Pope Benedict IV had a relatively quiet time in office compared to previous Pontiffs. In his first year he crowned a new Holy Roman Emperor,Louis of Provence. Benedict also had to step in and excommunicate Count Baldwin of Flanders(modern day Netherlands). The Count was having a property dispute with the local Archbishop over the ownership of an Abbey in Flanders. When the matter couldn’t be resolved to anyone’s liking,the Count had the Archbishop murdered,which is always a surefire way to earn an excommunication. The Count was himself murdered shortly after that. Pope Benedict was buried in front of the old St Peter’s Basilica when he passed away in 903.
Pope John’s papacy started off stressful and never let up during his four year term. The new emperor of Constantinople,Tiberius III,sent his Exarch of Italy into Rome to “cause trouble for the Pontiff”(for some reason not specified). Native Italians,who were very protective of their Holy Father,went to provide military support for the Vatican and keep our Pope from harm. Pope John VI tried to keep the peace and mediated between the angry groups,desperate to keep any bloodshed from happening. While this was going on,the marauding Lombards seized on the disharmony in Italy and sensing weakness,started to attack the Italian countryside. Again,Pope John to the rescue. He sent priests into the Lombard camp and on the Pope’s authority they were able to both bribe and persuade the Lombards to retreat back to their regions. Pope John VI finished out his short reign by settling Church conflicts in England. Whew. So he basically spent all of his time keeping Italians from killing Italians,Lombards from killing Italians and English clergy from……throwing things at each other(I guess)
Oh this Pope…..this Pope caused all kinds of trouble. The patriarch of Constantinople supported the idea of Monothelitism,which suggested that Christ had both a human and Divine nature but only one will,a Divine one. The Catholic Church had always declared that this was heresy,because we believe that Christ had both a human and Divine nature and both human and Divine wills. The patriarch of Constantinople had hoped that the Church could compromise on this and it would help bring Monothelites into the Church. He wrote Pope Honorius about this and the Pope took a “yeah whatever” approach to it……here’s where the trouble began. His general lax attitude wasn’t an issue until his successor Pope Severius(and the next several Popes)took a hard line,or rather the Church’s line,and refused to accept this heretical idea about the nature of Christ. In fact,forty years after his death,a council declared ANATHEMA(!!)to Pope Honorius. Anathema basically means “damned”. The council damned Honorius and all of the other clergy who supported the Monothelites. This Pope’s actions also gave ammo to critics of the idea of Papal Infallibility. This means the Pope is infallible when it comes to the teachings of the Church. Pope Honorius squeaked by this because he never actually taught Monothelitism or tried to change doctrine,he was just lazy about calling it out for being a heresy. The next several Popes,up to the fearless Pope Saint Martin I,will more than make up for this dip in the character of our Holy Father.
Pope Sabinian’s short Papacy had the bad luck of following Pope Gregory the Great’s. In fact,Sabinian’s legacy is directly tied to his predecessor. The Lombards had an on again/off again relationship with Rome in that they liked to show up every few years and try to starve the Romans out of their gates. They were a very “siege-y” bunch of people. When this happened under Pope Gregory(The Great. Don’t forget),he opened up the Vatican granaries and let the people have whatever they needed to keep their families fed. He did this for free. Pope Gregory was a charitable kind of guy. Probably why he’s referred to as “The Great”, but I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that or not. Now when the Lombards showed up under Pope Sabinian,he did the same thing Gregory did. Only this time he charged the people for the grain and not only that,he charged them extra. Yeah,that pretty much did it for him with the Roman people. A legacy as a profiteering cheapskate is always going to be a hard thing to shake off. When Pope Sabinian passed away suddenly,his funeral procession had to take alternate routes to St Peter’s to avoid angry mobs of apparently hungry Romans. His Papacy wasn’t a total loss though,he filled Church positions with lay people as opposed to Gregory filling them with his monk friends……so that’s….something.
Born to a wealthy and prominent Roman senator,Pope John III would become another in a succession of unpopular Pontiffs. Shortly after John entered the office of the Papacy,the emperor of Constantinople,Justinian,passed away. In his place was his nephew Justin II,who soon began pulling Constantinople’s troops out of Rome,which they had occupied for several years. This act left Rome wide open for a Lombard invasion. The Lombards were a Germanic people who had already invaded and taken over much of Italy. They brought death,destruction and a strong belief in arianism,which is a heresy that denies the divinity of Christ. So yeah,these guys were bad news for Rome and for Catholicism. The current governor of Rome was of no help in this crisis so Pope John III set off to try to catch the departing Constantinople army led by General Narses,and beg them to return to Rome to act as a deterrent to the prowling Lombards. General Narses agreed and returned to Rome. Problem solved. Not so fast. The Roman people HATED General Narses. HATED HIM! Hate wasn’t a strong enough word,and now our Pope has brought this awful man back to them?? Great,so now they HATED the Pope too. The Pope has managed to keep Rome and the Catholic faith safe for the moment,but the Romans resent him(ungrateful!),and chase him out of Rome,where he has to take up residence in the Catacombs of Callixtus two miles outside of town. He continued his Papal duties from there until his death on July 13 574. Poor guy had to live underground. Like a Fraggle. Nobody ever said being the Pope is easy.
Pope Vigilius was not a great Pope. He lied,schemed and swindled his way to the Papacy,and he may have even had a hand in the death of the previous Pope,Silverius. Like I said. Not a great Pope. Vigilius was the first of the Byzantine Popes,basically that means Popes nudged into office under the influence of Constantinople Emperors. The main controversy of his Papacy was the various heresies of the day and the different push and pulls of the kings or emperors trying to assert their beliefs by force. Eastern emperor Justinian condemned writings known as “The Three Chapters”,which denounced one set of heresies while it supported another. Justinian demanded that the Pope approve this condemnation of these writings,and it was a “damned if you,damned if you don’t” situation that Vigilius was forced to take part in. To his credit,he refused. He couldn’t condemn these documents,because it would show validation to another heresy that The Church did not approve of. Vigilius was a weasel,but he was a devout weasel. Justinian lost patience with him eventually and had his goons seize the Pope in the middle of Mass. He was forcibly brought to Constantinople and made to sweat it out until he agreed to the emperor’s demands. Vigilius was kept in custody for nearly a decade,which explains his long Papacy when the average Pontiff term at this time was just a few years. He was stubborn at first,declaring that “You may keep me in captivity, but the blessed Apostle Peter will never be your captive.” Defiant words,but eventually he was worn down and he regrettably submitted to the emperor’s demands. Pope Vigilius was finally released,but unfortunately died in Sicily on his way back to Rome.
Pope Boniface II may be the only Anti-Pope that is officially a Pope. The previous Pope,Felix IV,was on his deathbed when he chose Boniface II to replace him as Pope. This is a major violation of the rules of electing a new Pope. Felix IV himself was appointed and not elected so I guess he thought this was just par for the course now. The Pope is supposed to be voted on and elected by the clergy,and the clergy promptly ignored Boniface II and got to work on electing a man named Dioscorus as their new “official” Pontiff. The dueling Popes were consecrated on the same day and the Church seemed destined for conflict,but poor Dioscorus only lived for about 20 days. Boniface II was now the official Pope and the clergy grudgingly accepted him. He did try to appoint his own successor,having not learned anything,and he was promptly shouted down. Rome would only have to put up with him for two years before he passes away from natual causes. Boniface’s only contribution,which is pretty major in the long term,is his changing the years in the Julian calendar from Ab Urbe Condita to Anno Domini. Anno Domini is the numbering we use now,but during the time of Pope Boniface II,it would still be about 300 more years before the rest of the world got on board with the new Christ-centered numbering system……..so Boniface probably only succeeded in just confusing the Hell out of everyone.
Attila the Hun,the scourge of God,was on a rampage. The most feared enemy of the Roman empire had plundered the Balkans,invaded France and conquered much of the Eastern empire when he crossed into Italy in 452. Attila wanted the sister of the Roman emperor as a trophy and he murdered and destroyed all that stood between him and Rome. His invasion was slowed due to lack of resources and diease,so the emperor saw an opportunity to perhaps buy some time by sending in the Pope to ask for mercy. Pope Leo rode into Attila’s camp unarmed(!)and got his meeting with the barbarian. No record of what was said,or offered,or begged,but when the meeting was over,Attila simply packed up and retreated home. What in the world did the Pope say?? It’s true that Attila’s forces were weakened,but he was an uncompromising monster that was hot for the emperor’s sister,with little in the way of taking her and Rome and he simply leaves with no excuses?? No wonder the Romans started calling Leo “The Great” afterwards.
Leo was a brilliant aristocrat that had influence over both secular and Church matters and he was a very powerful force against heresies. Monophysitism was an Eastern heresy that claimed Jesus had only one nature(divine),as opposed to the Church’s position that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. The Tome of Leo was a mic drop letter to all Eastern Bishops that had any doubts as to his position on the matter or to his authority over all Christians in the world. Basically what Leo said went. Pope Leo the Great is buried in St.Peter’s basilica and his feast day is November 10th.
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.
Oh this poor Pope has a messy legacy. Liberius is the only Pontiff out of the first fifty to not be canonized a saint. It all goes back to the herectics who believed in arianism,the belief that God and Jesus are two separate beings. These guys began a huge push to get this accepted as Canon Law and they roped in the newest emperor of Rome,Constantius,to force Pope Liberius to sign off on their ideas. Liberius would have none of it and he also refused to silence Bishop Athanasius,who was a most fierce defender against this heresy. Constantius threatened the Pope with exile if he did not comply;the Pope said he’d just exile himself,and he did. Constantius offered huge sums of riches and glory to Liberius if he acknowledged arianism,but Liberius told him to stuff it. He was quite happy to stay in exile if it meant he was right in his faith.
The emperor eventually installed his own Pope,a man named Felix II,(Anti-Pope),and the Roman people accepted him as warmly as they would the plague. Riots and bloodshed and demands for Pope Liberius to return forced the emperor to allow Liberius to return to his people,triumphant that he held out and never wavered in his defense of the faith. All was good in Rome,and then people happened. Sore loser eastern Bishops that fought for arianism spread rumors that Liberius compromised his faith in order to return from exile and they forged many letters as proof of this. Never mind the fact that Pope Liberius still raged against the heresy once back in Rome or the fact that the emperor never bragged about supposedly causing Liberius to give in;the damage was quickly done and the bad PR fire spread quicker than the Pope could extinguish it. Liberius was guilty in the court of public opinion. Catholics still argued after his death about what he did or did not do,and by the time of possible canonization he was too much of a hot button issue to go forward into sainthood. Liberius’s fate was much like the current fate of Pius XI,who was Pope during World War II. A good man,a pious and brave man undone by gossip and rumors and negative forces. I say we start a letter writing campaign to the Vatican to get the poor guy his due. I bet I get 5….6….signatures easily….