Born of a noble Roman family,Pope Adrian’s Papacy began under a dark cloud. A very dark and terrible cloud. When Adrian was younger and before becoming a priest,he was married and had a daughter. When he separated from his wife,Adrian entered into the clergy and moved his way up the ranks from Deacon to Cardinal and was finally(reluctantly)elected Pope in 867. Repercussions from the recent past came storming back to the Papacy when Eleutherius,the brother of disgraced Anti-Pope Anastasius,saw an opportunity to pay back Rome for all the trouble his family had been put through. Eleutherius took revenge in the worst way possible,by kidnapping and murdering the former wife and the daughter of Pope Adrian II. Awful. Just awful. Although it’s not known if he was involved,Anastasius was excommunicated(again),and his brother was put to death. Pitiful Pope Adrian went on to continue the work started by previous Pope Nicholas and eventually died five years to the day that he was elected.
Pope Saint Nicholas the Great is the perfect symbol of what a Pope should be to our world. He is our final arbiter in matters of faith and morals. The spiritual buck stops with the Holy Father and Nicholas was more than ready to fulfill these duties even against the threat of death. King Lothair II of Lotharingia(basically what is now parts of Germany,France and Belgium)wanted to abandon his queen and marry some new tramp he picked up at a renaissance fair somewhere. Local councils were called to address the legality of this and the indifferent Bishops of the region signed off on the divorce and sent the new couple on their way. When the Bishops reported what they had done to Pope Nicholas,he excommunicated them on the spot for supporting bigamy. He excommunicated the bishops,he excommunicated all who took part in the council and he excommunicated the King and his new “wife”. What God has joined together,let no one separate and it’s the Pope’s job to make sure that this commandment holds strong. King Lothair was furious and he pleaded with his brother,Holy Royal emperor Louis II,to march into Rome and make the Pope heel. Nicholas barricaded himself behind Vatican defenses as imperial troops stormed Rome. He would not wavier in his decision and Louis knew he would have to kill the Pope in order for his brother to remarry,which was just not an option(nor was his brother worth the trouble). The emperor stood down and ordered his brother to honor his commitment before God and stay married to his queen. Pope Nicholas was adamant that no secular ruler,no matter who he was,had any authority over the Church or her doctrines and he was prepared for whatever came his way in defense of this position.
Pope Nicholas I is also famous for wanting an image of a rooster placed on every church,whether as a weather vane or on a steeple. The rooster serves as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and to remind the clergy to stay vigilant at all times in their faith.
Benedict III was a native Roman and Cardinal unanimously voted into the Papacy following the death of Pope Leo IV. Holy Roman emperor Louis II did not like this choice and instead wanted an excommunicated priest named Anastasius to be the new Pope. He decided to install his man by force. Imperial troops marched into Rome,arrested Benedict and had him imprisoned while Anastasius took his position on the chair of Peter. The Roman people,who all favored Benedict,reacted immediately by attacking the troops and instigating bloody riots throughout the city. Roman Bishops even bravely refused to consecrate Anastasius as their new Pope. All of this mess forced Louis II to concede his attempt to steal the Papacy. Benedict was released on the condition that he be merciful on Anastastius and any others who plotted against him. This whole incident further weakened the hold the Holy emperor had on the Pope and the elections that choose him.
Pope Benedict III had a busy three years as Pope. He mediated between squabbling Kings,restored damaged Churches and reasserted his primacy over the Churches in Constantinople. Benedict even hosted the young prince of England and gave the boy a grand tour of the Vatican. The young prince went on to be King Alfred the Great,who put down two Viking invasions of England and was instrumental in keeping the British isles Christian against that pagan menace.
Battle Pope!! Rome was besieged by Muslim sea invaders,and while previous Pope Sergius II hid while the pirates pillaged St.Peter’s and terrorized Italians,Pope Leo IV was not about to take things lying down. A new Pope was in charge and he wasted no time putting a stop to this ongoing threat. Leo quickly organized the mariner towns of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi and together they forged a league to destroy the Saracen invaders. An awesome fleet was pulled together and Pope Leo put Cesarius of Naples in command. Leo charged him with the task of complete and utter annihilation of the marauders and the ensuing Battle of Ostia completely destroyed the invading fleet in one of the most one sided naval fights in history. Leo further fortified the walls of the Vatican and of Rome and restored the damage done to St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s. The Battle of Ostia was one of the major events of the middle ages and it helped drive invading Muslims out of the area for good. The blessing of the fleet by Pope Leo IV was later painted by Raphael on the walls of the Vatican palace.
Pope Sergius II was a terrible Pope. He came to the chair of Peter through violent intimidation from his supporters and then spent the entirety of his term basically crippled with gout. Sergius was so indisposed that his brother Benedict actually took over running things most of the time,much to the dismay of the clergy. Benedict loved money and was not opposed to accepting bribes in exchange for high ranking jobs within the Church. Terrible. Things came to a head in 846 when an army of Muslim invaders attacked and looted St.Peter’s basilica while Sergius hid behind the walls of Rome. The Roman people looked on the Muslim invasion and subsequent destruction caused by it as Divine retribution from God for all of the Pope’s crimes. Sergius passed away shortly afterwards,but I could find no mention of what became of his sleazy brother. I hate writing about bad Popes,but these guys were still human and for all the good and even great Popes we’ve had,we still had some duds in the bunch.
The only real interesting thing about Pope Sergius II was that he was played by John Goodman in a awful sounding movie called “Pope Joan”. This movie concerns the legend of a woman who disguised herself as a man and worked her way unrecognized up through the Church and to the Papacy. This is nonsense. The elections of Popes at this time were highly contested affairs that almost always provoked riots and almost always needed intervention from kings or emperors to settle. This reason alone is enough to dispute this myth,as I doubt someone could simply sail past all of these contentious obstacles without being found out. The lack of legitimate documentation from history or even the Church’s enemies and the lack of a specific actual time frame when this all would have taken place are more reasons to dispel “Pope Joan”.