116. Pope John IX 898-900

Pope John IX

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.

104. Pope Benedict III 855-858

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Benedict III was a native Roman and Cardinal unanimously voted into the Papacy following the death of Pope Leo IV. Holy Roman emperor Louis II did not like this choice and instead wanted an excommunicated priest named Anastasius to be the new Pope. He decided to install his man by force. Imperial troops marched into Rome,arrested Benedict and had him imprisoned while Anastasius took his position on the chair of Peter. The Roman people,who all favored Benedict,reacted immediately by attacking the troops and instigating bloody riots throughout the city. Roman Bishops even bravely refused to consecrate Anastasius as their new Pope. All of this mess forced Louis II to concede his attempt to steal the Papacy. Benedict was released on the condition that he be merciful on Anastastius and any others who plotted against him. This whole incident further weakened the hold the Holy emperor had on the Pope and the elections that choose him.
Pope Benedict III had a busy three years as Pope. He mediated between squabbling Kings,restored damaged Churches and reasserted his primacy over the Churches in Constantinople. Benedict even hosted the young prince of England and gave the boy a grand tour of the Vatican. The young prince went on to be King Alfred the Great,who put down two Viking invasions of England and was instrumental in keeping the British isles Christian against that pagan menace.

101. Pope Gregory IV 827-844

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Pope Gregory IV was remembered as the peacemaker Pope. Well,he tried to be the peacemaker Pope but none of his efforts amounted to much more than irritating virtually everyone. Holy Roman emperor Louis gave one of his sons some land which made his other sons indignant. One thing led to another and before you know it Europe was plunged into a very bloody family squabble. Pope Gregory IV traveled over the Alps to try anything he could to stop this war,but every time he visited one camp,it would infuriate the others(including his very own Bishops)who thought the Pope was taking sides. All of his efforts amounted to nothing and he returned to Rome while the warring parties themselves divided up Europe without his help. Gregory IV was known for his intelligence,fairness and for declaring All Saint’s Day(and by extension Halloween)an official celebration throughout all of Christendom where before it may have been only celebrated locally.

99. Pope Eugene II 824-827

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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.

96. Pope St.Leo III 795-816

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Pope Leo III,the Charlie Brown of Popes. Poor guy couldn’t catch a break. An incredibly brilliant and pious man,he was elected as an outsider to Roman politics. He came from southern Italy,and upon coming to Rome,immediately started breaking up the corruption and nepotism that had been plaguing the Church and the Papal States during this time. This in turn made him many enemies right off the bat. Political rivals ambushed and attacked Leo while out riding his horse and attempted to cut out his eyes and tongue,but nearby Frankish soldiers loyal to the Pope quickly rushed to his aid. Next his rivals falsely accused him of sexual immorality and other crimes and had him locked up in a monastery. Leo broke out(jail break!!),borrowed(stole?)a horse and rushed to Charlemagne,King of the Franks,for help. Charlemagne sent a militia back into Rome(with Leo in tow),to investigate these charges against his Pope. Once cleared of charges,King Charlemagne arrived to personally vouch for Leo,and during the Christmas Mass of 800,Leo repaid him by crowning Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor. Leo was then made to bow before him and kiss the new emperor’s feet. Not the proudest moment of the Papacy. By this point we are basically done with Rome having anything to do with Constantinople and their emperors. Charlemagne was now in charge of all secular matters for most of Europe and all he asked of Leo was that he was to be like Moses while Israel fought Amalek,to keep his hands raised in prayer while Charlemagne fought the battles. Hand in hand,the Church and State would jointly rule for a 1000 years.

91. Pope St.Zachary 741-752

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In 2002,Pope John Paul II banned the veneration of angels that are not officially named in the Bible. The Vatican was trying to protect people from falling into the trend of the new age nonsense of creating new angels and making weirdo angel cults based around them. There are only three Angels named and if it’s not Gabriel,Michael or Raphael,it’s best to steer clear,no matter what some goofy lady on Oprah(or Joseph Smith)says. Some thirteen hundred years earlier,Pope Zachary was making the same plea to people who were worshipping and sending prayers to an angel named Uriel. Zachary declared that Uriel did not exist and forbade this new obsession called “angelolatry”. When he wasn’t protecting people from shady superstitions,the Greek born Zachary was also acting as an early abolitionist of slavery. Venetian slave traders brought their slaves through Rome on to the way to Africa to sell to Muslims. Our Pope stepped in,bought all the slaves himself and promptly gave them all their freedom. The wise Pope Zachary also advised the Franks on who should be their proper King. Putting in a good word for the new King Pepin would set the table for the Papacy and of Christendom for the next four hundred years. The future would see Rome break free from the emperor in Constantinople,the beginnings of the Papal States and Pope Leo III crowning Pepin’s son Charlemagne as the King of the Holy Roman Empire.

89. Pope St.Gregory II 715-731

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Iconoclasm was the main conflict that occupied the Papacy of Saint Gregory II. Gregory was a Roman noble who became a deacon,and later became the Papal secretary under Pope Constantine. Once in office,he almost immediately butted heads with the new emperor of Constantinople,Leo III. Leo wanted to exert his authority over the west by raising their taxes. This was met with angry Roman protests(led by the Pope!)driving eastern prefects out of the city. Relations were basically soured at this point so Leo went in for the kill by proclaiming that all religious icons,statues,pictures or relics of Jesus,Mary,or the Saints were to be destroyed. Leo’s reasoning for this was that a Islamic invasion of the east on top of various natural disasters meant that God was angry with his people. Why was God angry? Leo believed God thought that we were worshipping false gods with all our statues and pictures. Leo forbid even having any images in your private possession. Pope Gregory II was enraged. First,he excommunicated Leo(take that!),and then he sent him a letter,where he pretty much insulted Leo’s intelligence and told him that even children would think he was stupid. In this letter he says….

”You say: ‘We worship stones and walls and boards.’ But it is not so, O Emperor; but they serve us for remembrance and encouragement, lifting our slow spirits upwards, by those whose names the pictures bear and whose representations they are. And we worship them not as God, as you maintain, God forbid!… Even the little children mock at you. Go into one of their schools, say that you are the enemy of images, and straightway they will throw their little tablets at your head….”

Emperor Leo didn’t particularly like being called an imbecile by the Holy Father so he sent an army of Lombards into Italy to murder the Pope. Gregory II went on the offensive and bravely entered the Lombard camp to confront the king of the Lombards,Liutprand. The Pope laid the mother of all Catholic guilt trips on the Catholic Liutprand and this shaming caused the humbled king to enter Rome on foot,lay his arms on the tomb of St.Peter and pull his armies out of Italy. All of this back and forth is setting the table for the independence of the Pope from the eastern emperor. This is the beginning of the Papal States and the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire,which will come during the rest of the 8th century.
Iconoclasm will still be fought by the next Pope,Gregory III,and it will be fought again during the Protestant Reformation and even now by Islamic extremists in the middle east.