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John XVI

Is missing. He was an antipope, but somehow acquired a number, like Boniface VII.

John XVII (1003)

Quite obscure.

John XVIII (1003 – 1009)

Was beholden to the Crescentii clan in Rome for his elevation to the papacy. The Crescentii family had come to prominence at a synod held in 963, convened by Emperor Otto I to depose Pope John XII. They were to play a crucial part in Roman politics for the next few decades. The details of Pope John XVIII’s life are somewhat cloudy, but he is said to have ended his days in retirement as a monk, which presumably means he abdicated first.

Benedict VIII (1012 – 1024)

A revolution in Rome had swept the Crescentii away and raised up the family “Tusculani” in their place. The Tusculani were generally supporters of the Western emperor, and their nominal founder, Gregory de Tusculana, was the father of the new pope Benedict. Needless to say, this situation produced an antipope, Gregory “VI”; but Benedict and his faction were firmly in control and when the German king, Henry II, recognized him as pope, Gregory disappeared. Benedict then invited Henry to Rome and crowned him emperor in February 1014. The two men then went to Ravenna whence a synod, clearly acting under their instruction, issued decrees relating to clerical discipline. It is perhaps a mark of the dual nature of the papacy at his period that Benedict spent much of his time in armor or on horseback, operating as a soldier in quest of secular territories. He also took part in a sea battle against Saracen marauders (1016), but when, in 1019, Constantinople won a land battle at Cannae in southern Italy, he was obliged to go to Germany in person and ask for Henry’s help against further Byzantine incursions in Italy. Together, in 1022, pope and emperor halted the Byzantine advance, and thus ended the pontificate on a note of something like triumph.

John XIX (1024 – 1032)

Benedict’s brother, bribed his way to the papal throne. As he was a layman, his startling assumption of the highest sacerdotal office gave cause for alarm and resentment. Nor did his pontificate, in spite of its outward show of confidence, give cause for satisfaction, therefore, must be regarded with reserve. We are told, perhaps dubiously, that he actually wavered a little in the face of a delegation from the Byzantine emperor requesting papal recognition of Constantinople’s primacy in the East. True, he refused, but it is clear that the Western emperor, Conrad II, regarded him with scant respect and on more than once occasion compelled the pope to cancel his own decisions and fall in with imperial wishes on the subject.

Benedict IX (1032 – 1044; 1045; 1047 – 1048)

After John’s death his nephew becomes pope. Another layman: another scandal. Nevertheless, he was less obliging to Conrad than his uncle had been, and when Conrad was succeeded by Henry III, the new emperor found him just as prickly. But Benedict’s private life eventually caused a riot and in January 1045 was replaced.

Silvester III (1045)

Replaced Benedict. To exchange a Tusculan candidate for a Crescentian, however, proved no solution and by March Benedict was back in power. But his grip was weak and in May he abdicated in favor of his godfather.

Gregory VI (1045 – 1046)

Godfather of Benedict, and a large sum of money passed between them. Did Gregory buy the office? The matter is open to question, although a synod presided over by the Western emperor pronounced him guilty and therefore deposed him.

Clement II (1046 – 1047)

Appointed by the Western emperor. Henry’s aim was clearly to rescue the papacy from the factious Roman nobility, and indeed Clement began a rigorous programme of reform with particular emphasis on simony. But progress was slow, and on Clement’s death a mixture of emotionalism and bribery in Rome brought Benedict back for a third time. Henry was furious and had him removed by force.

Damasus II (1048)

Had a remarkably short reign of 23 days.

Leo IX (1049 – 1054)

A German candidate once again, succeeded as the emperor’s nominee. Leo was a great reformer. To further his aims he made use of like-minded clerics to help him in Rome, called several synods at important ecclesiastical centers, and took the unusual step of travelling himself through Europe to promote his message; clerical celibacy, simony and papal supremacy being the three points he addressed with especial vigor. At first all went well, but in 1053 he made the mistake of leading a poor and inadequate army against Normans who were ravaging southern Italy. His army was defeated. He himself was captured on 18 June 1053 and imprisoned, he then had to watch while the patriarch of Constantinople – Michael Cerularius, a rabid anti-westerner – closed Latin churches in Constantinople and fulminated against Latin liturgical practices. The quarrel, ostensibly over such details as the use of unleavened bread in the mass, but exacerbated by Leo’s attempt to free southern Italy – an area claimed by Byzantium – was actually about the right of Rome to claim primacy over all other sees, and Michael’s personal resolve never to play second fiddle to anyone. “I will not serve,” was his motto. Reconciliation was attempted but failed completely. The main players were too entrenched, too intransigent. Then, on 16 July 1054, Rome excommunicated the patriarch and his party, and was in its turn declared anathema. The die was cast: the breach was to be permanent

It was a disaster the pope himself fortunately did not live to see. He died on 19 April 1054, only a month after being brought back to Rome from captivity in the south. He was canonized not long after the first papal saint since Hadrian II nearly 170 years before.


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Although Pope Innocent IV was friendly to the emperor prior to his election as pope, he promptly excommunicated Frederick II when he gained power. Frederick’s excommunication reflects the ongoing thirteenth-century struggle for power between the papacy, the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome, and on the increasingly powerful secular authority.

Innocent recapitulates the efforts of the popes to maintain peace between the church and the empire and dwells upon the sins of the emperor. Then, after charging him with the particular crimes of perjury, sacrilege, heresy, and tyranny, he proceeds as follows: “We, therefore, on account of his aforesaid crimes and of his many other nefarious misdeeds, after careful deliberation with our brethren and with the holy council, acting however unworthily as the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth and knowing how it was said to us in the person of the blessed apostle Peter, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; we announce and declare the said prince to be bound because of his sins and rejected by the Lord and deprived of all honor and dignity, and moreover by this sentence we hereby deprive him of the same since he has rendered himself so unworthy of ruling his kingdom and so unworthy of all honors and dignity; for, indeed, on account of his iniquities he has been rejected by God that he might not reign or exercise authority. All who have taken the oath of fidelity to him we absolve forever from such oath by our apostolic authority, absolutely forbidding anyone hereafter to obey him or look upon him as emperor or king. Let those whose duty it is to select a new emperor proceed freely with the election. But it shall be our care to provide as shall seem fitting to us for the kingdom of Sicily with the council of our brothers, the cardinals.”


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Stephen V or IV (816 – 817)

Crowned and anointed Charlemagne’s successor, Louis the Pious.

Paschal I (817 – 824)

Hastily consecrated in order to circumvent possible interference by Louis, but the two seem to have struck up a friendship and harmony reigned, save for a touch of abrasion between the pope and Louis’s son, Lothair (who thought the pope too independent) and the absolute hatred of the Roman populace which rioted when Paschal died.

Paschal [I] . . . sent [the emperor] a letter in which he averred that he had not only been unwilling to have the dignity of the papacy as it were thrust upon him, but that he had also struggled very hard against it.

Einhard Annales fuldenses, year 817

Eugene II (824 – 827)

Reign saw the acme of Frankish control of the papacy. He agreed, for example, that henceforth the pope-elect should take an oath of loyalty to the Western Emperor, although one must add that Eugene remained immovable in the face of Louis’s request that he defer to the iconoclasm which was once more making itself felt in the Eastern empire and had gained some support in the West.

Valentine (827)

Appeared to have reigned for less than a month.

Gregory IV (827 – 844)

Equally dependent on the Western emperor, later known as “the Holy Roman emperor,” even though the imperial family was driven by dynastic struggles during his pontificate. Gregory supported Lothair, the eldest son of Louis the Pious and hence the natural heir, in preference to Lothair’s brothers, Pepin and Louis the German. But most of the Frankish bishops pointed out that Gregory had taken an oath of loyalty to Emperor Louis and therefore had no business to be supporting a son who (along with his brothers) was in revolt against him. Duplicity, however, ruled the field and in 833 Gregory discovered that his attempts to negotiate a peace between father and sons had been circumvented by Lothair’s treachery. Emperor Louis was briefly deposed, and even after his restoration conflict with Lothair continued in spire of the pope’s attempts to intervene.

Sergius II (844 – 847)

At Gregory’s death, an antipope, John, was acclaimed pope by the Roman populace, but the aristocracy elected Sergius and crushed all opposition, then the first stirrings of papal independence appeared. Lothair, now emperor, was angry when Sergius was consecrated without his consent and threatened to invade Rome with an army. But Sergius managed to achievement. This pontificate was marred, however, by rampant simony and when Saracen Muslims were able to storm and pillage Ostia, everyone took it as a sign of God’s displeasure.

Leo IV (847 – 855)

Did not wait for Lothair’s approval – largely because he was busy fortifying Rome against possible Saracen attack – and, in spite of an outward deference to the emperor, managed to assert himself to greater effect than his immediate predecessors, executing imperial representatives who were guilty of murder, restoring Church discipline and transforming Rome itself by his building works.

Benedict III (855 – 858)

Elected after a previous choice had refused the papal office. An antipope, Anastasius Bibliothecarius, briefly enjoyed imperial support and amid the customary violence and mayhem. But popular feeling ran with Benedict who was eventually consecrated. His reign, though short, still demonstrated than even in infirm papacy could act with firmness towards imperial pretensions.

Nicholas I (858 – 867)

Nicholas clashed with the archbishops of Ravenna and Rheims, deposed two others in a dispute over a royal divorce, and defied the Western emperor who supported the royal side. He also refused to accept the appointment of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople, and let the Easter emperor in no doubt about his opinion.


The line of popes since Hadrian I had been Roman by birth and was to continue thus almost uninterrupted until the millennium. It is a mark, perhaps, of the papacy’s retreating into its heartland, the better to avoid control by outside powers.


Hadrian II (867 – 872)

Hadrian was weak and vacillating, and hence the psychological gains made by Nicholas I were thrown away. He leaned heavily on, of all people, the antipope Anastasius, whose imperious lack of tact sowed discord between the pope and the imperial family which was rent, at the time, by one of its periodic internal feuds; while in the East, Hadrian lost control of Bulgaria which henceforth owed allegiance to Constantinople.

John VIII (872 – 882)

Appeared to halt the sudden decline, defending Italy against further Saracen raids, and crowning Charles the Bald emperor in 875 in the hope that he would return the favor by securing the papacy against intrigue and violence. But Charles died in 877 and his former rival for the imperial crown occupied Rome and imprisoned the pope. John escaped and turned to Constantinople for help, for which he was made to pay a high price – recognition of Photius as patriarch being included. His pontificate ended in catastrophe. John was the first pope to be assassinated, poison and clubbing, we are told, being the methods employed.

Marinus I (882 – 884)

An experienced diplomatist before he became pope and thus seems to have avoided making a delicate situation worse.

Hadrian III (884 – 885)

Is obscure. Violence characterized his pontificate, a sign of the times.

Stephen VI or V (885 – 891)

Nearly deposed by Emperor Charles the Fat, but the empire founded by Charlemagne was disintegrating and after Charles died Stephen was obliged to rely on unreliable Western princes and Constantinople to keep the papacy safe.

Formosus (891 – 896)

His name means “good-looking” – was a pope of exceptional qualities, maintaining and promoting amicable relations with Constantinople, Paris, and the new Western emperor, although he soon had to appeal to Arnulf, king of the eastern Franks, for help against the third of these. Arnulf, however, had some kind of stroke and was left paralyzed, so the alliance fell to ashes. Moreover, Formosus collected enemies who hated him virulently.

Boniface VI (896)

An unsavory character, who died 15 days after his election.

Stephen VII or VI (896 – 897)

Proceeded to exhume Formosus’s corpse, have it dressed in pontifical vestments, propped up on a throne and stand trial for supposed offences committed during Formosus’s reign. Obsessed by hatred of Formosus, Stephen was deposed during a popular uprising, thrown into prison and strangled.

Romanus (897)

Little is known for certain.

Theodore II (897)

Little is known for certain, except that his reign was shorter than Romanus’.

John IX (898 – 900)

Was elected amid controversy with the aid of Lambert, king of Italy, and set about rehabilitating Formosus’s reputation and revalidating his acts. A Synod was held at Ravenna to confirm these proceedings to which Lambert was favorable. All was thrown into doubt, however, by the sudden death of the king.

Benedict IV (900 – 903)

His accession was thus attended by strife and bitterness, as pro- and anti-Formosus factions fought each other. Benedict belonged to the former and battled manfully not only with ecclesiastical problems in Italy, but also with the dynastic turmoil consequent upon Lambert’s death. But he chose to crown the wrong candidate.

Leo V (903)

Leo was in a muddle of turbulence and it is perhaps a mark of the confusion in Rome that the electors chose for pope a simple parish priest instead of the usual Roman aristocrat. He faced an antipope, Christopher, who threw him into gaol and “reigned” until January 904.

Sergius III (904 – 911)

Sergius was actually elected pope in December 897, but had had to give way to John IX who enjoyed imperial support. A hater of Formosus, Sergius regarded all popes from John IX onwards as interlopers, and set about overturning their actions. Violence accompanied his decrees, but he seemed to be immune from prosecution because of his servile adherence to the Roman aristocracy, and in particular to a high-ranking woman named Marozia, by whom [so scandal averred] he had a son.

Anastasius III (911 – 913)

Made little impact on the times.

Lando (913 – 914)

A Lombard, was a transient as Anastasius.

John X (914 – 928)

Seems to have been more vigorous that the prior pope. Secure in his friendship with Berengar I, king of Italy, he set about uniting the Roman aristocracy against the continual Saracen invasions which were ruining central Italy. In 915, his efforts were successful and the Saracens were defeated. With Berengar crowned as the Western emperor, John managed to re-establish papal discipline in parts of the West which were slipping out of control, and in 923 he even restored amity with Constantinople which had once again quarreled with Rome a decade before. But his relations with the Roman aristocracy deteriorated and in 928 John was deposed and probably murdered.

Leo VI (928)

He, too, was murdered.

Stephen VIII or VII (928 – 931)

Was under the thumb of Marozia, the supposed mistress of Sergius III.

John XI (931 – 935/6)

Was Marazia’s son and was elected pope through her influence. Whether he was also Sergius’s son is open to question. He is notable for his support of the Cluniac order, a body of reforming monks founded in 909 and dedicated to halting a decline in monastic discipline. His patroness however, overstepped the mark with her second marriage to the new king of Italy, for this incited the roman mob to riot and in the aftermath both king and pope were imprisoned.


The key note of these last 19 reigns had been violence, whether arising from internal feuding among members of the Western imperial family, or from the factionalism of the roman aristocracy whose fissiparousness produced new popes in the twitch of an eye. The papal successors of the next 50 years were, alas, to enjoy no greater harmony, an impotence which can be illustrated by the next four popes, all of whom were in thrall to a powerful Roman nobleman, Alberic II, a son of Marozia by her first husband.


Leo VII (936 – 939)

Owed his office to Alberic who was particularly interested in reviving Italian monasticism. To this end, the great abbot of Cluny was invited to Rome where he seized the opportunity to institute a reform of the monasteries.

Stephen IX or VIII (939 – 942)

Also appointed by Alberic, and continued to support the Cluniac abbot’s reform of monasteries both in Rome and in central Italy. He came, however, to an unpleasant end – in the ominous words of Martin of Oppau, “mutilated by certain Romans” – almost certainly the result of a falling out with Alberic.

Marinus II (942 – 946)

Suffered the same complete lack of influence as his predecessors.

Agapitus II (946 – 955)

Nominated by Alberic. During his pontificate, monastic reform continued apace, and when Otto I of Germany swept into Italy to assume the royal title there, Agapitus, in what was perhaps a feeble bid for some measure of independence, willingly and actively sought to confer upon him the imperial crown of the West. Alberic, however, succeeded in delaying Otto’s accession to this honor, although he could not prevent Agapitus from granting the German ruler a remarkable jurisdiction over both monastic and Episcopal affairs. Still, Alberic had the last word. When he knew he was on his deathbed, he brought together the pope and representatives of both clergy and nobility, and made them swear they would elect his bastard son, Octavian, as pope after Agapitus died. Supinely they all agreed and in 955 Octavian ascended the papal throne and took the name “John.”

Otto I the Great, chosen as German king in 936, was waited on by four dukes at his coronation banquet. One of his principal aims was to make himself supreme in Germany. Another was to subordinate the papacy to the empire.

John XII (955 – 964)

Was a scandal, both in his election and in his private life, even after his elevation to the papacy, John continued to giver himself to lechery, so much so that the Lateran was openly described as a brothel. This, surprisingly, did not seem to affect his standing outside Italy. At home, however, the political situation was highly unstable and he was obliged to seek Otto’s assistance, promising him in return the imperial crown. Otto agreed to help and quickly restored order to the volatile north, receiving his reward on 2 February 962 when John crowned him emperor in the West. The emperor was pleased to confirm a large proportion of Italy as a separate papal state. Otto then left Rome to attack Berengar’s son – presumably as a gesture of independence. Otto returned, furious, and engineered John’s deposition.

Leo VIII (963 – 965)

Otto consecrated Leo in place of John XII. A revolt in Rome in John’s favor briefly restored him, but not for long. A stroke carried him off, and it says much for his reputation that his death, occurring in the midst of an act of adultery, was attributed to a blow on the had delivered by Satan. He was only 27.

Benedict V (964)

It is a moot point whether Leo or Benedict should be considered an antipope. Was John’s deposition valid? If not, then Leo’s election was illegitimate. But when John died, the Romans ignored Leo as Otto’s puppet and elected Benedict instead, and he in turn was deposed by an outraged Otto.

John XIII (965 – 972)

We can now be comfortable with the validity of the papal succession. This pope, however, seen as another imperial tool, quickly became hateful to the Romans who drove him into exile. Restored with Otto’s assistance, John remained more or less in the emperor’s pocket but managed to direct ecclesiastical affairs without further rebellion from Rome.

Benedict VI (973 – 974)

Also relied on Otto, but when the emperor died in May 973 Rome immediately stirred against him. The new emperor, Otto II, was too preoccupied with difficulties in Germany to help, and so nothing prevented Benedict from being arrested, imprisoned, and then strangled by order of his “successor,” the antipope Boniface VII.

Otto II, son of Otto the Great, was crowned king of Germany at the age of six in 961, and in 967 joint-emperor with his father during a ceremony at which Pope John XIII officiated.

Boniface VII (974 – 983)

Succeeded amid scenes of chaos, a not unusual circumstance during this period. The antipope Boniface was active and dangerous throughout his pontificate, and in 980 so threatened the pope’s safety that Benedict was forced to appeal to Otto for assistance. But during the intervals of what passed for calm, Benedict managed to carry out such ecclesiastical duties as conformed to the emperor’s pleasure. Upheaval, however, was never far away and when Benedict died, the customary turbulence surfaced. Otto offered the papal throne to the abbot of Cluny who refused it, and then to one of his former ministers.

John XIV (983 – 984)

One of Otto’s former ministers. Otto died right after the appointment and John, without friends or allies, proved an easy victim for Boniface who rushed to Rome, arrested the pope, deposed him, threw him into prison and allowed him to starve to death. Boniface then ruled until July 985 when, to the relief of many, he died. His body was flayed, pierced with lances, dragged naked through the streets and finally dumped in front of the Lateran.

John XV (985 – 996)

Was the nominee of certain powerful Roman families. Hobbled by such ties at home, John made more of a mark abroad. In 991, he negotiated a peace between Normandy and England, in 992, he accepted Poland as a gift from its ruler to St. Peter; in 993, he canonized a German saint in the first recorded ritual of such an event; and in 993/4, he successfully resisted the first stirring of Gallicanism, the attempt by the Church in France to act independently of papal authority. After 991, however, his position in Rome was becoming difficult. His friends were dying and those who came after held him in no respect.

Gregory V (996 – 999)

Was the second German pope, a young relative of Otto III, the new Western emperor. But, having managed to alienate himself obliged to leave the city and reside in Lombardy, which gave his enemies a chance to elect an antipope, John XVI, in his place. Gregory was restored only with the help of imperial arms, and during the rest of his short reign he cooperated (through uneasily) with imperial policies.

Silvester II (999 – 1003)

Otto chose the first Frenchman to become pope. He was a dazzling and versatile scholar, and, although a Gallican prior to his election, Silvester quickly transformed into a champion of papal prerogatives and worked hard with Otto to reform abuses in the Church. But in 1001 a revolt in Rome forced both pope and emperor to leave the city; Rome came under the control of john II Crescentius. Otto died of malaria not quite one year later, and Silvester was permitted to return only under close supervision.



Curious legends gathered about Silvester II after his death. According to one of them, he studied astrology and various other mathematical subjects among the Saracens, and he was particularly eager to lay his hands on one particular book:

He begged and pleaded [ with the owner] by God and by friendship. He offered much: he promised more. When this had scarcely any effect, he tried trickery at night. Having carefully prepared the way by cultivating a close friendship with the owner’s daughter (who then turned a blind eye), he made him drunk, seized the book which the man had put under his pillow, and fled. But the owner shook off sleep and, by using his expert knowledge of the stars, set off in pursuit of the fugitive. [Silvester] looked back, used astrology and recognized his danger, and hid himself under a wooden bridge which was close by, wrapping his arms round it and hanging down so that he touched neither the water nor the land. Thus his pursuer’s ardour was frustrated and the man went home. Then [Silvester] quickened his journey and came to the sea. There he summoned the Devil by means of incantations, and agreed to offer him perpetual homage if he would transport him across the sea, away from the man who was starting to pursue him once again: and it was done.

                                William of Malmsesbury Gesta Regum Anglorum, 2.167



Silvester’s pontificate saw the close of the first 1,000 years of Christian history. According to a Frankish monk, Adso, when the Apocalypse approached, a Frankish king would unite the Roman empire, became the greatest of all rulers, and reign in peace until the arrival of the Antichrist heralded the Last Days and Final Judgment. People looked for signs of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Famine, Disease and Death – and found it easy to see them.

What, then, was the condition of the papacy at this juncture? At various times in the past, the popes had been given (or had claimed to have been given) imperial or princely powers. The spurious Donation of Constantine (8th century) had made Silvester I a kind of emperor of the West, while the genuine Donation of Pepin (754) and of Otto (962) created a fiefdom in Italy which was later to be known as “the papal States.”

The pope, therefore, was a secular Italian ruler as well as being the Vicar of Christ. His secular authority and dignity, however, were severely curtailed by the factiousness of the Roman aristocracy and by his consequent reliance upon Western imperial power to uphold his person and office. As a religious authority, too, the pope found himself held in check by a multiplicity of worldly powers, but in particular by the emperor of the West. Constantinople, dominant during the early centuries, had drifted into the background. It could still be a potent force in papal politics, but it was from the West that the popes received directives and read their fates.

The battle for prestige, however, had been long conceded. Rome was recognized far and wide as the head of the Church, in practice if not altogether in theory, and as a figure of religious dignity the pope had no equal anywhere in the Christian world.


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