Pope Gregory V was our first German Pope(of which there will be 8 total). Holy Roman emperor Otto III of Germany had been notified of the death of Pope John XV and he knew of just the right replacement,which was his cousin,Bruno of Saxony. Aside from the obvious nepotism and the fact that Bruno was only 24 years old,he actually turned out to be an above average Pontiff during his short reign. Once again though,those pesky Roman nobles took to causing trouble for the new “foreigner” Pope. As soon as the emperor left Rome after the coronation,the nobles ran Gregory out of town and placed their own pope(lower case p) in his place(again!). Gregory kept running the Church in exile while waiting for Otto to return to Rome. He banned the buying of Church offices and also banned clergy for campaigning for the office of the Pope while the current Pope was still alive. Gregory also promoted Gerbert of Aurillac(future Pope Sylvester II)to be Archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto marched back into Rome and after violently putting down the anti-pope and his cronies(violently!Many beheadings and many tongues removed),he restored the Pope back to his rightful place…just in time for Gregory to get terribly ill and pass away unexpectedly.
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 John VII was a Greek from a prominent Byzatine family which included a senator(his grandfather)and his father,Plato,who was the viceroy of Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill was one of the oldest parts of Rome and was the site of the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by Wolves according to Roman mythology. This supposedly was where Rome got its name when Romulus killed his brother and founded the city on the banks of the Tiber river. John stayed close to home at Palatine Hill because of his parents and later on used it’s Church,The Church of St. Maria Antiqua(Ancient Church of St Mary)as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. He commissioned many frescoes and mosaics to decorate the Church and dedicated it “with a broken heart to a most loving and incomparable mother, and to the kindest of fathers”. The Church was abandoned after an Earthquake in the 8th century. A new Church was built on top of its ruins later on. The buried Church and all of it’s art treasures were rediscovered in the early 20th century and much has been salvaged and restored. The most interesting piece of art was an image of a crucified Jesus that doesn’t look like the Jesus that we’ve all known and loved for nearly 2000 years. This Jesus actually has short hair and barely a hint of a beard. No descriptions of Jesus actually exist so it’s always interesting when someone goes against the norm and suggests a different look. Apparently this was Pope approved at the time.
Pope John VII had a short Papacy and he,like his Papal predecessors,butted heads with the emperor of Constantinople,but nothing of consequence happened during his term. When he passed away he was buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the old St.Peter’s. This is appropriate since when his Church was unearthed they found an engraving of his signature and it was signed “John,Servant of Mary”
Pope Donus’s…..Donus’…?….Papacy lasted one year,five months and ten days. Nothing of much consequence happened during his reign. Donus was active in renovating St.Peter’s basilica and other Roman Churches. The only exciting thing that appears to have happened to him is that a group of Syrian Nestorian monks were discovered secretly living in a Roman monastery. Nestorians believed,and still believe,that Jesus had dueling natures,like he was either human or either divine at any given time,but not both at the same time. This is not what the Catholic Church teaches us about his nature and so Pope Donus sent these monks on their way to wherever and gave the monastery to Roman monks. “Donus” is a unique name for a Pope,and the only one to date. We’ve settled into a pattern of various Popes named Benedict,Leo and Pius,but I doubt we’ll ever see another Donus.
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.
When Pope Zosimus died,deacons of the Church decided that Archbishop Eulalius was to be Pope,but a week later,a majority of priests and the rest of the Church elected a priest named Boniface. Early Papal elections weren’t the most organized affairs and both parties assumed they were having proper elections. Arguments between the two factions then escalated into violence. The emperor of Rome,Honorius,was fed up with the fighting and ordered the two supposed Popes out of Rome until he could arrange for the matter to be decided by a council of Bishops. The emperor favored Eulalius,but wanted to make sure everything in the election was valid before he confirmed him as Pope. Easter rolled around and a presumptuous Eulalius came back to Rome and celebrated Mass against the emperor’s wishes to STAY. AWAY. FROM. ROME. Big mistake. Big! Huge! A very irritated emperor then confirmed Boniface as the new Bishop of Rome. Probably the only case of a Pope elected to office out of spite.
Siricius was unanimously elected to the Papacy in 384 and he is widely regarded as the first Pope to be called……well….Pope. Now this doesn’t mean that there were not Popes before him,as some Protestants would claim,it just means that the leader of our Church wasn’t always called Pope.He also didn’t always wear a big hat either.The word Pope is from the Latin word Papa,which means Father,and lest anyone question that the Pope was in charge,Siricius is also the first Pope to use the title PONTIFEX MAXIMUS,which basically means he’s the chief priest of the Christian world. You don’t have to use all caps when typing PONTIFEX MAXIMUS,but it just feels like it needs all capital letters. PONTIFE….sorry…..Pope Siricius is the first Pope to issue something called decretals. A decretal is a official statement to a question that someone may need an answer to,like “Hey Pope,if I’m a priest,can I get married?”,and he would reply “Eh,I wouldn’t encourage that,so that’s a no” and he would probably sign it PONTIFEX MAXIMUS. In all caps.
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 Mark was a native Roman who was only in office for about 9 months. Before becoming Pope,Mark was mentioned in letters written by Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester,meaning that he was probably a prominent member of the clergy and was fairly well known when he was elected. Mark donated his house to the Church and it became the Basilica of San Marco,named for St.Mark the Evangelist(Bible Mark,not Pope Mark). The Church is the National Church and former embassy of Venice in Rome and during World War II it was used as the offices for Mussolini(there went the neighborhood). Pope Mark died of natural causes and after moving around a few times,his remains finally came to rest in an urn in the church that he built. His feast day is the day of his death October 7th.