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.

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86. Pope John VII 705-707

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Pope John VII was a Greek from a prominent Byzatine family which included a senator(his grandfather)and his father,Plato,who was the viceroy of Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill was one of the oldest parts of Rome and was the site of the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by Wolves according to Roman mythology. This supposedly was where Rome got its name when Romulus killed his brother and founded the city on the banks of the Tiber river. John stayed close to home at Palatine Hill because of his parents and later on used it’s Church,The Church of St. Maria Antiqua(Ancient Church of St Mary)as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. He commissioned many frescoes and mosaics to decorate the Church and dedicated it “with a broken heart to a most loving and incomparable mother, and to the kindest of fathers”. The Church was abandoned after an Earthquake in the 8th century. A new Church was built on top of its ruins later on. The buried Church and all of it’s art treasures were rediscovered in the early 20th century and much has been salvaged and restored. The most interesting piece of art was an image of a crucified Jesus that doesn’t look like the Jesus that we’ve all known and loved for nearly 2000 years. This Jesus actually has short hair and barely a hint of a beard. No descriptions of Jesus actually exist so it’s always interesting when someone goes against the norm and suggests a different look. Apparently this was Pope approved at the time.
Pope John VII had a short Papacy and he,like his Papal predecessors,butted heads with the emperor of Constantinople,but nothing of consequence happened during his term. When he passed away he was buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the old St.Peter’s. This is appropriate since when his Church was unearthed they found an engraving of his signature and it was signed “John,Servant of Mary”