Before Pope Stephen IX died,he left strict instructions to his Cardinals not to elect a new Pope until they were all there in one place to convene. While they waited,impatient Roman nobles rushed to elect a Pope of their own,Benedict X. The senior Cardinals fled Rome and then finally got together to elect the Bishop of Florence as the new Pope,who took the name Nicholas II. Backed by the army of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine,Nicholas marched back into Rome and ran the anti-pope Benedict out of town. Once officially installed,Nicholas called a synod to set up new and strict rules for elections. In the previous thousand years Popes were elected in any number of ways,sometimes shady,sometimes not. The new rules only allowed Cardinals to elect the Pope,in secret,and without influence from lay people or nobles or from any various royalty from different places. These rules for the Papal election would go through various streamlining changes,even until now,but they were basically laid down with Nicholas II. While reading up on this I came across the meaning of the word “Cardinal”. It’s derived from a Latin word meaning “hinge”,as in the hinge of the door is very important for it to work,so a Cardinal is a very important part of the Church in order for it to function properly. The red that they wear symbolizes that they will shed their blood to protect the Church if they have to. When settlers first arrived in North America they nicknamed the red birds that they saw after the Catholic Cardinals……(“Catholic Cardinals” sounds like a good name for a Catholic school sports team)
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 Leo VII was either a Cardinal or a Benedictine monk,according to various sources. Leo was handpicked by the ruler of Rome,Alberic II of Spoleto. Alberic was running all things in Rome,including the Papacy,and he needed someone he could both boss around and someone knowledgeable enough about the Church that could answer any questions that Alberic needed answered. Being the Pope was the last thing Leo wanted but it’s assumed that he was forced into the position. Leo was mostly concerned with keeping the peace between various rulers in the area and with monastery reforms in France. A huge negative during his time as Pope was his signing off on allowing the Archbishop of Mainz,Germany to run Jews out of the city if they would not convert to Christianity. Pope Leo did not want them forced into conversion though soooo……still not great.
Pope Stephen VII was another stop-gap elected by Marozia,the ruler of the Papal States. Marozia had previously appointed Leo VI to the Papacy and now she’s chosen another elderly Pope to buy time until her son(by Pope Sergius III!)was old enough to fill the chair of St Peter(scandal!). Although he was not properly elected,Stephen was nonetheless a superstar in his own right,having belonged to one of the oldest,most prominent families in Rome,descended from great soldiers,statesmen and one emperor. Barely anything is known about Stephen other than his strict moral code and his wrath when his priests did not follow it. One Greek writer stated that this Pope was the first to not have a beard. I’ve drawn several beardless Popes already so this is information that could’ve been useful YESTERDAY(to quote Adam Sandler)
War Pope! Muslim invaders had overrun Sicily and were now running wild throughout southern Italy. In a sort of crusade prequel,Pope John X personally supervised a coalition of Christian armies from Italy and Constantinople in destroying all of the invaders and securing the Italian countryside. The victorious Pope was riding high and used his new clout to appoint his brother Peter the new Duke of Spoleto and also made gestures towards a pact with the King of Italy. Marozia,leading noblewoman of Rome and basically the ruler of the Papal States,felt threatened over this Pope’s continuing quest for power. She waited until the Pope was without his bodyguards and then marched a military force into the Lateran Palace,taking John and his brother hostage. Marozia had the Pope’s brother murdered in front of him and then exiled John to a monastery while she installed a puppet Pope that could be more easily controlled. Marozia was buying time until her own son,by earlier Pope Sergius III,was old enough to take the chair of Peter,which would happen in 931 with the “election” of John XI. Poor Pope John X was eventually smothered in his sleep with a pillow. 10 Popes to go until I reach the half-way point of my Pope countdown! Two and a half years to go until I reach Pope Francis(I’ll have a paid off Honda when I’m finished!)
The Papacy was still under the rule of Roman nobleman Theophylact and his wife Theodora during the puppet reign of Anastasius III. Little to anything is known about who this Pope was or what he did in his short time in office. During this period Theophylact was given(or rather gave himself)the title of Consul of Rome. This pretty much gave him official rule and he and his descendants would control Rome and the Papacy for the next 100 years. Smart aleck Protestant historians from Germany coined the term “Pornocracy”(Rule of the Harlots)to describe this era of The Church.
Pope Benedict IV had a relatively quiet time in office compared to previous Pontiffs. In his first year he crowned a new Holy Roman Emperor,Louis of Provence. Benedict also had to step in and excommunicate Count Baldwin of Flanders(modern day Netherlands). The Count was having a property dispute with the local Archbishop over the ownership of an Abbey in Flanders. When the matter couldn’t be resolved to anyone’s liking,the Count had the Archbishop murdered,which is always a surefire way to earn an excommunication. The Count was himself murdered shortly after that. Pope Benedict was buried in front of the old St Peter’s Basilica when he passed away in 903.
The son of a wealthy Roman aristocrat,Stephen V was groomed from a young age to go far in the Church. His family paid for the finest education and he was known to be an intelligent,kind and very Holy man. When a famine,caused by both a drought and locusts,devastated Rome,Stephen tried to use the Papal treasury to ease the burden of the people but found it was bone dry. The Pope decided to use his own wealth inherited from his family to feed and care for his people. Stephen also used his money to free slaves and restore Churches throughout Italy. He also bargained with local nobles to provide military defense against invading Muslims in southern Italy. Pope Stephen V was a good example of not being a slave to the mammon. Instead of living his life in service to money,he put his own money in service to his fellow man. Stephen is buried in the portico of St.Peter’s Basilica.
In the early days of the Church,over thirty Popes were put to death by the Roman government,martyrs for their faith,the last being Pope Martin in 655. Pope John VIII has the dubious achievement of being the first Pope to ever be murdered. The details of the assassination of John VIII are clouded in murky details. John excommunicated disloyal clergy,mediated between feuding Kings,tried in vain to organize leaders of southern Italy against Muslim invasions and also asserted his authority in matters of liturgy abuses in Germany. Any one of these situations made John many enemies but it’s actually rumored that one of his own family members was behind his death. Supposedly a relative of the Pope wanted to seize some treasures of the Vatican so he poisoned John,and when the poison acted too slowly,struck the Pope in the head with a hammer. John VIII is buried in St Peter’s Basilica.
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.