Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roots of Reform XXII: Otto I and Otto II --Father to Son

Christ blesses the Emperor
Otto II and his wife, the
Empress Theophanu in this 10th
century ivory panel. 
We mentioned yesterday that with the election of John XIII in 965, Otto I was able to bring some stability to the papacy.  However, at the pope’s death in 972 the internecine warfare broke out in an effort to control the papacy.  John had been a member of the powerful Crescenti family but unlike the others in that clan was willing to work with Otto.  The Crescenti and the other Roman families resented the imperial control of the papacy; they were used to controlling it.   This strife over the papacy between the Roman families and the Imperial court is the origins of the Guelph and Ghibelline strife that would trouble Italy throughout the Central and into the High Middle Ages, but at this time perhaps it is more accurate to speak of a Nationalist and an Imperial party.  When Otto I selected the deacon Benedict to succeed John XIII, he was installed as Benedict VI in January 973.  Otto died in May of that same year and the Crescenti lost no time in organizing a mob that overthrew Benedict and imprisoned him in the Castle San Angelo where he was strangled in August 974 to prevent his release and restoration by the Imperial Envoy, Sicco, sent by the new emperor, Otto II.  The papal murder was ordered by Crescentius I, the head of the Crescenti family and was possibly carried out by the deacon Franco Ferucci whom Crescentius and his party named to the papacy as Boniface VII.  Count Sicco intervened, however, and named the imperial candidate to the papacy as Benedict VII.  Boniface looted the Vatican treasury (which was not so much cash as the precious objects such as chalices, crosses, reliquaries, candelabra, and other cultic objects made of gold and silver and set with precious stones) and fled to Constantinople.  But don’t worry—he will be back and back more than once.
Otto had his hands full establishing his power in Germany and so he needed a powerful representative in Rome to protect his papal nominee from the Roman nobility and their thugs.  Benedict managed to hang on to the papacy for nine years and in that time he convoked several reform synods for the Diocese of Rome, in particular outlawing simony—the buying and selling of church positions—a common practice at the time. Part of his success in avoiding the sort of fate that met his predecessor was that he was a member of the family of the counts of Tusculum which provided some balance to the power of the Crescenti.  It was only in 981 that Otto was finally able to come to Rome himself.  Benedict died in July 983, Otto died five months later.  Upon Benedict’s death, Otto named his chancellor, Pietro Canepanova as Pope John XIV.  It was the chancellor’s death sentence as without the Emperor he had no protection from the anti-imperial party and their mobs.
Otto’s death left a political vacuum.  His heir was his three year old son, Otto III.  Otto II’s widow, the Greek Princess, Theophanu, was regent.  The child Emperor was kidnapped by a German Duke in the spring of 984 and the Empress-Regent was preoccupied in regaining custody of her son, leaving Rome open to more trouble.  The Romans resented the imperial nominee pope, John XIV, and anti-pope Boniface VII returned and imprisoned John in the Castle San Angelo where he was murdered.  He was succeeded by John XV, the son of a Roman priest named Leo.  (Clerical marriage was still the norm for the secular clergy.   The Crescenti were opposed to him, but the Empress Regent, Theophanu, resided in Rome during much of his reign and protected him.  John is noteworthy for a variety of reasons, so we will end this entry here and pick up with him in a day or two.     
Before we sign off, however, a final word about Boniface VII.  Having murdered Benedict VI and John XIV, he himself met a most unpleasant death.  He seized the papacy, annulled the papacies of his two predecessors Benedict VII and John XIV.  However, he himself died suddenly in 985, possibly murdered.  He was so hated that his corpse was seized and dragged naked through the streets of Rome and left abandoned at the foot of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.  Not a nice guy; not a nice end.
Today he is considered an anti-pope but for centuries he was recognized as legitimate and the next pope to take the name Boniface (a character of somewhat mixed moral fiber himself) took the name Boniface VIII.   
Note two things.  The first is the imperial power to name popes.  Political theory of the time saw the Emperor as the Vicar of Christ and as the earthly head of the Church.  The pope was its spiritual overlord, but subject in temporal affairs, including the temporal affairs of the Church, to the authority of the Emperor.  The Emperor was seen as having the responsibility for the integrity of the Church. 
The second thing to note is the chaotic way in which popes were elected—the roman nobility, the mobs, and the emperor all had some say.  The Emperor’s attempts to control the election of the popes was an attempt to bring some order out of the chaos and violence that too oftenmarked papal transitions.  One of the most important reforms would be the establishment of the system of election by the cardinal clergy of the diocese of Rome.  But that is still away off.    More on that in the future.

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