With the death of Pope Saint Leo IV, the 104th successor of Peter chosen on September 29, 855 was a Roman who took the name Pope Benedict III. He was greatly loved by the people because of his virtue and won friends throughout the universal Church except with the Eastern emperor and the antipope Anastasius who had been in office only one month after Leo's death until Benedict was elected. Photius replaced Ignatius as the Patriarch of Constantinople and began making inferences of breaking from Rome. Despite the opposition from those two, Benedict tried to unite the various factions throughout Italy and Europe against the Saracen threat which was becoming more and more dangerous. After a three year pontificate, Benedict passed away on April 17, 858.
He was replaced by Pope Saint Nicholas I, another Roman whose papacy lasted nine years. His thorn was the Emperor Louis II as the two went at it tooth and nail in arguing over territories and jurisdictions, but the Saracen threat bonded the two as uneasy allies and the two formed an army against the infidel threat. St. Nicholas also strenuously defended the freedoms of the Church against the Eastern Patriarch Photius. Probably Pope St. Nicholas' greatest achievement was establishing August 15th for the Feast of the Assumption. The Dogma of the Assumption, however,would not be proclaimed until just under 1,100 years later by Pope Pius XII. Nicholas died on November 13, 867.
Pope Hadrian II followed him a month later on December 14, 867 and was the only pontiff to have been elected and die on the same date five years later. He crowned Alfred the Great as King of England and Emperor Louis II as Holy Roman Emperor for Hadrian was a peacemaker and made amends with Louis for both realized they needed each other. He also tried to settle various quarrels between various Catholic countries and peoples and convened the 8th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 869 ending the Greek schism and deposing Photius. Hadrian also was the Pontiff who consecrated Saint Methodius the Archbishop of Sirmium in Yugoslavia and gave him, along with Saint Cyril - both considered the "Apostles of the Slavs" - permission to use the Old Slavonic language in place of the Latin liturgy. From this evolved the Cyrillic alphabet. Hadrian passed on exactly five years from the date he was elected. Cyril died in 869, four years after Saint Ansgar received his Heavenly reward for his missionary work in Norway and Sweden as the "Apostle of Scandinavia."
With Hadrian's passing imminent Pope John VIII was elected a day before his death to assure continuity and that would continue for a full decade as John ruled from December 13, 872 to December 16, 882. He defeated the Saracens at Terracina near Rome with only the help of Roman troops because, after coronating Charles the Gross as Holy Roman Emperor the latter went south on the Pope and his commitments. Because of this John suffered a devastating subsequent defeat later in his pontificate at the hands of the infidels and force to pay a huge ransom from the coffers of the Holy See.
His successor was Pope Marinus I who reigned for two years from December 16, 882 to May 15, 884. With the Eastern schisms rising their ugly heads again, he exerted great pressure on the Eastern Patriarch Basil to crack down on schismatics or face the same fate that happened to Photius. Marinus was a blunt man and garnered many enemies. For that reason it was never discovered who poisoned him, but it was suspected one of the Italian families after he tried to solve the quarrels among the various clans.
Pope Saint Hadrian III followed as the next Pope on May 17, 884, two days after Marinus' death. Though his papacy lasted a year and a half, he followed through on what his predecessors had not done - totally eradicate Photius' threat and back up the Council's decrees. He was on his way to France at the invite of Charles the Gross who had made overtures of helping, when he died in San Cesario along the journey in September of 885.
The 110th successor in the line of Peter was Pope Stephen V, elected in September 885 and died in September six years later. He felt so unworthy of being elected Pope he barricaded himself in his house but the people wanted him to accept the highest honor in the Church and broke down the doors by force, carrying him off to the St. Peter's where they set him on the throne. He dissuaded practice of superstitions, prohibiting trials by fire and by water in the courts and showed an intense interest toward the arts and crafts, encouraging its advancement. He was called home to Heaven on September 14, 891.
Ostian-born Pope Formosus followed Stephen on October 6, 891. While he was a cardinal he had been excommunicated by Pope John VIII because he had crowned Arnolfo as King of Italy. The latter would go on to become Emperor of Germany. Formosus was received back in the good graces of the Church by Pope St. Hadrian II and is most renowned for bringing Christianity to Bulgaria through his zeal. He died on April 4, 896.
Five Popes would follow over the next four years. They were Pope Boniface VI, a Roman who followed Formosus. Many believe he was elected by the anti-Formosus faction, but their hopes of reversing things with one of their own backfired for Formosus' papacy lasted only two weeks. Pope Stephen VI succeeded him on May 22, 896 and he, too, was a victim of internal factions and not an admirer of Formosus. He was one of the viler Popes who had the body of Formosus exhumed and tossed into the Tiber River after a mock trial demeaning him. His actions created an insurrection from Formosus' followers and he was captured and strangled by them in August 897. The pro-Formosus faction was able to get Pope Romanus elected in August 897 and his first act was to restore the memory of Formosus and give him a proper memorial burial. His fate however was sealed by this act as the anti-Formosus faction stole into his inner sanctum and poisoned him in November 897. The revolving door continued Pope Theodore II as the 115th in the line of Peter in December 897. He died the same month after governing for only 20 days. He was a pro-Formosus Pope who recovered the body after it had been dug up by anti-Formosus factions and tossed in the river again. He gave it a proper burial in the Vatican and shortly after succumbed to poisoning like his predecessor, most likely by the same anti-Formosus henchmen. With his death Pope John IX became the compromise choice in January 898 and, to avoid the ridiculous internal struggles among the pro and anti-Formosus factions, exercised supremacy of the Church over Rome and all its territories, reestablishing the right of Imperioal intervention in the consecration of the Popes to avoid the kind of farce and tragedies that had occurred several times during the last decade of the ninth century. Shortly after ushering in the tenth century, he died in January 900.
The second part of the ninth century saw the conversion of the Saxons, Northmen, Swedes, Norwegians and Bohemians and the suppression of the apostasy by Photius who was seeking to separate the Eastern from the Western Church. Unfortunately he was successful in many ways even though he was deposed he had split the chasm - one that would only widen during the next two centuries resulting in the final Great Eastern Schism in 1054.
Next week we will cover the thirteen Pontiffs who ruled the Holy See during the first half of the tenth century.