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.
Pope Paul I was the younger brother of the previous Pope,Stephen II(or the III….we won’t get into that). Paul was elected in order to continue the successful Papacy of his brother. In earlier times,when the Pope was under the thumb of the emperor of Constantinople,whoever was elected had to wait on the emperor to send his approval before the Papacy could begin. The approval(if even approved)could sometimes take up to a year,but times were changing. Previous Pope Stephen’s alliance with the King of the Franks(French-ish people)had helped to run the Lombards and any other friends of Constantinople out of Italy. This in turn freed the Pope from any meddling eastern politicians. When Pope Paul was elected,he sent the emperor of Constantinople a letter,same as always,but this time he was TELLING him that he was now the new Pope,and there was basically nothing he was going to do about it. Pope Paul was feeling pretty big,but he actually spent the rest of his time in office worrying that an eastern army commanded by the emperor was due to come knocking on St.Peter’s door at any moment. The army never came and the Pope’s alliance with King Pepin of the Franks would indeed hold(no thanks to the emperor,who tried to persuade the King otherwise).The Holy Roman Empire(and the Pope’s independence)would be set to launch with Pepin’s son,Charlemagne. The split with the east(church and emperor)would become permanent by the turn of the millennium.
Pope Gregory III made a decision about dates that has impacted nearly every one in the western hemisphere. Gregory basically gave us Halloween. Kinda. Sorta. All Saints’Day is celebrated every year in honor of all of those in the Church that have made it into heaven. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics and is also known as Feast of the Saints and All Hallows Day. The day before it is All Hallows Eve and over centuries the name of that day was shortened to Halloween. Earlier in history,All Saints’Day was celebrated either in April(in some countries),or on May 13th. When Pope Gregory dedicated a new chapel in St.Peter’s,he moved the day from May to November 1st and honored the day for “….the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”. Elsewhere in the world around this time,a Gaelic pagan festival known as Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Samhain and All Saints’Day have nothing to do with each other,but due to the time of year and the “dead” theme of both,they naturally started mixing,more so depending on what part of the world you were in. What we know as Halloween today was born in a Christian celebration of those that we know have made it home to Heaven. The other stuff(witches,black cats…whatever)came later from secular sources,much like Christmas with Santa Claus and St.Patrick’s Day with all the weird green beer.
Pope Gregory combated Eastern iconoclasm,which was the total destruction of religious images. In a great act of passive aggression,Gregory accepted a “bribe” of some glorious columns of onyx from an Eastern iconoclast and promptly used them to support several images of Jesus. Gregory also banned the consumption of horse meat(did we really need to tell people NOT to eat it?). Since I really don’t want to end on people eating horse meat,I’ll add that the Syrian born Gregory was the last Pope born outside of Europe until Pope Francis.