Before he was Pope,Gregory VII(born Hildebrand of Sovana)was a major player behind the scenes of several Popes and in how they would be elected for the rest of time. When he became Pope he was a force to be reckoned with,asserting his supremacy over both Church and state matters. The majority of his Papacy was actually spent in a running feud with Holy Roman emperor Henry IV,who Gregory excommunicated three times. One of those times Henry appeared before the Pope in a hairshirt begging and crying for forgiveness……..then a few years later to turn around and try to remove Gregory by force and install his own Pope. Their major issue was known as The Investiture Controversy. This was a fight over whether secular rulers,such as Henry,had the right to install their own Bishops and Abbots in their own lands,which is something the Pope felt that they had no authority to do. The back and forth between Gregory and Henry peaked when Henry invaded Rome only to be forced back by Normans loyal to Gregory……and these guys unfortunately then sacked the city. The Romans felt betrayed by the Pope and ran him out of town,where he died in exile.
Pope Saint Leo IX was a strict reformer and one of our warrior Popes,leading armies against the Normans in southern Italy. He began his career as a reforming Bishop in Germany and was handpicked by Emperor Henry III to be the new Pope. Being a stickler for rules,Leo only accepted his new position if the clergy and people of Rome actually wanted him(they did). Leo set about reforming the Papacy(and the Universal Church)in many ways,combating simony(disposing Bishops elected by bribery),fixing the Vatican’s finances and condemning priests that were not celibate. Leo took his reforms on the road and traveled to Churches in other parts of Italy,Germany and France to make sure every one was on the same page in this effort to clean up the Church.
The Eastern Church begged Leo to help with Norman(Vikings!)invaders in Southern Italy(which was under their jurisdiction),so Leo himself led a ragtag Papal army south to rid the area of the invaders. The leader of the Normans was horrified that he would have to fight,and possibly kill,the Pope,so he tried every effort to compromise but to no avail. The Pope’s army was crushed(because…Vikings!)and Leo was taken prisoner. The respectful Normans apologized to him probably everyday for the next nine months that he was their captive. Leo passed away shortly after being released in 1054. For his moral character and his efforts for reform,he was Canonized in 1082. His feast day is April 19,which is the same day my family and I were baptized and joined the Catholic Church!
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.
Saint Adrian III was a mysterious Pope. Mysterious because not much is known about him….like how exactly he was elected or how exactly he died or why exactly he was declared a Saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The little we do know is that Adrian was involved in dealing out severe punishments for those nobles in the Papal States that were plotting against each other(and the Papacy). These punishments included the blinding and exile of a high ranking official and having a woman from a prominent family dragged through the streets naked while being whipped. Adrian also sent several letters to Christians in Spain and other countries instructing them not to get too chummy with their local Jewish people. Again,why he was declared a Saint is a total mystery….
In 885 King of Italy Charles the Fat(unfortunate nickname)summoned a council in Modena to discuss imperial succession. Pope Adrian died(mysteriously)on the journey there. Many think he was poisoned. I’m sadly entering in the Roger Moore-era of Popes. These guys aren’t the best examples of what it means to be the Holy Father and their stories also tend to be more murderish than I prefer.
Pope Saint Adrian III is buried in the Nonantola Abbey in Modena.
Battle Pope!! Rome was besieged by Muslim sea invaders,and while previous Pope Sergius II hid while the pirates pillaged St.Peter’s and terrorized Italians,Pope Leo IV was not about to take things lying down. A new Pope was in charge and he wasted no time putting a stop to this ongoing threat. Leo quickly organized the mariner towns of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi and together they forged a league to destroy the Saracen invaders. An awesome fleet was pulled together and Pope Leo put Cesarius of Naples in command. Leo charged him with the task of complete and utter annihilation of the marauders and the ensuing Battle of Ostia completely destroyed the invading fleet in one of the most one sided naval fights in history. Leo further fortified the walls of the Vatican and of Rome and restored the damage done to St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s. The Battle of Ostia was one of the major events of the middle ages and it helped drive invading Muslims out of the area for good. The blessing of the fleet by Pope Leo IV was later painted by Raphael on the walls of the Vatican palace.
Pope Gregory III made a decision about dates that has impacted nearly every one in the western hemisphere. Gregory basically gave us Halloween. Kinda. Sorta. All Saints’Day is celebrated every year in honor of all of those in the Church that have made it into heaven. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics and is also known as Feast of the Saints and All Hallows Day. The day before it is All Hallows Eve and over centuries the name of that day was shortened to Halloween. Earlier in history,All Saints’Day was celebrated either in April(in some countries),or on May 13th. When Pope Gregory dedicated a new chapel in St.Peter’s,he moved the day from May to November 1st and honored the day for “….the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”. Elsewhere in the world around this time,a Gaelic pagan festival known as Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Samhain and All Saints’Day have nothing to do with each other,but due to the time of year and the “dead” theme of both,they naturally started mixing,more so depending on what part of the world you were in. What we know as Halloween today was born in a Christian celebration of those that we know have made it home to Heaven. The other stuff(witches,black cats…whatever)came later from secular sources,much like Christmas with Santa Claus and St.Patrick’s Day with all the weird green beer.
Pope Gregory combated Eastern iconoclasm,which was the total destruction of religious images. In a great act of passive aggression,Gregory accepted a “bribe” of some glorious columns of onyx from an Eastern iconoclast and promptly used them to support several images of Jesus. Gregory also banned the consumption of horse meat(did we really need to tell people NOT to eat it?). Since I really don’t want to end on people eating horse meat,I’ll add that the Syrian born Gregory was the last Pope born outside of Europe until Pope Francis.
It’s exciting to write about a Pope who had a direct influence on something we do during every single Mass. Pope Sergius introduced the beautiful Agnus Dei to the Mass. This song is sung when the priest breaks the consecrated bread during Mass before giving us our Holy Communion(Lamb of God,you take away the sins of the world…..)This is actually a thumbing of the Holy nose to the eastern Church. In 692 Emperor Justinian called a Quinisext Council in Constantinople to put into place new canon laws. The only hitch was that they neglected to invite Rome. 102 new canon laws were passed without any input from the western Church and Pope Sergius was none too pleased at his authority being undermined. The numerous new laws now forbid many western practices like priestly celibacy and many other things,but the big one that truly offended the Pope was the banning of referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The emperor ordered(ORDERED!)the Pope to sign off on these new laws but Sergius declared that he would “rather die than consent to erroneous novelties” and Rome,in relation to Constantinople,would not be “its captive in matters of religion”. Papal fighting words were just thrown down to the emperor and Justinian wasn’t going to take them lightly. Justinian sent his own personal bodyguard(a violent man named Zacharias)to Rome to bring the Pope back to Constantinople by force and make him sign off on these new laws. The Italian militia of Ravenna stepped in to defend the Pope and Zacharias nearly lost his life. The emperor wisely decided to back down(for now),and the already tense relations between the western and eastern Churches was now in the silent treatment stage of the fighting. Pope Sergius decided that if the eastern Church didn’t like us referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God then guess what……..WE’RE GOING TO SING ABOUT IT EVERY SINGLE TIME WE TAKE COMMUNION. Thus,we have the Agnus Dei. I love it.
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.
Angry Pope Theodore I was the next in the line for Popes having to constantly battle the eastern Church over the nature of Jesus. Monothelitism is the belief that Jesus only had one will,a Divine one,as opposed to our Catholic belief that Jesus had both a human and Divine will. This back and forth between the western and eastern Churches over this had been going on for….(forever it seems since this is all I’ve written about on this blog for weeks now). Pope Theodore refused to recognize the new patriarch of Constantinople,Paul,because the previous guy(Pyrrhus)still believed in the Jesus of only one nature when he passed away,which Paul never corrected. Pope Theodore was still irritated because Pyrrhus had once come to Rome and denounced Monothelitism to the Pope’s face,then after leaving town flip-flopped back. This made the Pope so freaking mad that he supposedly wrote out the excommunication of Pyrrhus using consecrated wine on the tomb of St Peter as his desk. Supposedly(I doubt it was this dramatic but it’s still a cool image). On and on went the battle of wills between the two Churches over the nature of our Lord. The emperor of Constantinople was so sick of hearing about it that he jailed a Papal ambassador when the sensitive subject came up. Pope Theodore was sick of all of this too and called for the Lateran Council of 649 to condemn the issue and hopefully put it to rest once and for all. Unfortunately he passed away before the Council could meet and it would be the next Pope(Saint Martin I),who would bear the full brunt of this strife between the two Churches. This wouldn’t be settled for another 40 years after Theodore(six more weeks for me),so maybe by then I’ll learn to spell “Monothelitism” without the spellcheck correcting me.