Pope Agapitus II in October 955, the 130th successor of Peter was chosen two months later on December 16, 955 for the way had been paved for the elevation of the deceased prince of Rome Alberic II's illegitimate son Octavian to be declared Pope. He took the name Pope John XII. Remember we are still in the dark ages and besides the dire lack of knowledge and education, theser were also treacherous times. The last vestiges of the powerful and ruthless Theophylact family of Rome, 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 pontiff who was also 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 and he was crowned by John on January 31, 962. Meanwhile in Poland at the same time, the Polish Duke Mieczyslaw, through the influence of his wife Dombrowka was baptized, and a whole nation would follow his example solidly entrenching the Faith in Poland. With Otto as emperor, many convinced him to hold a synod to admonish John to change his wayward ways since Rome was supposed to be the moral capital of the world as Pope Marinus II had established. This move took power out of the Pope's hands and transferred to the Holy Roman Emperor. Because of John's total inadequacies, Otto was able to pass a law that no Pope could be elected in the future without the Holy Roman Emperor's consent. It would be a curse for centuries as we shall see. When John XII balked and tried to enlist the hated Magyars, he was deposed by Otto in late 963.
On December 6, 963 he was replaced by Pope Leo VII. There is conjecture here whether he was an antipope or a bonafide Pontiff. But most historians, because of the times and the actions of John XII feel his papacy was legitimate. Once Otto had installed him, he returned to Germany and that left the door open for John to mount an attack on the Papal Palace. Leo VII fled for his life and John reassumed the papal throne, calling an immediate synod in which he deposed Leo and excommunicated him. When Otto heard this he was furious and once again returned to Rome. Like the mess during the Pope Formosus era, 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 Pope 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 - who was elected on October 1, 965 as Pope John XIII. 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. Otto sought to unify the East and West by marrying his son off to the niece of the Byzantine emperor, but a power struggle ensued and it backfired. John XIII 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.
The Holy See remained vacant until January 19, 973 when Pope Benedict VI became a compromise choice of Otto I and bitterly divided the already faction-driven Roman populace. After Otto I's death Crescentius commanded an Italian squad to enter the Vatican and imprison Benedict in Castel Sant' Angelo for trial. He then consecrated his nephew Franco as Boniface VII a definite antipope. Otto II retaliated and through informing the Romans of a plot underway to have Benedict VI poisoned, the people rose up and ousted Boniface reinstating Benedict. Yet he still died a martyr in June 974 ruling only a year and a half. He was credited with effecting the conversion of the Hungarians.
After a three month vacancy, the Roman familes settled on Pope Benedict VII as the 135th in the line of Peter. This man of great virtue was a good choice who brought stability back to the Holy See. He tried to stem the immorality that had permeated the Holy See and inform his flocks of the Ten Commandments in order to restore morality. He also, through the Lateran Synod, condemned simony and buying up bishoprics. Yet he was not free of the politics and insurrections and Boniface tried to regain the papal throne. Finally Otto II called a Synod in Rome with both Benedict VII and the antipope there to settle who was the rightful Sovereign Pontiff. The Synod chose Benedict VII who also influenced the Lateran Synod later in 980 They both were present for the Synod at St. Peter's a week after he was re-installed as Pope. It was the right decision for Benedict cared for his flocks and exhibited this by living the motto of helping his fellow man by promoting agriculture for he subscribed to the addage, "give a man something to eat and you feed him for a day; give him the know-how to cultivate and you feed him for a lifetime." He dispatched numerous missionaries throughout Europes and was about to travel himself to these regions for an important synod when he died on July 10, 983.
He was followed by Pope John XV whose papacy lasted less than a year. Though he was a man of great energy and virtue, he was also a compromise candidate and when jealous family members had their chance they arrested him and starved him to death in the dungeon of Castel Sant Angelo where he died on August 20, 984.
His successor was Pope John XV who was elected in August 985 and enjoyed the longest rule of the second half of the century - 11 years. To say "enjoyed" might be a stretch for he too was harassed and persecuted and forced to flee to Tuscany. He was a learned cardinal who sought to evangelize the Faith to all areas of the continent. But he also ran into problems in this endeavor, specifically from France where the clergy rebelled against the Pope as nationalism began to take hold. It was the beginning of Gallicanism. He was the first Pope to solemnly canonize a saint, doing so at the Lateran Synod on January 3, 993. That first saint: Saint Ulrich, German Bishop of Augsburg. He died in March 996.
Pope Gregory V followed John XV on May 3, 996 but he, like many of his predecessors, had to deal with an antipope. In this case John XVIII who was nominated by Crescentius and reigned for almost a year, but Gregory outlasted him. During his pontificate Saint Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, added to the feast of All Saints a commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed which served as the origin for All Souls Day. Taking a cue from St. Odilo Gregory V instituted the commemoration of the dead in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and translated the remains of Saint Lucy to the church of Santa Maria Nuova in Rome. He had hoped to usher the Church into the new millennium but died eleven months short of that on February 18, 999.
It was left to Pope Sylvester II to bridge the first and second millennium. Remember this was the dark ages and superstitions were running amok more than today and while Y2K tried to put a scare into today's citizens world-wide, the majority of the population believed the world was going to end and it would be the Last Judgment back at the turn of the first millennium. Sylvester, French-born and highly cultured, refused to believe any of these tales and sought to reassure the people of God not to subscribe to the doom and gloom being spread. He went out of his way to repress debauchery and immorality of every type. He instituted the use of Arabic numbers in lieu of Roman numerals. Three years after ushering in the second millennium he died on May 12, 1003.
It is historically certain that St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, that he wrote it in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D., that he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity. Tradition tells us that St. Mark was requessted by the Romans to set down the teachings of St. Peter. This seems to be confirmed by the position which St. Peter has in this Gospel. In this way, the second Gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles.
St. Mark's purpose is to show to the Romans that Jesus is the Savior, and that He is Divine. To this end he attends more to the miracles of Our Lord than to His sermons, giving only a few of the parables at length. The author, however, gives in some detail the events he narrates, and leaves the impression of an eyewitness. His language is simple, and yet earnest and full of charm.
Tomorrow: The Gospel of Saint Luke
In Pope John Paul II's Consistory of May 25, 1985 he was elevated to the Sacred Conclave, receiving his red-hat and the titular church of St. Sabina. His new status also translated to a new title - Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Since that time he has worked overtime in communicating and working with leaders of other religions and heads of state. He has been highly visible in representing the Holy Father and the Holy See throughout the world. His curial membership is extensive including participation in the Secretary of State in the Second Section, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Congregation for Catholic Education. In addition, he is active in the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts plus the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City. He is also the Grand Chancelor of the Pontifical Urban University, a post he has held since his promotion to the College of Cardinals.
Were it not for his age, he might be a serious consideration for next Pope but he will be 76 in two months and it is highly doubtful another Slav would be elected in the near future. He has been a loyal subject and a huge asset to the Holy Father and the curial offices. Few cardinals have as much experience as Cardinal Josef Tomko.
Pope Clement VII issues a stern warning, forbidding King Henry VIII to remarry after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The monarch's proud and haughty refusal would result in his excommunication and the break of England from Holy Mother Church.
Death of Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, Bohemian saint who migrated to America and became a great priest and bishop. For more on him see DAILY LITURGY
Pope Paul VI becomes the first Sovereign Pontiff since Peter to set foot in the River Jordan during his papal visit to Israel and Jordan. Pope John Paul II hopes to be the second when he visits, God willing, the Holy Land this coming March during the Great Jubilee Year 2000.