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.
Pope Gregory III made a decision about dates that has impacted nearly every one in the western hemisphere. Gregory basically gave us Halloween. Kinda. Sorta. All Saints’Day is celebrated every year in honor of all of those in the Church that have made it into heaven. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics and is also known as Feast of the Saints and All Hallows Day. The day before it is All Hallows Eve and over centuries the name of that day was shortened to Halloween. Earlier in history,All Saints’Day was celebrated either in April(in some countries),or on May 13th. When Pope Gregory dedicated a new chapel in St.Peter’s,he moved the day from May to November 1st and honored the day for “….the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”. Elsewhere in the world around this time,a Gaelic pagan festival known as Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Samhain and All Saints’Day have nothing to do with each other,but due to the time of year and the “dead” theme of both,they naturally started mixing,more so depending on what part of the world you were in. What we know as Halloween today was born in a Christian celebration of those that we know have made it home to Heaven. The other stuff(witches,black cats…whatever)came later from secular sources,much like Christmas with Santa Claus and St.Patrick’s Day with all the weird green beer.
Pope Gregory combated Eastern iconoclasm,which was the total destruction of religious images. In a great act of passive aggression,Gregory accepted a “bribe” of some glorious columns of onyx from an Eastern iconoclast and promptly used them to support several images of Jesus. Gregory also banned the consumption of horse meat(did we really need to tell people NOT to eat it?). Since I really don’t want to end on people eating horse meat,I’ll add that the Syrian born Gregory was the last Pope born outside of Europe until Pope Francis.
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.