In January of 900 Benedict IX succeeded Pope John IX as the 117th successor of Peter. His pontificate would last only three years, but compared to many of those who would follow, that was a relatively long time. He was born in Rome and was a compromise choice of the warring factions that had made a shambles of the papacy from Formosus on during the entire previous decade. To assure there would be justice in future papal elections, Benedict insisted on maintaining the integrity of the Holy See and sought the help of Louis of Borgogna who he crowned as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. He died in July 903.
He was succeeded the very same month by Pope Leo V who was born in Ardea. His very brief two month papacy would end in his being assassinated by rioters as Rome was once again thrown into tumult. So vicious were his attackers that they torched his body and cast his ashes into the Tiber River in September 903.
Because of the insurrections, no Pontiff was elected until the following January 29th when Pope Sergius III was chosen to head the Church. He had a major job on his hand, with the Basilica of Saint John Lateran having been destroyed by fire by the rioters. Therefore, he ordered it rebuilt and then turned his attention to toward defending the rights of the Church against the greedy feudal lords of the time for we were now in the height of medieval time, the heart of the dark ages. It was during Sergius' reign that the Papal Tiara first was displayed. Sergius' reign lasted seven years and he was a breath of fresh air after previous Popes. He passed away on April 14, 911.
He was followed by Pope Anastasius III as the 120th in the line of Peter in April 911 and his rule lasted two years until June 913 when intrigue and dastardly deeds returned to haunt the Vatican. The one bright light during his papacy was the conversion of the most skillful and daring of all the Norman chiefs Robert which would open the door to protecting the West-Frankish empire from invations by other Normans. This would lead to the great French Benedictine monastery at Cluny which had actually been founded in 910 under Sergius III by William, Duke of Aquitaine. It would become a center of monastic and ecclesiastical reform. Back in Rome, the internal disorders, which Sergius was able to curb, rose anew under Anastasius and he also had to contend with the Eastern Emperor Berengarius I. Anastasius was poisoned with the suspects being varied possibilities.
Pope Lando from Sabina was the choice immediately after Anastasius' death and he ruled until February 914. His election was the result of one family gaining power and intimidating the others to elect Lando, but he, like Anastasius III, died mysteriously amid rumors he was murdered.
With the election the next month of Pope John X stability returned to the papal throne for this man, also elected by various factions, came from Tossignano and was not a Roman by birth. His papacy lasted fourteen years, phenomenal for those times. Practically his whole pontificate was embroiled with either quelling Roman uprising or fending off the Saracens. He led an army to the Garigliano River where his troops vanquished the infidels sending them fleeing from central and southern Italy, but his own fate ended with him being imprisoned and murdered there because he would not be part of the corruption of the various Roman factions. He died in May 928.
His successor was the Roman-born Pope Leo VI who returned to the short reigns when his papacy lasted only eight months from May to December 928. He was elected through the machinations of one of the more powerful lords among the Roman factions Marozoia. Despite the fact he was a puppet pope of this family leader, Leo strove to restore peace among the warring factions. Though he was not successful there, he was able to copy the success of his predecessor by routing the Saracens and then followed that up with a stunning victory over the ferocious Hungarians from the North.
Another Roman-born prelate Pope Stephen VII was elected in December 928 when the counts of Tuscolo wrested control of the votes over Marozoia. Stephen's pontificate lasted two years and two months during which he supported the growth of monasteries such as St. Vincent at Volturno and two cenobites in Gaul. He passed on in February 931.
Stephen was succeeded a month later by one of the youngest Popes ever elected, if not the youngest. He was Roman-born Pope John XI, the son of a powerful family lord of Rome. He was 25 when he was elected as the 125th successor of Peter, and, despite his youth and the fact it was their vote that garnered him the papal throne, he exhibited wisdom in trying to bring peace to the sparring families of Rome and be a fair Pope. Because he could not be controlled he was subjected to beatings and intimidation by family members and died at the very young age of 29 in December 935 from complications developed from his persecutions. Many believed it was of a blood clot from one of the beatings that developed into an aneurism.
For next three years the Holy See would be ruled by Pope Leo VII who was elected a few weeks after John XI's death. Leo was a monk himself and reforming and reorganizing monastic life was dear to his heart. He had the ancient Cenobite outside the walls near St. Paul Basilica rebuilt as well as many others in and around Rome and elsewhere. With the dark ages more and more superstitions took center stage and in order to curb them he ordered the bishops in France and Germany to condemn witches and fortune tellers for their omens were from the evil one, not God. Leo died on July 13, 939.
Following Leo was another Roman, Pope Stephen VIII who was elected the next day on July 14, 939. With the Roman families in an uneasy ceasefire truce, he turned his attention, like his predecessor, to other parts of the Christian world in supporting Louis IV d'Oltremare against the rebelling vassals among the Franks. He also did everything he could to convert the powerful lords in both the East and West, preaching the necessity of the Gospel as their only sword. Because of his pacifying nature, Stephen was fodder in the hands of the arrogant Alberic II. He was greatly saddened at the death of Saint Odo, Abbot of Cluny. Stephen VIII died shortly after Odo's death of natural causes in October 942.
Another Roman followed Stephen on October 30, 942. He was Pope Marinus II whose pontificate lasted four years. Like his two predecessors, he was a good and holy Pope who emphasized moral turpitude in restoring Rome as the moral capital of the world by being the shining example to all of how to live a virtuous life. He also refurbished part of Rome through the employment of craftsmen for he was a great patron of the Arts. He made several modifications to the Ecclesiastical rules of Religious Orders. Marinus died in May 946.
The final Roman Pontiff of the first half of the century was Pope Agapitus II, another Roman by birth, who was elected the 129th in the line of Peter on May 10, 946. Just as his predecessor had done, Agapitus made it a point of his papacy to raise the moral conditions of the clergy throughout Christendom. He also was a man of peace, opting for negotiations with Otto I of Germany to heal the rift with various warring regions of Italy. He is also responsible for King Harold of Denmark converting to Christianity. He also appointed Hierotheus as the first bishop of the Hungarians before he died in October 955.
The author, a sage who lived in Jerusalem was thoroughly imbued with love for the Law, the priesthood, the temple, and Divine worship. As a wise and experienced observer of life he addressed himself to his contemporaries with the motive of helping them to maintain religious faith and integrity through study of the holy books, and through tradition.
The book contains numerous maxims formulated with care, grouped by affinity, and dealing with a variety of subjects such as the individual, the family, and the community in their relations with one another and with God. It treats of friendship, education, poverty and wealth, the Law, religious worship, and many other matters which reflect the religious and social customs of the time.
Written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 B.C., the text was translated into Greek sometime after 132 B.C. by the author's grandson, who also wrote a Foreword which contains information about the book, the author, and the translator himself. Until the close of the nineteenth century Sirach was known only in translations, of which this Greek rendering was the most important. From it the Latin version was made. Between 1896 and 1900, and again in 1931, documents were discovered containing in all about two thirds of the Hebrew text, which agrees substantially with the Greek.
Though not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first century A.D., nor accepted by Protestants, the Book of Sirach has always been recognized by the Catholic Church as divinely inspired and canonical. The Foreword, though not inspired, is placed in the Bible because of its antiquity and importance.
The contents of Sirach are of a discursive nature and are not easily divided into separate parts. Chapters 1 through 43 deal with moral instruction; chapters 44 through 50: 24 contain a eulogy of the fathers and of some of the patriarchs. There are also two appendices in which the author expresses his thanksgiving to God, and appeals to the unlearned to acquire true wisdom. The Church uses the Book of Sirach extensively in her liturgy.
The vision of the Lord enthroned in glory stamps an indelible character on Isaia's ministry and provides the keys to the understanding of his message. The majesty, holiness and glory of the Lord took possession of his spirit and, conversely, he gained a new awareness of human pettiness and sinfulness. The enormous abyss between God's sovereign holiness and man's sin overhwlemed the prophet. Only the purifying coal of the seraphim could cleanse his lips and prepare him for the acceptance of the call: "Here I am, send me!".
The ministry of Isaiah may be divided into three periods, covering the reigns of Joatham (742-735), Achaz (735-715), and Ezechia (715-687). To the first period belong, for the most part, the early oracles (1-5) which exposed the moral breakdown of Juda and its capital, Jerusalem. With the accession of Achaz, the prophet became adviser to the king whose throne was threatened by the Syro-Ephramite coalition. Rejecting the plea of Isiah for faith and courage, the weak Achaz turned to Assyria for help. From this period came the majority of Messianic oracles found in the section of Emmanuel prophecies (6-12).
Ezechia succeeded his father and undertook a religious reform which Isaia undoubtedly suppoted. But the old intrigues began again, and the king was soon won over to the pro-Egyptian parth. Isaiah denounced this "covenant with death" and again summoned Juda to faith in Yahweh as her only hope. But it was too late; the revolt had already begun. Assyria acted quickly and her army, after ravaging Juda, laid seige to Jerusalem (701). "I shut up Exechia like a bird in his cage," boasts the famous inscription of Sennacherib. But Yahweh delivered the city, as Isaiah had promised: God is the Lord of history, and Assyria but an instrument in His hands.
Little is known about the last days of this great religious leader, whose oracles of singular poetic beauty and power constantly reminded his wayward people of their destiny and the fidelity of Yahweh to His promises.
The complete Book of Isaiah is an anthology of poems composed chiefly by the great prophet, but also by disciples, some of whom came many years after Isaiah. In 1-39 most of the oracles come from Isaiah and faithfully relfect the situation in eighty-century Juda. To disciples deeply influenced by the prophet belong sections such as the Apocalypse of Isaiah (24-27), the oracles against Babylon (13-14), and probably the poems of 34-35.
Chapters 40-55, sometimes called the Deutero-Isaiah, are generally attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian Exile. From this section come the great Messianic oracles known as the songs of the Servant, whose mysterious destiny of suffereing and glorification is fulfilled in the passion and glorification of Christ. Chapters 56-66 contain oracles from a later period and were composed by disciples who inherited the spirit and continued the work of the great prophet.
The principal divisions of the Book of Isaiah are the following:
The prophet heartily supported the reform of the pious King Josiah, which began in 629 B.C. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, fell in 612, preparing the way for the new colossus, Babylon, which was soon to put an end to Judean independence.
After the death of Josiah, the old idolatry returned. Jeremiah opposed it with all his strength. Arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace were his lot. Jeremiah saw in the nation's impenitence the sealing of its doom. Nabuchodonosor captured Jerusalem and carried King Joachin into exile (22, 24)
During the years 598-597, Jeremiah attempted to counsel Sedeciah in the face of bitter opposition. The false prophet Hananiah proclaimed that the yoke of Babylon was broken and a strong pro-Egyptian party in Jerusalem induced Sedeciah to revolt. Nabachodonosor took swift and terrible vengeance; Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and its leading citicens sent into exile. About this time Jeremiah uttered the great oracle of the "New Covenant" (31: 31-34) sometimes called "The Gospel before the Gospel." This passage contains his most sublime teaching and is a landmark in Old Testament theology.
The prophet remained amidst the ruins of Jerusalem, but was later forced into Egyptian exile by a band of conspirators. There, according to an old tradition, he was murdered by his own countrymen. The influence of Jeremiah was greater after his death than before. The exiled community read and meditated on the lessons of the prophet, and his influence can be seen in Ezechiel, certain of the Psalms, and the second part of Isaiah. Shortly after the Exile, the Book of Jeremiah as we have it today was published in a final edition. It is divided as follows:
As a literary work, the Book of Lamentations is carefully constructed according to a familiar poetic device. The first four poems are acrostics in which the separate stanzas begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the first to the last. Far from destroying the spontaneous pathos of songs, this literary feature permits a symbolic and disciplined expression of the profound grief, the sinful responsibility, and the enduring hope of the suffering community. The figure of Israel as the bride of Yahweh, familiar from the prophets, appears here again; but now Zion is a desolate widow, the Judaea Capta of Titus' memorial coins, sustained only by the faith that God's chastisement will eventually give place to His infinite compassion.
An observance of the feast of Tabernacles with a public prayer of penitence and petition (1: 15 - 3: 8), such as is supposed by the introduction (1: 1-14), would not have been possible during the lifetime of Baruch after the fall of Jerusalem; this indeed is suggested in the prayer itself (2: 26). The prayer is therefore to be understood as the pious reflection of a later Jewish writer upon the circumstances of the exiles in Babylonas he knew them from the Book of Jeremiah. He expresses in their name sentiments called for by the prophet, and ascribes the wording of these sentiments to the person most intimately acquainted with Jeremiah's teaching, namely, Baruch. The purpose of this literary device is to portray for his own and later generations the spirit of repentance which prompted God to bring the Exile to an end.
The lesson thus gained is followed by a hymn in praise of Wisdom (3: 9 - 4: 4), exalting the Law of Moses as the unique gift of God to Israel, the observance of which is the way to life and peace. The ideal city of Jerusalem is then represented (4: 5-29) as the solicitous mother of all exiles, who is assured in the name of God that all her children will be restored to her (4: 30 - 5: 9).
The final chapter is really a separate work, with a title of its own (6: 1). It is patterned after the earlier letter of Jeremiah (Jer. 29), in the spirit of the warnings against idolatry contained in Jer. 10 and Isaiah 44. Its earnestness is impressive, but in restating previous inspired teachings at a later day, it does so with no special literary grace.
Thus the principal divisions of the book are seen to be:
Pope Honorius III delegates the decree Religiosam vitam eligentibus announcing the Fifth Crusade.
Pope Leo XIII issues his 22nd encyclical Quod auctoritate proclaiming the extraordinary Jubilee.