138. Pope Gregory V 996-999

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Pope Gregory V was our first German Pope(of which there will be 8 total). Holy Roman emperor Otto III of Germany had been notified of the death of Pope John XV and he knew of just the right replacement,which was his cousin,Bruno of Saxony. Aside from the obvious nepotism and the fact that Bruno was only 24 years old,he actually turned out to be an above average Pontiff during his short reign. Once again though,those pesky Roman nobles took to causing trouble for the new “foreigner” Pope. As soon as the emperor left Rome after the coronation,the nobles ran Gregory out of town and placed their own pope(lower case p) in his place(again!). Gregory kept running the Church in exile while waiting for Otto to return to Rome. He banned the buying of Church offices and also banned clergy for campaigning for the office of the Pope while the current Pope was still alive. Gregory also promoted Gerbert of Aurillac(future Pope Sylvester II)to be Archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto marched back into Rome and after violently putting down the anti-pope and his cronies(violently!Many beheadings and many tongues removed),he restored the Pope back to his rightful place…just in time for Gregory to get terribly ill and pass away unexpectedly.

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105. Pope St.Nicholas I 858-867

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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.

97. Pope St.Stephen IV 816-817

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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…….