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The Bad Popes by E. R. Chamberlin
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The Bad Popes (original 1969; edition 1993)

by E. R. Chamberlin (Author)

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428724,653 (3.58)5
Member:impatient
Title:The Bad Popes
Authors:E. R. Chamberlin (Author)
Info:Dorset Press (1993), Edition: Book Club (BCE/BOMC), 310 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Read

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The Bad Popes by E. R. Chamberlin (1969)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
A compendium of sordid medieval fables and debauched grandiosity that could have been the inspiration for Frederick Rolfe’s megalomaniacal alter-ego Hadrian the Seventh. The contrivers of cruel fortune in Greek tragedy or Shakespeare have nothing on the bad popes—some of whom were contemporaries, and subjects, of Petrarch, Dante, and Machiavelli. Even the virtues of a man like Clement VII, writes Chamberlin, were more disastrous than the vices of other men.

Chamberlin’s prose style is well-suited to the material: he recounts episodes of papal avarice, depravity, and self-aggrandizement with a keen detachment and a dry, sardonic wit. Chamberlin’s historiography is also commendable: he carefully situates the authors of the extant source material in relevant proximity to events, and is appropriately skeptical toward accounts by aggrieved enemies and dynastic partisans. It is trivial to note that truth is stranger than fiction, unless the writing is as good as it is here.

The interment of the bones of an early Christian martyr in a pagan cemetery on Vatican Hill and the collusion of Carolingian kings and Roman bishops in the bogus sacralizing of the Donation of Constantine set the stage for the blend of mysticism, mythology, and materialism that came to be embodied by the occupant of the chair of St. Peter. No one can be shocked by the corruption and depravity of those in positions of power within religious institutions, but we can be entertained (as long as the stories are of long-ago, and well told). A few highlights:

Gregory II’s rejection of Byzantine iconoclasm in 726 triggered a war so frightful and bloody that for six years thereafter the inhabitants of the Po valley abstained from eating the fish of the river for fear of involuntary cannibalism.

In an episode known as the Synod horrenda, Pope Stephen VII put on “trial” the corpse of his immediate predecessor Formosus, which was propped on a throne in sacerdotal robes, cursed, found guilty, stripped, hacked away from the three fingers of benediction on the right hand, and finally tossed in the Tiber.

The military campaign of Charles V of Spain against Clement VII was backed by the bottomless coffers of Europe’s greatest banking house, the Fuggers.

In these pages, popes lie, steal, cheat, fornicate, torture, and die grisly deaths. But, writes Chamberlin, the spiritual capacity of each remained unaffected by his temporal activities since, according to Church teachings, “the waters of divine grace continued to pass through him unaffected by the possible foulness of the conduit.”

Chamberlin ends with the sack of Rome in May 1527, at the hands of the enemies of the last Medici pope, and just before the power and fury of the Church was renewed by the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition. And we all know how that turned out. ( )
2 vote HectorSwell | Feb 21, 2013 |
Surprisingly- this book was witty and totally engaging. To steal another's review- Sex, sin, greed, a bit of the 'ol ultra-violence, and that's just before 1400! Biggest lesson learned? Politicians have been corrupt since time began. What was most interesting to me was the discussions around the great schism and why the medieval popes were just so naughty. Hint- In these times the throne of St. Peter was also linked to the secular "throne" of Rome and the papal states. Hence, conflict of interests bred some very bad popes indeed. ( )
  KatharineDB | Aug 7, 2012 |
This book focuses on bad popes from the middle ages, and there were some hilariously bad popes in that period. The story is interesting and engaging, even if the commentary is a bit dry in places. However, given this is a factual well references history book, it is surprisingly readable. I enjoyed it.

http://www.stillhq.com/book/Russell_Chamberlin/The_Bad_Popes.html ( )
  mikal | Mar 31, 2011 |
Like reading a sleaze magazine covering several centuries. I loved it! Also great inspiration and details for my own writing. ( )
  Brior | Apr 22, 2009 |
Another random book from the charity shop and another bargain.
This is history as a story of key individuals, and seems a little dated as such, but it is both entertaining and informative (though I nearly discarded it as overly-flowery after the first two paragraphs - I recommend you persist, it gets better).
As the title suggests it is about "bad" popes, from the founding of the church to the renaissance. Along the way it highlights a number of terrible vices (both personal and professional) in several holders of the office, as well as debunking some others (there never was a "Pope Joan" for example, although reformation protestants loved the story).
I enjoyed this, and if you like history, it may well be worth a look. ( )
1 vote daniel.links | Sep 17, 2007 |
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Epigraph
It is now more than a thousand years since these territories and cities have been given to the priests and ever since then the most violent wars have been waged on their account, and yet the priests neither now possess them in peace, nor will ever be able to possess them. It were in truth better before the eyes of God and the world that these pastors should entirely renounce the dominium temporale: for since Sylvester's time the consequences of the temporal power have been innumerable wars and the overthrow of peoples and cities. How is it possible that there has never been any good pope to remedy such evils and that so many wars have been waged for these transient possessions. Truly we cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time, cannot stand with one foot in Heaven and the other on Earth................ Giovanni de' Mussi, Chronicle of Piacenza, c. 1350
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Some time before the Flood, when men began again to move on the face of the earth and grew again in arrogance so that their impiety was confounded at Babel and that they were again dispersed, Noah came to Italy and with his sons Jason, Japhet, and Camese built a series of cities upon the seven hills surrounding the Tiber.
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Book description
Here is a colorful, panoramic story of seven men who ruled the Church of Rome at seven critical periods in the 600 years leading into the Reformation. It was an age of grandeur and corruption, of magnificent architecture and petty human foibles, of ecclesiastical heresy and moral degradation. Popes led armies, made love and war, conspired for power, and armed themselves with the techniques of assassination and seduction while clothed with the authority of the Church.
Against the background of this turbulent era, E.R. Chamberlin explores the lives, both private and public, of John XII, the dissolute Roman prince, Benedict IX, who subjected the Papacy to its greatest indignity; Boniface VIII, who carried the temporal claims of popes to supreme heights and was destroyed by them; Urban VI, the wild man from Naples, whose grotesque savageries widened and maintained the scandalous gap of the Great Schism; Alexander VI, who brought to the See of Peter the intrigues of the Borgia; Leo X, civilized, urbane, indifferent to the pleas of the Augustian preacher from the North, Martin Luther; and Clement VII, the unskillful fox, who fell, tricked by the Holy Roman Emperor, bringing down Rome itself. Profusely illustrated with architectural photographs and contemporary art from both Catholic and Protestant sources. The Bad Popes is a vital and important book that vividly depicts the ecclesiastical corruptions which led to the Reformation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0880291168, Hardcover)

Hardcover with dust jacket. Seven pre-Reformation popes who misused their office.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:04 -0400)

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