THE MEDIEVAL PAPACY 

How does turmoil relate to evangelism? You can not establish any relationship with certainty. Some students of church dynamics believe turmoil results when churches fail to evangelize. Others think turmoil keeps churches from successful evangelism. Perhaps the two can not be separated! Kenneth Scott Latourette labels the period A.D. 500-950 as "The Great Recession." After A.D. 950, Latourette sees a resurgence of evangelistic activity followed by another recession after 1350. I link turmoil with evangelism precisely because this period's church faced turmoil with a corresponding reduction in outreach.

This material presents three major characteristics of this period's papacy. I think you better understand the church's status during this period by looking at broad characteristics rather than investigating each of the period's popes.

I. Consolidation of Power

Rome's first true pope is Gregory I (590-604). Very little of Rome's glory remained during his papacy. Even the imperial palaces were in sad disrepair. Most of the city's elite left Rome a cultural and urban slum. Gregory still distributed the dole and administered the city. Arian Lombards threatened the city. Gregory raised armies to fight the Lombards and raised funds to repair the city. Still, he did not have the power or prestige later popes would hold.

In other material, I pointed out  that later popes depended upon political power to maintain their position. Consolidation of full paper power in Innocent III came slowly. At least three factors helped consolidate the bishop's power.

A. The Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. Roman bishops resented "lay interference" in church matters. To support authoritarian claims, the popes tried to build a documentary tradition for their position. The popes produced a series of documents, the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, to keep Carolingian nobles at arm's length. These documents first appeared between 833 and 857. A few actually recorded the works of early Roman bishops. Other documents contained a core of truth but included spurious additions. Still other documents were outright forgeries. The name came from a Spanish bishop, Isidore of Seville. The popes used these documents for one purpose: to prove the antiquity of their authority.

Pope Nicholas I (858-867) used the Decretals first when John, the Archbishop of Ravenna and a personal friend of Emperor Louis II, stood accused of graft, theft and inefficiency. Nicholas summoned him to Rome but John refused to come. Nicholas then deposed him. Rebellious clergymen chose to challenge Nicholas's action. In 864 Nicholas crossed paths with Hincmar of Rheims, a strong European cleric. Hincmar had excommunicated a bishop in his area. The disgruntled bishop appealed to Nicholas for support. Drawing on the Isidorian Decretals for his authority, Nicholas successfully reversed Hincmar's decision. In time Nicholas became the ninth century's strongest pope.

The Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals gave bishops the right to appeal directly to Rome. This allowed bishops to bypass their Archbishops. The Roman bishop now controlled all other church leaders.

2. The Decrees of 1059. The decrees restricted papal nomination to the cardinal bishops. Significantly, this removed papal selection from secular control. Furthermore, the College of Cardinals came from these decrees. These decrees also reformed the church. No clergyman could accept an office from a layman. No Christian could hear mass presided over by a clergyman known to keep a concubine.

3. Two practical tools. The popes also discovered two very effective tools to consolidate power in their office.

Excommunication or the threat of excommunication was the first weapon. Catholics believe salvation depends on perpetual sacramental observance. Cutting a communicant off from the sacraments means one loses salvation. One writer stated:

While under excommunication, persons could not act as judge, juror, witness, or attorney. They could not be guardians, executors, or parties to contract. After death, they received no Christian burial, and if, by chance, they were buried in consecrated ground, the church had their bodies disinterred and destroyed.

When the pope excommunicated a believer there was really "no hope."

The interdict served as the pope's second weapon. Some scholars call it an "ecclesiastical lockout." What excommunication was to individuals, the interdict was to an entire nation. A papal interdict suspended all public worship and withdrew the sacraments. After the interdict went into effect, Citizens usually pressured their rulers to repent or abdicate. Occasionally citizens overthrew their rulers. Pope Innocent III utilized or threatened interdicts 85 times during his papacy.

II. Immorality in the Clergy

Even as papal power increased, so did clerical immorality. At one point, beginning with Sergius III (904-911), the period becomes known as the Pornocracy. Let me illustrate the age's character.

Sergius III became pope in 904. Theophylact, the Count of Tusculum, controlled Rome. Theophylact's daughter, Marozia, a young girl of 12 or 13, became the pope's mistress. Marozia became pregnant and bore the Roman bishop a son. Sergius died in 911. In 927, Marozia, Sergius's mistress, controlled Rome. Marozia arrested Pope John IX (914-928) and put out his eyes. She then threw him in prison where he died in 928. Marozia appointed the next three popes, one of them her illegitimate son by Sergius. This pope took the name John XI (931-935). In an effort to cement her control of Rome, Marozia murdered her husband in 932 and married another nobleman. Alberic, her son by her murdered husband, overthrew his mother and assumed control. He successfully ruled Rome from 932-954. As his death neared he forced the Roman senate to appoint his son, Octavian, pope in 955. Octavian takes the name John XII and begins his rule.

John XII is decidedly the most immoral pope of the period. Contemporaries insisted John turned the Vatican into a brothel. He had numerous mistresses and occasionally raped female pilgrims in St. Peters. He and friends often took money from collection boxes to finance bacchanalian nights.

In spite of John's excesses, Roman Catholicism identifies him as a legitimate pope. His statements on matters of faith appear flawless. Besides, Catholicism argues that a man's character is not the basis for papal authority.

III. Italian families struggle for papal control

During this period the popes consolidated both religious and temporal power in their office. At the same time, papal morality hit rock bottom. The rest of the clergy wasn't far behind, either. One other characterization can be seen. Well-to-do Italian families often wrestled over the papacy. Families feuded for centuries causing Italian disunity.

Pope John VIII (872-882) offers an example. When Emperor Charles the Bald died in 877, the pope had to choose between three candidates. Various Italian families pressured John to choose their candidate. One family entered Rome in 878 and placed the Vatican under siege hoping to starve him into appointing their candidate. Finally, John appointed Charles the Fat.

John's own family pressured him to use his office to increase the family's fortune. When he refused they poisoned him. When the poison didn't work fast enough, relatives burst into the papal bed chamber beating his brains in with a hammer.

For a number of years German Emperors made papal appointments. Otto I generally made good appointments. Later Emperors were not so wise. John XII used help from Otto to keep Italian families in line. Otto protected John and John crowned Otto Emperor in 962. Interestingly, when Otto discovered John's immoral lifestyle he lectured him on morality.

By the early eleventh century, two Roman families, the Crescenti family and the Tusculum family, vied for papal appointments. The Crescenti family appointed popes from 1003 to 1012 and the Tusculum family appointed popes from 1012 to 1045. The Tusculum family's first two appointments were brothers: Benedict VIII (1012-1024) and John XIX (1024-1032). John was only a layman at his selection but he went through all the necessary consecrations to become pope. When John died, his nephew followed taking the name Benedict IX (1032-45, 48). Benedict IX was probably only 12 or so when he became pope. Like John XII, he lived a terribly immoral lifestyle. Technically Benedict ruled as pope until 1048 but he was driven from Rome in 1044. Once Benedict was gone, the Roman people elected Sylvester III (1045). After three months Benedict returned to reassume control only to leave office again after three weeks. Benedict then sold the papacy to his god-father for a sizeable sum. This pope came down to us as Gregory VI (1045-1046). Just how Benedict reentered the picture until 1048 I do not know.

We could trace the histories of many other popes from this period. From what I've told you, however, you might guess there were few evangelistic advances during this period. I think there are three important principles here.

1. The church cannot grow when it become concerned with institutional power and prestige.

2. The church cannot grow when there is immorality in the camp; particularly in church leadership.

3. The church cannot grow when it is controlled by factions who insist on promoting their own special interests.

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