Pope Benedict V is often listed as an anti-pope due to the mess that was Rome during the time of his Papacy. Rotten Pope John XII had been run out of Rome by Holy Roman emperor Otto I and had been replaced(by the emperor)with Pope Leo VIII. When the emperor went home to Germany,former Pope John raised an army and marched on Rome,causing Leo to flee for the hills. This left the Papacy back in the hands of John,but when he died suddenly,the Romans elected a deacon in high standing who became Benedict V(they had no use for the absent Pope Leo). Emperor Otto had not been notified of Benedict’s election and he was furious that Rome would elect a Pope without his consent(especially since he still considered his Leo to be Pope). Otto and Pope Leo returned to the Vatican with an army in tow to take back the chair of Peter. The Romans hid behind the city walls,refusing to budge and Pope Benedict himself even appeared at the walls to threaten excommunication of Otto and his soldiers,but it was no use. Otto and Leo finally broke through and the displaced Pope Leo resumed his place at the head of the Church. It’s to Benedict’s sterling reputation(and the fact that he had not wanted to be Pope)that he was not put to death immediately. Instead he had his Papal vestments stripped and his staff broken over his head. After pledging his loyalty to the emperor and the Pope,he was allowed to remain a deacon and relocated to Germany. Benedict is said to have died a “happy death”,which is a blessing onto itself during this very cruel and bloody time of the Papacy.
Pope Leo VIII has been listed as both the 131st Pope and the 132nd Pope. He is also listed as both an antipope and an official Pope. It’s all very confusing. This mess was started when his predecessor Pope John XII(who was terrible)started plotting against Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. Otto marched on Rome and ran John out of town,quickly electing Leo to take his place. Leo wasn’t even a priest,he wasn’t anything really but a layman of the Church(he seems to have been picked out of a crowd randomly). In the span of several hours he was ordained every rank in the Church,from a doorman to a lector to a altar boy to deacon and finally moved up to Bishop of Rome. Once Otto left town,sneaky Pope John XII marched some mercenaries back into Rome and took back his Papacy by force,causing Leo to flee to Otto for help. John was sitting pretty smug on the Chair of Peter when he died suddenly(and scandalously).
With Leo nowhere in sight(and not really missed),the Church elected Benedict V as their new Pope….which infuriated Otto who had planned on having his stooge Leo resume his Papal duties. Leo rode back into the city with Otto and had the Papal vestments stripped off of Benedict and had Benedict’s staff smashed over the poor man’s head. On the bright side,Benedict was allowed to slip off to Hamburg and remain a deacon there for the remainder of his life. Since Benedict and Leo overlap each other,depending on which book you’re checking they could be flipflopped in order.
Pope Formosus was a brilliant diplomat,a gifted missionary and a Pope beloved by his people,but sadly,his legacy is forever tarnished by the vicious and morbid actions of one of his successors and a vindictive emperor. Holy Roman Emperor Guy III of Spoleto demanded that his son,Lambert,be crowned by the Pope to be King of Italy and co-emperor. Pope Formosus did not trust Lambert and secretly plotted to have him overthrown,which he nearly succeeded in doing before passing away due to a stroke. King Lambert and his mother were nearly driven out of Italy by the Pope’s actions and now that he was dead,they decided to take their revenge,whether he was alive or not. The King plotted with Pope Stephen VI(who may have actually been insane)to dig up the corpse of Formosus and humiliate his memory by putting his dead body on trial for supposed “crimes” against The Holy Church. The rotting body of Formosus(he had been dead for a year)was dressed in Papal vestments and placed on his throne while Pope Stephen screamed questions and vulgarities at his body. To “defend” himself against the charges,a Deacon crouched behind Formosus and answered for him. This disturbing scene played out by Formosus being found guilty(Shocking verdict….)The dead Pope’s vestments were then stripped from him and then three fingers of his blessing hand were cut off. His dismembered body was then dragged outside and thrown into the Tiber River. A monk secretly fished his body out of the river and hid it until this insanity calmed down. Lay Romans and clergy were horrified at all of this and rebelled against Pope Stephen VI. He was thrown into prison where he was later strangled. King Lambert was assassinated two years later. It helps to know that Romans were as disgusted by all of this then, just as much as I was when I first read about this. When the dust cleared and saner heads returned to power,Pope Theodore II had Pope Formosus buried in St Peter’s Basilica with full honors due to this fine Pope.
Born of a noble Roman family,Pope Adrian’s Papacy began under a dark cloud. A very dark and terrible cloud. When Adrian was younger and before becoming a priest,he was married and had a daughter. When he separated from his wife,Adrian entered into the clergy and moved his way up the ranks from Deacon to Cardinal and was finally(reluctantly)elected Pope in 867. Repercussions from the recent past came storming back to the Papacy when Eleutherius,the brother of disgraced Anti-Pope Anastasius,saw an opportunity to pay back Rome for all the trouble his family had been put through. Eleutherius took revenge in the worst way possible,by kidnapping and murdering the former wife and the daughter of Pope Adrian II. Awful. Just awful. Although it’s not known if he was involved,Anastasius was excommunicated(again),and his brother was put to death. Pitiful Pope Adrian went on to continue the work started by previous Pope Nicholas and eventually died five years to the day that he was elected.
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.
Pope Silverius was the son of the 52nd Pope,Hormisdas. You’d think the son of a former Pope would have it made,but the poor guy never stood a chance. Surrounded and undermined by weasels at every turn,his Papacy would last little more than a year. Italian Goth King Theodahad had instigated a war with Constantinople,and the previous Pope,Agapetus,couldn’t talk both sides down. He did manage to unseat the heretical patriarch of the Eastern Church though,and this is where poor Pope Silverius’ fate would be sealed. The Empress of Constantinople wanted the disposed patriarch back in charge and plotted with Roman deacon Vigilius to help her cause. Vigilius wanted nothing more than to be Pope,and he nearly had it in his grasp years earlier,only to have the title snatched away at the last second. He promised the Empress that should she get rid of Silverius and make him the new Pope,he would place her favored patriarch back in charge. Like I said. Weasel. Oh,and he was lying to her by the way.
The two armies soon occupied Rome and news spread throughout the lands that Pope Silverius had conspired with the Goth King and that he had handed over Rome. Peace was only a Pope Vigilus away it was told. Silverius was arrested on these false charges and forced to abdicate. Exiled to a monastery,he got word out,and pleaded his case to Constantinople Emperor Justinian. The Emperor ordered that Silverius should be brought back to Rome to defend himself against these charges. Silverius never made it back to Rome as he was intercepted by hired goons of deacon Vigilus….wait,make that Pope Vigilus. Weasel. Weeks later the body of Pope Silverius was found on the island of Palmaria.
Hundreds of years later,fishermen lost in a storm off the same island where Silverius lost his life,claimed that his spirit guided them to safety,and for this miracle he was venerated a Saint. His feast day is celebrated on June 20th. Oh and Pope Vigilus? Yeah,Pope Vigilius doesn’t have a feast day because Pope Vigilius sucks….
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.
St. Sixtus was a kind and thoughtful man from Greece. He was elected in the hopes of restoring peace throughout the fractured Church after many years of in-fighting,which he did successfully during his short term. Roman Emperor Valerian was everything that our Pope was not. A vile,and hateful human being,Valerian waged immediate war against Christianity and ordered that any Bishops,Priests or Deacons caught performing a Mass was to be put to death. On August 6th 258,St. Sixtus was performing a secret Mass in the chapel of the cemetery of Praextextatus when Roman soldiers arrived on the scene. Fearing for the Bishop,the entire congregation tried to shield St.Sixtus and help him escape,but Sixtus wouldn’t leave. He wouldn’t leave his people in the hands of the Romans. He and his six Deacons stood their ground and volunteered themselves so the congregation could escape unharmed. They were all beheaded on the spot. Sixtus’ faith in Christ and his faith in what he was doing nevered wavered and he and his Deacons gladly accepted their martyrdom. He was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus and the following inscription on his tomb can still be read today.
“At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor’s merit, preserving unharmed the flock.”
Born in Greece,Eleuterus had been a deacon of the Church since Pope Anicetus. He issued(or rather,re-issued),a decree that no food should be despised by Christians. Being that was there was no Cracker Barrel two thousand years ago,he would have not known of the dreaded Hashbrown Casserole,for he surely would have banned any sane person from eating this. The food decree was in response to various heretical Christian groups,such as the gnostics and montanists,limiting what their followers could and could not eat. Legend has it that he sent the first Christian missionaries to the British Isles,but there is much debate over whether this is true or not. The date of his death is the first concrete date in the history of the Papacy. He was first buried on Vatican Hill,then moved near the Pantheon,and finally,in 1591,his remains were moved again to the Church of St. Susanna. His feast day is May 26th,which will always be easy to remember because it is my wife’s birthday!