The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. This rare artifact was featured on the fifth and final episode of the series, Popes of the 17th Century and Earlier (Available from EWTN as a DVD).
Here is Father’s commentary from that episode
You can see that this item is very important to me because it’s framed. I don’t have a lot of items that are framed. This one is a very rare and very large, framed document. Julius II was a larger-than-life character in papal history and one of my favorite popes.
This document is from 1504. It was the first year of his pontificate. He was elected in 1503. It was commonly referred to as a “papal fiat”. Somebody would actually write a request to the Holy Father and the Pope would look at the request and write his approval of whatever the request was. That’s exactly what this artifact is.
And so in this document what we see are two requests: number one, the top paragraph, and then the second request, in the bottom paragraph. And in both cases the Pope agreed and approved whatever the requests were.
It is an untranslated document. The signature, which was common at this time, actually, was just to write the first initial, which was “J”, for “Julius”. He’s also one of those rare popes, in recent history, anyhow, that didn’t change his name. Julius was his actual name. He was a very proud man in so many different ways, but he had good reason to be. He was born to lead. He started the Swiss Guard, founded the Vatican Museum, laid the cornerstone for St. Peter’s Basilica, and commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. His nickname was “Julius the Terrible” or “Julius the Warrior Pope”.
He got these nicknames for several reasons. If you watch the movie, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, you’ll see that he got his own way. The movie entails the story of the painting of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. We see the portrayal of his personality accurately because there are cases in the film when Michelangelo disagrees with the Pope, and we know, historically speaking, what the Pope would do when Michelangelo disagreed with him. He would take his cane and whack him–he would just hit people over the back and say, “You don’t disagree”, and so you didn’t cross Julius the Terrible.
“Julius the Warrior Pope” was a title he received because at that period of time the Papal States were one state situated in literally what we call Italy today, and so they would do battle over geographic territories, over churches and over many other disputes.
The Pope had his army and the Swiss Guard, which he started, which were Swiss mercenaries at the time, and he would go right on the front line riding with his army. He literally put on armor and went to fight in battles.
How this Document Survived and Became Part of this Collection
Father Kunst knows the history of this document from the time he acquired it. There are a lot of auction houses in Europe that sell old manuscripts, and that’s one way of acquiring them. How they get out, who knows. This particular one was written in response to a request and then sent back. So this didn’t come as if it had been leaked out of the Vatican. It was leaked out of some other organization that had the initial request. I got it from a dealer several years ago. It actually came with another item.
Julius II often gets a bad name because of how he led the papacy, but the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that he lived a questionable moral life before he was elected Pope, as soon as he became Pope, he lived a completely moral life. And so, although people often say, “these bad Popes,” we know that in his case, even though he may have had a questionable past, including having children, as soon as he was elected he took that leadership very seriously.
Again, he was born to lead and was a great leader–one of the great Popes. He did so much for the Church that is still here today. It reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit present in the works of our popes.
Definition of Fiat
A fiat gives permission to a diocese, or religious order, or an individual for whatever is being requested. The Holy Father writes in his own hand, Fiat et Petut, meaning, Let it be done according to Peter.
Julius II is one of Father Kunst’s favorite popes alongside Saint John Paul II and Pope John Paul I. He is very historically significant in papal history and this, therefore, makes it one of his favorite items in the entire Collection.