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.
Born to an extremely wealthy and powerful family,Gregory was made a prefect(a kind of governor)of Rome due to the influence of his father. He excelled at his job but once his father passed away,Gregory gave away every dime his family had and soon turned the family mansion into a monastery. He became a monk and devoted himself to an ascetic life of Christian devotion and study. His solitude was soon disturbed when Pope Benedict I came calling for his intellect and influence. Gregory was reluctantly made a deacon and brilliantly served under two Popes. With the death of Pope Pelagius, Gregory retreated back to his precious peace and quiet at his monastery. Not so fast…..the clergy of Rome knew a good thing when they saw it and unanimously elected him to the Papacy. Gregory begged them to reconsider but the Church would have none of it,and so a legendary Papacy began. He was tireless in Church reform,writings,charity and missionary work. He set in motion the re-conversion of England(after Pagans ran amok)and he helped refine the Mass which he loved so dearly. The Gregorian chant was named for him, although he had nothing to do with the music itself. He was one of three Popes referred to as “The Great”,but Gregory,being the humble monk he was at heart,preferred the title of “Servant of the Servants of God”. To emphasize what a great man Gregory was,John Calvin,a passionate Protestant pastor during the Reformation,said that Pope Gregory was “the last good Pope”. Well,we know that wasn’t the case but it’s high praise from someone who was no friend to The Catholic Church or to the Popes. Gregory the Great is a Doctor of the Church and is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers. He is recognized as a Saint in not only the Catholic Church,but also in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in some Lutheran churches! Mister the Great’s feast day is September 3rd and of course he is buried in St.Peter’s Basilica.
Yes,I know,I drew the Pope wearing the helmet of the Roman pagan god Mercury. Blasphemy you say! Well,I have an explanation. Pope John II was born with the name Mercurius,and as the leader of Christianity and also of all things opposed to paganism,he thought it might be a bit tacky to keep his birth name. This decision set the tone for most all Popes for the next 1500 years as it became customary for newly elected Pontiffs to trade their foreign sounding names for more traditional ones. The Pope chooses his new name himself and it is usually that of a former Pope whom he personally admires. Actually it doesn’t even have to be the name of a former Pope. Our current Pope was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio and he chose the name of Francis because of the Saint’s reputation as a both a reformer and advocate for the poor. Albino Luciani combined the names of the two Popes that proceeded him,John XXIII and Paul VI,and he became John Paul I. This was a way of telling the world he intended to carry on with the work that those two men started. Not all Popes since John II took on a new name,Marcellus II in 1555 was the last to keep his birth name,but for the last 500 years the name change is a given and it all comes back to Pope Mercury……I mean John II. C’mon,don’t tell me you don’t think Pope Mercury isn’t an awesome sounding name.
Roman native Pope Julius had to deal with problems right out of the gate. The heresy of Arianism,which basically believed that God and Jesus were two separate beings,started to become a issue in the Eastern Churches. Pope Julius exerted his authority over Eastern Bishops that were trying to spread this new heresy,and he helped back up St.Athanasius of Alexandria who was defending the faith on the front lines of this heresy battle. Pope Julius should really be known as the man who officially declared December 25th as the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord. Nobody really knows when Jesus was born,but early Christians would celebrate this event in secret by piggy-backing onto a pagan sun god holiday that took place in late December/early January.Once Christianity was allowed,it was easier to co-opt this holiday with pagans and Jews rather than force a new holiday on non-Christians.The first official December 25th Christ’s Mass,(or X-Mas to you damned heathens), took place in 336 and Pope J stamped it into the books a few years later.
Christianity had enjoyed several years of peace and growth under Pope Caius and Pope Marcellinus,but a renewed pagan movement against Christians threatened to bring it down. Emperor Diocletian took a new,harder stance and a new persecution confiscated Church properties and forbid Christians from serving in the Roman army. This was the time of St Sebastian and St George,two Roman soldiers who defiantly proclaimed their faith and were martyred for it;and then we have Pope Marcellinus.
How ever he handled this new persecution,it was apparently poor,because rumors swirled of him denouncing Christ and praying to pagan gods in exchange for his life. Other sources say he recanted just days later and was martyred. There is no definite concrete proof one way or the other because most Church records at the time were destroyed,but his papacy ended suddenly,under a dark cloud of suspicion and mistrust. Did he die of natural causes? Was he executed? Christians debated over his fate for over a hundred years after his death,and even the great Church doctor St Augustine weighed in on the matter;saying that there was no proof of Marcellinus’ apostasy. Whatever he did,it haunts his legacy to this day. It also gives the Papacy an different depth;that it humanizes it,it shows that these are human beings with the same fears and faults as the rest of us.