chapter thirty one

The influence of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I on the Holy See

With the death of Pope Agapitus II in December 955 the way had been paved for the elevation of the deceased prince of Rome Alberic II's illegitimate son Octavian to be declared the one hundredth and thirtieth pope. This took place on December 16, 955 when Octavian assumed the throne taking the name Pope John XII. As we mentioned in the last installment Alberic, on his deathbed, coerced Agapitus to agree to appoint Octavian as the pope's successor on Agapitus' death. While this was in direct violation of the decree of Pope Symmachus in 499 forbidding such an alliance of present pope and future pope, these were dark and treacherous times. The last vestiges of the powerful and ruthless Theophylact family, which had ruled with a tight-fisted clamp since the beginning of the tenth century, was now on the papal throne. John XII was a weak, sniveling replacement for Agapitus, despite the latter's faults. The former Octavian was one of the youngest popes in the history of Rome becoming supreme pontiff at the age of 18. He was not a priest and it was well-known that he showed very little interest toward spiritual matters, opting instead toward material pleasures of the world and the flesh while turning the Lateran palace into a brothel. This did not sit well with the rest of the Catholic world but they were at a loss of what to do for few saints were evident during these dark ages throughout all of Europe. Even with such a scandalous subject on the exalted chair of Peter, bishops in Spain sought out John for council and help because of the battering they were taking from the invasion of the Moors. Yet John XII's political clout was waning and this became crystal clear when he amassed troops to march on Capua and Benevento in an attempt to expand the Papal States. In embarassing numbers his soldiers abandoned him and sought sanctuary with Berengar II, the king of Italy who was plundering all of northern Italy including the duchy of Spoleto in 959. Fearing for his own life and realizing his waning influence, John XII turned to Otto I for help, enticing the German king with the offer of the imperial crown. Because of that prize Otto responded.

The resurgence of the Holy Roman Empire

He entered Rome on January 31, 962 and was crowned Emperor on February 2 by John XII with Otto's queen wife Adelaide and the Roman leaders who had sworn loyalty to Otto over Berengar in attendance at St. Peter's. With Otto in control, some of the influential leaders in Rome convinced Otto to hold a synod in order to admonish the pope to improve his way of life. This was necessary because the Romans had been doing all in their power to portray to the world the city as a moral leader. This was pretty difficult given the debaucity of John XII. Therefore Otto complied and, surprisingly, probably because the pope feared total reprisal, agreed to amend his ways. Despite his reversal of ways, John XII was no longer in charge. That influence was now Otto's who published the "Ottonian Privilege" which officially confirmed the donations of Pepin and Charlemagne, expanding the papal states to nearly two-thirds of all of Italy. One of the most important points was Otto's insistance on setting rules for free papal elections which would be subject to imperial approval and who would be crowned by the Emperor. This charter would forever stop the kind of interference and control hoisted on Rome by the Theophylact family during the first half of the century. With his elevation to Emperor and the release of the "Ottonian Privilege" the Holy Roman Empire was once again a power and this power, all under German kings would survive for 840 more years.

Despite John XII's agreement to amend his ways he still distrusted Otto and nearly everyone else. Likewise Otto was not so sure about John's sincerity but was forced to return to Germany. Almost before Otto had disappeared past the Tiber the pope began to go behind the emperor's back, plotting against Otto with Berengar's son Adalbert and aligning with the hated Magyars of the north. Many believe John had no intention of amending his life and was playing both sides against each other. Offended by Otto's public request that he change his ways, John brooded for a time before setting in motion ways to weaken Otto behind his back. When Otto returned to Rome on November 1, 963 and discovered what the pope had done he was furious. John summoned armed guard to protect him, then thought better of it for he could not even trust his own guards. Thus he fled to Tivoli with the papal treasures. Rather than pursuing the cowardly pontiff, Otto called a synod at St. Peter in which he called for and received Rome's vow to never elect a pope without the emperor's consent. So agreed, Otto offered Pope Leo VIII to succeed the deposed John XII. On December 6, 963 Otto consecrated Leo VIII as the one hundred and thirty first in the line of Peter. Rome and the rest of the universal Church prayed that sanity, sanctity and order had finally been restored to the Holy See. But many Roman leaders, still loyal to the deposed John XII, stirred the people into a frenzy with fears that a foreign power would take over the city of Rome. Headquartered out of Tivoli, John marshaled his troops in a raid on the Vatican which Otto squashed, but Leo, seeking peace and striving to be the forgiving pontiff urged the emperor to release the hostages if they would pledge their loyalty to him as supreme pontiff. Otto, knowing how cunning and deceitful John XII was, cautioned Leo VIII but, out of respect for the Holy See, acquiesced. This turned out to be a big mistake after Otto and his forces vacated Rome to head back to Germany. In mid January 964 John led those same men that had supposedly vowed to be obedient and Leo was forced to flee. John XII reassumed the papacy and immediately held a synod at St. Peter's on February 26, 964 in which he not only deposed Leo but excommunicated him claiming that he was uncanonically ordained. Like the mess during the Formosus period, which we covered a few installments ago, those who had been ordained by Leo were declared null and void. Less than three months later John suffered a stroke while in bed with the wife of one of his subjects and died a week later on May 14, 964. With John gone many thought Leo would be reinstated but the former had managed such a blackballing of the latter that the Romans would have nothing to do with Leo and formally requested Otto to elect a cardinal deacon they admired. Leo had been Otto's personal pick and with his own reputation on the line, the emperor refused their request. However that didn't stop the Romans from proceeding to ignore his refusal and going ahead with their plans to install Benedict V on May 22, 964. Otto retaliated by sending his troops into Rome once more. This time he threatened to cut off all food supplies to the city and starve Rome. Thus on June 23, 964 the Romans relented and Otto formally reinstalled Leo VIII as the Pope. On June 25 Leo called a synod at the Lateran and officially deposed Benedict, but did not excommunicate him for Leo was a just man though, in reality, also a puppet-pope for Otto and many believe it was Otto's idea to have Leo decree that the laity could not enter the presbitery during solemn functions to keep out spies. To ensure his man stayed on the throne and that the Romans would not revolt, Otto kept his troops on guard in Rome and Leo remained pope for another 10 months, passing away on March 1, 965. With his passing the Romans clamored for Benedict V to be reinstated but it fell on deaf ears as Otto refused. It didn't seem to matter to Benedict who grew deeper spiritually and the fame of his holiness spread throughout France, Germany and Rome. He died "in the odour of sanctity" at Hamburg on July 4, 966. Out of respect for this humble deacon who had been the popular choice of the populace and to win over the people who regarded Benedict a saint, Otto personally returned Benedict's remains to Rome to be properly entombed.

After a three month vacancy Otto offered a compromise choice to be the next pontiff - the son of the powerful Roman aristocrat Crescenti. The son had been reared in the papal court and was well versed in the affairs of Church and state. Thus on October 1, 965 John XIII was elevated to the throne of Peter as the one hundred and thirty third pontiff. Secure that things were back to normal, Otto again returned to Germany. But the people of Rome, viewing John as another puppet pope rebelled and in December 965 captured John and sent him in chains to Campagna. In the spirit of the intrigue inherent during these times John escaped prison and was able to get to the emperor with the details of what happened. Otto was enraged and finally reached Rome in late December a year later where he severely punished those who had led the rebellion. John XIII was reinstated as pope and Otto, knowing now he could not trust the Roman people, took up residence in Rome with his troops to assure there would be no further uprisings. The pope and emperor, in an effort to restore decency, morality, and a sense of trust in the clergy re-emphasized the need for celebacy in the clerical ranks and to continue reform of the monasteries throughout Europe. The two worked hard in evangelizing the regions of Poland and Bohemia and it was during this time that the seeds of Christianity were first planted in Poland that would blossom throughout the ages to produce, ten centuries later, Poland's first pope and one of the greatest in the long line of supreme pontiffs - our own Pope John Paul II. On Christmas day 967, Pope John XIII crowned Otto's twelve-year-old son Otto II the co-emperor at Otto's urging. Otto did this because he needed to be in two places at one time and this was the only way he could control his empire. In addition he sought to extend his empire to eventually control all of Italy which included southern Italy under Byzantine rule. To do this Otto had the pope marry Otto II to Byzantine emperor John I Tzimices' niece Princess Theophano of Greek origin. The goal of reconciling with the Eastern Church was one of John XIII's stated goals during his final years as pope, but John tripped up in an effort to also please Otto by determining that the dioceses in Capua and Benevento which had previously been metropolitans under the patriarch of Constantinople would now answer to Rome. The patriarch retaliated by appointing an Eastern archbishop over these dioceses and ordering that Latin would be prohibited in Apulia and Calabria, both Byzantine provinces in southern Italy. Needless to say, this power struggle did little to mend fences between East and West. During John's last year he set his sights Spain and England in an effort to appoint more archbishops in those regions and reform monastic life there. It was John XIII who introduced the custom of blessing and giving a name to bells. On September 6, 972 John breathed his last breath. It was just eight months later that Otto I died in Germany and the empire was fully in the hands of Otto II who played a major role in the election of John XIII's successor as we shall see in the next installment when we cover the rule of Otto II and the beginning of his son, the noble Otto III's reign as emperor of the revived Holy Roman Empire.

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