Before Pope Stephen IX died,he left strict instructions to his Cardinals not to elect a new Pope until they were all there in one place to convene. While they waited,impatient Roman nobles rushed to elect a Pope of their own,Benedict X. The senior Cardinals fled Rome and then finally got together to elect the Bishop of Florence as the new Pope,who took the name Nicholas II. Backed by the army of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine,Nicholas marched back into Rome and ran the anti-pope Benedict out of town. Once officially installed,Nicholas called a synod to set up new and strict rules for elections. In the previous thousand years Popes were elected in any number of ways,sometimes shady,sometimes not. The new rules only allowed Cardinals to elect the Pope,in secret,and without influence from lay people or nobles or from any various royalty from different places. These rules for the Papal election would go through various streamlining changes,even until now,but they were basically laid down with Nicholas II. While reading up on this I came across the meaning of the word “Cardinal”. It’s derived from a Latin word meaning “hinge”,as in the hinge of the door is very important for it to work,so a Cardinal is a very important part of the Church in order for it to function properly. The red that they wear symbolizes that they will shed their blood to protect the Church if they have to. When settlers first arrived in North America they nicknamed the red birds that they saw after the Catholic Cardinals……(“Catholic Cardinals” sounds like a good name for a Catholic school sports team)
Saeculum obscurum. That’s Latin for “The Dark Age” and it’s the name historians have given to the time of the 10th century Papacy. Pope Leo V marks the beginning of the dark age,but it is through no fault of his own. Leo was in office for maybe 30 days when Cardinal Christopher declared a Holy coup and took the Chair of Peter for his own. Pope Christopher tossed Leo into prison,but Leo never relinquished his position so Christoper would be forever relegated to Anti-Pope status. This was all for naught anyway because Sergius III arrived back on the scene soon and had Anti-Pope Christopher thrown into prison along with poor Pope Leo V. Sergius was elected Pope back in 898 but was driven out of Rome by Emperor Lambert in favor of Pope John IX. Sergius laid in wait for his moment and with the help of the new Roman military commander,Theophylact I,Count of Tusculum,took back the Vatican with force. Pope Sergius’ first order of business was having Anti-Pope Christopher and Pope Leo V strangled in their prison cells,and with that,the reign of one of the worst Popes ever would begin. I can tell already that these Dark Age Popes are going to give me a headache…..(you can never say that Catholic history is boring though)
Siricius was unanimously elected to the Papacy in 384 and he is widely regarded as the first Pope to be called……well….Pope. Now this doesn’t mean that there were not Popes before him,as some Protestants would claim,it just means that the leader of our Church wasn’t always called Pope.He also didn’t always wear a big hat either.The word Pope is from the Latin word Papa,which means Father,and lest anyone question that the Pope was in charge,Siricius is also the first Pope to use the title PONTIFEX MAXIMUS,which basically means he’s the chief priest of the Christian world. You don’t have to use all caps when typing PONTIFEX MAXIMUS,but it just feels like it needs all capital letters. PONTIFE….sorry…..Pope Siricius is the first Pope to issue something called decretals. A decretal is a official statement to a question that someone may need an answer to,like “Hey Pope,if I’m a priest,can I get married?”,and he would reply “Eh,I wouldn’t encourage that,so that’s a no” and he would probably sign it PONTIFEX MAXIMUS. In all caps.
Damasus was born in 305 to a wealthy family in Lusitania,which is now present day Portugal. He was a deacon under Pope Liberius and when Liberius was exiled,went to work for anti-Pope Felix II. Both Pope Liberius and anti-Pope Felix II had supporters that violently opposed one another. One group wanted Damasus to become the new Pope,and the other side wanted a man named Ursinus. When time came for a new Pope to be elected,the supporters of Felix(and now Damasus),stormed a basilica and murdered all of the supporters of Ursinus thus clearing the path for Damasus to easily be elected. Now whether or not Damasus knew this was going to happen is up for debate. One source says he hired a team of Gladiators to carry out this dirty work(which sounds awesome,even though it’s horrible),some sources say his name was dragged through the mud by herectics and this murderous tale was spread by enemies,along with the nickname “The ladies’ ear scratcher”……..whatever that means.
However Pope Damasus got into office,by all accounts he was a splendid Pontiff once there,and this is according to such prestigious Catholics such as St.Jerome and St.Ambrose,both of whom praised his faith and his leadership. Damasus should be remembered mostly for commissioning a complete version of the Bible. Yes,THE Bible. Prior to this point the Bible was a loosely collected series of books and scriptures mostly written in either Hebrew or Greek. Damasus wanted a complete and official book in one language to clear up any inconsistencies between the versions. Saint Jerome was Damasus’ personal secretary and he was charged with creating this new official Bible in Latin,the official language of the Church. The Latin Vulgate Bible was THE Bible for over 1000 years before different translations came about,and it was this Bible that was the first major mass produced book printed by the Gutenberg press in the 1400s.This was THE Bible that the world was built on……so yeah,Pope Damasus is a big deal,and like Ron Burgundy,he probably had many leather bound books. Papal High five.
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”)