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Popes, Cardinals and War: The Military Church in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe.

David S. Chambers. Popes, Cardinals and War: The Military Church in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe.

London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2006. xxii + 234 pp. index. illus. map. bibl. $55. ISBN: 978-1-84511-178-6.

Few scholars possess as intimate a knowledge of the careers and worldly ambitions of Renaissance ecclesiastics as D. S. Chambers. In monographs and countless articles spanning four decades, Chambers has studied their family histories, their education and office-holding, their politicking and patronage. In this latest volume the fruits of those long labors have been enlisted for the purpose of examining the most worldly of their activities: waging war. Like many observers in the past (and undoubtedly many still to come) Chambers is struck by the paradox of Christian religious warfare, especially the participation of Renaissance popes and cardinals in military ventures. However, coming to terms with the paradox is well beyond the scope of this book. Chambers portrays the bellicosity of Renaissance and early modern pontiffs and cardinals as different only in intensity, not in motivation or substance. As a result, his latest study assumes the features of a rather introductory survey of the history of the papacy.

Chambers's narrative unfolds in seven chapters, each a model of economy. Chapter 1 covers the medieval period from the papacy's alliance with the Carolingians beginning in the 750s, through the crisis of the tenth century, the Gregorian reform, the consolidation of papal monarchy in the aftermath of the investiture controversy, the conflict with the Hohenstaufen, the Crusades (foreign and domestic), and concludes with Boniface VIII. While conceding that papal militancy during these years defies "simple explanation," two factors, nevertheless, stand above all others as the source of future papal belligerence: papal claims to universal authority and the administration of the territorial state. Chapter 2 covers the period from 1305 to 1458 with the exploits of some key cardinals taking center stage: Albornoz (d. 1367), "the exemplary warrior-cardinal for all time" (30); Cesarini (d. 1443), "who raged more than anyone for a war against the (Hussite) heretics" (41); and Vitelleschi and Trevisan, both of whom found war "congenial" and both of whom sponsored projects to commemorate their martial activities in the arts (42-46). During this period it was "difficult," Chambers writes, "to find a single pope or cardinal who consistently opposed war on principle" (46).

The next hundred-plus pages take the reader into the very heart of papal "warmongering." Chapter 3 is devoted almost entirely to Pius II, who combined humane traits with a "surprising bellicosity and sense of military obligation as pope, almost in the style of Gregory VII as 'dux and pontifex'" (53). Chapter 4 treats the years of papal warfare between 1471 and 1503. Chapter 5 focuses on the pontificate and personality of Julius II who displayed an "obsessive fascination" with war during his lifetime and whose behavior as pope "stood essentially within a long tradition, even a canonical tradition, that obliged the leaders of the Church to resort to arms" (131). Chapter 6 tracks the post-Julian years and concentrates on the Medici and Farnese popes and cardinal-nephews. However, not even the sack of Rome by imperial troops in May 1527, the rising clamor for reform, or the growing body of satirical literature and woodcuts attacking the militarism of the papacy could derail the papal war engine; it ground inexorably on for another 300 years against enemies real and imagined, all the while erecting new monuments to commemorate its pyrrhic victories.

As should be clear, Chambers pursues his theme as relentlessly as popes and cardinals pursued the arts of war; he offers no apologies for this. Indeed, he is more concerned about a possible rebirth of such bellicosity as old enmities are rekindled. It is this concern, one imagines, that compels him to paint with such broad strokes and to eschew more nuanced analysis; many readers will undoubtedly find fault with the book. On the other hand it isn't a bad read, and keeps good company with the likes of Burckhardt, Symonds, Acton, and Creighton.


St. Mary's College of California
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Author:Flemer, Paul
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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