Pope Stephen VIII was appointed by the ruler of Rome Alberic II of Spoleto. Unlike previous Popes,who did whatever Alberic wanted,Stephen’s relationship with him was a little more strained. Alberic and King of Italy Hugh were constantly quarreling and word soon got to Alberic that the new Pope was actually in league with King Hugh in a plot to overthrow Alberic. Pope Stephen and his cohorts(Bishops)were arrested,tortured and imprisoned for the rest of their lives(which wasn’t very long after).
Stephen’s only other notable action while he was Pope was helping King Louis IV of France put down a rebellion by threatening excommunication to all rebels if they did not back down(which they promptly did).
Pope Benedict IV had a relatively quiet time in office compared to previous Pontiffs. In his first year he crowned a new Holy Roman Emperor,Louis of Provence. Benedict also had to step in and excommunicate Count Baldwin of Flanders(modern day Netherlands). The Count was having a property dispute with the local Archbishop over the ownership of an Abbey in Flanders. When the matter couldn’t be resolved to anyone’s liking,the Count had the Archbishop murdered,which is always a surefire way to earn an excommunication. The Count was himself murdered shortly after that. Pope Benedict was buried in front of the old St Peter’s Basilica when he passed away in 903.
Pope Saint Nicholas the Great is the perfect symbol of what a Pope should be to our world. He is our final arbiter in matters of faith and morals. The spiritual buck stops with the Holy Father and Nicholas was more than ready to fulfill these duties even against the threat of death. King Lothair II of Lotharingia(basically what is now parts of Germany,France and Belgium)wanted to abandon his queen and marry some new tramp he picked up at a renaissance fair somewhere. Local councils were called to address the legality of this and the indifferent Bishops of the region signed off on the divorce and sent the new couple on their way. When the Bishops reported what they had done to Pope Nicholas,he excommunicated them on the spot for supporting bigamy. He excommunicated the bishops,he excommunicated all who took part in the council and he excommunicated the King and his new “wife”. What God has joined together,let no one separate and it’s the Pope’s job to make sure that this commandment holds strong. King Lothair was furious and he pleaded with his brother,Holy Royal emperor Louis II,to march into Rome and make the Pope heel. Nicholas barricaded himself behind Vatican defenses as imperial troops stormed Rome. He would not wavier in his decision and Louis knew he would have to kill the Pope in order for his brother to remarry,which was just not an option(nor was his brother worth the trouble). The emperor stood down and ordered his brother to honor his commitment before God and stay married to his queen. Pope Nicholas was adamant that no secular ruler,no matter who he was,had any authority over the Church or her doctrines and he was prepared for whatever came his way in defense of this position.
Pope Nicholas I is also famous for wanting an image of a rooster placed on every church,whether as a weather vane or on a steeple. The rooster serves as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and to remind the clergy to stay vigilant at all times in their faith.
The birth of the Papal States and the Pope’s new control over much of Italy led to one of the bloodiest Papal elections in history. Nobles of the sections of Italy now controlled by Rome wanted their own guy in office to better serve their personal interests. Duke Toto of Nepi wanted his brother Constantine to become Pope,so he marched an army into Rome and took the Papacy by force. No election was held and Constantine wasn’t even a priest when he began his brief reign as Anti-Pope in 767,while the clergy secretly plotted his doom. Some members of the clergy swore they would not recognize this new “pope” and begged to be let out of the city so they could retire to distant monasteries. Constantine II could care less so he let them leave. This was not his smartest decision. They didn’t go to a monastery,they ran straight to the king of the Lomards and begged him to come get rid of this fake Pope. Always looking for an angle to exploit against Rome for a later date,the king more than happily obliged. He marched his army into Rome,killed Duke Toto and his supporters and then had the Anti-Pope arrested. While this was going on,another fake pope named Phillip was put into place briefly by the Lombard king. Two Anti-Popes later,we finally get to a point when the Church can hold a real election and Stephen III was chosen as our new Pope. Stephen III was a respected priest from Sicily that had worked with several Popes and was even at the bedside of Pope Paul I when he died. The office was finally in good and proper hands.
Anti-Pope Phillip was dismissed and was allowed to return to his monastery in peace,but Anti-Pope Constantine II…..Oh that guy…..that guy paid dearly for trying to steal the chair of St.Peter. Beaten,tortured and paraded around Rome on horseback(on a woman’s saddle!)with heavy weights hanging from his feet,as crowds screamed insults at him and threw things. While he was in jail,his remaining supporters stirred up new trouble,so now Rome officials decided to further punish him for being a symbol of dissent. Constantine was dragged from jail,blinded and had his tongue ripped out of his mouth. He was then left in the street for 24 hours with everyone under strict orders to not help him or even speak to him. The poor man was then excommunicated and shipped off to God knows where. Whether or not Pope Stephen III had anything to do with much of this is still debated.
Angry Pope Theodore I was the next in the line for Popes having to constantly battle the eastern Church over the nature of Jesus. Monothelitism is the belief that Jesus only had one will,a Divine one,as opposed to our Catholic belief that Jesus had both a human and Divine will. This back and forth between the western and eastern Churches over this had been going on for….(forever it seems since this is all I’ve written about on this blog for weeks now). Pope Theodore refused to recognize the new patriarch of Constantinople,Paul,because the previous guy(Pyrrhus)still believed in the Jesus of only one nature when he passed away,which Paul never corrected. Pope Theodore was still irritated because Pyrrhus had once come to Rome and denounced Monothelitism to the Pope’s face,then after leaving town flip-flopped back. This made the Pope so freaking mad that he supposedly wrote out the excommunication of Pyrrhus using consecrated wine on the tomb of St Peter as his desk. Supposedly(I doubt it was this dramatic but it’s still a cool image). On and on went the battle of wills between the two Churches over the nature of our Lord. The emperor of Constantinople was so sick of hearing about it that he jailed a Papal ambassador when the sensitive subject came up. Pope Theodore was sick of all of this too and called for the Lateran Council of 649 to condemn the issue and hopefully put it to rest once and for all. Unfortunately he passed away before the Council could meet and it would be the next Pope(Saint Martin I),who would bear the full brunt of this strife between the two Churches. This wouldn’t be settled for another 40 years after Theodore(six more weeks for me),so maybe by then I’ll learn to spell “Monothelitism” without the spellcheck correcting me.
One of three Popes from Africa,St.Victor served as Bishop of Rome during a relatively peaceful time. Peaceful for Christians…..but for heretics? Not so much. Victor was excommunicating heretics left and right,gnostics,montanists,a guy named Theodotus;all felt the wraith of Victor. He even went so far as to excommunicate Eastern Christians who were still celebrating Easter on the Jewish day of Passover,and not on the Sunday after Passover like they were in the west. This was a bit much,and his fellow bishops and priests let him know it,so he backed off of this unpopular position and lifted the excommunications on those Christians.
Victor was one of the first Popes to have direct dealings with the Roman Empire. Emperor Commodus was sympathetic to Christians,and a member of his court(Marcia,who may have been a Christian herself),worked with Victor on getting Christians pardoned and released from slave labor in the mines of Sardinia,among them was future Pope Callixtus.
Victor was the first Pope to celebrate Mass in Latin instead of Greek,as Latin was the prominent language of Northern Africa at the time. The Latin Mass must have been beautiful to hear because it stuck around for about 1800 years after Victor passed away. Dominus vobiscum! (Psst,that’s Latin for “The Lord be with you”)
A former slave born in northern Italy,Pius was the bishop of Rome when those pesky Gnostics and Marcionites came to town. The origin of the word “Heresy” means “to choose”,and these groups of herectics would cherry pick bits of Christianity to pervert and twist for ideas suited to their own agendas. Gnostics(snobby hippy dippy “Christians”),believed that only a elite chosen few with special knowledge and gifts could ever know Christ,and the Marcionites taught that there were two different Gods from the first to second Testaments. Pius spent a lot of his time dealing with these groups,and to deal with the Marcionites,he held a trial for their leader Marcion and then excommunicated him,possibly the first excommunication due to heresy. Pius built the Santa Pudenziana,the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome and the home of all the Bishops of Rome until the year 313,when Emperor Constantine I offered his Lateran Palace to the Bishop to live in. He admitted Jewish converts and allowed them to be baptized and he officially decreed that Easter was to be celebrated on a Sunday. I drew him wearing a Papal Tiara,I’m about 600 years too early for this,but I was just itching to draw a Pope hat.