After the great Schism, Martin V became the new pope. He cracked down on crime in Rome, and now that the papacy had returned to Rome after the Schism, merchants and pilgrims came back to Rome. During his pontificate and those of later Renaissance popes, local strongmen owned a lot of land that previously belonged to the papal states. The popes were not willing to give up this territory, and the sanctions of excommunication and interdict were ineffective toward the local rulers. The popes believed the way they had to win back their territory was by war and diplomacy, just like any other political ruler would. As the papacy grew more powerful through war and diplomacy, these qualities began to be recognized as necessary for a pope.
When Martin V died, Nicholas V came to power. He was concerned that warfare between the Italian states might lead to French intervention, and negotiated alliances between them. Venice and Milan, and later Florence, joined the alliance. He saw the papacy as a guiding element in Italian politics.
Nicholas wanted Rome to become the center or literature and the arts, and brought scholars from all over Europe to translate ancient classical works for him. He started a collection of books and manuscripts which eventually became the Vatican library. Nicholas was so interested in art he neglected church reform, and surrounded himself with many individuals who were not strong catholics at all, such as Lorenzo de Valla.
The next pope, Callixtus III devoted most of his pontificate to the threat of Islam. He was guilty of nepotism, appointing three of his nephews cardinals. He was viewed as a foreigner in Rome.
In 1458, Pius II became the pope. He was a humanist and had connections to many of the great minds of his day. He had many diplomatic problems during his pontificate. He also sought another crusade against the Turks, but died before he could bring it to fruition.
Paul II, the next pope, was the exact opposite of Pius II. He was concerned about the influence and direction of humanism, and kicked many humanists from their positions in the Catholic church.
Sixtus IV, like Callixtus III, engaged in nepotism, appointing fifteen of his nieces and nephews to high positions in the church. The humanists dismissed during the pontificate of Paul II began to make their way back. He also supported the unpopular Pazzi conspiracy. The Sistine chapel is named after him.
Innocent VIII made promises to those who would vote for him to become pope, saying that he would grant anything they wanted to them. He also had two natural children, which is contrary to church tradition.
Alexander VI, named after Alexander the great, was not a good pope at all. He had numerous children and love affairs, and was known for his immorality.
Pius III reigned for less than one year, and had said “I am the pope of peace, and I shall reform the church.” He did not live long enough to do reform the church, and Julius II came to power. Julius restored the temporal power of the church in the cities where the local strongmen had taken power, and quieted various Roman factions in the city. He envisioned the pope as the master of Italy, the principle of unity, and the head of a great civilization. He fought against Venice, his main obstacle, and even led his troops to battle.
Leo X, however, was different. He was a peacemaker, and preferred the arts. But the arts were to him as war was to Julius. He was so consumed with scholarship and the arts that he paid no attention to the signs around him. When Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses, Leo was out hunting. When the papal bull against Luther was brought to Leo to sign, he did so, and then went on hunting. He considered Luther a crazy monk who would eventually come to his senses. He instituted half-hearted reform measures at the 5th Lateran Council, but made little or no effort to enforce them.
Erasmus was a Dutch scholar who lived during the time of the Renaissance. In his work The Praise of Folly, he said that great numbers of the clergy were corrupt and that God would eventually judge them for their deeds. He said that folly was praised whether it was in merchants, philosophers, theologians, and others. He was tough on the friars, blaming their hypocrisy and unkindness. He challenged many of the church’s practices, but, unlike Luther, stayed in the Catholic church.