Category Archives: Renaissance History

#284 – Lorenzo Valla and the Donation of Constantine

The Donation of Constantine served to justify Papal temporal authority over Western Europe for centuries, until Lorenzo Valla proved that it was a fraud. No one likes a revisionist historian.

Tomb of Lorenzo Valla
Valla’s refutation of the Donation of Constantine

Blum, Paul Richard. Philosophers of the Renaissance
Blum, Paul Richard. Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance. Ashgate Studies in the History of Philosophical Theology. Farnham, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub. Ltd, 2010. CUA Press, 2010.
Celenza, Christopher S. The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Valla, Lorenzo, and Renaissance Society of America. The Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine. Renaissance Society of America Reprint Texts 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association with the Renaissance Society of America, 1993.

Image: Fresco of Donation of Constantine

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Today in Catholic History – Pope Sixtus V and the Holy Name of Jesus

On 2 July 1587, in order to increase devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Pope Sixtus V granted an indulgence of fifty days to any who would greet one another with the words “Praise be to Jesus Christ” and the answer “Forever. Amen”. In Latin, this would be “Laudetur Jesus Christus” “In saecula. Amen“. In German, this would be “Gelobt sei Jesus Christus” “In Ewigkeit“. The indulgence also served to strengthen Catholic spirituality as part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

In 1728, Pope Benedict XIII would increase the indulgence to one hundred days. While this was again designed to increase the devotion of the Holy Name of Jesus, the greeting would also become commonly among Catholics in German speaking Europe not only as the regular method of greeting but also of identifying Protestants. For Protestant Germans, to use the greeting would mean recognizing the authority of the pope; on the other hand, to refuse to use the greeting ran the risk of being denounced to the local authorities. Indeed, the recorded responses of Protestant Germans to being greeted with the words Geolobt sei Jesus Christus ran the gamut from strict silence to the extremely vulgar.

#235 – The Philosopher’s Game

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Rithmomachia was one of the most popular games played in the universities and theological schools and promoted by Roger Bacon and Thomas More. Today, it has fallen into obscurity.


Wikipedia has a good simple presentation of the basics of rithmomachia
Here is a Renaissance presentation of rithmomachia
Rules for playing rithmomachia can be found here and here
For the really adventurous, here are the rules of Boolean rithmomachia
Computer [Java] versions of rithmomachia can be found here and here
Rithmomachia boards and pieces can be purchased here and here

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Photo by navaburo

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Today in Catholic History – Execution of Savonarola

On 23 May 1497, the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake as a heretic by order of Pope Alexander VI.

Savonarola had become very popular with the people of Italy and very unpopular with Alexander as a result of his outspoken preaching in Florence for the reform of the Church, against the immorality he saw amongst the clergy and especially within the Roman Curia and in the life of Alexander VI himself. Alexander had failed to put a stop to Savonarola’s criticisms by prohibiting him from preaching and even excommunicating him, but Savonarola refused to silence his message.

However, after Savonarola refused a challenge from a Franciscan friar to undergo a trial of fire in order to prove the validity of his criticisms, the people of Florence rioted and he was arrested. Savonarola was tortured and under torture confessed to heresy, though later he would renounce this confession.

In 1558, Pope Paul IV would assert that Savonarola was not a heretic and more recently there has been a call for Savonarola’s canonization.

More on Savonarola

Today in Catholic History – Ignatius of Loyola and the Battle of Pampeluna

On 20 May 1521, Inigo Lopez de Loyola/Ignatius of Loyola was injured during the Battle of Pampeluna or Pamplona. This battle, between the French supported people of Navarre and the Spanish forces moving to conquer the the Iberian region, saw Ignatius severely wounded by a French cannonball which shattered his leg.

During his recovery, Ignatius occupied his time by reading the only books available to him – a life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony which was a commentary on the Gospels based on the writings of the Church Fathers and a book on the lives of the saints. These texts inspired in Ignatius a profound religious conversion and upon his recovery he would visit the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat on 25 March 1522, where he would hang his military uniform before an image of the Blessed Mother as a sign that he was now a soldier for Christ.

Later Ignatius would use the ideas of Ludolph of Sazony when he wrote his Spiritual Exercises and establish the Society of Jesus/the Jesuits in 1534.

Ignatius of Loyola

Today in Catholic History – Anti-Pope Nicholas V Consecrated

On 12 May 1328, Pietro Rainalducci was consecrated anti-Pope Nicholas V at St. Peter’s Basilica during the pontificate of John XXII. He was elected through the influence of the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian and was the last Imperial anti-pope. Rainalducci was a member of the Franciscan spirituals who supported Louis’ view that the secular authority was of greater power than the Church. Rainalducci took the name Nicholas in honor of Franciscan pope Nicholas IV and Pope Nicholas III who had written the Franciscan rules of poverty Exiit qui seminat which John XXII had torn to pieces, causing a schism in the Franciscan order.

One of the most interesting acts of his period as anti-pope was to preside over a trial of Pope John XXII at the Duomo of Pisa. John XXII was represented by a straw puppet dressed in pontifical robes. Nicholas condemned John and handed him [that is, the puppet] over to the secular authority to be executed.

John XXII, for his part, excommunicated Nicholas in April 1329. Later Nicholas would repent, confess both to the archbishop of Pisa and to Pope John, who absolved him on 25 August 1330. However, Nicholas would remain in a comfortable imprisonment in the papal palace at Avignion until his death in October 1333.

More on anti-pope Nicholas V

Today in Catholic History – Beginning of the Fifth Lateran Council

On 3 May 1512, the Fifth Lateran Council opened under the authority of Pope Julius II with the participation of fifteen cardinals, two patriarchs, ten archbishops, fifty-six bishops, abbots, generals of religious orders and several ambassadors. Pope Julius would die while the council was in session and Pope Leo X would continue the council until its close on 16 March 1517.

Pope Julius had sworn an oath to call a council, but as he delayed to fulfill this vow some bishops organized their own council in Pisa with the support of French king Louis XII. Seeing this as a rival to his authority, Pope Julius denounced the council and called for his own council at the Lateran. While much of the initial motivation for the Fifth Lateran Council was to condemn the actions and decisions at the earlier council of Pisa, the Fifth Lateran also spoke of the need for reform within the Church – particularly on improving the quality of priests and prohibiting simony in the election of popes. But not much action was taken in this regard.

Fifth Lateran Council

Today in Catholic History – Cornerstone of current Saint Peter’s Basilica laid

On 18 April 1506, the cornerstone of the present Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City was laid at the base of where the column of St. Veronica is now located.

The original St. Peter’s Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in fourth century, had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 15th century. Therefore Nicholas V commissioned a plan for a new basilica from Bernardo Rossellino. But it was Pope Julius II who would make the decision to demolish the old basilica. Several architects would submit proposals to Pope Julius for the new St. Peter’s but it was Donato Bramante’s that was accepted.

Present at the laying of the foundation stone were some of the major figures of the Renaissance; such as Cesare Borgia, Niccolò Machiavelli, and three future popes. The pit for the foundation stone was very deep and Julius II, at sixty-three years old, had to climb down into it. There was a fear that the ground might give way while the Pope was inside the pit and he warned others to not come too close. Inside the hole for the foundation stone – a block of marble “four palms wide, two broad, and three fingers thick” was placed an urn holding one dozen commemorative medals symbolizing the twelve apostles. Each medal had on one side an image of the pope and on the other a picture of the new church. The image on the medal was probably that of Bramante’s design – seen in the image accompanying this post.

The actual construction of St. Peter’s would take the next 120 years and several papacies, finally being completed on 18 November 1626. One method of financing the construction of the new basilica was through the selling of indulgences – this would later lead to the attacks of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

For more on St. Peter’s Basilica

Catholic History in Other Podcasts

History According to Bob is doing a series of podcasts on Caterina Sforza, who had friendly relations with Pope Sixtus IV and not so friendly relations with Pope Alexander VI.

Stuff You Missed In History Class has done a recent episode on Michelangelo.

Catholic History in Other Podcasts – The Pazzi Conspiracy

Stuff You Missed In History Class has just released an episode on the Pazzi Conspiracy and Pope Sixtus IV’s conflict with the Medici family.