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§ 65. The Second Degradation of the Papacy from Otho I to Henry III. a.d. 973–1046.


I. The sources for the papacy in the second half of the tenth and in the eleventh century are collected in Muratori’s Annali d’ Italia (Milano 1744–49); in Migne’s Patrol., Tom. CXXXVII.-CL.; Leibnitz, Annales Imp. Occid. (down to a.d. 1005; Han., 1843, 3 vols.); Pertz, . Mon. Germ. (Auctores), Tom. V. (Leges), Tom. II.; Ranke, Jahrbucher des deutschen Reiches unter dem Sächs. Hause (Berlin 1837–40, 3 vols.; the second vol. by Giesebrecht and Wilmans contains the reigns of Otho II. and Otho III.). On the sources see Giesebrecht, Gesch. der deutschen Kaiserzeit, II. 568 sqq.

II. Stenzel: Geschichte Deutschlands unter den Fränkischen Kaisern. Leipz., 1827, 1828, 2 vols.

C. F. Hock (R.C.): Gerbert oder Papst Sylvester und sein Jahrhundert. Wien, 1837.

C. Höfler (R.C.): Die deutschen Päpste. Regensb., 1839, 2 vols.

H. J. Floss (R.C.): Die Papstwahl unter den Ottonen. Freib., 1858.

C. Will: Die Anfänge der Restauration der Kirche im elften Jahrh. Marburg, 1859–’62, 2 vols.

R. Köpke und E. Dümmler: Otto der Grosse. Leipz. 1876.

Comp. Baronius (Annal.); Jaffe (Reg. 325–364); Hefele (Conciliengeschichte IV. 632 sqq., 2d ed.); Gfrörer (vol. III., P. III., 1358–1590, and vol. IV., 1846); Gregorovius (vols. III. and IV.); v. Reumont (II. 292 sqq.); Baxmann (II. 125–180); and Giesebrecht (I. 569–762, and II. 1–431).


The reform of the papacy was merely temporary. It was followed by a second period of disgrace, which lasted till the middle of the eleventh century, but was interrupted by a few respectable popes and signs of a coming reformation.

After the death of Otho, during the short and unfortunate reign of his son, Otho II. (973–983), a faction of the Roman nobility under the lead of Crescentius or Cencius (probably a son of pope John X. and Theodora) gained the upper hand.287287    He is called Crescentius de Theodora, and seems to have died in a convent about 984. Some make him the son of Pope John X. and the elder Theodora, others, of the younger Theodora. See Gregorovius, III. 407 sqq; von Reumont, II. 292 sqq.; and the genealogy of the Crescentii in Höfler, I. 300. He rebelled against the imperial pope, Benedict VI., who was murdered (974), and elected an Italian anti-pope, Boniface VII., who had soon to flee to Constantinople, but returned after some years, murdered another imperial pope, John XIV. (983), and maintained himself on the blood-stained throne by a lavish distribution of stolen money till he died, probably by violence (985).288288    Gerbert (afterwards pope Sylvester II.) called this Bonifacius a “Malefactor,” (Malifacius) and ”horrendum monstrum, cunctos mortales nequitia superans, etiam prioris pontificis sanguine cruentus.“Gregorovius, III. 410.

During the minority of Otho III., the imperialists, headed by Alberic, Count of Tusculum, and the popular Roman party under the lead of the younger Crescentius (perhaps a grandson of the infamous Theodora), contended from their fortified places for the mastery of Rome and the papacy. Bloodshed was a daily amusement. Issuing from their forts, the two parties gave battle to each other whenever they met on the street. They set up rival popes, and mutilated their corpses with insane fury. The contending parties were related. Marozia’s son, Alberic, had probably inherited Tusculum (which is about fifteen miles from Rome).289289    The Tusculan family claimed descent from Julius Caesar and Octavian. See Gregorovius, IV. 10, and Giesebrecht II. 174; also the genealogical table of Höfler at the close of Vol. I. After the death of Alberic of Tusculum, Crescentius acquired the government under the title of Consul, and indulged the Romans with a short dream of republican freedom in opposition to the hated rule of the foreign barbarians. He controlled pope John XV.


Gregory V.


Otho III., on his way to Rome, elected his worthy chaplain and cousin Bruno, who was consecrated as Gregory V. (996) and then anointed Otho III. emperor. He is the first pope of German blood.290290    Baronius, however, says that Stephen VIII. (939-942) was a German, and for this reason opposed by the Romans. Bruno was only twenty-four years old when elected. Höfler (I. 94 sqq.) gives him a very high character. Crescentius was treated with great leniency, but after the departure of the German army he stirred up a rebellion, expelled the German pope and elevated Philagathus, a Calabrian Greek, under the name of John XVI. to the chair of St. Peter. Gregory V. convened a large synod at Pavia, which unanimously pronounced the anathema against Crescentius and his pope. The emperor hastened to Rome with an army, stormed the castle of St. Angelo (the mole of Hadrian), and beheaded Crescentius as a traitor, while John XVI. by order of Gregory V. was, according to the savage practice of that age, fearfully mutilated, and paraded through the streets on an ass, with his face turned to the tail and with a wine-bladder on his head.


Sylvester II.


After the sudden and probably violent death of Gregory V. (999), the emperor elected, with the assent of the clergy and the people, his friend and preceptor, Gerbert, archbishop of Rheims, and then of Ravenna, to the papal throne. Gerbert was the first French pope, a man of rare learning and ability, and moral integrity. He abandoned the liberal views he had expressed at the Council at Rheims,291291    See preceding section, p. 290. and the legend says that he sold his soul to the devil for the papal tiara. He assumed the significant name of Sylvester II., intending to aid the youthful emperor (whose mother was a Greek princess) in the realization of his utopian dream to establish a Graeco-Latin empire with old Rome for its capital, and to rule from it the Christian world, as Constantine the Great had done during the pontificate of Sylvester I. But Otho died in his twenty-second year, of Italian fever or of poison (1002).292292    According to several Italian writers he was poisoned by Stephania, under the disguise of a loving mistress, in revenge of the murder of Crescentius, her husband. Muratori and Milman accept the story, but it is not mentioned by Ditmar (Chron. IV. 30), and discredited by Leo, Gfrörer, and Greenwood. Otho had restored to the son of Stephania all his father’s property, and made him prefect of Rome. The same remorseless Stephania is said to have admininistered subtle poison to pope Sylvester II.

Sylvester II. followed his imperial pupil a year after (1003). His learning, acquired in part from the Arabs in Spain, appeared a marvel to his ignorant age, and suggested a connection with magic. He sent to St. Stephen of Hungary the royal crown, and, in a pastoral letter to Europe where Jerusalem is represented as crying for help, he gave the first impulse to the crusades (1000), ninety years before they actually began.293293    See Gfrörer, III. P. III. 1550 sq. He regards Sylvester II. one of the greatest of popes and statesmen who developed all the germs of the system, and showed the way to his successors. Comp. on him Milman, Bk. V. ch. 13; Giesebrecht, I. 613 sqq. and 690 sqq.

In the expectation of the approaching judgment, crowds of pilgrims flocked to Palestine to greet the advent of the Saviour. But the first millennium passed, and Christendom awoke with a sigh of relief on the first day of the year 1001.


Benedict VIII., and Emperor Henry II.


Upon the whole the Saxon emperors were of great service to the papacy: they emancipated it from the tyranny of domestic political factions, they restored it to wealth, and substituted worthy occupants for monstrous criminals.

During the next reign the confusion broke out once more. The anti-imperial party regained the ascendency, and John Crescentius, the son of the beheaded consul, ruled under the title of Senator and Patricius. But the Counts of Tusculum held the balance of power pretty evenly, and gradually superseded the house of Crescentius. They elected Benedict VIII. (1012–1024), a member of their family; while Crescentius and his friends appointed an anti-pope (Gregory).

Benedict proved a very energetic pope in the defence of Italy against the Saracens. He forms the connecting link between the Ottonian and the Hildebrandian popes. He crowned Henry II, (1014), as the faithful patron and protector simply, not as the liege-lord, of the pope.

This last emperor of the Saxon house was very devout, ascetic, and liberal in endowing bishoprics. He favored clerical celibacy. He aimed earnestly at a moral reformation of the church. He declared at a diet, that he had made Christ his heir, and would devote all he possessed to God and his church. He filled the vacant bishoprics and abbeys with learned and worthy men; and hence his right of appointment was not resisted. He died after a reign of twenty-two years, and was buried at his favorite place, Bamberg in Bavaria, where he had founded a bishopric (1007). He and his chaste wife, Kunigunde, were canonized by the grateful church (1146).294294    His historian, bishop Thitmar or Ditmar of Merseburg, relates that Henry never held carnal intercourse with his wife, and submitted to rigid penances and frequent flagellations for the subjugation of animal passions. But Hase (§ 160, tenth ed.) remarks: ”Die Mönche, die er zu Gunsten der Bisthümer beraubt hat, dachten ihn nur eben von der Hölle gerettet; auch den Heiligenschein der jungfraeulichen Kaiserinhat der Teufel zu verdunkeln gewusst.“ Comp. C. Schurzfleisch, De innocentia Cunig., Wit., 1700. A. Noel, Leben der heil. Kunigunde, Luxemb. 1856. For a high and just estimate of Henry’s character see Giesebrecht II. 94-96. “The legend,” he says, “describes Henry as a monk in purple, as a penitent with a crown, who can scarcely drag along his lame body; it places Kunigunde at his side not as wife but as a nun, who in prayer and mortification of the flesh seeks with him the path to heaven. History gives a very different picture of king Henry and his wife. It bears witness that he was one of the most active and energetic rulers that ever sat on the German throne, and possessed a sharp understanding and a power of organization very rare in those times. It was a misfortune for Germany that such a statesman had to spend most of his life in internal and external wars. Honorable as he was in arms, he would have acquired a higher fame in times of peace.”


The Tusculan Popes. Benedict IX.


With Benedict VIII. the papal dignity became hereditary in the Tusculan family. He had bought it by open bribery. He was followed by his brother John XIX., a layman, who bought it likewise, and passed in one day through all the clerical degrees.

After his death in 1033, his nephew Theophylact, a boy of only ten or twelve years of age,295295    Rodulfus Glaber, Histor. sui temporis, IV. 5 (in Migne, Tom. 142, p. 979): ”puer ferme (fere) decennis;” but in V. 5: ”fuerat sedi ordinatus quidam puer circiter annorum duodecim, contra jus nefasque.” Hefele stated, in the first ed. (IV. 673), that Benedict was eighteen when elected. In the second ed. (p. 706) he corrects himself and makes him twelve years at his election. ascended the papal throne under the name of Benedict IX. (1033–1045). His election was a mere money bargain between the Tusculan family and the venal clergy and populace of Rome. Once more the Lord took from Jerusalem and Judah the stay and the staff, and gave children to be their princes, and babes to rule over them.296296    Isa. 3:1-4.

This boy-pope fully equaled and even surpassed John XII. in precocious wickedness. He combined the childishness of Caligala and the viciousness of Heliogabalus.297297    Gregorovius, IV. 42, says: ”Mit Benedict IX. erreichte das Papstthum aussersten Grad des sittlichen Verfalls, welcher nach den Gesetzen der menschlichen Natur den Umschlag zum Bessern erzeugt.” He grew worse as he advanced in years. He ruled like a captain of banditti, committed murders and adulteries in open day-light, robbed pilgrims on the graves of martyrs, and turned Rome into a den of thieves. These crimes went unpunished; for who could judge a pope? And his brother, Gregory, was Patrician of the city. At one time, it is reported, he had the crazy notion of marrying his cousin and enthroning a woman in the chair of St. Peter; but the father of the intended bride refused unless he abdicated the papacy.298298    Bonitho, ed. Jaffé p. 50: ”Post multa turpia adulteria et homicidia manibus Buis perpetrata, postremo cum vellet consobrinam accipere coniugem, filiam scilicet Girardi de Saxo, et ille diceret: nullo modo se daturum nisi renunciaret pontificatui ad quendam sacerdotem Johannem se contulit.” A similar report is found in the Annales Altahenses. But Steindorff and Hefele ([V. 707) discredit the marriage project as a malignant invention or fable. Desiderius, who himself afterwards became pope (Victor III.), shrinks from describing the detestable life of this Benedict, who, he says, followed in the footsteps of Simon Magus rather than of Simon Peter, and proceeded in a career of rapine, murder, and every species of felony, until even the people of Rome became weary of his iniquities, and expelled him from the city. Sylvester III. was elected antipope (Jan., 1044), but Benedict soon resumed the papacy with all his vices (April 10, 1044), then sold it for one or two thousand pounds silver299299    An old catalogue of popes (in Muratori, Script. III. 2, p. 345) states the sum as mille librae denariorum Papensium, but Benno as librae mille quingentae. Others give two thousand pounds as the sum. Otto of Freising adds that Benedict reserved besides the Peter’s pence from England. See Giesebrecht, II. 643, and Hefele IV. 707. to an archpresbyter John Gratian of the same house (May, 1045), after he had emptied the treasury of every article of value, and, rueing the bargain, he claimed the dignity again (Nov., 1047), till he was finally expelled from Rome (July, 1048).


Gregory VI.


John Gratian assumed the name Gregory, VI. He was revered as a saint for his chastity which, on account of its extreme rarity in Rome, was called an angelic virtue. He bought the papacy with the sincere desire to reform it, and made the monk Hildebrand, the future reformer, his chaplain. He acted on the principle that the end sanctifies the means.

Thus there were for a while three rival popes. Benedict IX. (before his final expulsion) held the Lateran, Gregory VI. Maria Maggiore, Sylvester III. St. Peter’s and the Vatican.300300    Migne, Tom. 141, p. 1343. Steindorff and Hefele (IV. 708) dissent from this usual view of a three-fold schism, and consider Gregory, as the only pope. But all three were summoned to the Synod of Sutri and deposed; consequently they must all have claimed possession.

Their feuds reflected the general condition of Italy. The streets of Rome swarmed with hired assassins, the whole country with robbers, the virtue of pilgrims was openly assailed, even churches and the tombs of the apostles were desecrated by bloodshed.

Again the German emperor had to interfere for the restoration of order.



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