Pope Stephen IX was another of the great reforming Popes,dispatching his cardinals to different parts of Europe to enforce his rules about clergy celibacy and simony. Stephen was dying when he was elected,so he brought about new rules to insure an independent and canonical election for his successor. Feeling that his end was drawing near,Stephen made his cardinals promise that if he died,they would wait until all of them were present before they elected the new Pope. His election plans were unfortunately thrown out the window after his death,causing some anti-Pope shenanigans that we’ll discuss next week.
Sylvester III was briefly Pope during the huge mess that was caused by his predecessor,Pope Benedict IX. When the Romans grew sick of Benedict and his tawdry ways,they ran him out of town and quickly elected Giovanni de’ Crescenzi,the Bishop of Sabina,who took the name Sylvester III. Sylvester was by all accounts a very devout and holy man who didn’t even want to be the Pope,but he stepped up to the plate to try to help bring order to the chaos caused by Benedict. Unfortunately,Benedict didn’t stay gone long and returned with a force to reclaim his title. Sylvester was confined to a monastery and later on he was officially disposed by Holy Roman emperor Henry III. Due to the massive confusion caused by Benedict’s three separate terms as Holy Father(!),Sylvester was sometimes thought to be an anti-Pope but he’s still officially listed as a rightful Pope.
Pope John XVII was only Pope for 5 months and virtually nothing is known of what he did as Pope. What is known is that he’s the Pope that threw off the numbering of Popes named John. Anti-pope John XVI(997-998)was still considered a legitimate Pope at the time so in this numbering confusion the new John became John XVII. The numbering has never been corrected.
Pope John XIV was handpicked by Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Otto was German and as we’ve seen from previous Popes,the Italians did not like having their Holy Fathers picked out by foreigners,regardless if the Pope was Italian or not. Because of this,poor John was unpopular from the start and once Otto II passed away(in the Pope’s arms!),the Roman nobles once again plotted to remove the German’s Pope. Enter Anti-pope Boniface VII. Boniface weaseled his way into the Papacy by murdering Pope Benedict VI a decade earlier and he had been on the run avoiding the emperor ever since. Seeing that Pope John was now vulnerable with the emperor dead,Boniface made his move. Marching a militia back into Rome,he threw John into prison and retook his throne as the sham head of the Church. Shortly after,Boniface had John XIV strangled,making this the second Pope that he was responsible for murdering. The non-noble Roman people were disgusted by all of this and most of all disgusted by Boniface. When he passed away a few months later(natural causes? Poison?)the people took his body,stripped it naked and then dragged it through the streets. His corpse came to rest in front of the Lateran Palace,where the angry mob proceeded to mutilate and dismember it. Boy,when Romans decide to turn on you,they didn’t screw around.
Pope John XIV’s real name was Peter,but since that name is forever off limits in honor of our first Pope,he decided to go with John,which to date,has been the most often used Pope name. (I somehow made John look like Bill Murray but he’s Catholic so it’ll work!)
Pope Benedict VII was elected as a compromise to appease both Roman nobles and German Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Benedict had a quiet Papacy that was unusually peaceful for the time,given the riots and murders that plagued the reigns of previous Popes. Benedict promoted reforms on monasteries and fought simony in the clergy and he also officially excommunicated anti-pope Boniface VII,who was still lurking in the margins,waiting for his chance to reclaim the Papacy.
A monk that was put into the Papacy by Holy Roman emperor Otto I,Pope Benedict would have a short and tragic reign. The nearly year long gap between Popes was because Otto I needed to sign off on Benedict before he could begin his term. Pope Benedict enjoyed the protection of the German emperor against the plotting of Roman nobles,but when Otto I passed away,it left Benedict vulnerable to his enemies. Resentful of German interference of Rome,various noble families seized the opportunity to take power. A militia took the Pope prisoner and locked him away in the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. The new emperor,Otto II,was busy with his own uprising in Germany,so he was of no help to poor Benedict. The rebels in Rome had elected their own Pope(or anti-pope),Boniface VII,so as to have the Church in Roman control again. When Otto II was finally able to send an army to free Benedict,anti-pope Boniface ordered the imprisoned Pontiff to be strangled in his cell while he himself stuffed as much Vatican loot into his pants before he fled for the hills(by hills I mean Constantinople). We have not heard the last of anti-pope Boniface VII,as his sorry tail will make more appearances during the reigns of the next two Popes(one of which ends terribly because of him)
Pope Leo VIII has been listed as both the 131st Pope and the 132nd Pope. He is also listed as both an antipope and an official Pope. It’s all very confusing. This mess was started when his predecessor Pope John XII(who was terrible)started plotting against Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. Otto marched on Rome and ran John out of town,quickly electing Leo to take his place. Leo wasn’t even a priest,he wasn’t anything really but a layman of the Church(he seems to have been picked out of a crowd randomly). In the span of several hours he was ordained every rank in the Church,from a doorman to a lector to a altar boy to deacon and finally moved up to Bishop of Rome. Once Otto left town,sneaky Pope John XII marched some mercenaries back into Rome and took back his Papacy by force,causing Leo to flee to Otto for help. John was sitting pretty smug on the Chair of Peter when he died suddenly(and scandalously).
With Leo nowhere in sight(and not really missed),the Church elected Benedict V as their new Pope….which infuriated Otto who had planned on having his stooge Leo resume his Papal duties. Leo rode back into the city with Otto and had the Papal vestments stripped off of Benedict and had Benedict’s staff smashed over the poor man’s head. On the bright side,Benedict was allowed to slip off to Hamburg and remain a deacon there for the remainder of his life. Since Benedict and Leo overlap each other,depending on which book you’re checking they could be flipflopped in order.
Pope Sergius III was technically elected to the Papacy in 898,but the Holy Roman Emperor despised him and drove him into exile in favor of Pope John IX. Once the people involved in his exile were out of the picture,Sergius came roaring back into Rome,assisted by the military might of Duke Alberic of Spoleto. The Papacy was already in turmoil with the imprisonment of current Pope Leo V and with Anti-Pope Christopher running the show. Sergius promptly had them both strangled,just to tie up lose ends and avoid confusion as to who exactly was Pope(what a swell gesture). The government of Rome was now mostly run by the husband and wife team of Theophylact and Theodora. These two pulled the strings of Sergius,mostly by use of their equally scheming daughter,Marozia,who is reported to have given birth to the bastard son of Pope Sergius,(he would later go on to be Pope John XI….Good Lord)
Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that the Catholic Church can’t be anything but Divine,because how else could the Church have survived 2000 years in spite of attacks from the outside,and in spite of terrible behavior of Catholics(like Sergius III)
I based his image on Telly Savalas,because this Pope seems like a character that Savalas would have played in a Biblical movie from the 1960s (Also,Pope Sergius was bald…)
Saeculum obscurum. That’s Latin for “The Dark Age” and it’s the name historians have given to the time of the 10th century Papacy. Pope Leo V marks the beginning of the dark age,but it is through no fault of his own. Leo was in office for maybe 30 days when Cardinal Christopher declared a Holy coup and took the Chair of Peter for his own. Pope Christopher tossed Leo into prison,but Leo never relinquished his position so Christoper would be forever relegated to Anti-Pope status. This was all for naught anyway because Sergius III arrived back on the scene soon and had Anti-Pope Christopher thrown into prison along with poor Pope Leo V. Sergius was elected Pope back in 898 but was driven out of Rome by Emperor Lambert in favor of Pope John IX. Sergius laid in wait for his moment and with the help of the new Roman military commander,Theophylact I,Count of Tusculum,took back the Vatican with force. Pope Sergius’ first order of business was having Anti-Pope Christopher and Pope Leo V strangled in their prison cells,and with that,the reign of one of the worst Popes ever would begin. I can tell already that these Dark Age Popes are going to give me a headache…..(you can never say that Catholic history is boring though)
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.