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How was the Catholic Church corrupt during the Renaissance and The Decameron period?

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During the Renaissance and the time period of The Decameron, the Catholic Church was rife with corruption. Clergy often misbehaved sexually and lived lavishly, despite vows to do otherwise.

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The Decameron is centrally focused on stories about love, so not surprisingly, many of the corruptions of the Catholic clergy, both male and female, involve an inability to control their sexual appetites. This sin is worse for the clergy than laypeople, as nuns and priests have taken vows of celibacy and are supposed to be married to Christ and the Church. However, sexual lewdness is depicted as widespread among the clergy.

For example, in the fourth tale, a monk is having sex with a young woman in his room when he realizes his abbot is watching. He quickly makes an excuse to leave, gives the abbot his room key, and then watches as the abbot has sex with the young woman. The monk can use this to blackmail the abbot. However, the abbot and the monk work together, often bringing the woman back into the monastery.

The critique of the church goes beyond its failure to maintain sexual purity. In the first tale, Ser Ciappelletto, a very corrupt man, manages to become a saint that the faithful pray to. This is a comic inversion of sainthood, but at the same time, Boccaccio makes the point that God can turn evil to good, stating that God sees

the purity of our faith, and grants our prayers even when we appoint as emissary one who is His enemy.

It is worth noting that in this period in the near aftermath of the Black Death, the Catholic Church was under fire because it had not been able to block the spread of the plague. People wondered what the use was of praying and following the faith when doing so appeared completely unable to save anyone from sudden and horrible death. It therefore became easy to make the clergy the butt of jokes.

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The Renaissance Church was justifiably notorious for its rampant corruption. During the period in which The Decameron was written, the Church was a rather worldly institution seemingly more concerned with amassing great wealth and power than with saving souls. It is no coincidence that Renaissance Popes are widely considered by historians and religious scholars to be among the worst holders of the office of Vicar of Christ.

Boccaccio presents us with numerous examples of such corruption, most notably in Neifile's story about a Jew called Abraham who goes to Rome and is shocked to see so many clergymen, from the Pope on down, indulging in sins of one kind or another. The Holy Father, cardinals, and prelates alike all appear to be sunk in “the most disgraceful lewdness.” As well as being under the influence of prostitutes, they are shameless drunkards and gluttons who constantly engage in self-indulgent behavior.

And yet, despite Abraham's evident disgust for the Church's byzantine level of corruption, he nonetheless resolves to convert from Judaism to Christianity. He has seen that the Christian religion continues to thrive despite the bad behavior of the Pope and his prelates, thus indicating that it is truer and more holy than any other.

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While there were clergy who were still faithful to the moral teachings of the Church during the time of The Decameron, corruption was nevertheless widespread in the Church hierarchy. Popes often took mistresses, fathered children outside of wedlock, drank and partied, and hoarded wealth for themselves. Many high-ranking clergymen acted more like politicians than spiritual individuals, concerning themselves with power and money above serving other people. They were essentially more like feudal lords than anything else, a similarity stressed in some of The Decameron's narratives about misbehaving clergy.

The selling of indulgences was perhaps most characteristic of the Church's corruption during this period. Indulgences essentially allowed one to buy God's mercy rather than stressing prayer or personal transformation. People were told that indulgences could also be bought for deceased family members in order to shave off their time in purgatory so they could sooner go to heaven. Indulgences were controversial among some clergy, such as Martin Luther, who famously broke with the Church and started the Protestant Reformation in response.

In The Decameron, the clergy, from the monks and nuns on up to the highest officials in the Church, are all very human in their tendency to fall prey to the same temptations and vices as any layperson. However, it is meant also as a satire of the Church of Boccaccio's day, which would soon require a reformation of its own come the late sixteenth-century.

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Leaders of the Catholic Church during the Renaissance era certainly engaged in corrupt behaviors and acts. High ranking leaders of the church lived lavish lifestyles while they preached the holiness of a humble and modest life. Affairs, adultery, and pedophilic behaviors by church leaders were all too common.

One of the most notable examples of the Catholic Church during the Renaissance era was in their selling of indulgences. Indulgences were pieces of paper that church leaders would sell as an erasure of one's sins. The more indulgences one bought, the more one's soul was in good moral standing with God. Church leaders directly profited from selling indulgences. This corruption created a dynamic in which people with wealth were told they had more access to spiritual purity, and subsequently, Heaven, than poor people.

The Catholic Church was so powerful that it was essentially the law of the land is some areas of Western Europe in the 16th century. Anyone who defied the teachings of the church through presenting a different narrative were subject to be burnt at the stake.

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The Catholic Church was quite corrupt in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Many popes looked at growing personally wealthy and powerful from their holy office and they did not speak much about spiritual matters. Priests and nuns who took orders of celibacy were sometimes promiscuous. There were even well-documented cases of popes having illegitimate children. In many towns the clergy were the most literate people, but some priests did not even know how to read, and they too looked to gain riches and power from their positions. While much of the clergy stayed true to its religious mission, there were enough members who didn't to provide satirists with plenty of material.

The Decameron takes place during the plague and it is a collection of tales told by young people who are leaving for the countryside in order to avoid the sickness. Since the Church was still the most important institution in Europe at the time, many of the tales in the book humorously describe the abuses of the Church.

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