On being more skeptical than the skeptics…

Recently, a person, whom I shall call Beam, posted an alleged quotation of Leo X on Twitter:

LQ1: “How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us and our predecessors.” — Pope Leo X 1514.

I shall henceforth abbreviate Leo X’s Christ-fable quotation as LQ, though I will denote the three English variants of it which I’ve found as LQ1, LQ2, and LQ3.

LQ2: “All ages can testifie enough how profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie.”

LQ3: “How much we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages.”

I and another person on Twitter cited two online articles which show why LQ is spurious: i) a brief rebuttal by someone I’ll call “Devin” and ii) another, much more detailed rebuttal by Holding. In his outraged defense, Beam cited a Nexus article  (extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume 14, Number 3 (April – May 2007)), which I shall call Nexus (though it seems to have been written by Tony Bushby). Beam then also demanded that I and other critics issue retractions and apologies about LQ. I thought this was laughable, but also an interesting challenge, so I decided to look into the matter myself. Granted, my resources are limited almost entirely to online materials; the following are my objections and discoveries.

Pope Leo X (center) with his cardinal-nephew G...

Objection 1: What is the exact Latin quotation of LQ?

All I have seen are (at least) three variant English renderings of LQ, without any quotation of the original text, despite putative citations in other Latin works by Giovio, Bembo, Baronius, and perhaps even Sadoleto. Cf. Objection 4, below.

As a side note, it’s interesting that Calvin, in his written debate with Sadoleto, never deployed such a potent attack as LQ against Sadoleto and the Church, who was allegedly a witness to it!

Objection 2: Wikipedia calls LQ a disputed quotation and only provides the words from Bale’s satire (viz. LQ2).

I suppose Beam will demand a retraction and apology from the entire Wiki community, as well? It’s all a conspiracy, to be sure. Yet even so rabid a Christ-denier as Acharya S cites LQ as “attributed by [sic] John Bale, Bishop of Ossory, in The Pageant of Popes, p. 179, 1574)”.  Retraction time for Beam again? Or just Miller Time?

Objection 3: Nexus is the only apparent document that has the word “predecessors” rather than Bale’s well documented “companie” in LQ.

Again, what’s the original Latin for LQ? See objections 1–3, above, and objection 4, below. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “[Leo X’s] piety cannot truly be described as deep or spiritual, but that does not justify the continued repetition of his alleged remark: [LQ3] ‘How much we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages.’” Where did Nexus get his version of LQ? Did he misquote it while typing? Did he translate it himself? Did he hear it from someone? He gives no solid indication of its unique origin, and thus further undermines his credibility.

Objection 4: The only clear and certain reference we have to LQ comes from an anti-Catholic satire by John Bale, eighty years after the fact.

There are no clear and reliable citations from more neutral sources closer to LQ itself. Nexus’s handling of the bibliographic materials is appalling, so even if LQ is genuine, we won’t know it thanks to Nexus. Consider just one flaw, as a representation of how careless Nexus is about bibliographic matters. He claims that Baronius was the Church’s most outstanding historian, but in one instance the citation he gives is “Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11, 1967, pg. 105” while in another instance it is “Catholic Encyclopedia, New Edition, 1976, ii, p. 105”. Volume 11 or volume 2? 1967 or 1976? Leo X or Alexander VI (see below)?

The latter citation is probably correct (except for the error––admittedly perhaps just a typing or scanning error––about vol. ii versus vol. 11), but the point is that such careless defects undermine Nexus as a guide to the materials. (Oh, and the fact that Bushby misspells Annales Ecclesiastici twice in the first link doesn’t help, either.) Somewhere in his stream of fulminations, Beam boasted that the Nexus author had researched his claims for twenty years. But if my objections have any weight, that means we’re facing twenty years of compacted, convoluted error. Just think about that. It may take five minutes to unravel a minute of nonsense. How long would it take to unravel twenty years of sloppy historical efforts? Exactly.

Objection 5: Although Nexus claims that an “early edition” of the Catholic Encyclopedia addresses LQ head-on (though he says it tries, of course, to negate LQ’s scandalous import), I find no mention of any 1897 Pecci edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. (Well, no mention of it outside of Nexus’s article… and exactly similar citations in Tony Bushby’s writings. See the pattern? The Nexus echo chamber.)

The first volume of any English language Catholic Encyclopedia appeared in 1907, so perhaps the reference to an “1897” edition is just another typo. Pecci is the surname of Pope Leo XIII, who died in 1903, so he seems to be the only figure who might have commissioned an “early edition” of the Catholic Encyclopedia. There is, however, no evidence that he did so; hence “the Pecci edition” is yet another dead end in the Nexus/Bushby echo chamber.

Objection 6: While Pietro Bembo is cited by Nexus as a biographer of Leo X, and is said to mention LQ, Bembo’s vita (biography) of Leo X is not the only such biography––yet no other Leonine vita is cited about LQ.

Indeed, although Sadoleto is implicated as a witness to LQ, his annotated collection of letters by Leo X, among others, is apparently silent about LQ. Why? Likewise, Antonio Fabronio’s 1797 biography of Leo X is apparently silent about LQ. Why would Fabronio leave out such a significant incident? Oh, right: it’s all a theist conspiracy. Silly me. Additionally, Bembo’s History of Venice (HV) only covers until 1509, but LQ is alleged to have been made in 1514, so, while I’d like to give Nexus as much grace as possible, HV could not be the source of his phantom, putative mention of LQ. 

Objection 7: Nexus also implicates Paolo Cardinal Giovio (Jovius) as a witness to LQ, but there is no solid documentary evidence of LQ in Giovio’s cited works.

Consider the following quotations of Giovio, which I risk citing from Nexus’s hand:

GIO1: “[A]fter speaking of the pope’s ‘excessive luxury’ and ‘regal license’, [Giovio] claimed to have ‘penetrated the secrets of the night’, adding:

GIO2: ‘Nor was he [Leo X] free from the infamy that he seemed to have an improper love of some of his chamberlains, who were members of the noblest families of Italy’

(De Vita Leonis Decimi, Pontificus Maximus, Paolo Giovio, 1897 English ed., lib. iv, pp. 96-99). 

Here is the Latin that seems to be the basis for the above English quotation:

NON1: “Non caruit etiam infamia, quod parum honeste nonnullos e cubiculariis (erant enim e tota Italia nobilissimi) adamare, et cum his tenerius atque libere iocari videretur. Sed quis vel optimus atque sanctissimus princeps in hac maledicentissima aula lividorum aculeos vitavit?”

(Liber Quartus)

First of all, references to Leo X’s “excessive luxury” and “the secrets of the night” in GIO1 appear to come after GIO2, not before it, as Nexus claims. So, we are, once again, victim to sloppy documentation and poor analysis by Nexus.

I searched every possible reference to “Christ” (Christi, Christe, etc.) in Paolo Giovio’s Vita de Leonis X, yet found no mention of LQ. There seem to be only four instances of the “Christ” stem in liber iv (cited above).

Likewise, the the Latin stem for “fable” (fabul-) is apparently nowhere present in liber iv, though it does appear in liber iii, and may by some strange chance be the source of the misquotation:

Cunctis ad pedis osculum procumbentibus LEONIS Decimi nomen sibi desumpsit, utpote qui propter innatam excelso regioque animo clementiae virtutem, non expresso quidem titulo, sed erudita allusione magnanimi cognomentum affectaret, duorum superiorum secutus exemplum, quibus Alexandri et Iulii augustissima nomina placuissent. Non defuere qui dicerent Claricem matrem pleno iam utero leonem ingentis magnitudinis et mirae lenitatis in Reparatae templo Florentiae omnium maximo se parere sine gemitu somniasse. Quod postea somnium ex fabulis nutricum quum puerorum ingeniis inhaesisset, accipiendo nomini causam haud dubie praebuerit.”

I now provide the complete Latin text of what seems to be the source of Giovio’s mention of LQ. I leave it to my betters in Latin to find LQ herein:

Non caruit etiam infamia, quod parum honeste nonnullos e cubiculariis (erant enim e tota Italia nobilissimi) adamare, et cum his tenerius atque libere iocari videretur. Sed quis vel optimus atque sanctissimus princeps in hac maledicentissima aula lividorum aculeos vitavit? Et quis ex adverso tam maligne improbus ac invidiae tabe consumptus, ut vera demum posset obiectare, noctium secreta scrutatus est? At si aliqua ex parte eo nomine suggillari inclyta virtus potuit, Leo certe cum superiorum principum fama comparatus aestimatione rectissima continentiae laudem feret. Quod si falso notatus (ut credi par est) iniquam subiit invidiam, miserabilem profecto principum conditionem existimaverim, quando eorum mores, ad arbitrium paucorum improborum saevam potius quam benignam interpretationem accipiant. Sed alia principis, alia hominis esse vicia quis nescit? Haec uni privata conditione quum noceant, etiam aliquibus fortasse prosunt; illa vero ab dira potestate, et luctum et calamitatem universis mortalibus apportant; idque verissimum esse constat praeclaro quondam populi Romani testimonio, qui neminem sibi principem Traiano meliorem exoptavit, quanquam eum illicitae libidinis ac ebrietatis censura notasset.

Sed demus aliquid humanitati Leonis uti in summa licentia fervidae aetatis ac prosperae valetudinis aestum aegerrime sustinenti, postquam in magnis salutaribusque virtutibus optimi atque benefici cognomentum facile meruerit. Constat tamen eum, quod a prima adolescentia opinione omnium summam continentiae laudem fuisset adeptus, non importuna quaedam pudicitiae castitatique praesidia quaesivisse, quando nequaquam pristinae vitae more tam multis delicatisque obsoniis uteretur, itemque animo vere pudico, die Mercurii carnes non edere, die autem Veneris nihil gustare praeter legumen et olera, ac die demum Saturni caena penitus abstinere, incorrupta lege instituisset. In his vero quae rem divinam respicerent nequaquam secunda fama praegravari est visus. Nam indulgentias vetera pontificum ad parandam pecuniam instrumenta adeo plene atque affluenter provinciis dedit, ut fidem sacrosanctae potestatis elevare videretur; in hoc etiam detestabili legatorum avaritia deceptus, qui se animas defunctorum singulis acceptis aureis expiare, a purgatoriisque poenis eripere profitebantur. Prolatis enim ingentibus bullatis membranis per templa concionari erant soliti; adeo ut hac impudenti corruptela exciti complures e Germania viri doctissimi, eam pontificis piam benignitatem tanquam avaritiae sordibus involutam irriserint, inducto subinde Luthero ex Augustiniana secta fraterculo, qui malesana vehementique eloquentia dum in pontificem et Romanae aulae mores inveheretur, evulgato passim nefando dogmatis veneno, religionem evertit; unde illi Haeresiarchae cognomen partum, non ambigua fortasse cum laude, si in unum tantum pontificiae causae iugulum nihil turbatis veteribus cerimoniis incubuisset. Sed facundiam eius, sacrarumque literarum peritiam ab infami transfugio abiecta imprimis cuculla et mox assiduae in ganeis compotationes et cum sacra virgine ad libidinem quaesitus thorus magnopere defoedarunt.

Objection 8: Never afraid of contradicting himself, Nexus reports that the same Cardinal Baronius who allegedly substantiates LQ, in fact rejects the accusation that Leo X was an atheist and Christ-denier.

As evidence of his manful self-refutation, Nexus provides two key quotations from Baronius’s Annales Ecclesiastici (AE).

BAR1: “The Pontiff has been accused of atheism, for he denied God and called Christ, in front of cardinals Pietro Bembo, Jovius and Iacopo Sadoleto and other intimates, ‘a fable’ … it must be corrected” (Annales Ecclesiastici, op. cit., tomes viii and xi).

BAR2: “On behalf of the Church, Cardinal Baronius officially defended Pope Leo’s declaration, saying it was ‘an invention of his corroded mind’ (Annales Ecclesiastici, op. cit., tome iv).”

Here is where things get weird.

Or weirder, if you’ve followed me this far.

Notice that in BAR1 Baronius is cited in tomes viii and xi of AE. Tome viii, however, covers the years 449–499, and tome xi covers the years 600–679. How could Baronius, as the preeminent Catholic historian, possibly mention Leo X (b. 1475–d. 1521) in those pre-medieval tomes? It is not until tome xxxi, hundreds of pages later, that Baronius covers the years 1513-1526, when LQ allegedly occurred. What is Nexus doing? Does he even know?

An online search of tome xxxi delivers no citations for the stems “fabul” or “fabulam”, though there is one instance of “fabula” (p. 86), though it has nothing to do with Christ. Nor is there any apparent instance of “athei” or “atheism” in tome xxxi. Only one citation of “Sadolet” comes up in the same tome (p. 521). Only one citation for “intim” comes up (p. 507), and that’s apparently just due to an attempted match with “inter”. As such, I find no instance––in the only possible relevant tome Baronius wrote––that Sadolet or other “intimates” are mentioned in connection with Leo. I realize the Latin may contain different words and stems than those I have used, but the burden of proof is squarely on Beam and/or Nexus to show why my search is flawed.

Sadly, though, that is not the full extent of the bizareness. Recall that Baronius’s own rejection of LQ is cited in tome iv––even though that tome covers the years 318–359! Thanks to Nexus, we have a time-traveling cardinal-historian who not only allegedly provides the only pre-Bale citation of LQ (ca. 1514) in his discussion of the Church between 449 and 679, but also went back in time almost a thousand years to say that the accusation must be corrected, and went back again twelve centuries to deflect LQ as an invention of a deluded mind! With witnesses like these––!

If Nexus is just giving us the facts, as Beam maintains, why would Baronius’s quotation in BAR1 be patched together from phrases as far apart as tomes viii and xi (i.e. several hundred pages apart in contexts centuries removed from each other)? What has Nexus elided with that centuries-long ellipsis between “’fable’” and “it”? Whatever the ellipsis may hide, one thing it manifests, once again, is Nexus’s incompetence as a historical guide.

Objection 9: I can’t find a source of any kind for His Letters and Comments on Leo X, reprint 1842 (LCLX), the alleged Pietro Bembo book which Nexus mentions a few times as a key source.

The only citations I have found that possibly correspond to Nexus’s phantom LCLX are

i) Epistolarum Leonis X pontificis Max. nomine Scriptarum libri sexdecim (1552),

ii) Greswell’s 1801 Memoirs of Angelo Poliziano, Jacopo Sannazaro, Pietro Bembo, Girolamo Fracastoro, Marco Antonio Flaminio, Girolamo Amalteo, Cornelio Amalteo: A Translation from Their Poetical Works

and iii) Die leonischen Briefe des Petrus Bembus, an 1893 dissertation by Fritz Sydow.

I’ll address them in the order cited:

i) Search results for “fabula” and “fabulam”, though ample, indicate no connection at all to Christ. I am open to correction here, but again, the burden of proof isn’t mine.

ii) There is no apparent mention of “fable” in Greswell’s discussion of Bembo, yet another striking omission by someone writing objectively about Leo X and Bembo. (Cf. p. 127ff for Greswell’s discussion of Bembo (Bembus).) The same caveat holds: I’m willing to be corrected, but….

iii) I have examined every reference to Leo in Sydow’s work (albeit via an online text search), and have found no mention of LQ—and this, in a dissertation devoted to the content of Bembo’s letters about Leo X!

Objection 10: LQ actually seems to have been made by Alexander VI, so even a proof of LQ amounts to another refutation of Nexus as a historical guide. 

The source of “LQ” as having been made by Alexander VI is apparently volume 3 of Diarium sive rerum urbanarum commentarii by Joannes Burchardus, which can be perused here or hereWhile I’m genuinely curious to read the statement by Alexander VI (ALQ), I’ll save finding it for a rainy day.  Its existence does nothing to ameliorate the utter hollowness of LQ as presented by Nexus and Beam. The more I look into this, the more deranged things appear. (By now, you probably have a similar sense of historical Unheimlichkeit.) I find it sad that Beam has put so much irrational weight on such a flimsy piece of evidence.

Objection 11: Even if I’m convinced LQ is genuine, it does little to undermine Christianity.

Indeed, the more Nexus shows how corrupt Leo X was, the less standing Leo has in his obiter dicta. Nexus’s argument is thus as logically self-defeating as are his historical efforts. (Nexus’s utter mangling of LQ’s relation to papal infallibility merits no discussion.) Indeed, shortly after citing Baronius’s (unsubstantiated) documentation of LQ, Nexus cites the apparently bibliographically useless Bembo to the effect that Leo X:

was known to disbelieve Christianity itself. He advanced [sic] contrary to the faith and that in condemning the Gospel, therefore he must be a heretic; he was guilty of sodomy with his chamberlains; was addicted to pleasure, luxury, idleness, ambition, unchastity and sensuality; and spent his whole days in the company of musicians and buffoons. His Infallibility’s drunkenness was proverbial, he practiced incontinency as well as inebriation, and the effects of his crimes shattered the people’s constitution. (Letters and Comments on Pope Leo X, ibid.)

(Notice the recurring flaccid “ibid.” trailing LCLX, leading to no page citation in an ostensibly mythical book.) 

Was Leo X a sincere whistle-blower on Christian fakery, or a drunken, dissipated, opportunistic, untrustworthy buffoon who would say anything to promote his own ego? Nexus would have us believe the latter; but in that case, why listen to such a sleazy witness? Would Nexus have us believe the word of a drunken wanton? The more Nexus paints Leo X as an untrustworthy, dissipated person, the less reason he gives us to regard Leo X as a credible, coherent witness.

Now, perhaps the idea is that of “in vino veritas”: Leo X spilled the beans in a drunken gaffe, that’s the ticket! But the history of the papacy includes enough drunkards and scalliwags before Leo X that he wouldn’t be the first to have let the cat out of the bag over wine. As Saganists love to say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Unfortunately, all Nexus has provided is extraordinarily sloppy and elusive evidence propping up an outrageous claim: in the whole span of Christendom, the popes knew it was all a sham, yet on only one occasion did a pope actually let that truth slip. Extraordinary cliches require extraordinary overuse. 

Beyond all this, even if I’m convinced LQ is genuine (LQg)—and, I repeat, proving LQg should be as simple as citing the page number and original Latin in Baronius’s Annales Ecclesiastici, the entirety of which is available online—I would still offer no retraction or apology to Beam, or anyone else, since the presentation of LQ by Nexus borders on literally drunken, intellectually sloppy, and comically reckless, if not theatrically mendacious. I defend myself as the surgeon in Tim Burton’s Batman defended himself to the Joker: “You see what I have to work with here.”

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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