Look out,we’ve got a Pope that actually lasted more than a few weeks! Pope John IX was Pope for two whole years,which at this point in history,was a minor miracle,especially considering the reign of the four Popes in front of him barely amounted to an entire year combined. Before John was elected,supporters of a Bishop named Sergius stormed the Lateran Palace and installed their man into office. Holy Roman Emperor Lambert would have none of that so he had imperial guards forcefully removed Sergius before he could be officially sworn in. Sergius was a patient man though,and he would hide away in exile,biding his time(he will eventually reach the Papacy in six years)
The imperial guard made sure that a Bishop favorable to the Emperor was elected and once elected,John made sure to do his best to try and bring stability to Rome and the Church which had been lacking since Pope Formosus. John achieved this by calling various synods that both helped in strengthening ties with the Empire and by further cleaning up the messes caused by insane Pope Stephen VI.
Pope Stephen IV marked a return of Roman nobility to the Papal ranks,a change from previous Pope Leo’s more pedestrian roots. Stephen immediately went right to work sweetening diplomatic relations with the new king of the Franks and Holy Roman emperor,Louis the Pious. Louis was the son of emperor Charlemagne,and once his father passed,Louis crowned himself new Holy Roman emperor. The Pope heard this and sent word that the office of the Papacy should be the one to crown the emperor,in keeping with Leo crowning Charlemagne. Pope Stephen crossed the Alps to France and during an incredibly lavish ceremony,crowned Louis. Stephen even dug out the actual crown of Constantine the Great for the occasion! Constantine legalized Christianity 500 years earlier and joined the Church with the State. Stephen hoped this symbolic call back to the past would not be lost on Louis(it wasn’t).The crowning cemented the new tradition of emperors needing Papal approval before their reign could officially begin. This was a direct 180 from just a few years prior,when a Pope needed an emperor’s approval(from Constantinople)before he start acting as the official Holy Father. 3 more Popes to go before I get to Pope 100! I don’t know why,but I’m particularly proud of how Stephen’s ear turned out. This is by far the best ear I’ve drawn in 97 Popes…….
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.
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.
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.”
Eugene I was a Holy,kind and charitable man. On the surface he appeared to be kind of a pushover,which is the kind of Pope the emperor wanted in office. Emperor Constans II desperately wanted his view of monothelitism to be accepted by Rome. Monothelitism was the belief that Jesus only had one nature,a Divine one,instead of Church belief that Jesus had both human and Divine natures. The previous Pope,Martin I,had little patience with the emperor and had declared him and his beliefs as heresy. For his trouble,Constans had Pope Martin arrested,exiled,and tortured to death. Before he was Pope,Eugene had never publicly objected to monothelitism so the emperor thought he would just appoint him to the Papacy and clear the way to get what he wanted. Boy was he wrong. Sweet natured Eugene took office and immediately rejected compromise of any kind on the definition of the nature of Jesus. In no way was it even up for debate,so don’t even bother he basically said. The emperor and his lackeys,including the patriarch of the eastern Church,were furious…..FURIOUS(all caps)! Constantinople threatened to roast Eugene like they had roasted Martin,and Constans II was bound and determined to do it……until…..here come the Muslims to save the day(….record scratch…). Invading Muslim armies in the east immediately took precedent over any matters of the nature of Jesus. Contans II took to battle,putting a pin in the issue for a later date and Pope Eugene I was left to happily resume his Papal duties with one less thing to worry about. I based his look on Eugene Levy. It would probably work better with glasses but I don’t know what people used for glasses back then and I’m too lazy to Google.
Defiant Pope Saint Martin I was our last Pope to be martyred for the Church. Monothelitism(spell checked)was the current issue threatening the unity of the Western and Eastern Churches. Monothelitism was the belief that Jesus had both human and Divine natures,but only one Divine will,as opposed to the Catholic belief that Jesus had both human and Divine wills. It was all the rage in Constantinople,with the various emperors and Church patriarchs constantly petitioning the Pope for acceptance or at least a compromise to their beliefs. This issue had been going back and forth for nearly 50 years and the Church simply was not going to give an inch no matter how much the emperors of Constantinople wanted them to. Martin was elected just as a Council was forming to formally condemn monothelitism as a heresy and condemn it he did. First off,he did not wait for the emperor to confirm him as the new Pope(which was the practice back then,sometimes taking up to a year for a confirmation),so that was strike one for Martin. Strikes two,three,four…..all the strikes came against him when he officially declared the heresy,then declared that emperor Constans was a heretic and officially demanded that the heretic emperor and his heretic church fall in line with Rome. Like yesterday. The emperor was less than enthused. He first tried to have the Pope killed,but once the assassin came to town and saw how popular the Pope was,and how right he was,he changed sides and ran off to fight Muslims. So much for that plot. The emperor then had the Pope arrested and dragged back to Constantinople to be put on trial for treason. Martin was found guilty,publicly beaten,and then exiled for life to the island of Crimea where he was tortured and slowly starved to death. He never once wavered. He never once backed off his position on the nature and will of Jesus. He is in a way,a living embodiment of all that is great about the Catholic Church. She does not waver. She as a Church,is not,as Ronald Knox says,”…..free to catch the wind of the moment and sink their nets where the fishing seems best.”