Leo X, Pope 1513-1521
Muntoni 1; Berman 628, PCGS graded MS-62
Rome. LEO X PONTIFEX MAXIMVS, bust of Pope Leo X left. Reverse: LVX VERA IN TENEBRIS LVCET, the three Magi riding left, following the comet above; ROMA in exergue.
The remarkable reverse type of this coin serves as an allegory for the reign of Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici as Pope Leo X and his struggle against Martin Luther and the nascent Protestant Reformation. Here the Three Magi, Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar, follow the Christmas star to find the infant Jesus while the surrounding legend refers to “the true light illuminating the darkness.” The treasures brought as gifts by the Magi—here represented as very western-looking kings on horseback—may perhaps be read against the Pope’s acceptance of financial donations for the reconstruction and beautification of St. Peter’s Basilica in return for indulgences (reductions of punishment in Purgatory). This practice of essentially selling indulgences was a major abuse that inspired Martin Luther to pen his Ninety-five Theses in 1517 criticizing the contemporary Church. In response to the criticism, Pope Leo X sought to illuminate what he considered to be Luther’s benighted way of thinking through repeated theological disputation and examination. When this failed to curb the rogue Augustinian monk, Pope Leo X declared him excommunicated on January 3, 1520. The Protestant Reformation had begun and nothing could stop it, leading to conflict that continues to this day within Christianity over how the true light is filtered into the World and who it is that remains in darkness.