Pope Eugene II came into office during a bitter and violent election which pitted the clergy against Roman nobles. The election was so contentious that the Holy Royal emperor had to send an official to sort it all out and maintain order. Once settled in,Pope Eugene agreed to have two representatives,one the Pope picked and one picked by the emperor,to keep track of the Papal government to guard against corruption. Eugene had a short Papacy,he was known to be a very Holy and kind man who looked after the city’s poor and widows and earned the nickname “The father of the people”. Eugene continued to resist any compromises put forth by the Eastern Church on the issue of iconoclasm(the destruction of religious images). Perhaps the most interesting thing about this new iconoclast dispute was the unfortunate nickname of the eastern emperor at the time,Michael the Stammerer. Poor guy. Also,”Stammerer” is a hard word to say out loud. Ironic.
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.
Named in honor of an exiled Persian noble,the Italian widower Hormisdas was one of the few Popes elected that had once been married with children. In fact,his son Silverius went on to become the Pope himself in the year 536. The Church at the time of Hormisdas was being pulled at both ends. The thirty year long schism with the Eastern Church was still raging,and the previous Pope’s election had divided Rome. Bloody fights between the laity and an Anti-Pope tainted much of the reign of Pope Symmachus. Hormisdas turned out to be the peacemaker that Rome desperately needed. Once elected,he made gestures of peace towards those who had supported the Anti-Pope and he returned them to their previous positions. Next,he went to work to bring the Eastern Church of Constantinople back into the see of the Apostle Peter. New Emperor of Constantinople Justin(the name Justin lacks the oomph of a Commodus or Pertinax or Zeno…..but anyways)condemned the heresies that had disrupted the Eastern Church and he became a valuable ally to Pope Hormisdas in bringing the split between the Churches to an end. On March 28 519,a huge crowd of people in the Cathedral of Constantinople watched a ceremony in which the eastern and western Churches made peace. In the words of Pope Hormisdas “I declare that the see of apostle Peter and the see of this imperial city are one.”
His time as Pope was relatively short,but he made it count. His work setting right the heresies of the Eastern Church(our sister Church)and bringing her back into the fold of Rome is still felt to this day. There are some things we still fight about though,after all,we are siblings.
Divine retribution! That was the cry of the Romans when Pope Anastasius II died two years into his Papacy. Whew,that is one unpopular Pontiff. Pope Anastasius II tried to reconcile with the Eastern Bishops that had been estranged from Rome for nearly thirty years. The Eastern Church had made a power grab for the leadership of all Christianity and had allied itself with various heretics to gain support for this move. Pope Anastasius wanted to bring unity back to the Church,but he wanted to do it without addressing the heresies or the actions of the past three decades. It was a “whatever,believe what you want,just come back to us” kind of gesture. When Anastasius welcomed Deacon Photinus(a huge supporter of the schism and known herectic)to Rome and gave him Holy Communion,this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,and several Roman priests and Bishops then started publicly shunning the Pope. Branded as a traitor to the Church,Anastasius died suddenly before he could undo the damage that he had done. Pope Anastasius is one of only two of the first fifty Popes not to be canonized as a Saint. Our Pope also has the unfortunate honor of being mentioned in the epic 14th century poem Dante’s Inferno. Dante has our poor Pope in the sixth circle of Hell(which is the circle for heresy),”Anastasio papa guardo, lo qual trasse Fotin de la via dritta” (“I guard Pope Anastasius, he whom Photinus drew from the straight path”). This alone probably damned him in history more than anything else.
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.