To retain an image of relevance among the new cultural (g)literati, the Popes of those decades adopted the trappings and aspirations of being Renaissance connoisseurs while lip-serving the role of spiritual guides. They hired the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael to embellish their monumental edifices. Some of the Renaissance Popes were so little concerned with spiritual matters that they allowed a corrupt Curia to run affairs like a Mafia while they used the huge Papal wealth to satisfy their appetites for art and less savoury things. They showed up for official functions and gave audiences to the select of the upper crust, but did little else as ‘Holy Fathers’.
It was fitting that that most imperial of all Popes, Pope Innocent III, had to deal with that humblest and most unpreposessing of saints, Francesco Bernardone (1182-1226), the greatest radical and most serious challenge to imperial Christianity of the Middle Ages, and perhaps of all time.
Rome incarnated a direct claim by humans to establish an eternal kingdom on earth by right of conquest and coercive power. Local gods could bow and be absorbed into Rome’s in order to survive, or be annihilated like those of the Carthaginians and Druidic Celts. The Jews and Christians challenged Rome’s nature at its root. Both paid a massive price in millions of lives for continuing to seek and honour the true Creator.