People oscillated between hatred and love, harsh asceticism and a childish enjoyment of for forbidden fruit precisely because it was forbidden; and their attitude towards religion, too, was a curious compound of apparently irreconcilable attitudes and practices. To some one brought in a Protestant or neo-Protestant country, the religious scene at the beginning of the sixteenth century does not inspire much enthusiasm. As J. S. C. Bridge has remarked in his History of France, `though dominant to outward appearance, religion was a matter of forms and ceremonies; in the empty ritual of prescribed observances there was nothing to elevate conduct or ennoble belief; and the laity found no incentive to godly living in the example of worldly prelates and of ignorant and licentious priests.
Superstition flourished, and there was widespread belief in sorcery and witchcraft and the efficacy of charms, amulets of charms, amulets and spells. Blasphemy, immorality, drunkenness and gluttony were prevailing sins.
Public opinion did not condemn the illicit amour; bastards were openly acknowledged and brought up as younger sons; there were brothels everywhere; and the terms ‘‘housekeeper’’ and ‘‘servant-maid’’ where habitually used with a signification which leaves little doubt about the moral standard of the age. Even those who were supposed to be the guardians of public morals sometimes behaved in ways which still have the power to astonish. In 1535, Pope Paul III sent his son, Pierluigi Farnese, as ambassador to the court of the Emperor Charles V with a threefold brief: he was to try to fathom the Emperor’s political intention, to make a good impression, and to abstain from sodomy while staying with the Emperor.