WHAT IF THE ANTI-PAPAL COUNCIL CAME TO BE?

WHAT IF THE ANTI-PAPAL COUNCIL CAME TO BE?

BY DANIEL T. GOMES

Several months after his excommunication,
Savonarola called for a gathering of the
most powerful European rulers and aristocrats
of his time in order to depose Pope
Alexander VI. In Savonarola’s opinion,
Alexander VI – the infamous patriarch of
the Borgia family – was utterly corrupt and
unfit to remain the head of the Catholic
Church. The friar undoubtedly saw much
of Lorenzo the Magnificent in Alexander,
and much of the Medici’s hold of Florence
in the Borgia’s hold of Rome. The call for a
council that would oust the Spanish pope
was most urgent and necessary.
Even in his time, Alexander VI was known
for fostering the family’s nepotist ties and
cold-blooded crimes that have made the
name “Borgia” synonymous with unrelenting
debauchery and ambition. With the
death of his son Giovanni, second Duke of
Gandía, Alexander’s reprehensible behavior
became all the more apparent. The
Pope was losing favor both in Rome and
abroad. It was the perfect timing for the
removal of the Borgia from the Holy See.
Alexander VI, however, intercepted almost
all communication made between
Florence and the European powers that
were to take part of this council. Now with
tangible reason to brand Savonarola as an
enemy of the Church, Alexander sought the
immediate suppression of the friar. By the
end of May of 1498, Savonarola had failed
the ordeal by fire and been executed. The
anti-Papal Council had been averted.
Had Savonarola succeeded in calling the
anti-Papal Council, Alexander may not
have been Pope for much longer. Charles
VIII of France, who had successfully invaded
and plundered Northern Italy before
being forced to retreat in 1495, was eager
to conquer permanently those territories
he could not hold on to upon his retreat,
including Rome. If other powers – namely,
the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms
of England and Hungary – were to
join the French, Alexander’s days as Bishop
of Rome and ruler of the Papal States were
numbered. While it is hard to predict how
the political landscape of Italy would
have changed, it becomes evident that not
even all the kingdoms, duchies, republics,
marquisates and bishoprics of Italy could
have defended Alexander VI against the
anti-Papal forces.
Such a triumph would have strengthened
Savonarola’s position in such a way as to
make him the perfect candidate to replace
Alexander and become the new leader of
the Roman Catholic Church – probably a
mere formality in his eyes, since he already
saw himself as the chosen mouthpiece of
God anyway. As the formal successor of
Alexander VI and backed by this formidable
council of Christian rulers, the
Dominican friar would have reshaped
the Catholic Church to fit his vision. This
would most likely entail the relocation of
the Apostolic See to the city of Florence,
thus merging the Papal States with the Florentine
Republic. From there, Savonarola
would have probably worked towards the
fulfillment of his dream: turning Florence
into the “New Jerusalem” of the Book of
Revelations, centralizing all the wealth
and power of the two merged states into
the capital city.