chapter thirty three

The Beginning of the Second Millennium

On the edge of the second millennium the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III ushered in the reign of the first French pontiff Pope Silvester II in 1003. This holy man who had been Archbishop Gerbert of Aquitaine had been the personal tutor of Otto III and the emperor elevated him to the highest rank within the Holy See on April 2, 999 after his dear friend Pope Gregory V, who he had raised to the throne of Peter in 996, died on February 18, 999. Gregory had been a holy sovereign pontiff and the first pope who hailed from west of the Alps.

While mourning Gregory V, Otto III consulted with Abbot Odilo of Cluny and they both agreed the Archbishop of Ravenna - Gerbert would be the natural choice. Gerbert had been born around 945 in Auvergne, France into a simple, humble family who sacrificed to give him an excellent education and bring him up with a love for the true faith. He was one of the few to know all three Otto's - Otto III's grandfather the great Otto I, and the emperor's father Otto II. Gerbert was reknowned for his proficiency in the sciences and literature as well as his acumen in knowing the ins and outs of ecclesial politics which Otto felt would serve him well as supreme pontiff. Immediately after being installed as the 139th successor to Peter, he began an extensive reform within the church denouncing simony and nepotism and calling for stricter rules on celibacy for the clergy. He also demanded free election of abbots by the monks in the monasteries. Working in concert with Otto III they both envisioned a renewed Christian Roman empire and worked tirelessly towards this goal as both sought to repress debauchery. They also organized the Church in Poland and Hungary which had been initiated by Pope Benedict VI in 973. Silvester II sent the royal crown to King Stephen I of Hungary in January 1001 as a sign of unification and solidarity between the Church and Hungary.

Though it was a sign of unification for this northern eastern Europe country, there was anything but unification in the Pope's own backyard. The Romans had been very wary of any foreign intervention and with Otto's powers they sulked as two foreign popes ruled the Vatican and the Papal States. However, it's interesting to note here, especially in light of all the expectations as we near the end of the second millennium today, how the end of the first millennium affected them. Many believed there would not be a second millennium, that Christ was coming again. Thus everyone was cautious as the year 1000 dawned for it was considered crucial in relationship to the Final Judgment. Throughout Rome and many other parts of Europe the saying was on everyone's lips, "A thousand and not another thousand." When the year came and went without incident the natives began getting restless again and on February 1001 they stormed the Holy See forcing both Otto III and Pope Silvester II to flee from Rome. Crescentius' son John Crescentius II became the ruler of Rome as the powerful Patrician. John II's father had been executed in 998 by Otto III for his involvement in the revolt against Pope Gregory V. Now his son wanted revenge, but Otto III was out of harm's way in respect to the Romans reaching him but not the elements. When Otto III died of malaria less than a year later on January 23, 1002 Silvester was invited back to Rome in order to be the spiritual leader but not the political leader. Despite this, he left the Church and world with many cultural plusses such as his collection and preservation of manuscripts by classical Latin authors as well as pioneering the use of the terrestrial globe. His use of the abacus and other research led to introducing the use of Arabic numerals where previously only Roman numerals had been utilized. He also introduced into the church liturgy the regular use of the organ. Silvester II died on May 12, 1003. Four days later a Roman was reinstalled on the papal throne when John II Crescentius appointed John Sicco who was somehow related to the Crescentius clan and whom the latter felt would be a good puppet pope. Sicco took the name Pope John XVII and secretly established a rapport with the new German king Henry II who had succeeded Otto III. He sent Polish missionaries led by Benedict into parts of Poland and the Slavic countries to evangelize the faith. Little else is known of John XVII whose papacy was shortlived when he died on November 6, 1003.

His successor, also appointed by John II Crescentius, was Cardinal John Fasanus son of Ursus and Stephania, also relatives of the Patrician's family. He also took the papal name of John choosing to be called Pope John XVIII on his election on Christmas day 1003. Though John had been Crescentius' choice, he was his own man and, like his predecessor, sought an amiable relationship with Henry II. Also following in the footsteps of Pope Gregory V, John XVIII restored the the see of Merseburg which Pope Benedict VII had suppressed in the 970's. Henry II finally complied with John's actions hoping it would bcome the base for missionary work to the Slavs as well as a cultural and political center. John XVIII placed many monasteries and sees under papal protection and the bishops of Sens and Orleans in France rebelled, ordering abbeys to burn the papal bulls granting papal exemption. When John XVIII caught wind of this he ordered these rebel bishops to Rome where he threatened excommunication if they did not comply with his decrees. This threat also extended to the French King Robert II and the entire country of France which, in typical nationalism, was upset that a Roman now sat on the papal throne after two terms with French-friendly pontiffs. Pope John XVIII followed the precedent set by Pope John XV when he officially canonized the five Polish martyrs who had been murdered for the faith, led by Benedict who Pope John XVII had sent to the Slavic territories. In May 1004 John XVIII wanted to invite Henry II to Rome to crown him King of Italy but when Crescentius found out he sabotaged the plans to protect his own domain. To make matters worse he proliferated his pro-Byzantine ideas and worked behind the scenes to get the people to be sympathetic to the Byzantine Church in an effort to discredit John XVIII. Crescentius had the pope's name removed from the diptypchs at Constantine, but it was later restored. Yet it was the beginning of the permanent schism which would come to completion during the 11th century. As we shall see shortly the dropping of John's successor from the diptypchs in 1009 would be the beginning of the the lasting East-West Schism in the Church. The clash between Crescentius and John XVIII forced the latter to leave the Vatican in early 1009 and take refuge as a monk at St. Paul's-without-the walls just outside Rome. There shortly after he died in July 1009.

Again Crescentius played his hand in selecting the next pontiff, selecting another Roman - the bishop of Albano by the name of Peter the son of a shoemaker who chose not to take the name of Peter when he was elevated on July 31 1009 out of respect for the great Apostle and first Pope. Therefore he took the name Pope Sergius IV and, like his predecessors before him, ignored Crescentius' threats and established a rapport with Henry II by sending an envoy to the cathedral in Bamberg near the emperor with an invitation to visit Rome if the German king so desired. This alignment with the west further infuriated Crescentius and the eastern Patriarch Sergius II who was upset that he had taken the same name and showed no tendencies toward sympathies with Constantinople. Thus in 1009 Sergius II had Sergius IV name stricken from the diptychs of Constantinople which were the listings of special persons all were to pray for during the liturgy. The split was inevitable and further widened when Sergius IV sent a profession of faith to the eastern patriarch including the clause Filioque which means the Son proceeding from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Son and the Father. In addition, he wrote an encyclical which some historians claim contained an appeal for the faithful to be prepared for an armed expedition to avenge the October 18, 1009 destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by the Caliph Hakim. It was Pope Sergius IV's hope that he could rally the Italian powers to rid Sicily of the Moslem influence. But he didn't live to see it for the upheaval within the political landmines in Rome exploded during the late Spring of 1012. Within a week both Pope and Patrician (Crescentius) were missing. They had both disappeared without a trace. Speculation to this day points to the fact they were both murdered by the rival Tusculan family in a power struggle which signaled the fall of the Crescentius clan as Patrician in Rome. Pope Sergius' death was announced on May 12 and Crescentius' demise on May 18. Adding to this summation was the fact the counts of the family of Tusculan immediately appointed Sergius' successor Pope Benedict VIII on May 18th. The irony is that the new Pope , a layman by the name of Theophylact was, in actuality, a descendant of the nefarious Theophylact family which had ruined so many pontificates during their half century reign in the 900's. No sooner was Benedict enthroned than the survivors of Crescentius elevated their own candidate as Pope Gregory VI Benedict, ensconced in the Lateran, waged war on Gregory and the Crescentians penetrating their mountain strongholds where his troops crushed them led by Benedict's brother Romanus who would succeed Benedict as supreme pontiff. After the defeat of the Crescentians Romanus became head of civil government in Rome. This forced Gregory VI to flee where he sought sanctuary in the Royal German house of Henry II. Henry promised to resolve the dispute between the two sitting popes but confiscated Gregory's ceremonial cross and forbid him from exercising any decrees or duties of his office as pope. Remember, Gregory VI had been the candidate of the Crescentians who had bitterly opposed the German influence and Henry did not forget this. Add to this that Benedict VIII had been in contact with Henry even before Gregory VI reached the royal house in the north for Benedict's main itinerary was to restore a strong relationship with the Holy Roman Emperor. His first action was to confirm the rights of Henry's beloved see of Bamberg; secondly he invited Henry to Rome. Once Henry entered the city of Rome in February 1014 and officially crowned emperor by Benedict VIII in St. Peter's Gregory VI slipped into oblivion, seeing the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. The influence Henry held over Benedict reached even greater expectations when the Pope agreed to grant the the emperor's request that the Credo be sung at each Mass with the Filioque added. This was a practice that had been practiced in Germany but had not been accepted in Rome until Benedict's decree. Together Benedict and Henry traveled to Ravenna, Italy where they called a reforming synod in 1014 to settle restrictions for the minimum age for those receiving holy orders as well as ruling against the abuses of simony and other transgressions prevalent during that time. In August 1022 they met again in Pavia for another synod there in which they jointly decreed strict canons to prohibit clerics from marrying or holding concubines in upholding the sanctity of celibacy. Harsh penalties were promulgated for those who violated these canons such as subjecting the children and heirs of these clerics to serfdom. Benedict VIII was not as well known for being a spiritual leader as he was for being statesman and a feudal leader. He did not hesitate wield his power no matter who objected whether ruler or bishop. He was a staunch defender of papal property and territories and often went into battle for the sole purpose of not only protecting these lands, but adding to them. His most notable skirmishes were his battles with the infidel legions of Saracens who threatened villages in both northern and southern Italy to preserve the independence of Italy in lieu of the advancing Byzantine influence promoted by Constantinople. Benedict's alliance with Henry II and his all-consuming battle against Byzantine rule further alienated him and the Western Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Patriarch Sergius II retaliated by dropping Benedict VIII from the diptychs of Constantinople as the rift worsened. This didn't seem to phase Benedict who, by turning his back to the East and favoring the Holy Roman Empire enhanced his prestige with the Germans and, because of his conquests in Italy, popularity within his homeland. Benedict died on April 6, 1024 and shortly after so did Henry II. This "holy alliance" now was passed on to Pope John XIX, Benedict's younger brother Romanus, and Conrad II successor to Henry II because Henry's son was still too young. In the next installment we will cover the next 25 years which saw the emergence of the good King Henry III and the restoration of a semblage of peace in Rome.