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§ 62. Hadrian II. and John VIII a.d. 867 to 882.


Mansi: Conc. Tom. XV.–XVII.

Migne: Patrol. Lat. Tom. CXXII. 1245 sqq. (Hadrian II.); Tom. CXXVI. 647 sqq. (John VIII.); also Tom. CXXIX., pp. 823 sqq., and 1054 sqq., which contain the writings of Auxilius and Vulgarius, concerning pope Formosus.

Baronius: Annal. ad ann. 867–882.

Jaffé: Regesta, pp. 254–292.

Milman: Lat. Christianity, Book V., chs.5 and 6.

Gfrörer: Allg. Kirchengesch., Bd. III. Abth. 2, pp. 962 sqq.

Baxmann: Politik der Päpste, II. 29–57.


For nearly two hundred years, from Nicolas to Hildebrand (867–1049), the papal chair was filled, with very few exceptions, by ordinary and even unworthy occupants.

Hadrian II. (867–872) and John VIII. (872–882) defended the papal power with the same zeal as Nicolas, but with less ability, dignity, and success, and not so much in the interests of morality as for self-aggrandizement. They interfered with the political quarrels of the Carolingians, and claimed the right of disposing royal and imperial crowns.

Hadrian was already seventy-five years of age, and well known for great benevolence, when he ascended the throne (he was born in 792). He inherited from Nicolas the controversies with Photius, Lothair, and Hincmar of Rheims, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He suffered also a personal humiliation on account of a curious domestic tragedy. He had been previously married, and his wife (Stephania) was still living at the time of his elevation. Eleutherius, a son of bishop Arsenius (the legate of Nicolas), carried away the pope’s daughter (an old maid of forty years, who was engaged to another man), fled to the emperor Louis, and, when threatened with punishment, murdered both the pope’s wife and daughter. He was condemned to death.

This affair might have warned the popes to have nothing to do with women; but it was succeeded by worse scenes.

John VIII. was an energetic, shrewd, passionate, and intriguing prelate, meddled with all the affairs of Christendom from Bulgaria to France and Spain, crowned two insignificant Carolingian emperors (Charles the Bald, 875, and Charles the Fat, 881), dealt very freely in anathemas, was much disturbed by the invasion of the Saracens, and is said to have been killed by a relative who coveted the papal crown and treasure. The best thing he did was the declaration, in the Bulgarian quarrel with the patriarch of Constantinople, that the Holy Spirit had created other languages for worship besides Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, although he qualified it afterwards by saying that Greek and Latin were the only proper organs for the celebration of the mass, while barbarian tongues such as the Slavonic, may be good enough for preaching.

His violent end was the beginning of a long interregnum of violence. The close of the ninth century gave a foretaste of the greater troubles of the tenth. After the downfall of the Carolingian dynasty the popes were more and more involved in the political quarrels and distractions of the Italian princes. The dukes Berengar of Friuli (888–924), and Guido of Spoleto (889–894), two remote descendants of Charlemagne through a female branch, contended for the kingdom of Italy and the imperial crown, and filled alternately the papal chair according to their success in the conflict. The Italians liked to have two masters, that they might play off one against the other. Guido was crowned emperor by Stephen VI. (V.) in February, 891, and was followed by his son, Lambert, in 894, who was also crowned. Formosus, bishop of Portus, whom John VIII. had pursued with bitter animosity, was after varying fortunes raised to the papal chair, and gave the imperial crown first to Lambert, but afterwards to the victorious Arnulf of Carinthia, in 896. He roused the revenge of Lambert, and died of violence. His second successor and bitter enemy, Stephen VII. (VI.), a creature of the party of Lambert, caused his corpse to be exhumed, clad in pontifical robes, arraigned in a mock trial, condemned and deposed, stripped of the ornaments, fearfully mutilated, decapitated, and thrown into the Tiber. But the party of Berengar again obtained the ascendency; Stephen VII. was thrown into prison and strangled (897). This was regarded as a just punishment for his conduct towards Formosus. John IX. restored the character of Formosus. He died in 900, and was followed by Benedict IV., of the Lambertine or Spoletan party, and reigned for the now unusual term of three years and a half.273273    According to Auxentius and Vulgarius, pope Stephen VII. was the author of the outrage on the corpse of Formosus; Liutprand traces it to Sergius III. in 898, when he was anti-pope of John IX. Baronius conjectures that Liutprand wrote Sergius for Stephanus. Hefele assents, Conciliengesch. IV. 561 sqq.



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