Pope Alexander II continued to push the powerful reforms to the Church started by his predecessors. The first Pope elected under the new rules made by Pope Nicholas(only Cardinals elect the Pope),Alexander didn’t waste any time going to work on cleaning up his Church. He cleaned out corrupt clergy and supported moves to push out Muslims in Sicily and Spain. Alexander moved his Catholic chess pieces into far-ranging positions,the results of which are still felt today. He appointed a priest named Stanislaus to be the new Bishop of Krakow,Poland. This new Bishop made his name standing up to the King of Poland,being martyred in the process,cementing his Sainthood. Saint Stanislaus is one of the beloved patron saints of Poland,with much of that Deeply Catholic country devoted to him and grateful for his intercession of their prayers. Next,Pope Alexander granted his blessing to French William the Conqueror in his quest to invade England. Alexander favored William over the current King due to William’s vow to help clean up the English Church. William’s invasion,and victory,changed the course of English history(language,art,architecture and we’re probably all related to him in some way or another)
On a smaller scale that is felt at every Mass during Lent is Alexander’s decision to not sing the “Alleluia” before the Gospel reading. The “Alleluia” is pretty joyful song and for Lent we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for the coming death,and resurrection,of our Lord.
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)
Pope John IV was a native of Dalmatia(Croatia)and was the Archdeacon of Rome when he was elected to the Papacy. He had a fairly drama-free two year run as Pope. He wrote many letters back and forth to England and Ireland trying to get them on the same page as to when Easter is officially celebrated. He also sent large sums of money back to Dalmatia to buy the freedom of Christians enslaved by pagans in the area. He also officially declared monothelitism a heresy. This was the belief that Jesus had two natures but only a divine will and it was the current fad belief of Constantinople. John IV not only declared it a heresy but tried to also apologize for Pope Honorius’ failure to declare it a heresy when he was the reigning Pontiff. It’s a light week for Popes so the one interesting thing from his Papacy was that his homeland of Dalmatia is where the Dalmatian dog originated. The first descriptions of the dog come from paintings from Croatia from the 1600s. These dogs apparently have a problem with their hearing and are prone to kidney stones and learning about these dogs from Wikipedia has officially derailed me from my topic…..
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.
Born to an extremely wealthy and powerful family,Gregory was made a prefect(a kind of governor)of Rome due to the influence of his father. He excelled at his job but once his father passed away,Gregory gave away every dime his family had and soon turned the family mansion into a monastery. He became a monk and devoted himself to an ascetic life of Christian devotion and study. His solitude was soon disturbed when Pope Benedict I came calling for his intellect and influence. Gregory was reluctantly made a deacon and brilliantly served under two Popes. With the death of Pope Pelagius, Gregory retreated back to his precious peace and quiet at his monastery. Not so fast…..the clergy of Rome knew a good thing when they saw it and unanimously elected him to the Papacy. Gregory begged them to reconsider but the Church would have none of it,and so a legendary Papacy began. He was tireless in Church reform,writings,charity and missionary work. He set in motion the re-conversion of England(after Pagans ran amok)and he helped refine the Mass which he loved so dearly. The Gregorian chant was named for him, although he had nothing to do with the music itself. He was one of three Popes referred to as “The Great”,but Gregory,being the humble monk he was at heart,preferred the title of “Servant of the Servants of God”. To emphasize what a great man Gregory was,John Calvin,a passionate Protestant pastor during the Reformation,said that Pope Gregory was “the last good Pope”. Well,we know that wasn’t the case but it’s high praise from someone who was no friend to The Catholic Church or to the Popes. Gregory the Great is a Doctor of the Church and is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers. He is recognized as a Saint in not only the Catholic Church,but also in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in some Lutheran churches! Mister the Great’s feast day is September 3rd and of course he is buried in St.Peter’s Basilica.