139. Pope Sylvester II 999-1003

pope sylvester ii

Yes,I see that I’ve drawn a robot Pope,but we’ll get to that in a moment. Pope Sylvester II was basically the most brilliant man that has ever occupied the Chair of Peter,and that’s saying a lot considering Popes like Pius XII or Benedict XVI. Gerbert of Aurillac was a superstar in the Church before being elected to the Papacy(again,like Benedict XVI). A gifted child,he was raised in a monastery in Spain,where he was taught by the greatest Christian and Arab scientists and scholars. Gerbert became prolific in mathematics,grammar,philosophy,music,astronomy(even astrology)…..you name it,Gerbert not only knew it but he could teach it and probably improve on it. Accompanying the Count of Barcelona to Rome in 969,Gerbert was noticed by Pope John XIII,who soon set the young priest up as a tutor to the future Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Moving up through the ranks of the government and the Church,Gerbert was elected Pope in 999. To set the agenda of his reign and to imitate the close ties of Pope Sylvester I and Emperor Constantine 700 years earlier,Gerbert took the name Sylvester as a symbol of the unity of the Church and the State(now under Otto III). Being our first French Pope,with close ties to a German emperor,He,like his predecessors,ran afoul of Roman nobles,which tied up most of his time. While Pope,he fought against corruption and promoted celibacy amongst the clergy,which,on top of being a foreigner,earned him many enemies.
While his Papacy was anti-climatic,Sylvester’s contribution to the world cannot be overstated. He gave Europe the Abacus and promoted the use of Hindu numerals(1,2,3…..),which made calculating much easier over those clunky Roman numerals. He even built a giant Abacus in the floor of a church and had servants move the balls around while he made calculations looking down from the balcony. Sylvester built an astrolabe and a armillary sphere(a type of fancy globe),which helped him chart the stars and the planets(his measurements of where the equator was were exact and he was nearly exact on the location of the Artic circle). Being a musical genius,he constructed a new type of organ that used mathematics to harmonize notes and on top of that he gave Europe a clock of his own making(a clock!!He invented a clock!)
Due to the fact that he was a genius,he was probably aloof and probably weird and probably over everyone’s head. Making enemies and being weird is where the odd part of his legend comes in. Not knowing what to make of this pious oddball,people started making up stuff to explain how he could be so incredibly smart(never mind hard work..).So apparently he stole secret knowledge from a Islamic wizard(false). He made a deal with a devil(false) He won at a game of dice with the devil to get to be Pope(false)He fell in love with a female demon(false)He could turn invisible(false). My personal favorite legend was that he built a giant brass robotic head that could answer yes or no questions about the future(Kind of like Jim Carrey’s Riddler head in Batman Forever). Oh oh,not to mention that the bones in his crypt will rattle whenever a Pope is about to die(False…and what tha..)
I usually try to keep these things at a paragraph or two,but with Sylvester I could go on for days,he(and his weird legends),are just that fascinating…


130. Pope John XII 955-963

Pope John XII

Pope John XII was a scoundrel,to put it best,and at worst he was said to have “soiled the Chair of Peter for 9 years”. When the ruler of all of Rome,Alberic II,was on his deathbed,he forced all of the clergy to promise to elect his son Prince Octavianus to the Papacy(once the current Pope passed away). Octavianus was all of 18 when he became the Holy Father and if you were to wonder how a spoiled rich child of the most powerful man in Rome would act as Pope,you would not be disappointed.
Whoring,gambling,hunting,drinking,fighting(check,check check..) During his reign,Pope John would be accused of rape,of incest,of blinding his confessor and castrating a Cardinal,basically a demon from Hell. Oddly enough,when he did care about actual Catholic business,he was strangely very serious and dedicated to the growth of the Church in Spain,England and Germany. He appointed many great men to be Bishops in these countries(I guess so they could do the hard work while he played)
Pope John’s downfall came when he personally led armies into northern Italy to reclaim Papal lands stolen by the King of Italy. When his men stumbled he requested aid from King Otto of Germany. King Otto smashed the Italian forces and helped to assure Papal control of the region. All he requested in return of his services was for Pope John to crown him Holy Emperor,which John did. Once this took place Pope John immediately started to plot King Otto’s demise(swell guy!) The offended King Otto promptly marched back into Rome and ran John out of the country. Otto elected a new Pope(Leo VIII)to replace John but the disposed Pope soon gathered reinforcements and set his eyes on reclaiming the Vatican. All out war was brewing between John and Otto when our devious Pope met his end in a most demeaning way. He was having…..let’s say “relations” when he was brutally beaten to death by a jealous husband. Credit due to the Catholic Church in that they never shy away from the darker parts of their history. If we were to somehow ask Pope Francis what his thoughts are on Pope John XIII,he’d for sure acknowledge that yes,that guy was a pain in the ass.
“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” – Hilaire Belloc