of energetic followers, an enormous fortune, and you, yourself are a great architect; build some new paradise for yourself, but fortify it well to prevent evil demons capturing it.20Julius true to form rejects the advice and tells Peter that he will wait a few months and storm heaven.
Peter as a few words with Julius' Genius who tells him the Julius leads and he merely follows. The dialogue then ends.
This vicious, but funny dialogue illustrates quite well the problems with the Papacy that helped lead to the Protestant Reformation and in also the Counter Reformation. It is also a fun read.
1. MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Reformation, Penguin Books, London, 2003, pp. 41-42, 87-88, Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984, pp. 91-103.
3. Erasmus, The Erasmus Reader, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1990, p. 216. Julius Excluded from Heaven is on pp. 216-238.
4. IBID. p. 217.
5. IBID. pp. 218-219.
6. IBID. p. 230.
7. IBID. p. 232.
8. IBID. p. 226.
9. IBID. p. 227.
10. IBID. p. 228.
13. IBID. pp. 229-230.
14. IBID. p. 231.
15. IBID. p. 232.
16. IBID. p. 233.
17. IBID. p. 234.
18. IBID. p. 235.
19. IBID. p. 237.
20. IBID. p. 238.