Pope St. Leo III surprised Charlemagne by crowning him emperor. Charlemagne had come to Rome to clear Leo's name from a charge of adultery. He felt that the Pope was subject to him, and so objected to being crowned by an inferior. Leo's action became a precedent, allowing later popes to assert temporal rights. [De Rosa, 45-46]
Pope St. Paschal I was accused of blinding and beheading two Papal officials. He claimed innocence but refused to allow any official inquiry into the matter. The pope also asserted that the men were not subject to lay jurisdiction and that they were "rightly put to death." [McCabe, 1953, Chapter III]
Pope Gregory IV said that heresy should be punished with death. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Inquisition"]
"In the ninth century, ... many convents were brothels in which babies were killed and buried. Since the end of the Roman Empire, historians say that infanticide was probably not practised in the West on any great scale—except in convents. The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in the year 836 openly admitted it. As to the sex-starved secular clergy, they were so often accused of incest that they were at length forbidden even to have mothers, aunts or sisters living in their house. Children, the fruits of incest, were killed by the clergy, as many a French prelate put on record." [DeRosa, 404]
"A council at Aix-la-Chapelle [Aachen] denounced certain convents for practicing infanticide in order to dispose of the evidence of their inmates' sexual activities." [Wilson, 17]
The Catholic Encyclopedia ("Councils of Aachen") says, mildly, "The synod of 836 was largely attended and devoted itself to the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline that had been gravely affected by the civil wars between Louis the Pious and his sons."
Pope Sergius II was elected Pope. He and his brother Benedict "began a career of extortion and robbery. ... It is believed that at one point the pope controlled most of the gambling and prostitution in the city and that he was personally connected to a number of murders within the precincts of Rome." [Curran, 47-48]
The False Decretals were published in the North of France between 847 and 852 by someone using the pseudonym Isidore Mercator. The decretals purported be letters from various popes. About eighty-eight of the ninety-three letters in the collection are forgeries. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "False Decretals"]
The False Decretals were written to serve the interest of clerics against Church and lay authorities. They later gave prelates justification for ignoring the commands of kings and other secular authorities and expanded the temporal power of the popes. [McCabe, 1953, Chapter III]
Photius was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. When Pope Nicholas I found out, he nominated a rival, Ignatius. The Greeks then excommunicated Nicholas for violating the rule forbidding one patriarch from interfering in the affairs of another. [Martin, 129-130. See 879-886 for more details.]
Impressive military and naval demonstrations by the Byzantines led the Bulgarian king, Boris I, to become an Orthodox Christian, after previously favoring the Roman church. "Orthodox clergy moved into his territories in huge numbers, and this rapid introduction of new customs provoked a revolt of the Old Bulgar aristocracy, which Boris put down with some savagery." He executed fifty-two nobles and their families in repressing a pagan rebellion. [Johnson, 1976, 181; Engh, 117]
"The pope and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicate each other." [Grun, 100]
This statement called for more research, and that research led to much confusion. The more I read about Photius and the events surrounding his life, the less certain I became about any of it. The events are complicated and there are many reversals of decisions made by the principal players. Apparently the experts are sometimes uncertain as well. The following timeline was constructed from many sources (see below).
858 - Emperor Michael III deposed Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and appointed Photius, a layman, to replace him. Photius was consecrated by Gregory Asbestas, who had himself been deposed by Ignatius.
861 - After Ignatius refused to step down, Michael asked Pope [St.] Nicholas I to send legates to a synod to be held at Constantinople to settle the dispute of the two Patriarchs. The synod deposed Ignatius and had him exiled and imprisoned.
862 - In a letter to Michael and Photius, Nicholas wrote that his legates had exceeded their powers at the 861 council at Constantinople. Nicholas also excommunicated the legates, amid charges of bribery. In a letter to the eastern patriarchs, Nicholas told them not to recognize Photius.
863 - At a synod at Rome, Pope Nicholas excommunicated Photius and said that Ignatius was still Patriarch. He also declared that the acts of the 861 council at Constantinople were invalid, all clerics promoted by Photius, including Gregory Asbestas were deposed.
865 - The emperor wrote to the pope that he wanted to reopen the matter of who should be Patriarch. There was no agreement because Nicholas sent missionaries to Bulgaria, which had originally been converted by the eastern church.
867 - Photius condemned the intrusion of western missionaries in Bulgaria and argued against the Filioque clause in the Nicene creed, which had been added by the Roman Church.
867 - Under the direction of Photius, a Council at Constantinople deposed, anathematized, and excommunicated Pope Nicholas. The pope's legates to the council had demanded that the eastern church declare unconditional obedience to the pope in writing.
867 - Basil murdered, then succeeded Michael III as emperor. Photius condemned Basil for the murder, so Basil deposed him and reinstated Ignatius as patriarch.
869 - A council at Rome, called by Pope Hadrian II, anathematized and excommunicated Photius. He was then imprisoned.
869-70—A council* at Constantinople, with papal legates in attendance, confirmed the actions of the Roman council of 869. The Roman Church recognizes this council as legitimate. The council also repeated the contention that the patriarchate of Constantinople had precedence over that of Alexandria. Rome had always opposed this, but this time did not object.
* "... later counted as the 8th General Council by the Latins...." [Cross, 1069]; "Eighth Ecumenical Council: Constantinople IV (869)" [Catholic Encyclopedia, "General Councils"]
870 - Pope Nicholas threatened to excommunicate Ignatius because the latter had consecrated bishops and an archbishop for Bulgaria.
877 - Ignatius died, and the emperor ordered that Photius be installed as Patriarch. Pope John VIII approved Photius' reinstatement.
879-80—At a council* at Constantinople,
- the acts of the 869 council were overturned,
- the Second Council of Nicaea (787) was recognized,
- additions (i.e., the Filioque) to the creed of Constantinople were forbidden,
- the Papal legates approved Photius as Patriarch and the decisions of this council (although this is disputed by some).
* This council is called the "Eighth General Council" by the Orthodox Church. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Photius of Constantinople"]
Pope John VIII approved Photius as Patriarch and ratified the acts of this council (although this also is a matter of dispute). His decision was strongly influenced by his need for help fighting the Saracens. He rescinded previous papal decrees regarding Photius.
886 - When Leo VI became emperor, he at once deposed Photius, who may have been excommunicated by Pope Formosus in 892.
Photius is now a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
[The timeline above was constructed from: Cross, pp. 1069-1070; McBrien, 139, 141-142; Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC, found at http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/saints/e_0102c.htm; Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope St. Nicholas I" and "Photius of Constantinople"; Wikipedia, "Fourth Council of Constantinople (Eastern Orthodox)," "Fourth Council of Constantinople (Roman Catholic)," "Photius," and "Photios I of Constantinople."]
From about 882 until the twentieth century, all Popes banned the use of the local vernacular for Christian services and sacred writings. [Johnson, 1976, 183]
Three different popes reigned during the year: Formosus, Boniface VI, and Stephen VI. "In the closing years of the ninth century, the faction battles for the Chair of Peter brought Rome to the edge of social disintegration...." [Chamberlin, 19-21]
Pope Formosus crowned the German, Arnulf, as Holy Roman Emperor. This act started a war with Agiltruda, the Lombard queen mother of Spoleto. Agiltruda felt that her son was entitled to be emperor. She led an army and seized Rome, but Emperor Arnulf ousted her and she retreated back to Spoleto. Then Pope Formosus led an army to capture Spoleto, but he died on April 4 before reaching that city. Formosus' successor Boniface VI was dead fifteen days later, probably the work of Agiltruda. She then made her own man pope, who took the name Stephen VII. [Martin, 121]
The CE gives a different account of this story: "Formosus secretly persuaded Arnulf to advance to Rome and liberate Italy; and, in 894, Arnulf made his first expedition, subjugating all the country north of the Po. [Emperor] Guido died in December of the same year, leaving his son Lambert, whom Formosus had crowned emperor, in the Care of his mother Agiltrude, the implacable opponent of the Carlovingians. In the autumn of 895 Arnulf undertook his second Italian campaign, and in February, 896, stood before the walls of Rome. Agiltrude had fortified herself in the city, but Arnulf succeeded in entering and was solemnly crowned by the pope. The new emperor thence marched against Spoleto to besiege Lambert and his mother, but was struck with paralysis on the way and was unable to continue the campaign. Shortly afterwards (4 April, 896) Formosus died. He was succeeded by Boniface VI, who reigned only fifteen days." [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Formosus"]
Again, three different popes reigned during the year: Stephen VI, Romanus, and Theodore II.
"Everyone ... knew that [Pope] Stephen [VI] was insane and subject to paroxysms of black rage." [Martin, 121]
Pope Stephen VI, as part of the contemporary political factionalism, called a synod (later referred to as the Synod horrenda) for the purpose of condemning former pope Formosus. Formosus' corpse was exhumed and "tried." After the expected guilty verdict, all Formosus' acts were declared invalid, the corpse was mutilated and tossed into the Tiber River. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Formosus"; Chamberlin, 19-21]
Stephen VI* was strangled by his opponents. [Chamberlin, 19-21]
*Chamberlin refers to Stephen VI as Stephen VII. The CE sometimes refers to him as "Stephen (VI) VII." The NAB shows Stephen VI's reign as 896-97 and Stephen VII's reign as 928-31.
In the continuing political faction fight, Pope Theodore II re-interred Formusus' body (which earlier had been pulled from the Tiber by a monk) with full honors. He annulled the decisions of Stephen VI and revalidated the acts of Formosus. Theodore's papacy lasted only twenty days. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Theodore II"]
At a synod in Ravenna, Pope John IX confirmed the acts of his predecessor Pope Theodore II. [Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Formosus"]
© R. Paul Buchman 2011