The Personality of Pope Alexander VI

[This is part of Catholic Analysis’ special series on Pope Alexander VI. This part, the first, details the pontiff’s personality.]

Rodrigo Borgia was born on 1 January 1431, in Xativa, Spain. Thus, he was most likely baptized at the site of St. Mary’s Basilica there, like his uncle. Both he and his uncle are now honored by statues outside of its entrance. [1] (CORRECTION: According to the City of Xativa, Rodrigo was baptized in St. Peter’s Church, which is a few blocks away from the Basilica.)

Rodrigo was of a generally happy temperament and of high intelligence. He was certainly talented and also rumored to be quite handsome, with a medium complexion and piercing dark eyes. According to Pope Nicholas V, he was also “of honest life and morals and generally praiseworthy for his virtue”. [2]

Msgr. Peter de Roo, Rodrigo’s most formidable chronicler, pointed out that he was also an apologist, a gifted orator, a master of canon law, a brilliant theologian, a liturgical expert, and a man marked by tremendous piety and strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. [3]

In addition, Orestes Ferrara, another one of Rodrigo’s few decent biographers, said [4]:

“Alexander was a jovial, far-sighted, moderate man, well-balanced in mind and body. Having lived nearly half a century in Rome, and having been for almost the whole of his life part of the ecclesiastical organization, he had come to a profound respect for all the interests of the Catholic Church, a respect greater than for his own life. He was prepared to compromise upon all purely human questions, but inflexible upon whatever concerned the rights of religion. He was the type of ‘political priest’, cautious and slow to act in the fact [sic] of the unforeseen, but brave to the point of heroism in defen[s]e of the great Institution whose direction had been entrusted to him.”

Rodrigo also had an overpowering charitable bent. He was a patron of more than one hospital, and he gave alms regularly (weekly, sometimes bi-weekly).

One man said publicly to Rodrigo, “During the many years that thou hast been a cardinal and vice-chancellor, no one has requested help from thee, which thou didst not grant at once; to no one didst thou ever refuse legitimate protection; no one, struck by misfortune or provoked by injustice, has implored thy aid in vain. It was not unusual for thee, not only to come to the assistance of one to one [sic] who did not request it.” The man elaborated for a while.

And not only was Rodrigo charitable toward the poor, but he was charitable with his time, too, in that he frequently assisted his fellow cardinals with their administrative duties. He slept little. [5]

Of course, any analysis of his personality would be remiss if it were to not also mention the central role of Rodrigo’s family in his life. As the reader will learn throughout this series, loyalty was a trait of the utmost importance to the isolated Borgia clan. Rodrigo was dedicated to his four children (Cesare, Giovanni, Lucrezia, and Gioffre), and they were dedicated to him – and, under the patriarch’s guiding hand, the whole family was dedicated to God. When Juan died in 1497, the tragedy shook Rodrigo and instilled in him an even better devotion.

Rodrigo has been the victim of much undeserved calumny. At least three of his contemporary accusers never even met him! [6] Of an essentially good character, he was a devout follower of Christ and the Madonna. He deserves better treatment.


1. Frederick Rolfe, Chronicles of the House of Borgia, p. 12

2. Michael de la Bedoyere, The Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, p. 55

3. Msgr. Peter de Roo, Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives, and His Time, Vol. 2, p. 272-278

4. Orestes Ferrara, quoted by N. M. Gwynne in The Truth about Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, p. 17-18

5. Msgr. Peter de Roo, Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives, and His Time, Vol. 2, p. 281-283

6. Msgr. Peter de Roo, Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, His Relatives, and His Time, Vol. 2, p. 284



Matthew Olson is a student in the Diocese of Little Rock.

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2 comments on “The Personality of Pope Alexander VI
  1. […] [This is part of Catholic Analysis' special series on Pope Alexander VI. This part, the second, deals with the pontiff's family. Read the first part.] […]

  2. […] The Personality of Pope Alexander VI details the pontiff’s personality. […]

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