Pope Sergius III was technically elected to the Papacy in 898,but the Holy Roman Emperor despised him and drove him into exile in favor of Pope John IX. Once the people involved in his exile were out of the picture,Sergius came roaring back into Rome,assisted by the military might of Duke Alberic of Spoleto. The Papacy was already in turmoil with the imprisonment of current Pope Leo V and with Anti-Pope Christopher running the show. Sergius promptly had them both strangled,just to tie up lose ends and avoid confusion as to who exactly was Pope(what a swell gesture). The government of Rome was now mostly run by the husband and wife team of Theophylact and Theodora. These two pulled the strings of Sergius,mostly by use of their equally scheming daughter,Marozia,who is reported to have given birth to the bastard son of Pope Sergius,(he would later go on to be Pope John XI….Good Lord)
Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that the Catholic Church can’t be anything but Divine,because how else could the Church have survived 2000 years in spite of attacks from the outside,and in spite of terrible behavior of Catholics(like Sergius III)
I based his image on Telly Savalas,because this Pope seems like a character that Savalas would have played in a Biblical movie from the 1960s (Also,Pope Sergius was bald…)
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.
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.
Following the death of Pope Zachary,a priest named Stephen was elected to the Papacy in 752. Not this Stephen. This is Pope Stephen II. The Stephen elected died of a stroke a couple of days later and he is not considered an official Pope since he died before he was ordained a Bishop. THAT Stephen would have been Stpehen II but that Stephen died and THIS Stephen,who was officially elected after THAT Stephen died is now considered Stephen II. Now hold on,in 1975,a new Canon Law stated that a man is considered Pope the moment he is elected,so the ORIGINAL Stephen II was now officially Stephen II and our Pope Stephen II is now renumbered Pope Stephen III. Maybe. Depending on who you ask. We’re going with the traditional numbering for today(as most everyone does anyway). Whew. I typed “Stephen” a lot just now……Stephen.
Pope Stephen II continued Pope Zachary’s allegiance with the Franks(French people basically). King Pepin of the Franks ran all of the Lombards out of Italy and gifted the Lombard lands to the Pope,making him the largest landowner in Italy. With his little part of the world(most of central Italy,including Rome)now free of Lombards,the Pope did not need the help of Constantinople to maintain order and could now tell the eastern emperor to beat it(they didn’t like each other anyway). The newly independent Pope Stephen II was now basically a Pope/King,and his Papal States would be with the Papacy for over a thousand years until it was taken away from them by the King of Italy in 1871. Vatican City is all that is left of the Papal States and its sovereignty,and the Pope’s authority over it,was recognized by Mussolini in 1929. Pope Stephen II(or the III…..)would be succeeded by Pope Paul I,which was his brother. The Pope brothers! Sounds like a construction company……
Pope Sisinnius,besides having a hard to pronounce name,had the fifth shortest reign as Pope with just 21 days in office. A Syrian by birth,he was known as a man of strong Holy character,but he was terribly ill when he was chosen. Whether this was known to the clergy or not is unknown,but he was so overwhelmed with gout that he couldn’t even feed himself at times. The most that he accomplished as Pope was that he ordered portions of the walls of Rome be restored,but this work didn’t start until two Popes later. I didn’t have a lot of stuff to read about him so I learned about Gout instead. Gout causes redness and the swelling of joints. It’s been called “the disease of kings”,I guess because you have to have a pretty hearty diet of meat,beer and fish to cause it most of the time,not to mention being overweight. Coffee(?),Vitamin C and increased exercise can help to reduce the chances of Gout and this is officially the weirdest ending to any of my Popes so far.
Pope John VII was a Greek from a prominent Byzatine family which included a senator(his grandfather)and his father,Plato,who was the viceroy of Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill was one of the oldest parts of Rome and was the site of the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by Wolves according to Roman mythology. This supposedly was where Rome got its name when Romulus killed his brother and founded the city on the banks of the Tiber river. John stayed close to home at Palatine Hill because of his parents and later on used it’s Church,The Church of St. Maria Antiqua(Ancient Church of St Mary)as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. He commissioned many frescoes and mosaics to decorate the Church and dedicated it “with a broken heart to a most loving and incomparable mother, and to the kindest of fathers”. The Church was abandoned after an Earthquake in the 8th century. A new Church was built on top of its ruins later on. The buried Church and all of it’s art treasures were rediscovered in the early 20th century and much has been salvaged and restored. The most interesting piece of art was an image of a crucified Jesus that doesn’t look like the Jesus that we’ve all known and loved for nearly 2000 years. This Jesus actually has short hair and barely a hint of a beard. No descriptions of Jesus actually exist so it’s always interesting when someone goes against the norm and suggests a different look. Apparently this was Pope approved at the time.
Pope John VII had a short Papacy and he,like his Papal predecessors,butted heads with the emperor of Constantinople,but nothing of consequence happened during his term. When he passed away he was buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the old St.Peter’s. This is appropriate since when his Church was unearthed they found an engraving of his signature and it was signed “John,Servant of Mary”
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)
Syrian born Pope John V only ruled for a year but his contributions to the faith before becoming Pope were immeasurable. In 680 John was the leading Roman delegate at the Third Council of Constantinople. This council was called to finally put to rest the leading heresy of the day,monothelitism. This heresy believed that Jesus had only a Divine will,and not both human and Divine as the Church teaches. It was popular with various emperors and even some clergy of the eastern Church,but Rome had always held the line on the nature of Jesus for nearly two hundred years at this point(and seemingly forever when writing this blog).John and the other Roman delegate’s defense of the nature of Jesus finally helped put to rest this long standing debate and monothelitism was officially declared a heresy recognized by both west and east Churches. This work on behalf of the Catholic faith helped to elect him to the Papacy in 685. John mostly used his short time clearing up debates about the appointing of bishops and restoring older Churches. He was buried in St Peter’s basilica(the old one)and unfortunately his tomb was destroyed by an Arab invasion of Rome in 846.
Pope Benedict II was the quintessential local boy made good. A native Roman,Benedict II had been a part of The Church since he was young,starting as a altar server and basically moving up from there. Before Benedict,whenever a new Pope was elected,confirmation had to be approved by the emperor in Constantinople. This was a very time consuming process that sometimes could take up to a year before a newly elected Pope could actually begin his Papacy. Benedict asked the emperor to do away with this custom and the emperor actually agreed! This apparently lazy and easy going emperor simply delegated this job to his exarch in Ravenna(sorta a governor of Rome),but this was just a technicality so now the election and confirmation of Popes would be in the clergy’s hands for once. In time the Popes would again have to get approval from various emperors or kings until Pope Pius X would put an end to it once and for all in 1903. Pope Benedict II would have a short time in office,but one of the cool things he did had to do with herectical eastern monothelites who were sent to Rome for punishment(whatever that might be). Benedict showed much mercy on them and simply arranged for their proper education in the orthodox theology.
Pope Leo II was basically a rubber stamping Pope. The Third Council of Constantinople had been called to condemn the heresy known as Monothelitism. The emperor of Constantinople and the previous Pope,Agatho,had called the council to condemn Monothelitism and bring together the western and eastern Churches. Pope Agatho passed away just as the council concluded,so it was up to Pope Leo II to rubber stamp all of the council’s findings into law and put this conflict behind the Church…..and then he died. Whew. I don’t what was in the Roman water back then but we’re beginning a period of one-year-and-done Popes for a while. Poor guys. Pope Leo II was known for his love of music and his charity for the poor.