Pope Leo VII was either a Cardinal or a Benedictine monk,according to various sources. Leo was handpicked by the ruler of Rome,Alberic II of Spoleto. Alberic was running all things in Rome,including the Papacy,and he needed someone he could both boss around and someone knowledgeable enough about the Church that could answer any questions that Alberic needed answered. Being the Pope was the last thing Leo wanted but it’s assumed that he was forced into the position. Leo was mostly concerned with keeping the peace between various rulers in the area and with monastery reforms in France. A huge negative during his time as Pope was his signing off on allowing the Archbishop of Mainz,Germany to run Jews out of the city if they would not convert to Christianity. Pope Leo did not want them forced into conversion though soooo……still not great.
Pope Lando is very unique in that he’s the last Pope that uses a name that has never reappeared through the rest of Papal history. He’s also the last Pope prior to our current Pope Francis to use a name that was not a previously used Pope name. (Pope John Paul I’s name may slip in on a technicality but he’s actually combining the names of two of his immediate predecessors)
The only known action of Pope Lando was that he donated his own personal funds to rebuild the Cathedral of San Salvatore that had been destroyed during an Arab raid. Ha!I got through his whole bio without mentioning Star Wars once!(crap)
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)
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.
Theodore II was only Pope for twenty days but managed to get a great deal done in such a short time. Not much is known about Theodore before he became the Pope except that he was a supporter of Pope Formosus. Formosus,if you recall,had his rotting dead body dug up by insane Pope Stephen VI. The corpse was then placed on trial for supposed crimes against the Church,this was later known as the Cadaver Synod. Crazy Pope Stephen VI ruled that Formosus was guilty and was declared an invalid Pope,meaning that all the clergy or Bishops that he appointed were now null. These Holy men remained in a clerical limbo until Pope Theodore took office and undid all the damage that Stephen had wrought. In record time(for Rome)Theodore called a new synod to undo Stephen’s cadaver synod. Formosus was declared a valid Pope and all appointments and declarations that he had made were now ruled legal. When Formosus had been found guilty in his sham trial,his body was mutilated,dragged outside and then thrown into the Tiber river. A monk later secretly fished out the body and had been keeping it safe this entire time. Pope Theodore recovered the body and after a grand funeral,entombed Formosus in St.Peter’s Basilica where he could finally rest in peace. Pope Theodore II passed away virtually days afterwards.
The son of a wealthy Roman aristocrat,Stephen V was groomed from a young age to go far in the Church. His family paid for the finest education and he was known to be an intelligent,kind and very Holy man. When a famine,caused by both a drought and locusts,devastated Rome,Stephen tried to use the Papal treasury to ease the burden of the people but found it was bone dry. The Pope decided to use his own wealth inherited from his family to feed and care for his people. Stephen also used his money to free slaves and restore Churches throughout Italy. He also bargained with local nobles to provide military defense against invading Muslims in southern Italy. Pope Stephen V was a good example of not being a slave to the mammon. Instead of living his life in service to money,he put his own money in service to his fellow man. Stephen is buried in the portico of St.Peter’s Basilica.
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.
Pope Saint Nicholas the Great is the perfect symbol of what a Pope should be to our world. He is our final arbiter in matters of faith and morals. The spiritual buck stops with the Holy Father and Nicholas was more than ready to fulfill these duties even against the threat of death. King Lothair II of Lotharingia(basically what is now parts of Germany,France and Belgium)wanted to abandon his queen and marry some new tramp he picked up at a renaissance fair somewhere. Local councils were called to address the legality of this and the indifferent Bishops of the region signed off on the divorce and sent the new couple on their way. When the Bishops reported what they had done to Pope Nicholas,he excommunicated them on the spot for supporting bigamy. He excommunicated the bishops,he excommunicated all who took part in the council and he excommunicated the King and his new “wife”. What God has joined together,let no one separate and it’s the Pope’s job to make sure that this commandment holds strong. King Lothair was furious and he pleaded with his brother,Holy Royal emperor Louis II,to march into Rome and make the Pope heel. Nicholas barricaded himself behind Vatican defenses as imperial troops stormed Rome. He would not wavier in his decision and Louis knew he would have to kill the Pope in order for his brother to remarry,which was just not an option(nor was his brother worth the trouble). The emperor stood down and ordered his brother to honor his commitment before God and stay married to his queen. Pope Nicholas was adamant that no secular ruler,no matter who he was,had any authority over the Church or her doctrines and he was prepared for whatever came his way in defense of this position.
Pope Nicholas I is also famous for wanting an image of a rooster placed on every church,whether as a weather vane or on a steeple. The rooster serves as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and to remind the clergy to stay vigilant at all times in their faith.
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.
Pope Leo III,the Charlie Brown of Popes. Poor guy couldn’t catch a break. An incredibly brilliant and pious man,he was elected as an outsider to Roman politics. He came from southern Italy,and upon coming to Rome,immediately started breaking up the corruption and nepotism that had been plaguing the Church and the Papal States during this time. This in turn made him many enemies right off the bat. Political rivals ambushed and attacked Leo while out riding his horse and attempted to cut out his eyes and tongue,but nearby Frankish soldiers loyal to the Pope quickly rushed to his aid. Next his rivals falsely accused him of sexual immorality and other crimes and had him locked up in a monastery. Leo broke out(jail break!!),borrowed(stole?)a horse and rushed to Charlemagne,King of the Franks,for help. Charlemagne sent a militia back into Rome(with Leo in tow),to investigate these charges against his Pope. Once cleared of charges,King Charlemagne arrived to personally vouch for Leo,and during the Christmas Mass of 800,Leo repaid him by crowning Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor. Leo was then made to bow before him and kiss the new emperor’s feet. Not the proudest moment of the Papacy. By this point we are basically done with Rome having anything to do with Constantinople and their emperors. Charlemagne was now in charge of all secular matters for most of Europe and all he asked of Leo was that he was to be like Moses while Israel fought Amalek,to keep his hands raised in prayer while Charlemagne fought the battles. Hand in hand,the Church and State would jointly rule for a 1000 years.