Vol.4, Chapter IV (Cont’d) – Hadrian II. and John VIII a.d. 867 to 882


Mansi: Conc. Tom. XV.-XVII.

Migne: Patrol. Lat. Tom. CXXII. 1245 sqq. (Hadrian II.); Tom. CXXVI. 647 sqq. (John VIII.); also Tom. CXXIX., pp. 823 sqq., and 1054 sqq., which contain the writings of Auxilius and Vulgarius, concerning pope Formosus.

Baronius: Annal. ad ann. 867-882.

Jaffé: Regesta, pp. 254-292.

Milman: Lat. Christianity, Book V., chs.5 and 6.

Gfrörer: Allg. Kirchengesch., Bd. III. Abth. 2, pp. 962 sqq.

Baxmann: Politik der Päpste, II. 29-57.

For nearly two hundred years, from Nicolas to Hildebrand (867-1049), the papal chair was filled, with very few exceptions, by ordinary and even unworthy occupants.

Hadrian II. (867-872) and John VIII. (872-882) defended the papal power with the same zeal as Nicolas, but with less ability, dignity, and success, and not so much in the interests of morality as for self-aggrandizement. They interfered with the political quarrels of the Carolingians, and claimed the right of disposing royal and imperial crowns.

Hadrian was already seventy-five years of age, and well known for great benevolence, when he ascended the throne (he was born in 792). He inherited from Nicolas the controversies with Photius, Lothair, and Hincmar of Rheims, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He suffered also a personal humiliation on account of a curious domestic tragedy. He had been previously married, and his wife (Stephania) was still living at the time of his elevation. Eleutherius, a son of bishop Arsenius (the legate of Nicolas), carried away the pope’s daughter (an old maid of forty years, who was engaged to another man), fled to the emperor Louis, and, when threatened with punishment, murdered both the pope’s wife and daughter. He was condemned to death.

This affair might have warned the popes to have nothing to do with women; but it was succeeded by worse scenes.

John VIII. was an energetic, shrewd, passionate, and intriguing prelate, meddled with all the affairs of Christendom from Bulgaria to France and Spain, crowned two insignificant Carolingian emperors (Charles the Bald, 875, and Charles the Fat, 881), dealt very freely in anathemas, was much disturbed by the invasion of the Saracens, and is said to have been killed by a relative who coveted the papal crown and treasure. The best thing he did was the declaration, in the Bulgarian quarrel with the patriarch of Constantinople, that the Holy Spirit had created other languages for worship besides Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, although he qualified it afterwards by saying that Greek and Latin were the only proper organs for the celebration of the mass, while barbarian tongues such as the Slavonic, may be good enough for preaching.

His violent end was the beginning of a long interregnum of violence. The close of the ninth century gave a foretaste of the greater troubles of the tenth. After the downfall of the Carolingian dynasty the popes were more and more involved in the political quarrels and distractions of the Italian princes. The dukes Berengar of Friuli (888-924), and Guido of Spoleto (889-894), two remote descendants of Charlemagne through a female branch, contended for the kingdom of Italy and the imperial crown, and filled alternately the papal chair according to their success in the conflict. The Italians liked to have two masters, that they might play off one against the other. Guido was crowned emperor by Stephen VI. (V.) in February, 891, and was followed by his son, Lambert, in 894, who was also crowned. Formosus, bishop of Portus, whom John VIII. had pursued with bitter animosity, was after varying fortunes raised to the papal chair, and gave the imperial crown first to Lambert, but afterwards to the victorious Arnulf of Carinthia, in 896. He roused the revenge of Lambert, and died of violence. His second successor and bitter enemy, Stephen VII. (VI.), a creature of the party of Lambert, caused his corpse to be exhumed, clad in pontifical robes, arraigned in a mock trial, condemned and deposed, stripped of the ornaments, fearfully mutilated, decapitated, and thrown into the Tiber. But the party of Berengar again obtained the ascendency; Stephen VII. was thrown into prison and strangled (897). This was regarded as a just punishment for his conduct towards Formosus. John IX. restored the character of Formosus. He died in 900, and was followed by Benedict IV., of the Lambertine or Spoletan party, and reigned for the now unusual term of three years and a half.


63. The Degradation of the Papacy in the Tenth Century


Migne’s Patrol. Lat. Tom. 131-142. These vols. contain the documents and works from Pope John IX.-Gregory VI.

Liudprandus (Episcopus Cremonensis, d. 972): Antapodoseos, seu Rerum per Europam gestarum libri VI. From a.d. 887-950. Reprinted in Pertz: Monum. Germ. III. 269-272; and in Migne: Patrol. Tom. CXXXVI. 769 sqq. By the same: Historia Ottonis, sive de rebus gestis Ottonis Magni. From a.d. 960-964. In Pertz: Monum. III. 340-346; in Migne CXXXVI. 897 sqq. Comp. Köpke: De Liudprandi vita et scriptis, Berol., 1842; Wattenbach: Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen, and Giesebrecht, l.c. I. p. 779. Liudprand or Liutprand (Liuzo or Liuso), one of the chief authorities on the history of the 10th century, was a Lombard by birth, well educated, travelled in the East and in Germany, accompanied Otho I. to Rome, 962, was appointed by him bishop of Cremona, served as his interpreter at the Roman Council of 964, and was again in Rome 965. He was also sent on an embassy to Constantinople. He describes the wretched condition of the papacy as an eye-witness. His Antapodosis or Retribution (written between 958 and 962) is specially directed against king Berengar and queen Willa, whom he hated. His work on Otho treats of the contemporary events in which he was one of the actors. He was fond of scandal, but is considered reliable in most of his facts.

Flodoardus (Canonicus Remensis, d. 966): Historia Remensis; Annales; Opuscula metrica, in Migne, Tom. CXXXV.

Atto (Episcopus Vercellensis, d. 960): De presauris ecclesiasticis; Epistolae, and other books, in Migne, Tom. CXXXV.

Jaffé: Regesta, pp. 307-325.

Other sources relating more to the political history of the tenth century are indicated by Giesebrecht, I. 817, 820, 836.



Baronius: Annales ad ann. 900-963.

V. E. Löscher.: Historie des röm. Hurenregiments. Leipzig, 1707. (2nd ed. with another title, 1725.)

Constantin Höfler (R.C.): Die deutschen Päpste. Regensburg, 1839, 2 vols.

E. Dümmler: Auxilius und Vulgarius. Quellen und Forschungenzur Geschichte des Papstthums im Anfang des zehnten Jahrhunderts. Leipz. 1866. The writings of Auxilius and Vulgarius are in Migne’s Patrol., Tom. CXXIX.

C. Jos. Von Hefele (Bishop of Rottenburg): Die Päpste und Kaiser in den trübsten Zeiten der Kirche, in his “Beiträge zur Kirchengesch,” etc., vol. I. 27-278. Also his Conciliengeschichte, IV. 571-660 (2d ed.).

Milman: Lat. Chr. bk. 5, chs. 11-14. Giesebrecht: Gesch. der deutschen Kaiserzeit., I. 343 sqq. Gfrörer: III. 3, 1133-1275. Baxmann: II. 58-125. Gregorovius, Vol. III. Von Reumont, Vol. II.


The Papacy in the Tenth Century

The tenth century is the darkest of the dark ages, a century of ignorance and superstition, anarchy and crime in church and state. The first half of the eleventh century was little better. The dissolution of the world seemed to be nigh at hand. Serious men looked forward to the terrible day of judgment at the close of the first millennium of the Christian era, neglected their secular business, and inscribed donations of estates and other gifts to the church with the significant phrase “appropinquante mundi termino.”

The demoralization began in the state, reached the church, and culminated in the papacy. The reorganization of society took the same course. No church or sect in Christendom ever sank so low as the Latin church in the tenth century. The papacy, like the old Roman god Janus, has two faces, one Christian, one antichristian, one friendly and benevolent, one fiendish and malignant. In this period, it shows almost exclusively the antichristian face. It is an unpleasant task for the historian to expose these shocking corruptions; but it is necessary for the understanding of the reformation that followed. The truth must be told, with its wholesome lessons of humiliation and encouragement. No system of doctrine or government can save the church from decline and decay. Human nature is capable of satanic wickedness. Antichrist steals into the very temple of God, and often wears the priestly robes. But God is never absent from history, and His overruling wisdom always at last brings good out of evil. Even in this midnight darkness the stars were shining in the firmament; and even then, as in the days of Elijah the prophet, there were thousands who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Some convents resisted the tide of corruption, and were quiet retreats for nobles and kings disgusted with the vanities of the world, and anxious to prepare themselves for the day of account. Nilus, Romuald, and the monks of Cluny raised their mighty voice against wickedness in high places. Synods likewise deplored the immorality of the clergy and laity, and made efforts to restore discipline. The chaotic confusion of the tenth century, like the migration of nations in the fifth, proved to be only the throe and anguish of a new birth. It was followed first by the restoration of the empire under Otho the Great, and then by the reform of the papacy under Hildebrand.


The Political Disorder

In the semi-barbarous state of society during the middle ages, a strong central power was needed in church and state to keep order. Charlemagne was in advance of his times, and his structure rested on no solid foundation. His successors had neither his talents nor his energy, and sank almost as low as the Merovingians in incapacity and debauchery. The popular contempt in which they were held was expressed in such epithets as “the Bald,” “the Fat,” “the Stammerer,” “the Simple,” “the Lazy,” “the Child.” Under their misrule the foundations of law and discipline gave way. Europe was threatened with a new flood of heathen barbarism. The Norman pirates from Denmark and Norway infested the coasts of Germany and France, burned cities and villages, carried off captives, followed in their light boats which they could carry on their shoulders, the course of the great rivers into the interior; they sacked Hamburg, Cologne, Treves, Rouen, and stabled their horses in Charlemagne’s cathedral at Aix; they invaded England, and were the terror of all Europe until they accepted Christianity, settled down in Normandy, and infused fresh blood into the French and English people. In the South, the Saracens, crossing from Africa, took possession of Sicily and Southern Italy; they are described by pope John VIII. as Hagarenes, as children of fornication and wrath, as an army of locusts, turning the land into a wilderness. From the East, the pagan Hungarians or Magyars invaded Germany and Italy like hordes of wild beasts, but they were defeated at last by Henry the Fowler and Otho the Great, and after their conversion to Christianity under their saintly monarch Stephen (997-1068), they became a wall of defence against the progress of the Turks.

Within the limits of nominal Christendom, the kings and nobles quarreled among themselves, oppressed the people, and distributed bishoprics and abbeys among their favorites, or pocketed the income. The metropolitans oppressed the bishops, the bishops the priests, and the priests the laity. Bands of robbers roamed over the country and defied punishment. Might was right. Charles the Fat was deposed by his vassals, and died in misery, begging his bread (888). His successor, Arnulf of Carinthia, the last of the Carolingian line of emperors (though of illegitimate birth), wielded a victorious sword over the Normans (891) and the new kingdom of Moravia (894), but fell into trouble, died of Italian poison, and left the crown of Germany to his only legitimate son, Louis the Child (899-911), who was ruled by Hatto, archbishop of Mayence. This prelate figures in the popular legend of the “Mouse-Tower” (on an island in the Rhine, opposite Bingen), where a swarm of mice picked his bones and “gnawed the flesh from every limb,” because he had shut up and starved to death a number of hungry beggars. But documentary history shows him in a more favorable light. Louis died before attaining to manhood, and with him the German line of the Carolingians (911). The last shadow of an emperor in Italy, Berengar, who had been crowned in St. Peter’s, died by the dagger of an assassin (924). The empire remained vacant for nearly forty years, until Otho, a descendant of the Saxon duke Widukind, whom Charlemagne had conquered, raised it to a new life.

In France, the Carolingian dynasty lingered nearly a century longer, till it found an inglorious end in a fifth Louis called the Lazy (“le Fainéant”), and Count Hugh Capet became the founder of the Capetian dynasty, based on the principle of hereditary succession (987). He and his son Robert received the crown of France not from the pope, but from the archbishop of Rheims.

Italy was invaded by Hungarians and Saracens, and distracted by war between rival kings and petty princes struggling for aggrandizement. The bishops and nobles were alike corrupt, and the whole country was a moral wilderness.


The Demoralization of the Papacy

The political disorder of Europe affected the church and paralyzed its efforts for good. The papacy itself lost all independence and dignity, and became the prey of avarice, violence, and intrigue, a veritable synagogue of Satan. It was dragged through the quagmire of the darkest crimes, and would have perished in utter disgrace had not Providence saved it for better times. Pope followed pope in rapid succession, and most of them ended their career in deposition, prison, and murder. The rich and powerful marquises of Tuscany and the Counts of Tusculum acquired control over the city of Rome and the papacy for more than half a century. And what is worse (incredibile, attamen verum), three bold and energetic women of the highest rank and lowest character, Theodora the elder (the wife or widow of a Roman senator), and her two daughters, Marozia and Theodora, filled the chair of St. Peter with their paramours and bastards. These Roman Amazons combined with the fatal charms of personal beauty and wealth, a rare capacity for intrigue, and a burning lust for power and pleasure. They had the diabolical ambition to surpass their sex as much in boldness and badness as St. Paula and St. Eustachium in the days of Jerome had excelled in virtue and saintliness. They turned the church of St. Peter into a den of robbers, and the residence of his successors into a harem. And they gloried in their shame. Hence this infamous period is called the papal Pornocracy or Hetaerocracy.

Some popes of this period were almost as bad as the worst emperors of heathen Rome, and far less excusable.

Sergius III., the lover of Marozia (904-911), opened the shameful succession. Under the protection of a force of Tuscan soldiers he appeared in Rome, deposed Christopher who had just deposed Leo V., took possession of the papal throne, and soiled it with every vice; but he deserves credit for restoring the venerable church of the Lateran, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in 896 and robbed of invaluable treasures.

After the short reign of two other popes, John X., archbishop of Ravenna, was elected, contrary to all canons, in obedience to the will of Theodora, for the more convenient gratification of her passion (914-928). He was a man of military ability and daring, placed himself at the head of an army — the first warrior among the popes — and defeated the Saracens. He then announced the victory in the tone of a general. He then engaged in a fierce contest for power with Marozia and her lover or husband, the Marquis Alberic I. Unwilling to yield any of her secular power over Rome, Marozia seized the Castle of St. Angelo, had John cast into prison and smothered to death, and raised three of her creatures, Leo VI., Stephen VII. (VIII.), and at last John XI, her own (bastard) son of only twenty-one years, successively to the papal chair (928-936).

After the murder of Alberic I. (about 926), Marozia, who called herself Senatrix and Patricia, offered her hand and as much of her love as she could spare from her numerous paramours, to Guido, Markgrave of Tuscany, who eagerly accepted the prize; and after his death she married king Hugo of Italy, the step-brother of her late husband (932); he hoped to gain the imperial crown, but he was soon expelled from Rome by a rebellion excited by her own son Alberic II., who took offence at his overbearing conduct for slapping him in the face. She now disappears from the stage, and probably died in a convent. Her son, the second Alberic, was raised by the Romans to the dignity of Consul, and ruled Rome and the papacy from the Castle of St. Angelo for twenty-two years with great ability as a despot under the forms of a republic (932-954). After the death of his brother, John XI. (936), he appointed four insignificant pontiffs, and restricted them to the performance of their religious duties.


John XII

On the death of Alberic in 954, his son Octavian, the grandson of Marozia, inherited the secular government of Rome, and was elected pope when only eighteen years of age. He thus united a double supremacy. He retained his name Octavian as civil ruler, but assumed, as pope, the name John XII., either by compulsion of the clergy and people, or because he wished to secure more license by keeping the two dignities distinct. This is the first example of such a change of name, and it was followed by his successors. He completely sunk his spiritual in his secular character, appeared in military dress, and neglected the duties of the papal office, though he surrendered none of its claims.

John XII. disgraced the tiara for eight years (955-963). He was one of the most immoral and wicked popes, ranking with Benedict IX., John XXIII., and Alexander VI. He was charged by a Roman Synod, no one contradicting, with almost every crime of which depraved human nature is capable, and deposed as a monster of iniquity.


64. The Interference of Otho the Great

Comp., besides the works quoted in § 63, Floss: Die Papstwahl unter den Ottonen. Freiburg, 1858, and Köpke and Dümmler: Otto der Grosse. Leipzig, 1876.

From this state of infamy the papacy was rescued for a brief time by the interference of Otho I., justly called the Great (936973). He had subdued the Danes, the Slavonians, and the Hungarians, converted the barbarians on the frontier, established order and restored the Carolingian empire. He was called by the pope himself and several Italian princes for protection against the oppression of king Berengar II. (or the Younger, who was crowned in 950, and died in exile, 966). He crossed the Alps, and was anointed Roman emperor by John XII. in 962. He promised to return to the holy see all the lost territories granted by Pepin and Charlemagne, and received in turn from the pope and the Romans the oath of allegiance on the sepulchre of St. Peter.

Hereafter the imperial crown of Rome was always held by the German nation, but the legal assumption of the titles of Emperor and Augustus depended on the act of coronation by the pope.

After the departure of Otho the perfidious pope, unwilling to obey a superior master, rebelled and entered into conspiracy with his enemies. The emperor returned to Rome, convened a Synod of Italian and German bishops, which indignantly deposed John XII. in his absence, on the ground of most notorious crimes, yet without a regular trial (963).

The emperor and the Synod elected a respectable layman, the chief secretary of the Roman see, in his place. He was hurriedly promoted through the orders of reader, subdeacon, deacon, priest and bishop, and consecrated as Leo VIII., but not recognized by the strictly hierarchical party, because he surrendered the freedom of the papacy to the empire. The Romans swore that they would never elect a pope again without the emperor’s consent. Leo confirmed this in a formal document.

The anti-imperial party readmitted John XII., who took cruel revenge of his enemies, but was suddenly struck down in his sins by a violent death. Then they elected an anti-pope, Benedict V., but he himself begged pardon for his usurpation when the emperor reappeared, was divested of the papal robes, degraded to the order of deacon, and banished to Germany. Leo VIII. died in April, 965, after a short pontificate of sixteen months.

The bishop of Narni was unanimously elected his successor as John XIII. (965-972) by the Roman clergy and people, after first consulting the will of the emperor. He crowned Otho II. emperor of the Romans (973-983). He was expelled by the Romans, but reinstated by Otho, who punished the rebellious city with terrible severity.

Thus the papacy was morally saved, but at the expense of its independence or rather it had exchanged its domestic bondage for a foreign bondage. Otho restored to it its former dominions which it had lost during the Italian disturbances, but he regarded the pope and the Romans as his subjects, who owed him the same temporal allegiance as the Germans and Lombards.

It would have been far better for Germany and Italy if they had never meddled with each other. The Italians, especially the Romans, feared the German army, but hated the Germans as Northern semi-barbarians, and shook off their yoke as soon as they had a chance. The Germans suspected the Italians for dishonesty and trickery, were always in danger of fever and poison, and lost armies and millions of treasure without any return of profit or even military glory. The two nations were always jealous of each other, and have only recently become friends, on the basis of mutual independence and non-interference.


Protest Against Papal Corruption

The shocking immoralities of the popes called forth strong protests, though they did not shake the faith in the institution itself. A Gallican Synod deposed archbishop Arnulf of Rheims as a traitor to king Hugo Capet, without waiting for an answer from the pope, and without caring for the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals (991). The leading spirit of the Synod, Arnulf, bishop of Orleans, made the following bold declaration against the prostitution of the papal office: “Looking at the actual state of the papacy, what do we behold? John [XII.] called Octavian, wallowing in the sty of filthy concupiscence, conspiring against the sovereign whom he had himself recently crowned; then Leo [VIII.] the neophyte, chased from the city by this Octavian; and that monster himself, after the commission of many murders and cruelties, dying by the hand of an assassin. Next we see the deacon Benedict, though freely elected by the Romans, carried away captive into the wilds of Germany by the new Caesar [Otho I.] and his pope Leo. Then a second Caesar [Otho II.], greater in arts and arms than the first [?], succeeds; and in his absence Boniface, a very monster of iniquity, reeking with the blood of his predecessor, mounts the throne of Peter. True, he is expelled and condemned; but only to return again, and redden his hands with the blood of the holy bishop John [XIV.]. Are there, indeed, any bold enough to maintain that the priests of the Lord over all the world are to take their law from monsters of guilt like these-men branded with ignominy, illiterate men, and ignorant alike of things human and divine? If, holy fathers, we be bound to weigh in the balance the lives, the morals, and the attainments of the meanest candidate for the sacerdotal office, how much more ought we to look to the fitness of him who aspires to be the lord and master of all priests! Yet how would it fare with us, if it should happen that the man the most deficient in all these virtues, one so abject as not to be worthy of the lowest place among the priesthood, should be chosen to fill the highest place of all? What would you say of such a one, when you behold him sitting upon the throne glittering in purple and gold? Must he not be the ‘Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself as God?’ Verily such a one lacketh both wisdom and charity; he standeth in the temple as an image, as an idol, from which as from dead marble you would seek counsel.

“But the Church of God is not subject to a wicked pope; nor even absolutely, and on all occasions, to a good one. Let us rather in our difficulties resort to our brethren of Belgium and Germany than to that city, where all things are venal, where judgment and justice are bartered for gold. Let us imitate the great church of Africa, which, in reply to the pretensions of the Roman pontiff, deemed it inconceivable that the Lord should have invested any one person with his own plenary prerogative of judicature, and yet have denied it to the great congregations of his priests assembled in council in different parts of the world. If it be true, as we are informed by, common report, that there is in Rome scarcely a man acquainted with letters, — without which, as it is written, one may scarcely be a doorkeeper in the house of God, — with what face may he who hath himself learnt nothing set himself up for a teacher of others? In the simple priest ignorance is bad enough; but in the high priest of Rome, — in him to whom it is given to pass in review the faith, the lives, the morals, the discipline, of the whole body of the priesthood, yea, of the universal church, ignorance is in nowise to be tolerated …. Why should he not be subject in judgment to those who, though lowest in place, are his superiors in virtue and in wisdom? Yea, not even he, the prince of the apostles, declined the rebuke of Paul, though his inferior in place, and, saith the great pope Gregory [I.], ‘if a bishop be in fault, I know not any one such who is not subject to the holy see; but if faultless, let every one understand that he is the equal of the Roman pontiff himself, and as well qualified as he to give judgment in any matter.’”

The secretary of this council and the probable framer of this remarkable speech was Gerbert, who became archbishop of Rheims, afterwards of Ravenna, and at last pope under the name of Sylvester II. But pope John XV. (or his master Crescentius) declared the proceedings of this council null and void, and interdicted Gerbert. His successor, Gregory V., threatened the kingdom of France with a general interdict unless Arnulf was restored. Gerbert, forsaken by king Robert I., who needed the favor of the pope, was glad to escape from his uncomfortable seat and to accept an invitation of Otho III. to become his teacher (995). Arnulf was reinstated in Rheims.


65. The Second Degradation of the Papacy from Otho I to Henry III. a.d. 973-1046

I. The sources for the papacy in the second half of the tenth and in the eleventh century are collected in Muratori’s Annali d’ Italia (Milano 1744-49); in Migne’s Patrol., Tom. CXXXVII.-CL.; Leibnitz, Annales Imp. Occid. (down to a.d. 1005; Han., 1843, 3 vols.); Pertz, . Mon. Germ. (Auctores), Tom. V. (Leges), Tom. II.; Ranke, Jachbücher des deutschen Reiches unter dem Sächs. Hause (Berlin 1837-40, 3 vols.; the second vol. by Giesebrecht and Wilmans contains the reigns of Otho II. and Otho III.). On the sources see Giesebrecht, Gesch. der deutschen Kaiserzeit, II. 568 sqq.

II. Stenzel: Geschichte Deutschlands unter den Fränkischen Kaisern. Leipz., 1827, 1828, 2 vols.

C. F. Hock (R.C.): Gerbert oder Papst Sylvester und sein Jahrhundert. Wien, 1837.

C. Höfler (R.C.): Die deutschen Päpste. Regensb., 1839, 2 vols.

H. J. Floss (R.C.): Die Papstwahl unter den Ottonen. Freib., 1858.

C. Will: Die Anfänge der Restauration der Kirche im elften Jahrh. Marburg, 1859-’62, 2 vols.

R. Köpke und E. Dümmler: Otto der Grosse. Leipz. 1876.

Comp. Baronius (Annal.); Jaffe (Reg. 325-364); Hefele (Conciliengeschichte IV. 632 sqq., 2d ed.); Gfrörer (vol. III., P. III., 1358-1590, and vol. IV., 1846); Gregorovius (vols. III. and IV.); v. Reumont (II. 292 sqq.); Baxmann (II. 125-180); and Giesebrecht (I. 569-762, and II. 1-431).

The reform of the papacy was merely temporary. It was followed by a second period of disgrace, which lasted till the middle of the eleventh century, but was interrupted by a few respectable popes and signs of a coming reformation.

After the death of Otho, during the short and unfortunate reign of his son, Otho II. (973-983), a faction of the Roman nobility under the lead of Crescentius or Cencius (probably a son of pope John X. and Theodora) gained the upper hand. He rebelled against the imperial pope, Benedict VI., who was murdered (974), and elected an Italian anti-pope, Boniface VII., who had soon to flee to Constantinople, but returned after some years, murdered another imperial pope, John XIV. (983), and maintained himself on the blood-stained throne by a lavish distribution of stolen money till he died, probably by violence (985).

During the minority of Otho III., the imperialists, headed by Alberic, Count of Tusculum, and the popular Roman party under the lead of the younger Crescentius (perhaps a grandson of the infamous Theodora), contended from their fortified places for the mastery of Rome and the papacy. Bloodshed was a daily amusement. Issuing from their forts, the two parties gave battle to each other whenever they met on the street. They set up rival popes, and mutilated their corpses with insane fury. The contending parties were related. Marozia’s son, Alberic, had probably inherited Tusculum (which is about fifteen miles from Rome). After the death of Alberic of Tusculum, Crescentius acquired the government under the title of Consul, and indulged the Romans with a short dream of republican freedom in opposition to the hated rule of the foreign barbarians. He controlled pope John XV.


Gregory V

Otho III., on his way to Rome, elected his worthy chaplain and cousin Bruno, who was consecrated as Gregory V. (996) and then anointed Otho III. emperor. He is the first pope of German blood. Crescentius was treated with great leniency, but after the departure of the German army he stirred up a rebellion, expelled the German pope and elevated Philagathus, a Calabrian Greek, under the name of John XVI. to the chair of St. Peter. Gregory V. convened a large synod at Pavia, which unanimously pronounced the anathema against Crescentius and his pope. The emperor hastened to Rome with an army, stormed the castle of St. Angelo (the mole of Hadrian), and beheaded Crescentius as a traitor, while John XVI. by order of Gregory V. was, according to the savage practice of that age, fearfully mutilated, and paraded through the streets on an ass, with his face turned to the tail and with a wine-bladder on his head.


Sylvester II

After the sudden and probably violent death of Gregory V. (999), the emperor elected, with the assent of the clergy and the people, his friend and preceptor, Gerbert, archbishop of Rheims, and then of Ravenna, to the papal throne. Gerbert was the first French pope, a man of rare learning and ability, and moral integrity. He abandoned the liberal views he had expressed at the Council at Rheims, and the legend says that he sold his soul to the devil for the papal tiara. He assumed the significant name of Sylvester II., intending to aid the youthful emperor (whose mother was a Greek princess) in the realization of his utopian dream to establish a Graeco-Latin empire with old Rome for its capital, and to rule from it the Christian world, as Constantine the Great had done during the pontificate of Sylvester I. But Otho died in his twenty-second year, of Italian fever or of poison (1002).

Sylvester II. followed his imperial pupil a year after (1003). His learning, acquired in part from the Arabs in Spain, appeared a marvel to his ignorant age, and suggested a connection with magic. He sent to St. Stephen of Hungary the royal crown, and, in a pastoral letter to Europe where Jerusalem is represented as crying for help, he gave the first impulse to the crusades (1000), ninety years before they actually began.

In the expectation of the approaching judgment, crowds of pilgrims flocked to Palestine to greet the advent of the Saviour. But the first millennium passed, and Christendom awoke with a sigh of relief on the first day of the year 1001.


Benedict VIII., and Emperor Henry II

Upon the whole the Saxon emperors were of great service to the papacy: they emancipated it from the tyranny of domestic political factions, they restored it to wealth, and substituted worthy occupants for monstrous criminals.

During the next reign the confusion broke out once more. The anti-imperial party regained the ascendency, and John Crescentius, the son of the beheaded consul, ruled under the title of Senator and Patricius. But the Counts of Tusculum held the balance of power pretty evenly, and gradually superseded the house of Crescentius. They elected Benedict VIII. (1012-1024), a member of their family; while Crescentius and his friends appointed an anti-pope (Gregory).

Benedict proved a very energetic pope in the defence of Italy against the Saracens. He forms the connecting link between the Ottonian and the Hildebrandian popes. He crowned Henry II. (1014), as the faithful patron and protector simply, not as the liege-lord, of the pope.

This last emperor of the Saxon house was very devout, ascetic, and liberal in endowing bishoprics. He favored clerical celibacy. He aimed earnestly at a moral reformation of the church. He declared at a diet, that he had made Christ his heir, and would devote all he possessed to God and his church. He filled the vacant bishoprics and abbeys with learned and worthy men; and hence his right of appointment was not resisted. He died after a reign of twenty-two years, and was buried at his favorite place, Bamberg in Bavaria, where he had founded a bishopric (1007). He and his chaste wife, Kunigunde, were canonized by the grateful church (1146).


The Tusculan Popes. Benedict IX

With Benedict VIII. the papal dignity became hereditary in the Tusculan family. He had bought it by open bribery. He was followed by his brother John XIX., a layman, who bought it likewise, and passed in one day through all the clerical degrees.

After his death in 1033, his nephew Theophylact, a boy of only ten or twelve years of age, ascended the papal throne under the name of Benedict IX. (1033-1045). His election was a mere money bargain between the Tusculan family and the venal clergy and populace of Rome. Once more the Lord took from Jerusalem and Judah the stay and the staff, and gave children to be their princes, and babes to rule over them (Isa_3:1-4).

This boy-pope fully equaled and even surpassed John XII. in precocious wickedness. He combined the childishness of Caligala and the viciousness of Heliogabalus. He grew worse as he advanced in years. He ruled like a captain of banditti, committed murders and adulteries in open day-light, robbed pilgrims on the graves of martyrs, and turned Rome into a den of thieves. These crimes went unpunished; for who could judge a pope? And his brother, Gregory, was Patrician of the city. At one time, it is reported, he had the crazy notion of marrying his cousin and enthroning a woman in the chair of St. Peter; but the father of the intended bride refused unless he abdicated the papacy. Desiderius, who himself afterwards became pope (Victor III.), shrinks from describing the detestable life of this Benedict, who, he says, followed in the footsteps of Simon Magus rather than of Simon Peter, and proceeded in a career of rapine, murder, and every species of felony, until even the people of Rome became weary of his iniquities, and expelled him from the city. Sylvester III. was elected antipope (Jan., 1044), but Benedict soon resumed the papacy with all his vices (April 10, 1044), then sold it for one or two thousand pounds silver to an archpresbyter John Gratian of the same house (May, 1045), after he had emptied the treasury of every article of value, and, rueing the bargain, he claimed the dignity again (Nov., 1047), till he was finally expelled from Rome (July, 1048).


Gregory VI

John Gratian assumed the name Gregory VI. He was revered as a saint for his chastity which, on account of its extreme rarity in Rome, was called an angelic virtue. He bought the papacy with the sincere desire to reform it, and made the monk Hildebrand, the future reformer, his chaplain. He acted on the principle that the end sanctifies the means.

Thus there were for a while three rival popes. Benedict IX. (before his final expulsion) held the Lateran, Gregory VI. Maria Maggiore, Sylvester III. St. Peter’s and the Vatican.

Their feuds reflected the general condition of Italy. The streets of Rome swarmed with hired assassins, the whole country with robbers, the virtue of pilgrims was openly assailed, even churches and the tombs of the apostles were desecrated by bloodshed.

Again the German emperor had to interfere for the restoration of order.


66. Henry III and the Synod of Sutri. Deposition of Three Rival Popes. a.d. 1046

Bonizo (or Bonitho, bishop of Sutri, afterwards of Piacenza, and friend of Gregory VII., d. 1089): Liber ad amicum, s. de persecutione Ecclesiae (in Oefelii Scriptores rerum Boicarum II., 794, and better in Jaffe’s Monumenta Gregoriana, 1865). Contains in lib. V. a history, of the popes from Benedict IX. to Gregory VII., with many errors.

Rodulfus Glaber (or Glaber Radulfus, monk of Cluny, about 1046): Historia sui temporis (in Migne, Tom. 142).

Desiderius (Abbot of M. Cassino, afterwards pope Victor III., d. 1080): De Miraculis a S. Benedicto aliisque monachis Cassiniensibus gestis Dialog., in “Bibl. Patr.” Lugd. XVIII. 853.

Annales Romani in Pertz, Mon. Germ. VII.

Annales Corbeienses, in Pertz, Mon. Germ. V.; and in Jaffé, Monumenta Corbeiensia, Berlin, 1864.

Ernst Steindorff: Jachbücher des deutschen Reichs unter Heinrich III. Leipzig, 1874.

Hefele: Conciliengesch. IV. 706 sqq. (2d ed.).

See Lit. in § 64, especially Höfler and Will.

Emperor Henry III., of the house of Franconia, was appealed to by the advocates of reform, and felt deeply the sad state of the church. He was only twenty-two years old, but ripe in intellect, full of energy and zeal, and aimed at a reformation of the church under the control of the empire, as Hildebrand afterwards labored for a reformation of the church under the control of the papacy.

On his way to Rome for the coronation he held (Dec. 20, 1046) a synod at Sutri, a small town about twenty-five miles north of Rome, and a few days afterwards another synod at Rome which completed the work. Gregory VI. presided at first. The claims of the three rival pontiffs were considered. Benedict IX. and Sylvester III. were soon disposed of, the first having twice resigned, the second being a mere intruder. Gregory VI. deserved likewise deposition for the sin of simony in buying the papacy; but as he had convoked the synod by order of the emperor and was otherwise a worthy person, he was allowed to depose himself or to abdicate. He did it in these words: “I, Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, do hereby adjudge myself to be removed from the pontificate of the Holy Roman Church, because of the enormous error which by simoniacal impurity has crept into and vitiated my election.” Then he asked the assembled fathers: “Is it your pleasure that so it shall be?” to which they unanimously replied: “Your pleasure is our pleasure; therefore so let it be.” As soon as the humble pope had pronounced his own sentence, he descended from the throne, divested himself of his pontifical robes, and implored pardon on his knees for the usurpation of the highest dignity in Christendom. He acted as pope de facto, and pronounced himself no pope de jure. He was used by the synod for deposing his two rivals, and then for deposing himself. In that way the synod saved the principle that the pope was above every human tribunal, and responsible to God alone. This view of the case of Gregory, rests on the reports of Bonitho and Desiderius. According to other reports in the Annales Corbeienses and Peter Damiani, who was present at Sutri, Gregory was deposed directly by the Synod. At all events, the deposition was real and final, and the cause was the sin of simony.

But if simony vitiated an election, there were probably few legitimate popes in the tenth century when everything was venal and corrupt in Rome. Moreover bribery seems a small sin compared with the enormous crimes of several of these Judases. Hildebrand recognized Gregory VI. by adopting his pontifical name in honor of his memory, and yet he made relentless war the sin of simony. He followed the self-deposed pope as upon chaplain across the Alps into exile, and buried him in peace on the banks of the Rhine.

Henry III. adjourned the Synod of Sutri to St. Peter’s in Rome for the election of a new pope (Dec. 23 and 24, 1046). The synod was to elect, but no Roman clergyman could be found free of the pollution of “simony and fornication.” Then the king, vested by the synod with the green mantle of the patriciate and the plenary authority of the electors, descended from his throne, and seated Suidger, bishop of Bamberg, a man of spotless character, on the vacant chair of St. Peter amid the loud hosannas of the assembly. The new pope assumed the name of Clement II., and crowned Henry emperor on the festival of Christmas, on which Charlemagne had been crowned. The name was a reminder of the conflict of the first Clement of Rome with Simon Magus. But he outlived his election only nine months, and his body was transferred to his beloved Bamberg. The wretched Benedict IX. again took possession of the Lateran (till July 16, 1048). He died afterwards in Grotto Ferrata, according to one report as a penitent saint, according to another as a hardened sinner whose ghost frightened the living. A third German pontiff, Poppo, bishop of Brixen, called Damasus II., was elected, but died twenty-three days after his consecration (Aug. 10, 1048), of the Roman fever, if not of poison.

The emperor, at the request of the Romans, appointed at Worms in December, 1048, Bruno, bishop of Toul, to the papal chair. He was a man of noble birth, fine appearance, considerable learning, unblemished character, and sincere piety, in full sympathy with the spirit of reform which emanated from Cluny. He accepted the appointment in presence of the Roman deputies, subject to the consent of the clergy and people of Rome. He invited the monk Hildebrand to accompany him in his pilgrimage to Rome. Hildebrand refused at first, because Bruno had not been canonically elected, but by the secular and royal power; but he was persuaded to follow him.

Bruno reached Rome in the month of February, 1049, in the dress of a pilgrim, barefoot, weeping, regardless of the hymns of welcome. His election was unanimously confirmed by the Roman clergy and people, and he was solemnly consecrated Feb. 12, as Leo IX. He found the papal treasury empty, and his own means were soon exhausted. He chose Hildebrand as his subdeacon, financier, and confidential adviser, who hereafter was the soul of the papal reform, till he himself ascended the papal throne in 1073.

We stand here at the close of the deepest degradation and on the threshold of the highest elevation of the papacy. The synod of Sutri and the reign of Leo IX. mark the beginning of a disciplinary reform. Simony or the sale and purchase of ecclesiastical dignities, and Nicolaitism or the carnal sins of the clergy, including marriage, concubinage and unnatural vices, were the crying evils of the church in the eyes of the most serious men, especially the disciples of Cluny and of St. Romuald. A reformation therefore from the hierarchical standpoint of the middle ages was essentially a suppression of these two abuses. And as the corruption had reached its climax in the papal chair, the reformation had to begin at the head before it could reach the members. It was the work chiefly of Hildebrand or Gregory VII., with whom the next period opens.