122. Pope John X 914-928

Pope John X

War Pope! Muslim invaders had overrun Sicily and were now running wild throughout southern Italy. In a sort of crusade prequel,Pope John X personally supervised a coalition of Christian armies from Italy and Constantinople in destroying all of the invaders and securing the Italian countryside. The victorious Pope was riding high and used his new clout to appoint his brother Peter the new Duke of Spoleto and also made gestures towards a pact with the King of Italy. Marozia,leading noblewoman of Rome and basically the ruler of the Papal States,felt threatened over this Pope’s continuing quest for power. She waited until the Pope was without his bodyguards and then marched a military force into the Lateran Palace,taking John and his brother hostage. Marozia had the Pope’s brother murdered in front of him and then exiled John to a monastery while she installed a puppet Pope that could be more easily controlled. Marozia was buying time until her own son,by earlier Pope Sergius III,was old enough to take the chair of Peter,which would happen in 931 with the “election” of John XI. Poor Pope John X was eventually smothered in his sleep with a pillow. 10 Popes to go until I reach the half-way point of my Pope countdown! Two and a half years to go until I reach Pope Francis(I’ll have a paid off Honda when I’m finished!)

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107. Pope John VIII 872-882

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In the early days of the Church,over thirty Popes were put to death by the Roman government,martyrs for their faith,the last being Pope Martin in 655. Pope John VIII has the dubious achievement of being the first Pope to ever be murdered. The details of the assassination of John VIII are clouded in murky details. John excommunicated disloyal clergy,mediated between feuding Kings,tried in vain to organize leaders of southern Italy against Muslim invasions and also asserted his authority in matters of liturgy abuses in Germany. Any one of these situations made John many enemies but it’s actually rumored that one of his own family members was behind his death. Supposedly a relative of the Pope wanted to seize some treasures of the Vatican so he poisoned John,and when the poison acted too slowly,struck the Pope in the head with a hammer. John VIII is buried in St Peter’s Basilica.

102. Pope Sergius II 844-847

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Pope Sergius II was a terrible Pope. He came to the chair of Peter through violent intimidation from his supporters and then spent the entirety of his term basically crippled with gout. Sergius was so indisposed that his brother Benedict actually took over running things most of the time,much to the dismay of the clergy. Benedict loved money and was not opposed to accepting bribes in exchange for high ranking jobs within the Church. Terrible. Things came to a head in 846 when an army of Muslim invaders attacked and looted St.Peter’s basilica while Sergius hid behind the walls of Rome. The Roman people looked on the Muslim invasion and subsequent destruction caused by it as Divine retribution from God for all of the Pope’s crimes. Sergius passed away shortly afterwards,but I could find no mention of what became of his sleazy brother. I hate writing about bad Popes,but these guys were still human and for all the good and even great Popes we’ve had,we still had some duds in the bunch.
The only real interesting thing about Pope Sergius II was that he was played by John Goodman in a awful sounding movie called “Pope Joan”. This movie concerns the legend of a woman who disguised herself as a man and worked her way unrecognized up through the Church and to the Papacy. This is nonsense. The elections of Popes at this time were highly contested affairs that almost always provoked riots and almost always needed intervention from kings or emperors to settle. This reason alone is enough to dispute this myth,as I doubt someone could simply sail past all of these contentious obstacles without being found out. The lack of legitimate documentation from history or even the Church’s enemies and the lack of a specific actual time frame when this all would have taken place are more reasons to dispel “Pope Joan”.

88. Pope Constantine 708-715

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The Quinisext Council of Constantinople was held in 692 and was called by the Eastern Church to enact new canon laws and tighten up some of the rules of the Church(and all of Christianity). The only problem was that nobody bothered to contact Rome or even ask her opinion in these matters. The various Popes between Sergius to Sisinnius had either boldly rejected,or just plain ignored any new laws from Constantinople,adding to the already tense relations between the sister Churches. Now it was new Pope Constantine’s turn to confront this ongoing argument. Emperor Justinian II had already blinded and cut out the tongue of an Archbishop he didn’t like so I’m sure Constantine gulped hard when he was summoned to Justinian’s court. The Pope was welcomed like a king into Constantinople and the emperor supposedly kissed his feet,but it was all for show. Justinian ordered the Pope to his city,not to impose the rules of the Quinisext Council,but to show the world that the great Bishop of Rome was at his beck and call. Pope Constantine still refused the new rules and went back to Rome in peace,but as soon as he arrived home it was reported that Justinian had been murdered and overthrown. The new emperor,Philippikos Bardanes,believed in monothelistism,the old heresy that Jesus only had one will,a divine one. Argh! This old thing again! This argument ate up all of Rome’s time for nearly 200 years! It was back now and had an army behind it that was now knocking on the Pope’s door. Constantine refused to submit and thankfully his Roman milita was able to repel the invading forces. This new emperor was in turn overthrown by yet another guy,but this guy,Anastasius II,rejected monothelistism(whew),and left the Pope alone for the remainder of his Papacy.
Pope Constantine was the last Pope to visit the Eastern Church in Constantinople until Pope Paul VI made a trip there in the 1960s,when it was now named Istanbul and the population was mostly Muslim. Constant fighting between the Churches and a formal schism around the year 1053 contributed to 1200 years between visits but every Pope since(except John Paul I)has made the trip,both to strengthen ties between west and east and to strengthen relations with those in the Muslim faith.

75. Pope St.Eugene I 654-657

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Eugene I was a Holy,kind and charitable man. On the surface he appeared to be kind of a pushover,which is the kind of Pope the emperor wanted in office. Emperor Constans II desperately wanted his view of monothelitism to be accepted by Rome. Monothelitism was the belief that Jesus only had one nature,a Divine one,instead of Church belief that Jesus had both human and Divine natures. The previous Pope,Martin I,had little patience with the emperor and had declared him and his beliefs as heresy. For his trouble,Constans had Pope Martin arrested,exiled,and tortured to death. Before he was Pope,Eugene had never publicly objected to monothelitism so the emperor thought he would just appoint him to the Papacy and clear the way to get what he wanted. Boy was he wrong. Sweet natured Eugene took office and immediately rejected compromise of any kind on the definition of the nature of Jesus. In no way was it even up for debate,so don’t even bother he basically said. The emperor and his lackeys,including the patriarch of the eastern Church,were furious…..FURIOUS(all caps)! Constantinople threatened to roast Eugene like they had roasted Martin,and Constans II was bound and determined to do it……until…..here come the Muslims to save the day(….record scratch…). Invading Muslim armies in the east immediately took precedent over any matters of the nature of Jesus. Contans II took to battle,putting a pin in the issue for a later date and Pope Eugene I was left to happily resume his Papal duties with one less thing to worry about. I based his look on Eugene Levy. It would probably work better with glasses but I don’t know what people used for glasses back then and I’m too lazy to Google.