Pope John XVII was only Pope for 5 months and virtually nothing is known of what he did as Pope. What is known is that he’s the Pope that threw off the numbering of Popes named John. Anti-pope John XVI(997-998)was still considered a legitimate Pope at the time so in this numbering confusion the new John became John XVII. The numbering has never been corrected.
Pope John XV was an average Pope,susceptible to bribery and flattery,and generally met with a shoulder shrug from the people of Rome. He settled disputes over Papal authority in France and helped with reforms of various monasteries(ho hum usual Pope stuff).Pope John XV’s main claim to fame is that he is the first Pope to officially canonize a Saint. Usually if a person in the Church was to be declared a Saint,this was reserved for the Bishop of the diocese of where that person lived. Time went on and in order to tighten up this process(and to keep local corruption from creeping in),appeals were made to have the Pope be the final arbiter in the canonization process. Ulrich of Augsburg(890-973)would be the first Saint to be declared under this new rule. Various future Popes would further tighten up the canonization rules throughout the next few hundred years.
Whenever a non-Catholic asks me about what a Saint is,I usually just compare it to the baseball Hall of Fame. This is our Cooperstown. The Church itself isn’t actually creating a Saint,but it’s pointing to this man or woman and declaring to the world that this person has lived a life to emulate,a life centered on Christ. A life that all of us are called to live.
A monk that was put into the Papacy by Holy Roman emperor Otto I,Pope Benedict would have a short and tragic reign. The nearly year long gap between Popes was because Otto I needed to sign off on Benedict before he could begin his term. Pope Benedict enjoyed the protection of the German emperor against the plotting of Roman nobles,but when Otto I passed away,it left Benedict vulnerable to his enemies. Resentful of German interference of Rome,various noble families seized the opportunity to take power. A militia took the Pope prisoner and locked him away in the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. The new emperor,Otto II,was busy with his own uprising in Germany,so he was of no help to poor Benedict. The rebels in Rome had elected their own Pope(or anti-pope),Boniface VII,so as to have the Church in Roman control again. When Otto II was finally able to send an army to free Benedict,anti-pope Boniface ordered the imprisoned Pontiff to be strangled in his cell while he himself stuffed as much Vatican loot into his pants before he fled for the hills(by hills I mean Constantinople). We have not heard the last of anti-pope Boniface VII,as his sorry tail will make more appearances during the reigns of the next two Popes(one of which ends terribly because of him)
Following the death of Pope Leo VIII,there was much confusion as to who would be the next Pope. Banished Pope Benedict V was still technically Pope and the Romans wanted him back,but Holy Roman emperor Otto I nixed that idea. After several months of arguing about who the next Pope would be,Bishop John Crescentius was put forward as a compromise to keep both the Romans and the emperor happy. Pope John XIII went to work immediately in curbing the power of Roman nobility,which was exactly the wrong move to make. The indignant nobles raised a militia that soon captured the Pope and imprisoned him in different castles to keep people guessing as to where he was. He soon escaped(!!)and made his way to southern Italy where he was kept safe by a prince named Pandulf Ironhead(which has to be one of the great names of all time. Plus it sounds like a Harley Davidson model…). Emperor Otto I had to march an army back into Rome(again!)to restore Pope John XIII back to his place as head of the Church. Most of the nobles who had plotted against the Pope were executed and the grateful John XIII named emperor Otto a “Liberator and restorer of the Church”. During this time,Pope John met a brilliant man named Gerbert of Aurillac. The Pope was so fascinated by Gerbert that he encouraged the emperor to employ this man as a tutor to his son(future emperor Otto II). Gerbert would one day go on to be Pope Sylvester II,our first French Pope and a genuine genius(I’m looking forward to talking about him!)
Pope John XIII is the 133rd Pope and I am officially at the half-way point of my Pope blog!! I am two years and 8 months into weekly doses of Popes and the Papacy has proven to be far more complicated,challenging,and at times more inspiring than I had ever dreamed of when I started this little art project.
Pope Agapetus II was the lone shining light in the midst of a corrupt Rome. The tyrant Alberic II was the ruler of Rome and was in the business of handpicking his own Popes. The man he picked,Agapetus II,was a virtuous man who was well respected throughout all of Christendom. While Alberic did whatever he pleased in the secular world,Agapetus worked diligently to restore order to the Church and various monasteries throughout the region. When Alberic was close to death,he called the Pope and all other high ranking Church members to his deathbed and ordered them to promise to elect his degenerate son to the Papacy whenever Agapetus passed away,which unfortunately they did. The next Pope,John XII,will go down in history as one of the worst Popes ever.(Argh I hate it when I have to write about bad Popes!)
Pope Stephen VIII was appointed by the ruler of Rome Alberic II of Spoleto. Unlike previous Popes,who did whatever Alberic wanted,Stephen’s relationship with him was a little more strained. Alberic and King of Italy Hugh were constantly quarreling and word soon got to Alberic that the new Pope was actually in league with King Hugh in a plot to overthrow Alberic. Pope Stephen and his cohorts(Bishops)were arrested,tortured and imprisoned for the rest of their lives(which wasn’t very long after).
Stephen’s only other notable action while he was Pope was helping King Louis IV of France put down a rebellion by threatening excommunication to all rebels if they did not back down(which they promptly did).
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.