Spirituality for Today – July 2015 – Volume 19, Issue 12

The 107th Pope

An image of Pope John VIII, the 107th PopePope John VIII, the 107th Pope

Pope John VIII (872-882) – With the election of John VIII, the long history of the papacy would be the scene of the first papal assassination. His papacy was plagued with troubling events, Saracen pirates were attacking Italy. Although a man of considerable age, he had great vigor and determination. He strengthened defenses of Rome and established an allied front of vulnerable southern Italian states against the invaders. The allure of individual treaties with the Saracens proved the undoing of the alliance.

In 875, Emperor Louis II died. The pope felt the urge to become involved in the political environment of the times. He put his efforts behind Charles the Bald, Louis' uncle, as the new emperor. The pope crowned a grateful Charles as emperor. As it happens in politics, Charles would prove ineffective against his rival, Carloman who marched into Italy to claim his throne. Charles had died and the candidate that the pope did not support claimed his right to the throne. Chaos continued as Carloman became ill and departed Italy. On the horizon appeared the dukes of Spoleto and of Tuscia who entered Rome, placed the pope in prison, and then to exile in Provence. The pope was faced with a renewed threat from his old foe, the Saracens. This time the pope looked East for help. Realizing that there was still a less than cordial sentiment toward the pope by the emperor and the patriarch, Pope John was willing to compromise. Thus, Photius called a council to be held at Hagia Sophia in which the work of earlier synods negative to Photius and his views were annulled and also closed the text of the creed of Constantinople (381). The pope agreed to all that did not deny his instructions to his representatives and he also recognized Photius as the legitimate patriarch. Beyond politics, Pope John did much to raise the dignity of marriage and promoted the free elections to the episcopate.

As mentioned above, Pope John VIII has the dubious distinction of being the first of the popes to be assassinated. The reason for the assassination has never come to light. He was poisoned and beaten to death – perhaps by his own relatives.

Pope John VIII was buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

Habemus papam