Pageant of the Popes, by John Farrow, , at sacred-texts.com
The very day of Adrian's funeral saw the election of a
new pope, Leo III. Such unseemly haste was not without its consequences for although Leo had, and was to keep, the support of the all-powerful Charlemagne there existed in Rome a faction bitterly and dangerously hostile. The conspiracies of these malcontents finally had results in the form of a sudden and murderous attack on the person of the pontiff while he was walking, unprotected by guards, in an ecclesiastical procession. The unfortunate Pope was seized by the ruffians, beaten into insensibility, mutilated, and dragged to a monastery cell where his attackers then attempted to gouge his eyes and tear out his tongue. Wound him grievously they did, but not to their hopes. Both sight and speech were regained and he lived to evade the vigilance of his captors. Gathering together a small band of supporters he hastened to the court of Charlemagne who received him with consideration and sympathy. This latter emotion took practical expression in the form of an armed expedition to escort the Pope back to Rome where he was received with every manifestation of joy by the citizens.
Ferreted from their hiding places his enemies would have probably suffered quick reward for their villainies but the pontiff insisted that their accusations against him should be heard first. A court of bishops and doctors was convened and Charlemagne, deeming such an event important enough to warrant his presence, hurried to Rome to make his second visit. After hearing the testimony the judicial clerics decided, and it was sound law, that they had not the power nor would they dare, even at the Pope's own behest, "to judge the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the Church of God." To this decision the Emperor gave his hearty assent whereupon the Pope voluntarily declared on oath that he was innocent of all the charges levelled at him. His accusers and would-be assassins
were then sentenced to die but Leo, with the mercy of his station and the magnanimity of his victory, intervened and their punishment was changed to exile. The dramatic scene was not to be the only eventful incident of Charlemagne's visit. A few days later it was Christmas and while the King was kneeling at his devotions in St. Peter's the Pope suddenly placed a gold crown on his head and a purple cloak across his shoulders. The surprised monarch then heard the wild acclamation of the people who joined in the thunderous chant of the choir, "Long life and victory to Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned by God, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans."
Once again there was an Emperor of the West and the vast territories that were united by his valor and fortune now marked the beginning of what was known as the Holy Roman Empire, that idealistic scheme which could never arrive at perfection because of the imperfection which exists in all men. But on that Christmas day of 800 it seemed a magnificent plan; the temporal power of a united Christendom invested in a powerful prince who swore to uphold and protect but not interfere with the authority or offices of the Church. It seemed a magnificent plan but in it no provision was made for the very human emotions of greed and ambition which for centuries to come both princes and churchmen were to display in the usurpation of each other's provinces.
Nor was this projected spiritual and temporal empire founded on true Christian principles. Devotion and faith perhaps, but in many cases only a nominal allegiance was paid to the teachings of the divine Founder. Many of the evils, if not the tenets, of paganism were still discernible in the life of the period. Even the great champion of Christendom, Charlemagne, in many instances showed a
singular disregard for the proprieties and virtues of his undeniable faith. In war he notoriously displayed little mercy and in matrimony, with equal fame, he had no constancy. The imperial couch was a changing scene to a long succession of consorts, some of whom he married and divorced but many of whom he did not deign to trouble with the pretence of any dubious ceremony. And along with his protection of the Church there also grew, despite the loud condemnations of the true clerics, the evil influences of lay investiture; that pernicious system which made bishops out of soldiers and vice versa. By Charlemagne's orders the sacrament of baptism was many times enforced by the sword and other abuses of the time can well be illustrated by the fact that the Emperor's own daughter, Bertha, was the mistress of Angibert, Abbot of St. Regnier and one of her father's most trusted friends and admirers.
In 814 the Emperor died and almost immediately the absence of his powerful influence was shown by revolt in Rome. This time however Leo needed no external aid to quell the conspirators, who were soon defeated and their ringleaders executed. These harsh but necessary measures shocked Charlemagne's son, known to history as Louis the Mild, who had succeeded his great father but who had not learnt that the sternest of actions are often times necessary to the discipline which is essential to wise government. Although possessed of the same laudable aims as had directed the policies of his father, Louis unfortunately was not blessed with the same genius for administration. On accession to power the conscientious and considerate prince had reformed the court which was the seat of his inheritance, banishing to their monasteries those worldly ecclesiastics who had been such boon companions of his father and ordering other clerics of similar sort to divest themselves
of such unpriestly attire as spurs and swords. To the real and hardworking warriors of the Church he gave unstinted assistance and with sympathy he listened to the monks who would have him help the conditions of the serfs. There is no doubt that mercy and charity characterized the every action of this good man; but in an age where violence seemed necessary for survival these virtues became the weaknesses which spelled the ruination of his father's mighty plans.
Louis was not crowned by Leo, for that pontiff soon died. He was succeeded by Stephen IV, a Roman of good family, whose pontificate only lasted six months. During this time he journeyed to Rheims and there, after assuring Louis of the friendship and loyalty of Rome, he ceremoniously invested both the Emperor and his wife with the golden circlets that were the symbols of their rank. The next Pope was Paschal I who was gloomily aware that Louis lacked the strength so necessary to keep the unwieldy bulk of the Empire intact. Already there were signs of anarchy and even the Imperial sons and nephews played at plot and intrigue. With Rome apparently a subject state to the Emperor, events might soon place a tyrant or villain as feudal lord and "protector" of the ancient city. Charlemagne and Louis had displayed nought but generosity and respect to the Romans, but their successors might reveal entirely different policies, so the new Pope, with foresight and with firmness, hastened to formulate a written pact which would guarantee the papal sovereignty and forbid lay intrusion into ecclesiastical affairs. Through his ambassadors the Emperor agreed to these measures in a document which is extant, Pactum Ludovicianum, but at the papal court there were high officials who for the furtherance of their own dark intrigues tried in every way to wreck the treaty. They failed and so savage was the
feeling against them and their treacheries that the infuriated supporters of the Pope first captured, then blinded and killed their leaders. Once again the gentle Louis was shocked and this time he sent an embassy to make investigation. Paschal, under a solemn and voluntary oath, declared he had had nothing to do with the bloody deed but at the same time he invoked the privileges of his sovereignty and refused to allow the Imperial envoys to apprehend the perpetrators, stating that the murdered officials had been guilty of treason and deserved their end.
A gentler side of his nature was revealed when, on turning from political problems, he was magnificently hospitable to crowds of orthodox Catholics, monks and laity, who were fleeing from Greece before the persecution of the current Byzantine tyrant, now Leo the Armenian. Paschal erected hospices and monasteries and opened the gates wide to the needy and he also was responsible for the founding and restoration of many other important buildings throughout Rome. From splendid evidence still existing his name can be included in that large and illustrious company of pontiffs who, in addition to those other virtues which made certain their claim for posterity, are remembered as assiduous patrons of the arts.
The pro-Frankish party in Rome, consisting mostly of conniving nobles who had favors to gain at the Imperial Court, was very much in evidence at the next papal election in 824 and despite an open violation of the law of 769 it was their influence which brought the pontifical honors to Eugenius II. Such dubious support was not however to cast the shadows of dishonor over the acts of the new Pope. He was only to reign three years but in that short time his record is sweetly that of a humble, pious, and learned prelate. Valiantly he strove to bring harmony to the factions that were now so dangerously exciting Rome,
and emerging from the maneuverings of all concerned was a new concordat between the Franks and the Papacy. But in the interest of peace it would seem the Pope sacrificed some of the hardly won rights of his office for there is no doubt the Franks were favored in the new agreement: and although the independence of the Church was still guaranteed in lofty terms it is significant that once again the laity, the powerful Roman nobles, were to be allowed to take part in the papal elections. This mistake did not prevent Eugene from being alarmed at the evil effects of lay investiture. He called sixty-two bishops to Rome and from this meeting thirty-eight decrees of ecclesiastical discipline were issued. Illiterate clerics were to be suspended, new schools established, and doctors of learning were to dwell with bishops.
During the late summer of the next year Eugenius died and the selection of Valentine as Pope was due entirely to the support of the nobles, now acting in their legal rights. Valentine only survived his election six weeks and the same clique who had voted for him were responsible for the choice of Gregory IV. But several months elapsed before there was an official installation, for again it seems a pope should await the Imperial sanction before taking office. Although supported by a united nobility the new pontiff was no villain and before his election, as Cardinal-priest of the Basilica of St. Mark, his life had been characterized by dignity and ability. But the magnitude of the problems which were plunging the Empire into chaotic gloom left him bewildered and often inadequate. During his time the Imperial princes twice went to war against their father and once when the Pope went to end such a disgraceful situation he was seized by one of the sons and it was made to appear he was a party to the shameful rebellion. Such, indeed, became the Emperor Louis opinion
and for a time he viewed the Pope with distrust and anger, an attitude which would have served him far better if it had been employed in the direction of his bellicose and mutinous offspring. This suspicious and hostile spirit was absorbed by some of the bishops who were attached to the Imperial Court and on one occasion they were presumptuous enough rudely to refuse a papal summons. To them Gregory administered a dignified and fitting rebuke. "You must not forget," he wrote, "that the government of souls which belongs to the Sovereign Pontiff is higher than the imperial power which is only temporal."
Louis was finally convinced of the Pope's loyalty but his many attempts to bring peace to the unruly family were never successful. The unhappy Emperor died in 840 and his sons, who had shown such a lack of filial devotion, now hastened to display an even greater absence of fraternal affection. Their armies followed the clashings of their mean ambitions and at the battle of Fontenoy it is estimated no fewer than 100,000 of their misguided followers perished. In reality this huge slaughter marked the end of Frankish power but the immediate outcome was a treaty between the three brothers, dividing the already disrupted Empire among them. Charles the Bald took France and Louis the German received everything east of Lothair's portion which, along with a few provinces of Gaul, was Italy.
This kingdom was in sad disorder. The bloody rivalries of the Imperial family had been a pattern closely followed by petty tyrants and minor princes, and the tranquillity of good government was rapidly becoming something to exist only in memories of old men or in the prayers of good women. The alert Saracens had landed and taken possession of Sicily and from their ranks savage gangs of mercenaries had been foolishly imported to enforce the
claims of aspirants to the duchy of Benevento. The Pope was well aware of these dangers and he knew that there was now no Prince powerful enough or willing to come to his immediate assistance if Rome was invaded. The power of Charlemagne's name had been dissipated by his descendants and with foreboding the pontiff set out to prepare the city for defense; but even while he frantically superintended the construction of fortifications it is interesting to note that the work of the Church continued on its determined way. Saracens might be a near and fearful menace to Rome but that did not prevent Scandinavia from being given the faith and St. Anscar, Apostle of the North, was sent the pallium and the authority of legate to the Swedes, Danes, and Slavs. Across the seas to the Archbishop of Canterbury and over the long roads to Salzburg and Grado, went the same coveted symbol, along with lengthy missives of advice and guidance.
Shame stained the three years of the next Pope, the aged and gout-stricken Sergius II. Turmoil had marked his election. When his name was announced there was an angry roar from an indignant and disappointed populace who had hoped for their own candidate, the deacon John. But mutinous incidents which might have developed into grave revolt were quickly and effectively suppressed by Sergius' henchmen and while the luckless John was whisked away to the obscurity of a monastery cell the new pontiff was, behind the swords of his friends, validly consecrated and safely installed. From this unholy beginning his policies, if his actions can be dignified by such a name, seemed to have had an anti-Frankish tinge. He ignored the custom of obtaining Imperial sanction, an oversight not overlooked and quickly resented by Lothair who sent an army, headed by his son, the future Emperor Louis, to demand explanation. In Rome long discussions and fervent
St. Leo IV. Reigned from 847 to 855.
Click to enlarge
Pope St. Leo IV.
He crowned Alfred the Great. See pages 74 to 76.
protestations of amity greeted the prince and that supreme flattery which might have dazzled a stronger and older head was now employed. With pomp and solemnity the Pope placed the golden circlet of kingship upon the brow of the royal scion while the Frankish soldiers, with ebullient loyalty, and the clerics, with sound discretion, roared approval.
The real power behind this and every other act of the Pope was his brother, Benedict, an unscrupulous domineering ruffian who had received episcopal honors but not grace with the family's advent to the papacy. This blackguard, without any pretense of reticence or shame, inaugurated a regime of unbridled simony. Benefices, sees, honors of any kind, were put on sale at the Lateran and the Pope made no protest. Indeed he offered nought but condonation and, while his brother dominated and plundered, the pontiff's main interest in life seemed to be the exercise of a gluttonous appetite at the delights of the table. The supreme disaster of this calamitous reign was reached when, in August of 846, a large Saracen fleet anchored off the mouth of the Tiber and discharged thousands of Arab warriors, fierce and hungry for plunder. They landed and easily overcame the defences of Ostia. With daring and insolence the invaders swept up to Rome where fortunately the stout walls, built so honestly by more honorable generations, proved sufficient obstacle to the audacious attack. But the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul were unprotected and so with an exultation doubly inspired by religious fanaticism and prospects of rich loot the raiders flung themselves upon the sacred places. The tombs and temples of the Apostles were plundered and profaned to the savage chant of "There is but one God, and Mohammed is the Prophet of God."
The conscience of Christendom could not remain indifferent
to such an insult to its spiritual capital. The autumn rains drove the invaders back to their ships but Lothair also sent an expedition which expelled them from Benevento and, under Imperial stimulus, a subsidy was arranged to build fortifications around the Basilicas. Pope Sergius died about this time and perhaps because of his unhonored memory or perhaps because of the distress and peril of the moment there were no disgraceful intrigues to mar the election of Leo IV. This man sincerely had no wish to be Pope but the unanimous acclamations of both clergy and laity forced him to accept the responsibilities. He ruled for eight years with firmness, initiative and discretion; setting his temporal government a goal which was a triple objective: adequate defences for Rome, independence of the Church from secular domination, and the abolition of simony. The first he achieved with an elaborate building program which was financed partly from the subsidy advanced by the Frankish King, and partly from taxes levied throughout the Papal States. Fifteen of the towers that were an integral part of the city's massive bulwarks were entirely rebuilt and staunch walls were erected for the first time around the Vatican hill. Four years elapsed before the hard working Pope was content to call the new fortified area finished and then a grateful people insisted it should, in his honor, be called the Leonine City. And while busy with engineers and excavations he manipulated the more delicate instrument of diplomacy to such advantage that he won sufficient assistance from the maritime States of Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta, all Byzantine vassals, to congregate a strong fleet which, with the help of a provident storm, was able to destroy the ships of the audacious Saracens when they again ventured to approach the Tiber.
In the reign of such a Pope multitudes of pilgrims flocked to Rome to pay tribute and to receive the pontifical blessing
and amongst them was the young Anglo-Saxon, Alfred, afterwards called by an adoring nation, the Great, and his father, Ethelwulf. That the pontiff was impressed by the young prince's virtues is shown by the fact that he adopted him as his godson and also placed the circlet of consecrated gold on Alfred's head, thus making him the first and only English King ever crowned in Rome.
Leo IV was shocked and grieved at the disgraceful life led by many of the bishops of his time and in order to combat such evils he held two synods in Rome. At one of these gatherings it is noteworthy that anathema was pronounced against usury. Already the Church was viewing with alarm and endeavoring to check the growth of a pernicious system which in time was to develop into a gigantic and unwieldy and unjust law of economics.
The disgust with which the Frankish monarch, Lothair, had viewed the misdeeds of Sergius II changed to alarm when he became aware of Leo's vigorous and independent policies. Lothair had assumed the Imperial title with his portion of the Empire and he harbored exalted ideas of playing the same role in history as had his great forebear, Charlemagne. Perhaps if he had been blessed by the same genius his plans might have been better received by the wise Leo, who steadfastly fought to keep the papacy free of Frankish intrigues and schemes. After several rebuffs from the Pope, Lothair resorted to a fresh stratagem. He began to prepare for the next papal election, certain his wait would not be long for Leo was an old man. For his tool in the ghoulish plot he chose a willing and clever priest named Anastasius who, dazzled by such lofty patronage, was certain that with a strong display of the Imperial power he could control, in his own favor, the election following the Pope's death. But Leo also thought of the future and in a clever move ordered Anastasius to leave Lothair's court and return
to Rome. Reluctant to submit to certain discipline the priest refused whereupon the Pope, after several warnings, solemnly pronounced a sentence of excommunication not only upon Anastasius, but also any who should ever dare to support that luckless intriguer at a papal election.
Leo died shortly after this pronouncement and elected as his successor was Benedict III. But the Emperor, still harboring confidence in his plan, announced he would not sanction the appointment. This news he sent along with his candidate, the excommunicated but still optimistic Anastasius, and a large military escort which on arrival in Rome promptly arrested Benedict. Anastasius was installed in the papal palace by force of arms but the clergy courageously refused to countenance such a flagrant and shameful violation of Church law and when the Roman populace with anger and indignation supported the churchmen the Emperor's envoys wisely escorted the legitimate Pope back to his honors and the papal pretender was made abbot of St. Maria in Trastevere.
Benedict died in 858 but before progressing with the papal continuity some mention should be made of the "Popess Joan," a female who is supposed to have occupied the Holy See at this period. The fantastic legend makes its appearance four hundred years later and at various times has been given great circulation by enthusiastic enemies of the papacy. It makes a colorful story but historians, even those most critical of the Church, unite in denying credence to such a weird libel. The story is that she ruled for two yearsand between the reigns that history, by irrefutable documentary evidence, assigns to Leo IV and Benedict III! The former died on the 17th of July 855 and as has been seen Benedict succeeded him almost immediately. The Emperor Lothair died during
the September of the same year and in the two months his reign coincided with that of the new Pope a coin was minted bearing both his likeness and Benedict's. This is one of the briefest of the many proofs that give the lie to the absurd story.
Louis, son of Lothair, succeeded to his father's throne and policies but was resolved that although he would dominate the election of a Pope he would employ more subtle methods than had his father. So when Benedict died he sent no ambassadors but he himself hastened to Rome and there is no doubt that it was his astutely wielded influence which was responsible for the selection of Nicholas I, a priest with a reputation for piety, eloquence, and learning. Nor was this reputation to be altered by the acquisition of the Fisherman's Ring. Although he had been supported by the Emperor, he quickly made known that he would not suffer interference with his duties either as spiritual leader or temporal sovereign. Of course Louis must have been disappointed at the very definite failure of his scheme but such was the logic of the Pope's honesty and the charm of his manner that at first there was no antagonism between the two. Indeed there were manifestations of great friendship and whenever they met the Emperor accorded the pontiff the same kindly respect and deference a well-mannered son shows a father. Nicholas accepted such courtesy with the graciousness it merited but when the time came he did not hesitate to give rebuke when it too was needed. Disagreement eventually occurred and reached such proportions that during the winter of 863 Imperial soldiery besieged Rome and for two days kept the pontiff a prisoner, without food, in St. Peter's. The quarrel was because the Emperor's nephew, Lothair II, King of Lorraine, had divorced his wife to marry his mistress. With a firmness
that would allow of no compromise Nicholas declared the divorce to be invalid and ordered Lothair to return to his lawful wife. The thwarted King and his imperial uncle employed every argument, from threats of force to the opinions of dishonest prelates, to change the Pope's decision but he remained adamant. And at unscrupulous ecclesiasticsincluding such important figures as the Archbishops of Cologne and Treveswho, untrue to their vows, were submissive to the Emperor, he levelled sentences of deposition.
It was part of his wise policy to keep a vigilant eye and employ strict discipline, whenever possible, against the irregularities perpetrated by powerful clerics who, in the formation of the feudal system, were assuming sovereign status as temporal rulers. The incompetences of Charlemagne's descendants had broken the Empire into portions loosely held by the titular monarchs and in reality a shifting disorder of territories ranging in size from kingdoms to fortified villages. Each had his army and most delivered tribute of some kind to a superior power and in turn extracted vassal homages from weaker neighbours. The lords of such principalities wielded absolute power within their own boundaries and often these rulers, by the circumstances of accumulated property, were prince-bishops of rich sees or abbots of large monasteries. Allegiance to Rome could be very irksome to prelates of this type, many of whom were products of the system of lay investiture, and indeed with a weaker man occupying the pontifical office this allegiance might have become negligible. But Nicholas resolutely demanded observance of the rights due to the Holy See. When the powerful Archbishop of Rheims deposed a bishop, then imprisoned him for appealing to Rome, the Pope quickly annulled the sentence and reinstated the victim. Even more
drastic was his treatment of another important prelate, the Archbishop of Ravenna, whom, despite spirited protestations from the Emperor, he actually excommunicated for misgovernment.
To the East his attention was directed by the injustices of the debauched Eastern Emperor, Caesar Bardas, who, on false charges of treason, had brutally deposed and exiled the Patriarch of Constantinople, Ignatius. Nicholas, after careful investigation, espoused the cause of the Emperor's saintly victim and called upon the Eastern bishops not to tender allegiance to the individual who had usurped the Patriarchal throne. This was Photius, a scholar of famed but misguided brilliance, whose transference from the lay state through all the degrees of priesthood had been accomplished in six days! In the unseemly quarrel that now commenced, studded with anathemas, charges, and threats, can be discerned the seeds of the great Schism between East and West. Although in the past the Byzantines had often differed with Rome on matters of discipline there was never the disaster of schism until the coming of Photius who, misdirecting his remarkable erudition along the channels of ambition, declared the Latins to have fallen into error because (1) they fasted on Saturdays, (2) they did not begin Lent till Ash Wednesday instead of three days earlier, as in the East, (3) they did not allow priests to be married, (4) they had added the filioque to the creed. With deplorable effrontery he then "excommunicated" the Pope and all orthodox Catholics, saying they were "forerunners of apostasy, servants of Antichrist who deserve a thousand deaths, liars, fighters against God." A sudden and violent shifting of Emperors in Constantinople deprived, but only temporarily, the audacious malcontent of support and he was ejected from the Patriarchate. This was in the September of the year
[paragraph continues] 867 and Pope Nicholas concluded his splendid reign two months later.
The next to take his place in the unending procession was Adrian II, a priest of venerable age and high character who had twice before refused the high station and whose final acceptance was to bring him tragedy. Before taking orders he had been married and to this union had been born a daughter. With his elevation to the papacy there was now created a situation which presented enormous and tempting possibilities to the ambitious. That the daughter of a Pope was a prize of the highest value in the matrimonial lists did not escape the attention of the wily Anastasius, the same who as the persistent papal candidate had been so vigorously rejected by the Roman people. Together with his equally ambitious father, the aged Ursenius (who also was possessed of episcopal rank), he plotted to make his brother, Eleutherius, the husband of Adrian's daughter. Alliance with such a family did not appeal to the Pope who rejected the proposal, saying that marriage with another suitor had previously been arranged. On receiving this rebuff Eleutherius grew so enraged that he seized both the Pope's daughter and her mother and fled from Rome. A marriage ceremony was then forced upon the unhappy girl but this outrage was only a preliminary crime to the vicious brutality of her murder which, together with that of her mother, occurred soon after. This wickedness did not pass unavenged. Eleutherius was apprehended, and put to death. Ursenius fled from Rome and shortly after died; but Anastasius managed to convince an assemblage of clergy and even the angry and grief stricken pontiff that he was innocent of any participation in the crime.
In 872 Adrian died and he was followed by John VIII whose reign of a decade was also one of violence and
bloodshed. Problems of all kinds and from all directions came to harass him. The death of Louis II had left the title of Emperor sought by two claimants, his uncles, Louis the German and Charles the Bald who ruled France. The Pope, sadly in need of a strong secular power to regulate the disorders of Italy, endorsed the claims of the French prince and crowned him in Rome on the Christmas day of 875. But this act failed to bring the desired troops across the Alps and only served to inflame the slighted aspirant to a more determined bellicosity. Armies marched and men died to settle the Imperial contest. In two years both rivals were dead themselves; but the violent altercations were continued by their heirs, intoxicated by the same dangerous dreams of the purple. Meanwhile the Saracens were again in Italy and their ships were once more sighted beating off the mouth of the Tiber. Throughout this entire pontificate the Mohammedans were to constitute a menace to the distressed Pope who wrote "out coasts have been plundered, and the Saracens are as much at home in Fundi and Terracina as in Africa. . . . If all the trees in the forest were turned into tongues they could not describe the ravages of these impious pagans. The devout people of God are destroyed by a continual slaughter; he, who escapes the fire and the sword, is carried a captive into exile. Cities, castles and villages are utterly wasted and without an inhabitant. The bishops are wandering about in beggary, or fly to Rome as the only place of refuge."
To keep such a refuge adequately protected John tried desperately to awaken the consciences of the warring kings and plundering nobles but it was in vain. Occupied in suicidal struggles they refused to unite against the common enemy and finally the pontiff as defender of Rome was obliged to assume the un-ecclesiastical duties of both General
and Admiral. After fortifying Rome he assembled a fleet and went to sea, patrolling the coast until Saracen pirates were sighted. With courage and skill he then engaged and dispersed them off the promontory of Circe. Physical danger was no novelty to this gallant Pope. Once indeed Lambert, the duke of Spoleto, invaded Rome and made the Pope prisoner, seeking to get pontifical allegiance to the cause of Carloman of Bavaria, an aspirant to the Imperial title. Pope John managed to flee to France where he implored the aid of Louis the Stammerer. (Aptly does the title of this Prince and his contemporaries, Charles the Fat and Charles the Simple, describe the level to which the House of Charlemagne had fallen.) No protection for Rome was received in France by John and in 880 he was forced to accept the Bavarian as Emperor.
Assistance for his temporal domain was not the only task to engage the attention of this busy Pope; his energies were manifested in Spain where the intricate business of creating a metropolitan was accomplished and laws against sacrilege emphasized; the distant Archbishop of Canterbury received encouragement and consolation and the young English King Alfred was given advice. Within the walls of the city he so zealously sought to guard, problems and vexations came in the form of a discontented faction of the aristocracy who sought to hinder his every move. There he fought with habitual vigor, finally expelling from Rome their leader, Formosus, bishop of Porto, who, to escape a heavier punishment, solemnly promised he would never again venture within sight of the city. This was the vow from a man destined himself to occupy the papal throne thirteen years later! Over three hundred letters of anathema were produced by the tireless energies of John VIII and the violence that had so characterized his reign persisted even to his deathbed. Even a
peaceful exit from this world was denied to this active man. He was poisoned and then, while he was still writhing with agonies incited by the drug, his impatient murderers smashed his skull with a hammer. This crime was ascribed to conspirators belonging to his household, relatives or servants who desired treasure. Many Popes had been martyred before but this was the first to be assassinated.
Formosus, bishop of Porto, was permitted to return to Rome by the new Pope, Marinus, who as bishop of Caere was the first of episcopal rank to be elected to the Chair of Peter. Marinus did not live to see whether his action in absolving Formosus was wise or not for he died about a year after his election. He was succeeded by Adrian III whose reign of almost equal brevity witnessed the reestablishment of a strong and mischievous faction in Rome headed by the tenacious Formosus. In the summer of 885 the Pope died near Modena while journeying to negotiate with Charles the Fat, the unpopular and inadequate possessor of the Imperial station. There was a rapid scurrying in Rome when the news arrived but Formosus and his allies could and did easily shape the results of the election. The choice was Stephen V who soon was confronted by a problem of magnitude, whom to recognize as the rightful Emperor. For with the death of Charles the Fat three princes rose to claim the now almost meaningless title: Arnulf, king of Germany, Berengar, ruler of Italy, and Guido, duke of Spoleto. The first two princes were of the Charlemagne line and tradition but Guido was possessed of that Lombard spirit which regarded the temporal sovereignty of the Pope with contempt and jealousy. Berengar and. Guido met in battle and when the latter was victorious he marched on Rome and without any gestures of obeisance or council commanded the Pope, as his vassal, to
proclaim him Emperor. This was done. But soon after the unhappy Stephen was relieved of any further humiliations by death. The hardy survivor of many turbulent intrigues, Formosus, was elected to occupy the sacred position. The guile which had characterized and clouded his earlier history was now manifested by an attitude of eager submissiveness to Guido while secretly urgent entreaties were despatched to the German King. Still yearning to be called Emperor, the northern prince, Arnulf, was not unmindful of the Pope's pleas and before his commands and under his leadership his troops turned towards Rome. But before such an objective could be reached many obstacles had to be overcome and while the northerners were maneuvering and campaigning through the seasons and distances Guido died, leaving in power an equally hostile son, Lambert.
With profound duplicity the Pope, employing all the ceremonial paraphernalia of a solemn coronation, crowned the young duke and pronounced him Emperor. Meanwhile Arnulf neared Rome and Lambert, carrying his new crown, hastily retired to defend it behind the fortifications of his native Spoleto where with rage and chagrin he learnt that the deceitful pontiff had with jubilance conducted a second coronation and now hailed Arnulf as Emperor and deliverer of Rome. The victorious German turned his attention to Spoleto but before his triumph could be concluded by the annihilation of the enemy he was stricken with paralysis. His alarmed soldiers, suddenly bereft of able leadership, decided not to continue the campaign and, carrying their prostrate monarch on a litter, returned across the Alps, leaving Rome to the mercy of the angry Lambert. At this time, deeply grieved and disappointed at the miscarriage of his plans, Formosus died, but even the tomb, as events will show, was not to
save his body from the vengeance of Lambert. Elected to succeed him was Boniface VI but a fortnight later this Pope also died and a candidate of the Spoletan party, Stephen VI, was installed in the Lateran.
At last Lambert was free to do as he pleased in Rome and before the promptings of his mother, Agiltrude, a woman of implacable will and terrible passions, and with the consent of the new Pope, there was enacted a dreadful drama of revenge. The decaying body of Formosus was disinterred and once again dressed in the gorgeous robes of a presiding Pontiff. Before the gloating eyes of Agiltrude the corpse was propped upon a throne around which a conscienceless assemblage of clergy took their places and went through the motions of a trial. A defender and prosecutor played their parts in the awful farce and a judgment was pronounced which declared the pontificate of Formosus to have been invalid. All his acts were annulled and all ordinations performed by him were announced to be false and illegal. This decision, as will be seen, was to make many innocent clerics bewildered and angry, particularly when they were deprived, on this pretext, of benefices and offices. The horror of the barbaric incident was concluded by a series of degrading insults to the corpse. Richly embroidered vestments were torn from the rotting flesh and the fingers which had been used for consecration were chopped from the right hand. The unsightly remains of the dead and degraded Pope were then cast, unblessed and dishonored, into the Tiber where, secretly, a monk with the assistance of some hired fishermen rescued them and interred them decently in a burial ground. The Pope who condoned such savagery was himself to be a victim of violence. The annulment of the Formosan ordinations had deprived many of their offices and consequently in the ranks of the clergy there
was a strong and discontented faction inimical in every way to the Pope. In the August of 897, before he had reigned a year, he was seized, chained to a couch, and then strangled to death.
Murder was no longer unfamiliar to the papal station, and the vile acts of this time marked the symbolical commencement of an era which was to persist for a century and a half and which was to shroud the papacy with gloom and shame. The Chair of Peter became the prize of tyrants and brigands and a throne fouled by fierce tides of crime and licentiousness. Nevertheless the destined succession continued steadily on, perhaps polluted by but always outliving the schemes of despots and villains. The five months following the murder of Stephen VI saw the accession and deaths of two pontiffs, Romanus and Theodorus II. The latter in his brief reign once again exhumed the abused corpse of Formosus and removed it with suitable ceremony to an appropriate and honored resting place. A decree was then issuedand there was great excitement along the streets of the city as the citizens read itthat the ordinations of Formosus were, despite previous edicts, to be considered valid. Two militant factions were now struggling bitterly for supremacy in Rome, the Formosans and the anti-Formosans, and at the death of Theodorus both parties promptly and emphatically named a Pope. The Formosans declared in favor of a Benedictine, John IX, whilst their antagonists chose one Sergius. Intervention was needed to prevent a deadlock and it came in the person of the Emperor and his much disputed right of sanction. Strangely enough he was well disposed to John and this favor Pope John repaid by assembling a Synod which declared against the pretensions of the Emperor's rival, Berengar, and formulated a law to the effect that in future a pope-elect was not to be consecrated except
in the presence of Imperial envoys. Such gestures must not be construed as mere sycophancy but as measures to restore the order so sadly lacking in Rome for the past decade. In many ways John strove, though not successfully for his obstacles were almost insurmountable, to introduce reforms and abolish abuses. Laws were passed to make impossible a repetition of the ghastly barbarism of Formosus "trial" and the victims of the decrees accompanying that infamous act were now helped and reinstated. Sympathy was extended to the Slavs of Moravia who complained of the harsh attitude of the German bishops. John gave them their own hierarchy, consisting of a metropolitan and three bishops. In time much good might have come from his reign as he had the support of Lambert but unfortunately death came both to Pope and Emperor before the pontificate had lasted two years.