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.
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.
Pope Boniface II may be the only Anti-Pope that is officially a Pope. The previous Pope,Felix IV,was on his deathbed when he chose Boniface II to replace him as Pope. This is a major violation of the rules of electing a new Pope. Felix IV himself was appointed and not elected so I guess he thought this was just par for the course now. The Pope is supposed to be voted on and elected by the clergy,and the clergy promptly ignored Boniface II and got to work on electing a man named Dioscorus as their new “official” Pontiff. The dueling Popes were consecrated on the same day and the Church seemed destined for conflict,but poor Dioscorus only lived for about 20 days. Boniface II was now the official Pope and the clergy grudgingly accepted him. He did try to appoint his own successor,having not learned anything,and he was promptly shouted down. Rome would only have to put up with him for two years before he passes away from natual causes. Boniface’s only contribution,which is pretty major in the long term,is his changing the years in the Julian calendar from Ab Urbe Condita to Anno Domini. Anno Domini is the numbering we use now,but during the time of Pope Boniface II,it would still be about 300 more years before the rest of the world got on board with the new Christ-centered numbering system……..so Boniface probably only succeeded in just confusing the Hell out of everyone.
The previous Pope,John I,had been arrested and starved to death by the vicious Goth King Theodoric,and there was a two month gap before the clergy elected Pope Felix IV,(or Felix III if you count an Anti-Pope…..which we won’t). I say elected,but actually King Theodoric “encouraged” the clergy to elect Felix,who the King just happened to have liked. Pope Felix always made sure to stay on the good side of the moody Theodoric(and his successor King Athalaric)and he used his favorable position to secure monetary benefits and new properties for Churches. One of these Churches was the Church of Cosmas and Damian,in which Pope Felix commissioned two mosaic portraits of himself to be displayed inside(classy move). These portraits may be the first portraits of a Pope created while that particular Pope was still alive. Felix was also known to have contributed great writings on free will and God’s grace. When he felt his time was nearly up,he tried to appoint his own replacement,which was a major violation of the rules of electing a new Pope,which nearly caused a huge mess in the process. We’ll talk about that when we get to Pope Boniface II next week.
Named in honor of an exiled Persian noble,the Italian widower Hormisdas was one of the few Popes elected that had once been married with children. In fact,his son Silverius went on to become the Pope himself in the year 536. The Church at the time of Hormisdas was being pulled at both ends. The thirty year long schism with the Eastern Church was still raging,and the previous Pope’s election had divided Rome. Bloody fights between the laity and an Anti-Pope tainted much of the reign of Pope Symmachus. Hormisdas turned out to be the peacemaker that Rome desperately needed. Once elected,he made gestures of peace towards those who had supported the Anti-Pope and he returned them to their previous positions. Next,he went to work to bring the Eastern Church of Constantinople back into the see of the Apostle Peter. New Emperor of Constantinople Justin(the name Justin lacks the oomph of a Commodus or Pertinax or Zeno…..but anyways)condemned the heresies that had disrupted the Eastern Church and he became a valuable ally to Pope Hormisdas in bringing the split between the Churches to an end. On March 28 519,a huge crowd of people in the Cathedral of Constantinople watched a ceremony in which the eastern and western Churches made peace. In the words of Pope Hormisdas “I declare that the see of apostle Peter and the see of this imperial city are one.”
His time as Pope was relatively short,but he made it count. His work setting right the heresies of the Eastern Church(our sister Church)and bringing her back into the fold of Rome is still felt to this day. There are some things we still fight about though,after all,we are siblings.
The sudden death of Pope Anastasius II had the clergy and laity scrambling to elect a new Pope. Both Pope Symmachus and archpriest Laurentius were elected within hours of each other. Supporters of both thought that each man was officially “elected”. Strong Words were said,accusations were….accused,fists were thrown,and now we’ve got a minor riot in the streets. Christians gone mad! King Theodoric of Italy had to step in and make a decision. He declared that Symmachus had been elected first and that everybody needed to just simmer down. Pope Symmachus then made it a rule that only the clergy,(and later,only the Cardinals),and not the laity,could elect the Bishop of Rome. Anyone that campaigned for the position during a sitting Pope’s Papacy would be disposed. The ways of electing a Pope would change but this basic rule of not campaigning for the job has stayed in place for 1500 years.
Not content to observe the ruling of the King,sore loser Laurentius and his sore loser supporters started spreading a smear campaign that Pope Symmachus was misusing Church funds,engaging in immoral behavior and even accused him of celebrating Easter on the wrong date. Words were said….fists were thrown….well,you know the rest. Once again,King Theodoric is called. In a fit of spite,Pope Symmachus basically locked himself in St.Peter’s and refused to dignify the false allegations. Due to these actions,the King assumes his guilt and rules that Laurentius is now the Pope. Refusing to acknowledge the King’s ruling,Pope Symmachus still performs his Papal duties under house arrest(while Anti-Pope Laurentius rules from the Lateran Palace). Over the next four years Rome has a dueling Pope situation(cue the Holy banjos). During this time,a synod of Bishops supporting Symmachus had gathered enough evidence against Laurentius and presented it to the King. Once again,King Theodoric is called(again!),and now he rules in favor of Pope Symmachus and tells Anti-Pope Laurentius to act like a tree and get out of here…….(thank you Biff Tannen)
Damasus was born in 305 to a wealthy family in Lusitania,which is now present day Portugal. He was a deacon under Pope Liberius and when Liberius was exiled,went to work for anti-Pope Felix II. Both Pope Liberius and anti-Pope Felix II had supporters that violently opposed one another. One group wanted Damasus to become the new Pope,and the other side wanted a man named Ursinus. When time came for a new Pope to be elected,the supporters of Felix(and now Damasus),stormed a basilica and murdered all of the supporters of Ursinus thus clearing the path for Damasus to easily be elected. Now whether or not Damasus knew this was going to happen is up for debate. One source says he hired a team of Gladiators to carry out this dirty work(which sounds awesome,even though it’s horrible),some sources say his name was dragged through the mud by herectics and this murderous tale was spread by enemies,along with the nickname “The ladies’ ear scratcher”……..whatever that means.
However Pope Damasus got into office,by all accounts he was a splendid Pontiff once there,and this is according to such prestigious Catholics such as St.Jerome and St.Ambrose,both of whom praised his faith and his leadership. Damasus should be remembered mostly for commissioning a complete version of the Bible. Yes,THE Bible. Prior to this point the Bible was a loosely collected series of books and scriptures mostly written in either Hebrew or Greek. Damasus wanted a complete and official book in one language to clear up any inconsistencies between the versions. Saint Jerome was Damasus’ personal secretary and he was charged with creating this new official Bible in Latin,the official language of the Church. The Latin Vulgate Bible was THE Bible for over 1000 years before different translations came about,and it was this Bible that was the first major mass produced book printed by the Gutenberg press in the 1400s.This was THE Bible that the world was built on……so yeah,Pope Damasus is a big deal,and like Ron Burgundy,he probably had many leather bound books. Papal High five.
Oh this poor Pope has a messy legacy. Liberius is the only Pontiff out of the first fifty to not be canonized a saint. It all goes back to the herectics who believed in arianism,the belief that God and Jesus are two separate beings. These guys began a huge push to get this accepted as Canon Law and they roped in the newest emperor of Rome,Constantius,to force Pope Liberius to sign off on their ideas. Liberius would have none of it and he also refused to silence Bishop Athanasius,who was a most fierce defender against this heresy. Constantius threatened the Pope with exile if he did not comply;the Pope said he’d just exile himself,and he did. Constantius offered huge sums of riches and glory to Liberius if he acknowledged arianism,but Liberius told him to stuff it. He was quite happy to stay in exile if it meant he was right in his faith.
The emperor eventually installed his own Pope,a man named Felix II,(Anti-Pope),and the Roman people accepted him as warmly as they would the plague. Riots and bloodshed and demands for Pope Liberius to return forced the emperor to allow Liberius to return to his people,triumphant that he held out and never wavered in his defense of the faith. All was good in Rome,and then people happened. Sore loser eastern Bishops that fought for arianism spread rumors that Liberius compromised his faith in order to return from exile and they forged many letters as proof of this. Never mind the fact that Pope Liberius still raged against the heresy once back in Rome or the fact that the emperor never bragged about supposedly causing Liberius to give in;the damage was quickly done and the bad PR fire spread quicker than the Pope could extinguish it. Liberius was guilty in the court of public opinion. Catholics still argued after his death about what he did or did not do,and by the time of possible canonization he was too much of a hot button issue to go forward into sainthood. Liberius’s fate was much like the current fate of Pius XI,who was Pope during World War II. A good man,a pious and brave man undone by gossip and rumors and negative forces. I say we start a letter writing campaign to the Vatican to get the poor guy his due. I bet I get 5….6….signatures easily….