97. Pope St.Stephen IV 816-817


Pope Stephen IV marked a return of Roman nobility to the Papal ranks,a change from previous Pope Leo’s more pedestrian roots. Stephen immediately went right to work sweetening diplomatic relations with the new king of the Franks and Holy Roman emperor,Louis the Pious. Louis was the son of emperor Charlemagne,and once his father passed,Louis crowned himself new Holy Roman emperor. The Pope heard this and sent word that the office of the Papacy should be the one to crown the emperor,in keeping with Leo crowning Charlemagne. Pope Stephen crossed the Alps to France and during an incredibly lavish ceremony,crowned Louis. Stephen even dug out the actual crown of Constantine the Great for the occasion! Constantine legalized Christianity 500 years earlier and joined the Church with the State. Stephen hoped this symbolic call back to the past would not be lost on Louis(it wasn’t).The crowning cemented the new tradition of emperors needing Papal approval before their reign could officially begin. This was a direct 180 from just a few years prior,when a Pope needed an emperor’s approval(from Constantinople)before he start acting as the official Holy Father. 3 more Popes to go before I get to Pope 100! I don’t know why,but I’m particularly proud of how Stephen’s ear turned out. This is by far the best ear I’ve drawn in 97 Popes…….

96. Pope St.Leo III 795-816


Pope Leo III,the Charlie Brown of Popes. Poor guy couldn’t catch a break. An incredibly brilliant and pious man,he was elected as an outsider to Roman politics. He came from southern Italy,and upon coming to Rome,immediately started breaking up the corruption and nepotism that had been plaguing the Church and the Papal States during this time. This in turn made him many enemies right off the bat. Political rivals ambushed and attacked Leo while out riding his horse and attempted to cut out his eyes and tongue,but nearby Frankish soldiers loyal to the Pope quickly rushed to his aid. Next his rivals falsely accused him of sexual immorality and other crimes and had him locked up in a monastery. Leo broke out(jail break!!),borrowed(stole?)a horse and rushed to Charlemagne,King of the Franks,for help. Charlemagne sent a militia back into Rome(with Leo in tow),to investigate these charges against his Pope. Once cleared of charges,King Charlemagne arrived to personally vouch for Leo,and during the Christmas Mass of 800,Leo repaid him by crowning Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor. Leo was then made to bow before him and kiss the new emperor’s feet. Not the proudest moment of the Papacy. By this point we are basically done with Rome having anything to do with Constantinople and their emperors. Charlemagne was now in charge of all secular matters for most of Europe and all he asked of Leo was that he was to be like Moses while Israel fought Amalek,to keep his hands raised in prayer while Charlemagne fought the battles. Hand in hand,the Church and State would jointly rule for a 1000 years.

95. Pope Adrian I 772-795


Pope Adrian I was 95 years old when he passed away. That makes him the oldest Pope we’ve ever had. Runner up goes to Pope Leo XIII,who was 93 when he died in 1903. Pope Adrian reigned for 23 years,which was the longest time in office until Pope Pius VI reigned for 24 years from 1775 to 1799. Popes Pius IX,Leo XIII,and John Paul II would go on to be the only other Popes who served longer. Pope Adrian busied his time with diplomatic relations with both the Lombards and the Franks,mostly favoring the Franks. King Charlemagne of the Franks was particularly close to the Pope and considered Adrian to be like a father to him. In fact,Charlemagne openly wept at Adrian’s funeral and later lovingly dedicated a epitaph to him which can still be seen at the door to St.Peter’s basilica.

94. Pope Stephen III 768-772


The birth of the Papal States and the Pope’s new control over much of Italy led to one of the bloodiest Papal elections in history. Nobles of the sections of Italy now controlled by Rome wanted their own guy in office to better serve their personal interests. Duke Toto of Nepi wanted his brother Constantine to become Pope,so he marched an army into Rome and took the Papacy by force. No election was held and Constantine wasn’t even a priest when he began his brief reign as Anti-Pope in 767,while the clergy secretly plotted his doom. Some members of the clergy swore they would not recognize this new “pope” and begged to be let out of the city so they could retire to distant monasteries. Constantine II could care less so he let them leave. This was not his smartest decision. They didn’t go to a monastery,they ran straight to the king of the Lomards and begged him to come get rid of this fake Pope. Always looking for an angle to exploit against Rome for a later date,the king more than happily obliged. He marched his army into Rome,killed Duke Toto and his supporters and then had the Anti-Pope arrested. While this was going on,another fake pope named Phillip was put into place briefly by the Lombard king. Two Anti-Popes later,we finally get to a point when the Church can hold a real election and Stephen III was chosen as our new Pope. Stephen III was a respected priest from Sicily that had worked with several Popes and was even at the bedside of Pope Paul I when he died. The office was finally in good and proper hands.
Anti-Pope Phillip was dismissed and was allowed to return to his monastery in peace,but Anti-Pope Constantine II…..Oh that guy…..that guy paid dearly for trying to steal the chair of St.Peter. Beaten,tortured and paraded around Rome on horseback(on a woman’s saddle!)with heavy weights hanging from his feet,as crowds screamed insults at him and threw things. While he was in jail,his remaining supporters stirred up new trouble,so now Rome officials decided to further punish him for being a symbol of dissent. Constantine was dragged from jail,blinded and had his tongue ripped out of his mouth. He was then left in the street for 24 hours with everyone under strict orders to not help him or even speak to him. The poor man was then excommunicated and shipped off to God knows where. Whether or not Pope Stephen III had anything to do with much of this is still debated.

93. Pope St.Paul I 757-767


Pope Paul I was the younger brother of the previous Pope,Stephen II(or the III….we won’t get into that). Paul was elected in order to continue the successful Papacy of his brother. In earlier times,when the Pope was under the thumb of the emperor of Constantinople,whoever was elected had to wait on the emperor to send his approval before the Papacy could begin. The approval(if even approved)could sometimes take up to a year,but times were changing. Previous Pope Stephen’s alliance with the King of the Franks(French-ish people)had helped to run the Lombards and any other friends of Constantinople out of Italy. This in turn freed the Pope from any meddling eastern politicians. When Pope Paul was elected,he sent the emperor of Constantinople a letter,same as always,but this time he was TELLING him that he was now the new Pope,and there was basically nothing he was going to do about it. Pope Paul was feeling pretty big,but he actually spent the rest of his time in office worrying that an eastern army commanded by the emperor was due to come knocking on St.Peter’s door at any moment. The army never came and the Pope’s alliance with King Pepin of the Franks would indeed hold(no thanks to the emperor,who tried to persuade the King otherwise).The Holy Roman Empire(and the Pope’s independence)would be set to launch with Pepin’s son,Charlemagne. The split with the east(church and emperor)would become permanent by the turn of the millennium.