Pope Saint Leo IX was a strict reformer and one of our warrior Popes,leading armies against the Normans in southern Italy. He began his career as a reforming Bishop in Germany and was handpicked by Emperor Henry III to be the new Pope. Being a stickler for rules,Leo only accepted his new position if the clergy and people of Rome actually wanted him(they did). Leo set about reforming the Papacy(and the Universal Church)in many ways,combating simony(disposing Bishops elected by bribery),fixing the Vatican’s finances and condemning priests that were not celibate. Leo took his reforms on the road and traveled to Churches in other parts of Italy,Germany and France to make sure every one was on the same page in this effort to clean up the Church.
The Eastern Church begged Leo to help with Norman(Vikings!)invaders in Southern Italy(which was under their jurisdiction),so Leo himself led a ragtag Papal army south to rid the area of the invaders. The leader of the Normans was horrified that he would have to fight,and possibly kill,the Pope,so he tried every effort to compromise but to no avail. The Pope’s army was crushed(because…Vikings!)and Leo was taken prisoner. The respectful Normans apologized to him probably everyday for the next nine months that he was their captive. Leo passed away shortly after being released in 1054. For his moral character and his efforts for reform,he was Canonized in 1082. His feast day is April 19,which is the same day my family and I were baptized and joined the Catholic Church!
After Pope Benedict IX made a holy mess of the Papacy,causing three Popes at once,King Henry III made his way from Germany to Rome to try to set things right. Accompanying him on his journey was the Bishop of Bamberg,Suidger von Morsleben. Popes Sylvester III,Pope Benedict IX and Pope Gregory VI all laid claim to the Papacy(thanks to that rotten Benedict and all of his shenanigans). Henry called a synod and immediately disposed Sylvester(who didn’t want it) and Bendict(who didn’t deserve it),and Gregory(who bought it)was forced to resign. In their place,Henry elected his Bishop(who we already mentioned)to the Papacy. Now we had one Pope and one Pope only and he took the name Clement II. Clement’s first act was to crown Henry III the new Holy Roman emperor. Clement was a reforming Pope and he enacted degrees against simony(looking at you,Pope Gregory VI). Sadly,he didn’t live very long as he soon died from poisoning from lead sugar,but we don’t know if it was murdered or if the lead sugar was used as some sort of medicine. Clement’s body was transferred back to Bamberg,Germany and he is the only Pope buried north of the Alps.
Since I’m falling behind on my weekly Popes,I’ve enlisted my children to help me draw my Popes. This week’s guest artist is my 12 year old son Jack! I paid him in peanut butter cups and Dr Pepper for his trouble.
The son of a priest,Marinus was groomed from very early for big things in the Church. Moving to Rome and entering into the Papal court when he was only 12,he worked his way up to be a trusted legate to several Popes. When he became Pope he pardoned several priests and Bishops that had been excommunicated by his predecessor Pope John VIII. One of those Bishops was named Formosus,who will become Pope in 891 and will be a part of the most bizarre scene in Papal history…..but we’ll get to that in three more weeks. (oh boy is it weird…..)
When researching the history of the Papacy,historians often mixed up the names of Pope Marinus and Pope Martinus(or Martin). Popes Marinus II and III were listed as Martins by mistake and so when French Bishop Simon de Brion became Pope in 1281 he took the name Martin IV when he should have been Martin II. File this under useless Papal trivia.
There’s a scene from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame where Quasimodo tries to save the life of the gypsy Esmeralda by locking her in the Church and shouting “SANCTUARY!”….the fact that they could hole up in the Church as a refuge from arrest is a law that goes all the way back to Pope Boniface V,who officially decreed that criminals and fugitives could seek sanctuary in a Church. This was a rule that was on the books until around the 1980’s. Also,if you’re an Immortal from the Highlands of Scotland,you can seek sanctuary in a Church annnnd nobody will get that and now I’ve lost my readers(or reader…)
Pope Boniface took a great interest in the further conversion of England and wrote many letters to the Christian princess of Kent in the effort to help her convince her husband to convert,which he did,and then he died in battle and it was all to naught as his region fell back into pagan hands. Oh well. Pope Boniface V favored priests over monks for clerical positions,which was a reversal of previous Popes. He is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica and I’ll finish this by not mentioning the bad guy from Hunchback……don’t look it up. It’s not important.
Pope Pelagius II was a native of Rome and took over the Papacy during its siege by the dreaded Lombards. The Pope couldn’t fight back against them,and couldn’t talk any of his allies into helping to fight them so Pelagius basically just paid the Lombards to leave. Wow. Simple as that. With that problem solved Pelagius turned to the fine tuning of the rules for the clergy,namely celibacy. Bishops and Priests traditionally followed the celibacy rule but Pope Pelagius wanted to extend it down to singers,acolytes and readers. He was so strict on this that the next Pope,Gregory I,backed off on a lot of these rules,even though he himself was a monk. If a monk thinks you’re too strict…..
Pope Pelagius also built The Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura,(Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls). This was a Church built on the site of the execution of Saint Lawrence,the deacon who was martyred in 258 by being cooked on a gridiron. As he was being roasted alive,Lawrence told the Romans to flip him over,because he was done on this side. Greatest sarcastic last words ever. This Church was more or less destroyed by Allied bombings during World War II. Damned good guys! Oh,I mean…….hooray for the good guys(with poor aim). A plague swept through Rome in the year 590 claiming Pope Pelagius II as one of it’s victims.
Pope Saint Agapetus was elected to the Papacy just days after the death of Pope John II. Agapetus was from a wealthy and prominent Roman family and was one of the most highly educated men to hold the office. One of his first acts as Pontiff was to create a library that featured Latin translations of works from Greek writers like Homer and Aristotle. His time in office was very short and was mostly consumed by keeping Italy from being invaded by Constantinople. Italian Queen Amalasuntha was murdered by her cousin Theodahad,who quickly assumed the throne. This in turn infuriated Eastern emperor Justin I who favored the now deceased Queen. A massive army was dispatched with Rome in their sights. King Theodahad wanted no part of this and begged the Pope to travel east and talk Justin down. Pope Agapetus wanted no part of this either and agreed to try to talk some sense into the angry Emperor. First he needed money for the journey and he actually pawned off some property of St.Peter’s for the ummm….gas money to make the long trip. Unfortunately,this would all turn out to be a waste of time because Justin could not be persuaded.
The trip was a success in a different way though,because while there,the Pope took offense at the leader of the Eastern Church,a heretical Monophysite named Anthimus. A Monophysite was a person who believed Jesus was ONLY of divine nature,which really misses the whole point of the whole deal. The Pope told Justin that if he wouldn’t call off his troops,he could at least throw out the heretic that was running his Churches. Justin instead threatened the Pope with banishment or worse. Pope Agapetus replied “With eager longing have I come to gaze upon the Most Christian Emperor Justinian. In his place I find a Diocletian, whose threats, however, terrify me not”. A Diocletian,by the way,refers to a past Roman Emperor that persecuted Christians. The fearless Pope stared down the barrel of torture and death and didn’t blink and Justin,with his Christianity challenged,was then persuaded that the heretic named Anthimus had to go. For this reason,Agapetus is not only celebrated as a Saint in the Roman Church,he is also recognized as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The two sister Churches may not agree on a lot of things,but they both know a Holy man when they see one. Our Poor Pope,however,had worked himself to the point of extreme exhaustion,and passed away suddenly as Emperor Justin’s troops marched to Rome. Pope Agapetus’ feast day is celebrated on September 20th and he is buried in St.Peter’s basilica.
Pope Anastasisus was born in Rome to a man named Maximus. Maximus! I love early Roman names! Anastasius was a advocate of asceticism,(severe self-discipline in all things),in your daily life,and during the Mass he instituted a new rule that priests and bishops had to stand with bowed heads during the readings of the Gospels. He also happened to be good friends with St. Augustine,which to non-Catholics would be like saying you were friends with Batman. I mean it must have been awesome is what I’m saying. He died suddenly and was buried in the Catacombs of Pontian. His tomb was discovered in 1618 and it was found next to the tomb of his successor,Pope Innocent I,who also happened to be Anastasius’ son. The end. Wait! What?? Hold on,chill out,there’s nothing tawdry or salacious going on. Innocent was born before Anastasius became Pope,and probably even before he became a priest. You couldn’t marry after you were ordained a priest but a previous marriage would not have held up the ordination to the priesthood or even election to the Papacy. Celibacy of priests was always encouraged but it wasn’t mandatory until the year 1075. Pope Anastasius’ feast day is December 19th.
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….
Pope Miltiades was our second Pope that came from Africa. He arrived after a period of sede vacante of the Papacy,or in simpler terms,the Pope’s seat was empty. Rome was a mess. There was Emperor Maxentius and then he had co-emperors that constantly fought with each other. One of the co-emperors named Constantine challenged Maxentius for the rule of Rome,and after defeating him,issued a edict of toleration for all Christians. Why? Before his battle with Maxentius,Constantine had a vision of a cross and heard the words “In this sign will thy conquer”. His soldiers,many still pagan,went into battle with crosses on their shields and they were victorious despite being outnumbered. Constantine then returned houses,shrines and other Church property that had been taken away by earlier emperors and on top of that,he gifted to Pope Miltiades the Lateran Palace to live in. I’m sure Miltiades spent his first night there checking behind all the doors and curtains,expecting Roman soldiers to jump out and martyr him at any minute. The other shoe never dropped. The Bishop of Rome would call this home for the next thousand years and Christianity would soon become the primary religion of Rome. Our next Pope would even baptize the Roman emperor! The horrible Roman persecutions that constantly threatened to destroy Christianity for 300 years were basically over. Early Christians had seen the worst that humanity could throw at them and triumphed. All suffering and setbacks and misery endured out of a fire for Jesus Christ that could never be extinguished. On a final note,I’m glad to finally not have to write about Popes being murdered every week.
The persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian was so severe and unrelenting that it was over a year before we could gather together to elect a new Pope. Dionysius was elected in 259 and shortly afterward,Emperor Valerian was captured and killed during a Roman battle with Persia(aw,that’s a shame. Ha.). A new Emperor named Gallienus came to power and he shockingly issued an edict of toleration of Christianity. Sweet baby Jesus,an intelligent and thoughtful human being is now running Rome;who’d ever guess that would happen? Churches,property and lands that were taken from the Church were now being returned and Pope Dionysius could actually catch a breath and start to reorganize and repair the Church without constant threat of losing his head. Literally. Being that previous Popes and some Christians actually looked forward to being martyred for their faith,it’s hard to say whether Pope Dionysius felt fortunate to die peacefully after nine relatively quiet years as the Bishop of Rome. His feast day is the day of his death on December 26th.Things were finally starting to look up for Christians. Will it last? Sigh. No.