chapter thirty four

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Families taint the Papacy

With Pope Benedict VIII's death on April 6, 1024 and the subsequent death of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II that same year the baton of power was passed to Pope John XIX and Conrad II. John XIX was Benedict VIII's younger brother Romanus who, as a layman, had headed up civic operations in Rome as a senator. It shocked many when, in a single day, he was elevated from lay person to pope. This was accomplished by the Tusculan family who, as we alluded to in the last installment, were an extension of the notorious Theophylact clan which had ruled the papacy a century earlier. Like the powerful Theophylact family, the Tusculans considered the papacy as their private property and gave no thought to checking with the ailing Henry II who was dying. John XIX, turning his back on the Holy Roman Empire, unlike his brother before him, turned his attention eastward and extended an invitation for the eastern Patriarch and emperor Basil II to send a delegation to Rome. This the patriarch did, seeking the Pope's agreement in recognizing that Constantinople had universal jurisdiction in the east while Rome had universal jurisdiction in the west. Not being a clergyman himself, John XIX didn't think about the repercussions and word leaked out quickly by a loyal-to-Rome cleric monk that the new pope was considering consenting to the patriarch's request. The western clergy retaliated en masse with strong protests, particularly the venerated monks of Cluny in France who vehemently stood behind Rome's universal primacy the world over. When these demands reached the Holy Father he recanted his stance and this infuriated the eastern patriarch and the delegation who were left empty-handed in Rome after lavishing the pope with expensive gifts from Basil II in an attempt to win the new pontiff over. Like his predecessor, John XIX's name was also stricken from the prestigious triptychs of Constantinople and an icy rift between the east and west was frozen into the annals of history.

With the door closed to the east, John XIX realized his only hope for surviving his papacy was to reconcile with the new Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II by officially crowning him emperor at St. Peter's with the kings of England, France and Denmark in attendance in the spring of 1027. It was also during this year that he convened the Council of Elne in which the council fathers proclaimed the Truce of God in order to stem mounting violence in all countries. The solution was to establish armistice periods of varying lengths which were later extended. Conrad had known John XIX's motives and treated the Pope with the respect due his office, but behind his back considered the pontiff merely a lackey for the emperor's own gains. The emperor cajoled the Holy Father to appoint his clerical friends to prestigious archbishoprics with jurisdiction highly in the Empire's favor. The King of England Cnut also curried favors from John XIX by getting the Pope to rescind further exhorbitant payments of the Peter's Pence fund. Problems often arose when Conrad usurped the pontiff's authority such as when John XIX had given the abbot of Reichenau permission to wear papal vestments during Mass. The emperor interferred and ordered the abbot to hand over to the bishop the papal bull granting this pontifical vestments privilege to the abbey. The bishop in turn made a big to-do by publicly burning the papers and papal insignia. Though John XIX was not the strongest of popes, he did have an excellent rapport with the famed Abbot Odilo of Cluny who he steadfastly protected in the face of opposition from the local bishop. John XIX was also popular in France because Conrad II was not. This popularity, however, was short-lived for John died on October 20, 1032.

With John's death, his brother Alberic III, who had become the Patrician of the Tusculan family, managed to bribe the electorate to elevate his own son and John's nephew Theophylact to the papal throne. Thus, his 20 year-old son was named the 145th in the line of Peter even though he, like his uncle, was also a layperson. However sometimes transition comes over those who are thrust into exalted positions and such was the case with this new pope who took the name Pope Benedict IX and ruled for twelve years. His papacy received mixed reviews for he was considered a competent pope but he was also a stubborn one and cleverly worked behind the scenes to rid Rome of German dominance by reorganizating the curia so that it would be more centralized and the majority lean favorably towards Rome. Conrad II, seeing that he had a formidable rival, invited him to a meeting in Cremona, Italy. Once the two met, the older emperor realized the young pope was not as pliant or as manipulative as his successor John XIX. Despite their distrust of each other, they managed to work together for the good of the Church including placing the famed Monte Cassino Benedictine abbey under papal protection on July 1, 1038. It was the same year, coincidentally, that Saint John Gualbert founded the Volumbrosians. A year later Conrad died and he was replaced by the son of Henry II, Henry III who would turn out to be one of the better emperors. As time went on Benedict IX's volent temper and loose lifestyle led many to resent the pontiff. This translated to a loss of confidence in the Tusculan family and open resentment ensued with a bloody fight in January 20, 1045 in which the Stephanian family, an offshoot of the Crescentians were able to gain the upper hand and force Benedict out of the city, installing their own candidate John of Sabina, the local bishop in Rome, as the next pontiff. John took the name Pope Silvester IIIon March 10, 1045. It had become a power struggle to the death between the Crescentians and the Tusculan family and for the time being the Crescentians held the upper hand, though Benedict IX, protected in a Tusculan stronghold in Trastevere, excommunicated Silvester and under armed guard reassumed the throne of Peter. However, seeing the mood of the people and the impending threats of assassination even within his own quarters, he decided this was not worth carrying on as pope for he was tired and beaten. Therefore, on May 1, 1045, able to conjure up a large sum from the wealthy banking family of the Gratians if he would abdicate, he signed the papers and withdrew to Frascati, Italy to live under the protection of Tusculum. However in the fall of 1046 Henry III, in an effort to sort everything out and restore order to the papacy and the kingdom of Italy, not to mention the Holy Roman Empire, held a synod in Sutri near Rome and formally deposed both Silvester III and Benedict IX .

That left only Pope Gregory VI who had been elected when Benedict IX abdicated twenty days after being reinstated. Gregory had been elevated on May 5th, 1045, largely through the political and financial influence of the Gratian family who had bought Benedict off. Now they had their man in office and the selection of this wise and elderly Pope Gregory VI met with the approval of the electorate who felt this would be a welcome change from the immature and young Benedict who had shown his true colors. On December 20 in Rome Henry III, seeking to finalize things after a thorough investigation found Gregory VI and the Gratian family guilty of simony.

Thus, on December 24, 1046, with the papal confusion cleared up, Henry III elevated the Bishop Suidger, ordinary of Bamberg in Bavaria who had accompanied King Henry from Germany, to the papal throne as the 149th in the line of Peter. The bishop took the name Pope Clement II, the first Clement since the fourth pope in 88 A.D. to do so. The day after Clement was elected he officially crowned Henry III as Emperor along with his queen-wife Agnes as the Empress on Christmas Day. At the beginning of 1047 Clement, working in unison with Henry who had stayed on longer in Rome, set about to rescue the papacy from the feuding families of Rome. With Henry's help he was successful for the most part and gained the support of other reforming circles within the city and throughout Europe. Clement also saw the necessity for reform within the Church, especially with the bishops who were engaged in numerous quarrels with the Counts during these medieval times. Both the hierchy and royal arrogance of the combatants caused bitter struggles among their vassals throughout Europe. Clement called a synod which condemned simony and ordered 40 day penance period for any priest who had knowingly been ordained by a bishop accused of simony. He had thrown himself into his work so vigorously and with so much dedication that he was oblivious that Benedict IX was mounting yet another campaign to return to the papacy. While traveling to the abbey of San Tommasso in Italy he became deathly ill and was taken in at the abbey where he died shortly afterwards on October 9, 1047. Many suspected Benedict IX had had Clement poisoned by paid assassins posing as gypies on the road to the abbey and when his body was exhumed on October 22, 1733 they found traces of poison in his blood but it could not be determined the cause. As late as June 3, 1942 Pope Pius XII ordered his coffin opened again and an exhaustive study was made as to the cause of Clement's death but the closest they could come was lead poisoning. Those historians who knew the wiles of Benedict IX strongly suspect him because he was already in Rome ready to reassume the papal throne. In less than a month he was elected by the Tusculans who had taken the Lateran by force. But Henry would none of his shenanigans once word reached the Emperor and, through the intervention of Saint Bartholomew, forced Benedict to resign. Through Bartholomew's calm and holy ways he was able to convince Benedict of his sins and the deposed pope repented and retired to the Monastery of St. Basil in Grottaferrata in Italy where he became a monk and lived out the rest of his life in prayer and reparation. He was buried at the monastery in early January, 1056.

In the next installment we shall detail the Reign of King Henry III who brought a semblance of peace back to the papacy and a trust in the supreme pontiffs that had been sorely lacking over nearly the past two centuries.

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