Saint Adrian III was a mysterious Pope. Mysterious because not much is known about him….like how exactly he was elected or how exactly he died or why exactly he was declared a Saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The little we do know is that Adrian was involved in dealing out severe punishments for those nobles in the Papal States that were plotting against each other(and the Papacy). These punishments included the blinding and exile of a high ranking official and having a woman from a prominent family dragged through the streets naked while being whipped. Adrian also sent several letters to Christians in Spain and other countries instructing them not to get too chummy with their local Jewish people. Again,why he was declared a Saint is a total mystery….
In 885 King of Italy Charles the Fat(unfortunate nickname)summoned a council in Modena to discuss imperial succession. Pope Adrian died(mysteriously)on the journey there. Many think he was poisoned. I’m sadly entering in the Roger Moore-era of Popes. These guys aren’t the best examples of what it means to be the Holy Father and their stories also tend to be more murderish than I prefer.
Pope Saint Adrian III is buried in the Nonantola Abbey in Modena.
Adeodatus II was born in Rome and before becoming Pope he was a member of the Order of Saint Benedict. The Benedictines were known as the Black Monks because of the color of their habits. He was an elderly man when he was elected to the Papacy,and little is actually known of him. We do know that he was a kind man,he was generous to the poor and he helped set up rules for different monasteries. Wikipedia describes his Papacy as not contributing a large amount to society. Ouch. That’s pretty harsh Wikipedia. I’m really not sure what else to write……..the “Black Monk” seems like a cool nickname so he’s got that going for him.
It had been pretty rough going for the last several Popes. Monothelitism was the major conflict between the western and eastern Churches. This was the belief that Jesus only had a Divine nature and this was in opposition to the belief in Rome that Jesus had both a human and a Divine nature. Emperor Constans II of Constantinople favored monothelitism and made frequent attempts to bend Rome to his way of thinking,including the exile and murder of Pope Martin I. Pope Vitalian tread lightly with the emperor but always held firm to the truth. He even hosted Constans in Rome and watched as the emperor helped himself to several statues and other valuable artifacts making a complete nuisance of himself. Contans moved on to other parts of Italy and sometime during his non-goodwill tour,he was murdered in his bathtub. Oh well. That’s a shame. Without the immediate threat of Contans or monothelitism to worry about,Pope Vitalian had a fairly routine Papacy. He is most famous for being the first Pope to introduce organ music into the Mass. Whether or not this is accurate is up for debate as the organ wasn’t in widespread use in Church until around the 12th century. At the very least Pope Vitalian may have introduced it in just a few Churches to test the liturgical waters. Post Reformation,music in Church has been a bone of contention between the different Protestant denominations but the Catholic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has this to say,”In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.”
Angry Pope Theodore I was the next in the line for Popes having to constantly battle the eastern Church over the nature of Jesus. Monothelitism is the belief that Jesus only had one will,a Divine one,as opposed to our Catholic belief that Jesus had both a human and Divine will. This back and forth between the western and eastern Churches over this had been going on for….(forever it seems since this is all I’ve written about on this blog for weeks now). Pope Theodore refused to recognize the new patriarch of Constantinople,Paul,because the previous guy(Pyrrhus)still believed in the Jesus of only one nature when he passed away,which Paul never corrected. Pope Theodore was still irritated because Pyrrhus had once come to Rome and denounced Monothelitism to the Pope’s face,then after leaving town flip-flopped back. This made the Pope so freaking mad that he supposedly wrote out the excommunication of Pyrrhus using consecrated wine on the tomb of St Peter as his desk. Supposedly(I doubt it was this dramatic but it’s still a cool image). On and on went the battle of wills between the two Churches over the nature of our Lord. The emperor of Constantinople was so sick of hearing about it that he jailed a Papal ambassador when the sensitive subject came up. Pope Theodore was sick of all of this too and called for the Lateran Council of 649 to condemn the issue and hopefully put it to rest once and for all. Unfortunately he passed away before the Council could meet and it would be the next Pope(Saint Martin I),who would bear the full brunt of this strife between the two Churches. This wouldn’t be settled for another 40 years after Theodore(six more weeks for me),so maybe by then I’ll learn to spell “Monothelitism” without the spellcheck correcting me.
The Pantheon in Rome was built in the year 125 and was a pagan temple built with the intention of worshiping Roman gods like Jupiter and Mars. It’s the oldest building in the world with its original roof still intact and is basically the model for every government building in the United States. It had stood strong for nearly 500 years when the emperor of Constantinople gifted it to the new Pope in the year 609. Boniface IV quickly went to work throwing out the old gods(with the lower case “g”),and making it a place of worship for the one true God(with a capital “G”). Boniface dedicated the building to the Virgin Mary and to early Christian martyrs. He brought in over 30 cart loads of bones dug up from the Christian Catacombs and had them all reburied under the floor. Roman gods were lame anyways,the Romans just stole the Greek gods and renamed them. Lazy,lazy,lazy….
The Pantheon would later also become famous for being the burial place of the artist Raphael nearly a thousand years later. He apparently had a enormous state funeral there when he passed away at the early age of 37. Also happening during the reign of Pope Boniface was the rise of Islam under the prophet Muhammad but we’ve got a while before we get to any Crusade talk(whew). Pope Boniface IV’s feast day is either May 8th or May 25th(depends of who you ask),and his remains were moved three times before finally coming to rest in St.Peter’s in the thirteenth century under Pope Boniface VIII.
Pope Vigilius was not a great Pope. He lied,schemed and swindled his way to the Papacy,and he may have even had a hand in the death of the previous Pope,Silverius. Like I said. Not a great Pope. Vigilius was the first of the Byzantine Popes,basically that means Popes nudged into office under the influence of Constantinople Emperors. The main controversy of his Papacy was the various heresies of the day and the different push and pulls of the kings or emperors trying to assert their beliefs by force. Eastern emperor Justinian condemned writings known as “The Three Chapters”,which denounced one set of heresies while it supported another. Justinian demanded that the Pope approve this condemnation of these writings,and it was a “damned if you,damned if you don’t” situation that Vigilius was forced to take part in. To his credit,he refused. He couldn’t condemn these documents,because it would show validation to another heresy that The Church did not approve of. Vigilius was a weasel,but he was a devout weasel. Justinian lost patience with him eventually and had his goons seize the Pope in the middle of Mass. He was forcibly brought to Constantinople and made to sweat it out until he agreed to the emperor’s demands. Vigilius was kept in custody for nearly a decade,which explains his long Papacy when the average Pontiff term at this time was just a few years. He was stubborn at first,declaring that “You may keep me in captivity, but the blessed Apostle Peter will never be your captive.” Defiant words,but eventually he was worn down and he regrettably submitted to the emperor’s demands. Pope Vigilius was finally released,but unfortunately died in Sicily on his way back to Rome.
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 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 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)
The great Roman empire ended during the time of Pope Simplicius. The last Roman emperor,Romulus Augustulus,stepped down on the order of a Germanic warlord who then became King of Italy. Seeing that the Roman empire was no more,the Eastern Orthodox Bishops in Constantinople declared that they now had primacy over the Roman Church and they alone,rather than the Pope,would decide what was best for Christianity. To gain support for this move,the Eastern Church allied itself with those pesky followers of Monophysitism who believed that Jesus was only divine and not both human AND divine. All of this betrayal outraged Simplicius and he went to his grave fighting to keep primacy over all Christians and also to keep the faith pure and free of heresy. His successor Pope Felix III would continue the fight which will eventually lead to a schism between west and east for the next thirty years.
I can’t overstate how blessed we were to have such a man of strong faith and wisdom in charge during this time,because if the Pope gave ground and let the Eastern Church(with all of its heresies at the time),take over guidance of Christianity,it would have basically changed all of Western history from that point on. Our calendar would be different,our maps would be different,our lives would be different. These men that are our Popes are the guardians of the truth of Jesus and his teachings. Pope Simplicius is buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica and his feast day is March 10th.