When Pope Benedict VIII passed away,he was followed by his younger brother Romanus. Romanus was a secular politician and also a layman. On being “elected” Pope he was ordained in all the offices of the Church up to Bishop in a single day. Pope John XIX did his very best to help along the coming split with the Eastern Church when the Patriarch of Constantinople essentially bribed John to recognize the Patriarch as head of all Christians in the East. John accepted the gifts and was going to go along with this idea until other leading Churchmen and even the Holy Roman emperor told the Pope this was a horrible idea(This would have made the Patriarch of the East equal with the Bishop of Rome). John quickly changed his mind…….but kept all the loot he had been bribed with(the countdown to schism with the Eastern Church inches closer and closer)
The goofy numbering of Popes named John takes another detour after this Pope because after XIX,the number XX is completely skipped for some reason.
Pope John XVIII was a major reformer and a stickler for making sure the clergy followed the rules of proper conduct. John flexed his Papal muscle during a dispute between three Bishops in France. Two Bishops refused to acknowledge Papal privileges given to the third and Pope John was not having this at all. He demanded an explanation and when the offending Bishops refused,he gave one of the most ballsy ultimatums in Church history. Either the Bishops settle their differences,or there would be no more more Church services in France. Period!(Holy Le Cow) The childish Bishops quickly backed down,on order of the King of France.
Pope John XVIII improved relations between Western and Eastern Churches,to the point of being revered in Constantinople. He is one of the few Popes to retire voluntarily and he lived out his last few years in a monastery.
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.
Following the death of Pope Zachary,a priest named Stephen was elected to the Papacy in 752. Not this Stephen. This is Pope Stephen II. The Stephen elected died of a stroke a couple of days later and he is not considered an official Pope since he died before he was ordained a Bishop. THAT Stephen would have been Stpehen II but that Stephen died and THIS Stephen,who was officially elected after THAT Stephen died is now considered Stephen II. Now hold on,in 1975,a new Canon Law stated that a man is considered Pope the moment he is elected,so the ORIGINAL Stephen II was now officially Stephen II and our Pope Stephen II is now renumbered Pope Stephen III. Maybe. Depending on who you ask. We’re going with the traditional numbering for today(as most everyone does anyway). Whew. I typed “Stephen” a lot just now……Stephen.
Pope Stephen II continued Pope Zachary’s allegiance with the Franks(French people basically). King Pepin of the Franks ran all of the Lombards out of Italy and gifted the Lombard lands to the Pope,making him the largest landowner in Italy. With his little part of the world(most of central Italy,including Rome)now free of Lombards,the Pope did not need the help of Constantinople to maintain order and could now tell the eastern emperor to beat it(they didn’t like each other anyway). The newly independent Pope Stephen II was now basically a Pope/King,and his Papal States would be with the Papacy for over a thousand years until it was taken away from them by the King of Italy in 1871. Vatican City is all that is left of the Papal States and its sovereignty,and the Pope’s authority over it,was recognized by Mussolini in 1929. Pope Stephen II(or the III…..)would be succeeded by Pope Paul I,which was his brother. The Pope brothers! Sounds like a construction company……
The Quinisext Council of Constantinople was held in 692 and was called by the Eastern Church to enact new canon laws and tighten up some of the rules of the Church(and all of Christianity). The only problem was that nobody bothered to contact Rome or even ask her opinion in these matters. The various Popes between Sergius to Sisinnius had either boldly rejected,or just plain ignored any new laws from Constantinople,adding to the already tense relations between the sister Churches. Now it was new Pope Constantine’s turn to confront this ongoing argument. Emperor Justinian II had already blinded and cut out the tongue of an Archbishop he didn’t like so I’m sure Constantine gulped hard when he was summoned to Justinian’s court. The Pope was welcomed like a king into Constantinople and the emperor supposedly kissed his feet,but it was all for show. Justinian ordered the Pope to his city,not to impose the rules of the Quinisext Council,but to show the world that the great Bishop of Rome was at his beck and call. Pope Constantine still refused the new rules and went back to Rome in peace,but as soon as he arrived home it was reported that Justinian had been murdered and overthrown. The new emperor,Philippikos Bardanes,believed in monothelistism,the old heresy that Jesus only had one will,a divine one. Argh! This old thing again! This argument ate up all of Rome’s time for nearly 200 years! It was back now and had an army behind it that was now knocking on the Pope’s door. Constantine refused to submit and thankfully his Roman milita was able to repel the invading forces. This new emperor was in turn overthrown by yet another guy,but this guy,Anastasius II,rejected monothelistism(whew),and left the Pope alone for the remainder of his Papacy.
Pope Constantine was the last Pope to visit the Eastern Church in Constantinople until Pope Paul VI made a trip there in the 1960s,when it was now named Istanbul and the population was mostly Muslim. Constant fighting between the Churches and a formal schism around the year 1053 contributed to 1200 years between visits but every Pope since(except John Paul I)has made the trip,both to strengthen ties between west and east and to strengthen relations with those in the Muslim faith.
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 John’s papacy started off stressful and never let up during his four year term. The new emperor of Constantinople,Tiberius III,sent his Exarch of Italy into Rome to “cause trouble for the Pontiff”(for some reason not specified). Native Italians,who were very protective of their Holy Father,went to provide military support for the Vatican and keep our Pope from harm. Pope John VI tried to keep the peace and mediated between the angry groups,desperate to keep any bloodshed from happening. While this was going on,the marauding Lombards seized on the disharmony in Italy and sensing weakness,started to attack the Italian countryside. Again,Pope John to the rescue. He sent priests into the Lombard camp and on the Pope’s authority they were able to both bribe and persuade the Lombards to retreat back to their regions. Pope John VI finished out his short reign by settling Church conflicts in England. Whew. So he basically spent all of his time keeping Italians from killing Italians,Lombards from killing Italians and English clergy from……throwing things at each other(I guess)
It’s exciting to write about a Pope who had a direct influence on something we do during every single Mass. Pope Sergius introduced the beautiful Agnus Dei to the Mass. This song is sung when the priest breaks the consecrated bread during Mass before giving us our Holy Communion(Lamb of God,you take away the sins of the world…..)This is actually a thumbing of the Holy nose to the eastern Church. In 692 Emperor Justinian called a Quinisext Council in Constantinople to put into place new canon laws. The only hitch was that they neglected to invite Rome. 102 new canon laws were passed without any input from the western Church and Pope Sergius was none too pleased at his authority being undermined. The numerous new laws now forbid many western practices like priestly celibacy and many other things,but the big one that truly offended the Pope was the banning of referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The emperor ordered(ORDERED!)the Pope to sign off on these new laws but Sergius declared that he would “rather die than consent to erroneous novelties” and Rome,in relation to Constantinople,would not be “its captive in matters of religion”. Papal fighting words were just thrown down to the emperor and Justinian wasn’t going to take them lightly. Justinian sent his own personal bodyguard(a violent man named Zacharias)to Rome to bring the Pope back to Constantinople by force and make him sign off on these new laws. The Italian militia of Ravenna stepped in to defend the Pope and Zacharias nearly lost his life. The emperor wisely decided to back down(for now),and the already tense relations between the western and eastern Churches was now in the silent treatment stage of the fighting. Pope Sergius decided that if the eastern Church didn’t like us referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God then guess what……..WE’RE GOING TO SING ABOUT IT EVERY SINGLE TIME WE TAKE COMMUNION. Thus,we have the Agnus Dei. I love it.
Syrian born Pope John V only ruled for a year but his contributions to the faith before becoming Pope were immeasurable. In 680 John was the leading Roman delegate at the Third Council of Constantinople. This council was called to finally put to rest the leading heresy of the day,monothelitism. This heresy believed that Jesus had only a Divine will,and not both human and Divine as the Church teaches. It was popular with various emperors and even some clergy of the eastern Church,but Rome had always held the line on the nature of Jesus for nearly two hundred years at this point(and seemingly forever when writing this blog).John and the other Roman delegate’s defense of the nature of Jesus finally helped put to rest this long standing debate and monothelitism was officially declared a heresy recognized by both west and east Churches. This work on behalf of the Catholic faith helped to elect him to the Papacy in 685. John mostly used his short time clearing up debates about the appointing of bishops and restoring older Churches. He was buried in St Peter’s basilica(the old one)and unfortunately his tomb was destroyed by an Arab invasion of Rome in 846.
Pope Benedict II was the quintessential local boy made good. A native Roman,Benedict II had been a part of The Church since he was young,starting as a altar server and basically moving up from there. Before Benedict,whenever a new Pope was elected,confirmation had to be approved by the emperor in Constantinople. This was a very time consuming process that sometimes could take up to a year before a newly elected Pope could actually begin his Papacy. Benedict asked the emperor to do away with this custom and the emperor actually agreed! This apparently lazy and easy going emperor simply delegated this job to his exarch in Ravenna(sorta a governor of Rome),but this was just a technicality so now the election and confirmation of Popes would be in the clergy’s hands for once. In time the Popes would again have to get approval from various emperors or kings until Pope Pius X would put an end to it once and for all in 1903. Pope Benedict II would have a short time in office,but one of the cool things he did had to do with herectical eastern monothelites who were sent to Rome for punishment(whatever that might be). Benedict showed much mercy on them and simply arranged for their proper education in the orthodox theology.