Ostrogothic Papacy

The Ostrogothic Papacy was a period from 493 to 537 where the papacy was strongly influenced by the Ostrogothic Kingdom, if the pope was not outright appointed by the Ostrogothic King. The selection and administration of popes during this period was strongly influenced by Theodoric the Great and his successors Athalaric and Theodahad. This period terminated with Justinian I's (re)conquest of Rome during the Gothic War (535–554), inaugurating the Byzantine Papacy (537-752).

According to Howorth, "while they were not much interfered with in their administrative work, so long as they did not themselves interfere with politics, the Gothic kings meddled considerably in the selection of the new popes and largely dominated their election. Simony prevailed to a scandalous extent, as did intrigues of a discreditable kind, and the quality and endowments of the candidates became of secondary importance in their chances of being elected, compared with their skill in corrupting the officials of the foreign kings and in their powers of chicane."[1] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "[Theodoric] was tolerant towards the Catholic Church and did not interfere in dogmatic matters. He remained as neutral as possible towards the pope, though he exercised a preponderant influence in the affairs of the papacy."[2]

Pope Symmachus - Apse mosaic - Sant'Agnese fuori le mura - Rome 2016
Pope Symmachus's (498-514) triumph over Antipope Laurentius is the first recorded example of simony in papal history.


Ten popes reigned between 493 and 537:

During this period, there were four Ostrogothic kings:

During this period there were three Byzantine emperors:


Since the fall of Rome

Pope Simplicius (468-483), the pope during the end of the Western Roman Empire

Pope Simplicius (468-483) was the pope who witnessed the final overthrow of the Western Roman Empire, and fell ill in 483.[3] The papal election of March 483 was the first to take place without the existence of a Western Roman emperor. While Simplicius still lived, the praetorian prefect, Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius, called together the Roman Senate, Roman clergy, and the leading local bishops in the Imperial Mausoleum. Simplicius had issued an admonitio declaring that no election of his successor should be valid without the consent of Basilius. Basilius was both the leader of the Roman aristocracy and the Chief Minister of Odoacer, the "king of Italy."[4] Simplicius was succeeded by Pope Felix III (483-492), Pope Gelasius I (492-496), and Pope Anastasius II (496-498).

The first schism

The role of the Ostrogoths became clear in the first schism. On November 22, 498, both Pope Symmachus and Antipope Laurentius were elected pope.[5] Symmachus was approved by the Roman Senate,[6] but both Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I and the Gothic King Theodoric the Great originally supported Laurentius, who was installed in the Lateran Palace.[5]

Symmachus and Laurentius resorted to bribing Theodoric for his support, with funds from the Roman aristocrats who supported them.[7] This is the first documented case of papal simony, wherein both candidates attempted to bribe the royal councilors, if not Theodoric himself, to influence his choice.[8] According to DeCormenin and de Lahaye, also influencing Theodoric to side with Symmachus and expel Laurentius from Rome was his fear that the latter was too influenced by the Byzantine ruler,[5] but according to Richards this is "simply not borne out by the evidence."[9] In announcing his decision, Theodoric cited the majority of clerical support and the fact of prior ordination.[10]

On March 1, 499, Symmachus declared to a synod in Old Saint Peter's Basilica his plan for campaign finance reform in future sede vacantes.[7] Laurentius was among those who signed his statute, having been appointed as Bishop of Nuceria in consolation for having lost his claim to the papacy.[7] Symmachus decreed that reigning bishops would be able to designate their own successors, ending the participation of the laity for at least a half-century.[8]

When the supporters of Laurentius tried to depose Symmachus for having celebrated Easter according to the wrong calendar, Theodoric called the pope before him in Ariminum to resolve the matter.[11] When Symmachus arrived, he discovered that the charges against him included unchastity and maladministration of church property, and fled back to Rome.[11] His flight bolstered the Laurentian party, who succeeded in persuading Theodoric to send a visitor to Rome to have Easter celebrated according to the Greek calendar and to convene a synod to consider the charges against Symmachus.[11] Peter of Altinum, the bishop of Istria, came to Rome to oversee the new Easter celebration and took over the administration of the Holy See pending the outcome of the synod.[11]

In the first two sessions, the assembled Italian bishops were unable to agree on the appropriate procedures to settle the matter, but the third session acquitted Symmachus.[12] Theodoric took a rather hands-off approach to the synod, refusing repeated requests for him to travel to Rome and resolve the matter personally.[13] According to Richards:

"There is something really rather shocking about the way in which the assembled bishops of the Catholic church fell over themselves to persuade a heretic barbarian to decide who the pope should be. It makes nonsense of the idea of an articulation of papal monarchial theory in which the church was superior to the lay authorities. Both the Symmachian and Laurentian factions appealed to the king for arbitration in 489 and both sides accepted his convocation of a synod. Symmachus, indeed, finally submitted a decision about his case to God and the king, hardly the sort of behavior one would accept from a champion of papal supremacy. Indeed, the regularity with which both sides invoked the intervention of the king suggests a widely held view of his impartiality."[14]

Despite the synod, Laurentius was able to return to Rome, take over much of the papal patrimony and churches of the city, and rule from the Lateran Palace while Symmachus remained in St. Peter's.[15]

After Symmachus

According to Richards, "the death of Pope Symmachus in July 514 was a crucial test for the election regulations after nearly sixteen controversial years of Symmachian rule."[16] However, the "Symmachian old guard" controlled a supermajority of the priests and deacons and thus were able to elect Pope Hormisdas (514-523) after only seven days.[16] Hormisdas was likely appointed by Symmachus himself, "a procedure which was implicit in the electoral regulations."[16] Hormisdas had prepared complicated written instructions for his envoys to the East long before his election and kept Theodoric well apprised of his negotiations with the Byzantines.[16]

Hormisdas was succeeded by Pope John I (523-526). Theodoric married his daughters to the kings of Burgundy, the Visigoths, and Vandals, fellow adherents of Arianism.[17] However, Clovis, king of the Franks, renounced Arianism in 506, as did Sigismund of Burgundy in 516; acts that could possibly describe the act of having "converted to Catholicism."[17] In 523, Eutharic, king of the Visigoths, ceased persecuting non-Arians, around the same time that the Eastern Church began its persecution of Arians.[17] Theodoric created an Ostrogothic navy and sent an emissary to the East, head by Pope John I himself in 526.[17]

Mosaic of Felix IV (III) in Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome, Italy (527–530)
Pope Felix IV (526-530) was the first successor of Symmachus to have trouble designating a successor.

John I was succeeded by Pope Felix IV (526-530). Felix IV was the recommendation of Theodoric and his election was confirmed by Athalaric.[18] He was thus appointed "for all practical purposes" by Theodoric.[19] The process of predecessor appointment was used without serious issue until the death of Felix IV, who had given his pallium to Pope Boniface II on his deathbed in 530 and decreed excommunication of any who refused to accept the succession.[8] The Roman Senate disliked the lack of election and denounced Felix, affirming a decree of Pope Anastasius II, which had prohibited the practice of a pope designating a successor.[8] Boniface II was supported only by a minority of the clergy, with the larger share supporting Dioscorus, with only Dioscorus's death halting the schism.[8]

Boniface II attempted to re-entrench the practice of appointing his successor, but the public outcry was too great, resulting in a highly disputed election in 532 characterized by widespread accounts of bribery and coercion, which resulted in Pope John II (the first to take a papal name).[20] Pope John was chosen by Athalaric to avoid a split between the Byzantine and Gothic factions.[21] Athalaric, the Ostrogoth king, forced John II to approve decrees that banned any private agreements to elect a pope and enacting limits on the amount of money that could be spent during a papal election (an early example of campaign finance reform).[20] In fact, Athalaric himself was able to engineer the election of Pope Silverius, the son of Pope Hormisdas, upon John II's death.[20]

Theodahad threw his support behind Pope Agapetus I and was thus "well placed to coerce the new pope Agapetus, for he had been elected with his support."[22] Theodahad also played a decisive role in the selection of Pope Silverius (536-537), the legitimate son of Hormisdas.[23]

Effects of Justinian's reconquest

After Justinian I retook Rome in the Gothic War (535–554), "to interfere in the papacy had been one of the first things Justinian had done as soon as his armies got a foothold in Italy."[24] Long before he had completed his victory over the Ostrogoths, Justinian I had his commander Belisarius depose the pro-Gothic Pope Silverius (536–537), and install Pope Vigilius (537–555), the former papal apocrisiarius to Constantinople, in his place.[24] Silverius died and Vigilius was ordained in 537, while the Goths rallied and laid siege to Rome.[24] In 542, King Totila recaptured Rome and by the time Justinian's new general Narses recaptured the city in 552, Vigilius was no longer in Rome.[24]


  1. ^ Howroth, 1913, p. 406.
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Ostrogoths" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 57.
  4. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 58.
  5. ^ a b c DeCormenin and de Lahaye, 1857, p. 98.
  6. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope St. Symmachus (498-514)" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  7. ^ a b c Richards, 1979, p. 70.
  8. ^ a b c d e Baumgartner, 2003, p. 9.
  9. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 79.
  10. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 77.
  11. ^ a b c d Richards, 1979, p. 71.
  12. ^ Richards, 1979, pp. 71-73.
  13. ^ Richards, 1979, pp. 77-78.
  14. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 78.
  15. ^ Richards, 1979, p. 73.
  16. ^ a b c d Richards, 1979, p. 100.
  17. ^ a b c d Richards, 1979, p. 111.
  18. ^ Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. 1842. Penny cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. C. Knight. p. 320.
  19. ^ Holland, David. 1989. The Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Incorporated. ISBN 0-7172-0120-1. p. 87.
  20. ^ a b c Baumgartner, 2003, p. 10.
  21. ^ Coulombe, 2003, p. 96.
  22. ^ Evans, James Allan Stewart. 2002. The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-72105-6. p. 65.
  23. ^ Coulombe, 2003, p. 99.
  24. ^ a b c d Richards, 1979, p. 141.


  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. 2003. Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29463-8.
  • Coulombe, Charles A. 2003. Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2370-0.
  • DeCormenin, Louis Marie and Vicomte de Louis-Marie de Lahaye. 1857. A Complete History of the Popes of Rome. James L. Gihon. p. 78.
  • Henry Hoyle Howorth. 1913. Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Google Books.
  • Richards, Jeffrey. 1979. The popes and the papacy in the early Middle Ages, 476-752.
Acacian schism

The Acacian schism, between the Eastern and Western Christian Churches lasted 35 years, from 484 to 519 AD. It resulted from a drift in the leaders of Eastern Christianity toward Miaphysitism and Emperor Zeno's unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the parties with the Henotikon.


The Crescentii clan (in modern Italian Crescenzi) — if they were an extended family — essentially ruled Rome and controlled the Papacy from 965 until the nearly simultaneous deaths of their puppet pope Sergius IV and the patricius of the clan in 1012.

History of the papacy

The history of the papacy, the office held by the pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church, according to Catholic doctrine, spans from the time of Peter to the present day.

During the Early Church, the bishops of Rome enjoyed no temporal power until the time of Constantine. After the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (the "Middle Ages", about 476), the papacy was influenced by the temporal rulers of the surrounding Italian Peninsula; these periods are known as the Ostrogothic Papacy, Byzantine Papacy, and Frankish Papacy. Over time, the papacy consolidated its territorial claims to a portion of the peninsula known as the Papal States. Thereafter, the role of neighboring sovereigns was replaced by powerful Roman families during the saeculum obscurum, the Crescentii era, and the Tusculan Papacy.

From 1048 to 1257, the papacy experienced increasing conflict with the leaders and churches of the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire). The latter culminated in the East–West Schism, dividing the Western Church and Eastern Church. From 1257–1377, the pope, though the bishop of Rome, resided in Viterbo, Orvieto, and Perugia, and then Avignon. The return of the popes to Rome after the Avignon Papacy was followed by the Western Schism: the division of the western church between two and, for a time, three competing papal claimants.

The Renaissance Papacy is known for its artistic and architectural patronage, forays into European power politics, and theological challenges to papal authority. After the start of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformation Papacy and Baroque Papacy led the Catholic Church through the Counter-Reformation. The popes during the Age of Revolution witnessed the largest expropriation of wealth in the church's history, during the French Revolution and those that followed throughout Europe. The Roman Question, arising from Italian unification, resulted in the loss of the Papal States and the creation of Vatican City.

List of popes (graphical)

This is a graphical list of the popes of the Roman Catholic Church.

While the term pope (Latin: Papa, 'Father') is used in several churches to denote their high spiritual leaders, in English usage, this title generally refers to the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Holy See. The title itself has been used officially by the head of the Church since the tenure of Pope Siricius.

There have been 266 popes, as listed by the Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook) under the heading 'I Sommi Pontefici Romani' (The Supreme Pontiffs of Rome). Some sources quote a number of 267, with the inclusion of Stephen II, who died four days after his election but before his episcopal consecration. However, only 264 (or 265) men have occupied the chair of Saint Peter, as Benedict IX held the office thrice on separate occasions in the mid–11th century.

The pope bears the titles

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of Godand is officially styled 'His Holiness'.

Since the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the pope's temporal title has been Sovereign of the Vatican City State.

Pope-elect Stephen

Pope-elect Stephen (d. 26 March 752) was a Roman priest elected pope in March 752 to succeed Zachary; he died of a stroke a few days later, before being consecrated a bishop. Therefore, he is not listed as a pope in the Annuario Pontificio.

In 745, Pope Zachary had made him a cardinal-priest, with the titulus of San Crisogono, the same titulus later held by Cardinal Frederick of Lorraine, who became Pope Stephen IX.

Pope Agapetus I

Pope Agapetus I (died 22 April 536) was Pope from 13 May 535 to his death in 536. He is not to be confused with another Saint Agapetus, an Early Christian martyr with the feast day of 6 August.

Pope Anastasius II

Pope Anastasius II (died 19 November 498) was Pope from 24 November 496 to his death in 498. He was an important figure in trying to end the Acacian schism, but his efforts resulted in the Laurentian schism, which followed his death. Anastasius was born in Rome, the son of a priest, and is buried in St. Peter's Basilica.

Pope Boniface II

Pope Boniface II (Latin: Bonifatius II; d. 17 October 532) was the first Germanic pope. He reigned from 17 September 530 until his death in 532. He was born an Ostrogoth.

Pope Conon

Pope Conon (d. 21 September 687) was Pope from 21 October 686 to his death in 687. He had been put forward as a compromise candidate, there being a conflict between the two factions resident in Rome— the military and the clerical. On his death, Conon was buried in the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Peter. He consecrated the Irish missionary Kilian a bishop and commissioned him to preach in Franconia.

Pope Felix IV

Pope Felix IV (III) (died 22 September 530) served as the Pope of the Catholic Church from 12 July 526 to his death in 530. He was the chosen candidate of Ostrogoth King Theodoric, who had imprisoned Felix's predecessor.

Pope Gelasius I

Pope Gelasius I (died 19 November 496) was a Pope from 1 March 492 to his death in 496. He was probably the third and last Bishop of Rome of Berber descent in the Catholic Church. Gelasius was a prolific writer whose style placed him on the cusp between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Gelasius had been employed by his predecessor Felix III, especially in drafting papal documents. His ministry was characterized by a call for strict orthodoxy, a more assertive push for papal authority, and increasing tension between the churches in the West and the East.

Pope Hormisdas

Pope Hormisdas (450 – 6 August 523) was Pope from 20 July 514 to his death in 523. His papacy was dominated by the Acacian schism, started in 484 by Acacius of Constantinople's efforts to placate the Monophysites. His efforts to resolve this schism were successful, and on 28 March 519, the reunion between Constantinople and Rome was ratified in the cathedral of Constantinople before a large crowd.Jeffrey Richards explains Hormisdas's Persian name as probably in honour of an exiled Persian noble, Hormizd, "celebrated in the Roman martyrology (8 August) but not so honoured in the East." The names of his father and son suggest he had an otherwise "straightforward Italian pedigree." However, according to Iranica he was probably related to Hormizd.

Pope John I

Pope John I can also refer to Pope John (Talaia) I of Alexandria.

Pope John I can also refer to Pope John I (II) of Alexandria.Pope John I (Latin: Ioannes I; d. 18 May 526) was Pope from 13 August 523 to his death in 526. He was a native of Siena (or the "Castello di Serena", near Chiusdino), in Italy. He was sent on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople by the Ostrogoth King Theoderic to negotiate better treatment for Arians. Although relatively successful, upon his return to Ravenna, Theoderic had the Pope imprisoned for allegedly conspiring with Constantinople. The frail pope died of neglect and ill-treatment.

Pope John II

Pope John II (Latin: Ioannes II; died 8 May 535) was pope of the Catholic Church from 2 January 533 to his death in 535.

Pope Leo V

Pope Leo V (d. February 904) was Pope from July 903 to his death in 904. He was pope during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum. He was thrown into prison in September 903 by the Antipope Christopher, and was probably killed at the start of the pontificate of Pope Sergius III. If his deposition is not considered valid (as in the modern Vatican list), then his papacy may be considered to have ended with his death in 904.

Pope Leo VI

Pope Leo VI (880 – 12 February 929) was Pope for just over seven months, from June 928 to his death in February 929. His pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.

Pope Pelagius II

Pope Pelagius II (d. 7 February 590) was Pope from 26 November 579 to his death in 590.

Pope Silverius

Pope Silverius (died 2 December 538) ruled the Holy See from 8 June 536 to his deposition in 538, a few months before his death. His rapid rise to prominence from a deacon to the papacy coincided the efforts of Ostrogothic king Theodahad (nephew to Theodoric the Great), who intended to install a pro-Gothic candidate just before the Gothic War. Later deposed by Byzantine general Belisarius, he was tried and sent to exile on the desolated island of Palmarola, where he starved to death in 538.

Pope Symmachus

Pope Symmachus (d. 19 July 514) was Pope from 22 November 498 to his death in 514. His tenure was marked by a serious schism over who was legitimately elected pope by the citizens of Rome.

1st–4th centuries
During the Roman Empire (until 493)
including under Constantine (312–337)
5th–8th centuries
Ostrogothic Papacy (493–537)
Byzantine Papacy (537–752)
Frankish Papacy (756–857)
9th–12th centuries
Papal selection before 1059
Saeculum obscurum (904–964)
Crescentii era (974–1012)
Tusculan Papacy (1012–1044/1048)
Imperial Papacy (1048–1257)
13th–16th centuries
Viterbo (1257–1281)
Orvieto (1262–1297)
Perugia (1228–1304)
Avignon Papacy (1309–1378)
Western Schism (1378–1417)
Renaissance Papacy (1417–1534)
Reformation Papacy (1534–1585)
Baroque Papacy (1585–1689)
17th–20th centuries
Age of Enlightenment (c. 1640-1740)
Revolutionary Papacy (1775–1848)
Roman Question (1870–1929)
Vatican City (1929–present)
21st century
History of the papacy

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