Spirituality for Today – May 2015 – Volume 19, Issue 10

The 105th Pope
Nicholas I

Pope St. Nicholas I (858–867) – In the manner of Pope Leo the Great, Pope Nicholas understood the rule and influence of the papacy to extend to the universal Church. An incident occurred regarding the abandonment of the wife of King Lothair. She appealed to Rome to reverse the ruling of two local synods that agreed to the appropriateness of the divorce. The pope sided with the wronged wife and after some saber rattling the king bid farewell to his mistress and returned to his wife. Pope Nicholas asserted his will in dealings with other Western royalty and clergy as well. In no uncertain terms, Rome was the source of influence and decision making in matters ecclesial and, at times, secular.

This assertion of papal supremacy was directed to the Eastern Church as well. Ignatius, the patriarch of Constantinople, was pressured to abdicate and he was replaced by a certain Photius. Pope Nicholas was incensed over this action and excommunicated him by decree of a Roman synod. Protests by Emperor Michael III failed to sway the pope who affirmed that the Apostolic See possessed the power and the right to act. Initiated by the response of the pope to an appeal from King Boris I of Bulgaria, Pope Nicholas sent missionaries to Bulgaria – a land first evangelized by Byzantine's missionaries and thus, according to Photius, was under his ecclesiastical rule – who advised the king on matters of faith and morals. This action was of such an affront to the juridical viewpoint of Photius that he convened a synod in 867 that excommunicated Pope Nicholas. Before hearing of the action of the synod, Pope Nicholas had died in Rome that year. These mutual excommunications set the stage for the Great Schism between East and West some two centuries later. To this day, the Church in the East and the West are still languishing under the force of that break. We pray for unity.

Pope Nicholas is buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

Habemus papam