The papacy is an ancient institution that’s charged with leading and guiding the worldwide Christian population in their spiritual lives. Today, we view the pope as a figurehead whose power comes from his ability to influence the direction of Christianity, and therefore the direction and viewpoints of large swaths of the 2.2 billion Christians on earth. The pope - currently the Argentinian-born Pope Francis - wields power through symbolism and the historical importance of the papacy. However, things weren’t always this way.
Following the spread of Christianity throughout the western world after the death of Christ, the papacy became increasingly powerful. Once the various rulers and monarchs of Europe and the Middle-East began to convert to Christianity, the pope enjoyed a sort of de facto control over the numerous newly-converted Christian kingdoms. The east-west schism that began in 1053 effectively split Christianity in two, with the Pope becoming the figurehead of the newly created catholic sect of Christianity based in western Europe and those in the east who formed the orthodox Christian religion turning their back on the papacy.
Throughout most of the next 1,000 years, it was the catholic pope who controlled and influenced much of the secular and political activities of western Europe, which was quickly establishing itself as the most powerful group of states on Earth. As the pope had so much influence throughout the region, whoever found himself to be pope at the time was for all intents and purposes the most powerful man on the planet.
Naturally, power attracts corruption, and the popes of old weren’t all mercy and humility. Some of history’s many popes gained their power through political manipulation, corruption, or outright murder. As much as the catholic church of today would rather we forget, the history of the papal seat is riddled with war and blood - a far cry from the relatively benign presence of today’s pope. Frankly, the popes of history are far more entertaining than the ones of today, and these ones were the darkest, most malicious popes to hold the throne.
8 #8 Pope Sergius III
7 #7 Pope Julius III
6 #6 Pope Paul III
5 #5 Pope Urban II
4 #4 Pope Benedict IX
3 #3 Pope Stephen VI
2 #2 Pope John XII
1 #1 Pope Alexander VI
Alexander VI was so un-Christ-like that there’s an entire modern television drama dedicated to the antics of him and his family. You may know him by his family name - Rodrigo Borgia. The Borgia’s were a wealthy merchant family that effectively bought their way into Rodrigo becoming pope in 1492. Once installed as pope, the good times began to roll for the Borgia family. Alexander VI hosted the most elaborate orgies the Vatican had ever seen; 50 prostitutes crammed into a single hall where the pope and members of his clergy ran wild on them. He assigned some clergymen to abstain from the celebratory orgy, but to instead watch over the debauchery and keep track of the amount of orgasms each clergyman achieved, as he believed virility was a sign of strength and he wanted to keep statistics on his entourage. He would marry off his daughter Lucrezia to rich merchants, then declare the marriage null and void - he was the pope after all - and absorb all of their money. Alexander VI and his family effectively pillaged the upper class of Rome, stealing their fortunes and killing their opposition at will. His 11-year papacy came to an end in 1503, when one of the many assassins hired to kill him finally succeeded in their attempts. He was poisoned and died slowly over the next few days at the age of 72.
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