Pope Stephen VII was another stop-gap elected by Marozia,the ruler of the Papal States. Marozia had previously appointed Leo VI to the Papacy and now she’s chosen another elderly Pope to buy time until her son(by Pope Sergius III!)was old enough to fill the chair of St Peter(scandal!). Although he was not properly elected,Stephen was nonetheless a superstar in his own right,having belonged to one of the oldest,most prominent families in Rome,descended from great soldiers,statesmen and one emperor. Barely anything is known about Stephen other than his strict moral code and his wrath when his priests did not follow it. One Greek writer stated that this Pope was the first to not have a beard. I’ve drawn several beardless Popes already so this is information that could’ve been useful YESTERDAY(to quote Adam Sandler)
Pope Formosus was a brilliant diplomat,a gifted missionary and a Pope beloved by his people,but sadly,his legacy is forever tarnished by the vicious and morbid actions of one of his successors and a vindictive emperor. Holy Roman Emperor Guy III of Spoleto demanded that his son,Lambert,be crowned by the Pope to be King of Italy and co-emperor. Pope Formosus did not trust Lambert and secretly plotted to have him overthrown,which he nearly succeeded in doing before passing away due to a stroke. King Lambert and his mother were nearly driven out of Italy by the Pope’s actions and now that he was dead,they decided to take their revenge,whether he was alive or not. The King plotted with Pope Stephen VI(who may have actually been insane)to dig up the corpse of Formosus and humiliate his memory by putting his dead body on trial for supposed “crimes” against The Holy Church. The rotting body of Formosus(he had been dead for a year)was dressed in Papal vestments and placed on his throne while Pope Stephen screamed questions and vulgarities at his body. To “defend” himself against the charges,a Deacon crouched behind Formosus and answered for him. This disturbing scene played out by Formosus being found guilty(Shocking verdict….)The dead Pope’s vestments were then stripped from him and then three fingers of his blessing hand were cut off. His dismembered body was then dragged outside and thrown into the Tiber River. A monk secretly fished his body out of the river and hid it until this insanity calmed down. Lay Romans and clergy were horrified at all of this and rebelled against Pope Stephen VI. He was thrown into prison where he was later strangled. King Lambert was assassinated two years later. It helps to know that Romans were as disgusted by all of this then, just as much as I was when I first read about this. When the dust cleared and saner heads returned to power,Pope Theodore II had Pope Formosus buried in St Peter’s Basilica with full honors due to this fine Pope.
Born of a noble Roman family,Pope Adrian’s Papacy began under a dark cloud. A very dark and terrible cloud. When Adrian was younger and before becoming a priest,he was married and had a daughter. When he separated from his wife,Adrian entered into the clergy and moved his way up the ranks from Deacon to Cardinal and was finally(reluctantly)elected Pope in 867. Repercussions from the recent past came storming back to the Papacy when Eleutherius,the brother of disgraced Anti-Pope Anastasius,saw an opportunity to pay back Rome for all the trouble his family had been put through. Eleutherius took revenge in the worst way possible,by kidnapping and murdering the former wife and the daughter of Pope Adrian II. Awful. Just awful. Although it’s not known if he was involved,Anastasius was excommunicated(again),and his brother was put to death. Pitiful Pope Adrian went on to continue the work started by previous Pope Nicholas and eventually died five years to the day that he was elected.
Continuing our Easter theme,previous Popes had been celebrating Easter on the Sunday following Passover,Pope Soter formally inaugurated the day as an annual festival in Rome. St. Soter also declared that marriage was a sacrament only valid if blessed by a priest. He sent money collected in offerings to the Church of Corinth(among other cities),so it could be distributed to the poor.
The bishop of Corinth,St.Dionysius,was so greatly impressed with the Bishop of Rome that he wrote a letter praising him saying,”For this has been your custom from the beginning, to do good to all the brethren in many ways, and to send alms to many Churches in different cities, now relieving the poverty of those who asked aid, now assisting the brethren in the mines by the alms you send, Romans keeping up the traditional custom of Romans, which your blessed bishop, Soter, has not only maintained, but has even increased, by affording to the brethren the abundance which he has supplied, and by comforting with blessed words the brethren who came to him, as a father his children.”
As the Bishops of Rome start emerging more clearly in History,we can start to get a better grasp on some of these incredible men. Not only were they a guiding light for new Christians and Christianity,they were also risking their very lives to continue to spread the word in this dangerous time. There will be Popes who won’t live up to the mantle that they are given,but then there were also shepards like St. Soter,who gave their lives over to declare the good news to his flock that Jesus lived,died and was resurrected for the benefit of all mankind.