Pope Victor III was described as a man of “unusual holiness” and he much preferred to remain the abbot of his beloved Monte Cassino monastery than become Pope. Reluctant and also gravely ill,Victor had a short and unremarkable Papacy. Victor is one of the few Popes to be buried outside of St.Peter’s basilica. His body is entombed in the chapter-house of Monte Cassino(where he did his greatest work),but it was briefly moved to Rome during World War II for safe keeping. Pope Victor III was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1887 and that puts him one step away from being declared a Saint.
Before Pope Stephen IX died,he left strict instructions to his Cardinals not to elect a new Pope until they were all there in one place to convene. While they waited,impatient Roman nobles rushed to elect a Pope of their own,Benedict X. The senior Cardinals fled Rome and then finally got together to elect the Bishop of Florence as the new Pope,who took the name Nicholas II. Backed by the army of Duke Godfrey of Lorraine,Nicholas marched back into Rome and ran the anti-pope Benedict out of town. Once officially installed,Nicholas called a synod to set up new and strict rules for elections. In the previous thousand years Popes were elected in any number of ways,sometimes shady,sometimes not. The new rules only allowed Cardinals to elect the Pope,in secret,and without influence from lay people or nobles or from any various royalty from different places. These rules for the Papal election would go through various streamlining changes,even until now,but they were basically laid down with Nicholas II. While reading up on this I came across the meaning of the word “Cardinal”. It’s derived from a Latin word meaning “hinge”,as in the hinge of the door is very important for it to work,so a Cardinal is a very important part of the Church in order for it to function properly. The red that they wear symbolizes that they will shed their blood to protect the Church if they have to. When settlers first arrived in North America they nicknamed the red birds that they saw after the Catholic Cardinals……(“Catholic Cardinals” sounds like a good name for a Catholic school sports team)
After Pope Benedict IX made a holy mess of the Papacy,causing three Popes at once,King Henry III made his way from Germany to Rome to try to set things right. Accompanying him on his journey was the Bishop of Bamberg,Suidger von Morsleben. Popes Sylvester III,Pope Benedict IX and Pope Gregory VI all laid claim to the Papacy(thanks to that rotten Benedict and all of his shenanigans). Henry called a synod and immediately disposed Sylvester(who didn’t want it) and Bendict(who didn’t deserve it),and Gregory(who bought it)was forced to resign. In their place,Henry elected his Bishop(who we already mentioned)to the Papacy. Now we had one Pope and one Pope only and he took the name Clement II. Clement’s first act was to crown Henry III the new Holy Roman emperor. Clement was a reforming Pope and he enacted degrees against simony(looking at you,Pope Gregory VI). Sadly,he didn’t live very long as he soon died from poisoning from lead sugar,but we don’t know if it was murdered or if the lead sugar was used as some sort of medicine. Clement’s body was transferred back to Bamberg,Germany and he is the only Pope buried north of the Alps.
Since I’m falling behind on my weekly Popes,I’ve enlisted my children to help me draw my Popes. This week’s guest artist is my 12 year old son Jack! I paid him in peanut butter cups and Dr Pepper for his trouble.
Sylvester III was briefly Pope during the huge mess that was caused by his predecessor,Pope Benedict IX. When the Romans grew sick of Benedict and his tawdry ways,they ran him out of town and quickly elected Giovanni de’ Crescenzi,the Bishop of Sabina,who took the name Sylvester III. Sylvester was by all accounts a very devout and holy man who didn’t even want to be the Pope,but he stepped up to the plate to try to help bring order to the chaos caused by Benedict. Unfortunately,Benedict didn’t stay gone long and returned with a force to reclaim his title. Sylvester was confined to a monastery and later on he was officially disposed by Holy Roman emperor Henry III. Due to the massive confusion caused by Benedict’s three separate terms as Holy Father(!),Sylvester was sometimes thought to be an anti-Pope but he’s still officially listed as a rightful Pope.
When Pope Benedict VIII passed away,he was followed by his younger brother Romanus. Romanus was a secular politician and also a layman. On being “elected” Pope he was ordained in all the offices of the Church up to Bishop in a single day. Pope John XIX did his very best to help along the coming split with the Eastern Church when the Patriarch of Constantinople essentially bribed John to recognize the Patriarch as head of all Christians in the East. John accepted the gifts and was going to go along with this idea until other leading Churchmen and even the Holy Roman emperor told the Pope this was a horrible idea(This would have made the Patriarch of the East equal with the Bishop of Rome). John quickly changed his mind…….but kept all the loot he had been bribed with(the countdown to schism with the Eastern Church inches closer and closer)
The goofy numbering of Popes named John takes another detour after this Pope because after XIX,the number XX is completely skipped for some reason.
In 1012,a war broke out in the Papal States,with many noble families fighting for control. The emerging victor was Alberic,the head of the powerful Tusculum family. His brother,Theophylact,soon became Pope Benedict VIII. Benedict was one the rare instances where a Church layman became Pope(he was ordained after his election). While being more a politician than spiritual man,Benedict was nonetheless a great reformer and while his brother handled government,Benedict took care of the Church. He also was a Pope of action,as he took part and even led forces to suppress in-fighting in the Papal States and personally helped liberate Sardinia(by land and by sea!)from Muslim rule. In 1014,Benedict crowned King Henry II(future Saint)of Germany as the new Holy Roman emperor. Being a reformer,Benedict argued against marriage for the clergy,his reasons being more practical than religious as he was worried Church territories(or property)could be claimed by wives or offspring of clergy. Benedict VIII would be succeeded by his younger brother,who was also a layman,John XIX. Their nephew would go on to follow them both as Pope Benedict IX. Pope Benedict VIII seems like he would have been an imposing figure so I based his look on Sean Connery.
Pope Sergius grew up with perhaps one of the most unfortunate nicknames a kid could be saddled with,”Buccaporci”,which translates to “pig-snout”(poor kid). During Sergius’ reign,Muslims destroyed The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This Church was built on the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus and of his empty tomb. A document drawn up by Pope Sergius called for Muslims to be expelled from the Holy City for this shocking crime,but it’s not for certain if this document was authentic,or if it was a later forgery that appeared 80 years later around the time of the first Crusades.
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)