Pope Leo VIII

Pope Leo VIII (died 1 March 965) was the head of the Catholic Church from 23 June 964 to his death in 965; before that, he was an antipope from 963 to 964, in opposition to Pope John XII and Pope Benedict V. An appointee of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, his pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.


Depiction of Leo VIII from the Nuremberg Chronicle. Published in 1493
Papacy began6 December 963 (as antipope); 23 June 964 (as pope)
Papacy ended26 February 964 (as antipope); 1 March 965 (as pope)
PredecessorBenedict V
SuccessorJohn XIII
Personal details
Birth nameLeo
BornRome, Papal States
Died1 March 965
Rome, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Other popes named Leo


Born in Rome in the region around the Clivus Argentarius, Leo was the son of John who held the office of Protonotary, and a member of an illustrious noble family.[1] Although a layperson, he was the protoscriniarius (or superintendent of the Roman public schools for scribes) in the papal court during the pontificate of John XII. In 963 he was included in a party that was sent by John to the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, who was besieging the King of Italy, Berengar II at the castle of St. Leo in Umbria. His instructions were to reassure the emperor that the pope was determined to correct the abuses of the papal court, as well as protesting about Otto's actions in demanding that cities in the Papal States take an oath of fidelity to the emperor instead of the pope.[2]

By the time Otto entered Rome to depose John, Leo had been appointed Protonotary to the Apostolic See.[3] A synod convened by the emperor uncanonically deposed John (who had fled to Tibur) and proceeded to elect Leo, who was the emperor's nominee, as pope on 4 December 963, although as he was still a layman.[4] In the space of a day Leo was ordained Ostiarius, Lector, Acolyte, Subdeacon, Deacon and Priest by Sico, the cardinal-bishop of Ostia, who then proceeded to consecrate him as Bishop on 6 December 963.[5] The deposed John, however, still had a large body of sympathisers within Rome; he offered large bribes to the Roman nobility if they would rise up and overthrow Otto and kill Leo, and so, in early January 964, the Roman people staged an uprising that was quickly put down by Otto's troops. Leo, hoping to reach out to the Roman nobility, persuaded Otto to release the hostages he had taken from the leading Roman families in exchange for their continued good behaviour.[6] However, once Otto left Rome around 12 January 964, the Romans again rebelled, and caused Leo to flee Rome and take refuge with Otto sometime in February 964.[7]

John XII returned, and in February convened a synod which in turn deposed Leo on 26 February 964, with John excommunicating Leo in the process.[8] Leo remained with Otto, and, with the death of John XII in May 964, the Romans elected Pope Benedict V. Otto proceeded to besiege Rome, taking Leo with him, and when the Romans eventually surrendered to Otto, Leo was reinstalled in the Lateran Palace as pope.

Together with Benedict's clerical and lay supporters, and clad in his pontifical robes, the former Pope was then brought before Leo, who asked him how Benedict dared to assume the chair of Saint Peter while he was still alive. Benedict responded, "If I have sinned, have mercy on me."[9] Having received a promise from the emperor that his life would be spared if he submitted, Benedict threw himself at Leo's feet and acknowledged his guilt.[10] Brought before a synod convened by Leo, Benedict's ordination as Bishop was revoked, his pallium was torn from him, and his pastoral staff was broken over him by Leo. However, through the intercession of Otto, Benedict was allowed to retain the rank of deacon.[11] Then, after having the Roman nobility swear an oath over the Tomb of Saint Peter to obey and be faithful to Leo, Otto departed Rome in late June 964.[12]

Having been cowed by Otto, the remainder of Leo's pontificate was reasonably trouble free. He issued numerous bulls, many of which detailed the granting of privileges to Otto and his successors. Some of the bulls were alleged to grant the German emperors the right of choosing their successors in the Kingdom of Italy and the right to nominate the Pope, and all popes, archbishops and bishops were to receive investiture from the emperor. In addition, Leo is also claimed to have relinquished to Otto all the territory of the Papal States that had been granted to the Apostolic See by Pepin the Short and Charlemagne. Although it is certain that Leo granted various concessions to his imperial patron, it is now believed that the "investiture" bulls associated with Leo were, if not completely fabricated during the Investiture Controversy, at the very least so tampered with that it is now largely impossible to reconstruct them in their original form.[13]

Leo VIII died on 1 March 965, and was succeeded by Pope John XIII. According to the Liber Pontificalis, he was described as venerable, energetic and honourable. He had a number of streets dedicated to him in and around the Clivus Argentarius, including the descensus Leonis Prothi.

Status as pope

Although Leo was for many years considered an antipope, his current status is still a source of confusion. The Annuario Pontificio makes the following point about the pontificate of Leo VIII:

"At this point, as again in the mid-eleventh century, we come across elections in which problems of harmonizing historical criteria and those of theology and canon law make it impossible to decide clearly which side possessed the legitimacy whose factual existence guarantees the unbroken lawful succession of the Successors of Saint Peter. The uncertainty that in some cases results has made it advisable to abandon the assignation of successive numbers in the list of the Popes."[14]

Due to Leo's uncanonical election, it is now accepted that, until the deposition of Benedict V, he was almost certainly an antipope. Further, although the deposition of John XII was invalid, the election of Benedict V certainly was canonical. However, if Liutprand of Cremona (who chronicled the events of this period) can be relied upon, if, as he wrote, Benedict did acquiesce to his deposition, and if, as seems certain, no further protest was made against Leo's position, it has been the consensus of historians that he may be regarded as a true pope from July 964 to his death in 965.[15] The fact that the next pope to assume the name Leo was consecrated Leo IX also seems to indicate that he is a true pope.


  • Gregorovius, Ferdinand, The History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Vol. III (1895)
  • Mann, Horace K., The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, Vol. IV: The Popes in the Days of Feudal Anarchy, 891-999 (1910)
  • McBrien, Richard P. (2000). Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. HarperCollins.


  1. ^ Mann, pgs. 255 & 280
  2. ^ Mann, pgs. 255-256
  3. ^ Mann, pgs. 260 & 280
  4. ^ Mann, pgs. 260-261
  5. ^ Gregorovius, pg. 348
  6. ^ Gregorovius, pg. 349
  7. ^ Mann, pg. 262
  8. ^ Gregorovius, pgs. 350-351
  9. ^ Gregorovius, pg. 354
  10. ^ Mann, pgs. 275-6
  11. ^ Mann, pg. 276
  12. ^ McBrien 2000, p. 159.
  13. ^ Mann, pg. 281; Gregorovius, pg. 356
  14. ^ Annuario Pontificio, 2001
  15. ^ Mann, pg. 280

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Benedict V
Succeeded by

Year 963 (CMLXIII) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.


Year 965 (CMLXV) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.

Benedict (given name)

Benedict is a masculine given name, which comes from Late Latin word Benedictus, meaning "blessed". Etymologically it is derived from the Latin words bene ('good') and dicte ('speak'), i.e. "well spoken". The name was borne by Saint Benedict of Nursia (480–547), often called the founder of Western Christian monasticism.

Berengar II of Italy

Berengar II (c. 900 – 4 August 966) was the King of Italy from 950 until his deposition in 961. He was a scion of the Anscarid and Unruoching dynasties, and was named after his maternal grandfather, Berengar I. He succeeded his father as Margrave of Ivrea around 923 (whence he is often known as Berengar of Ivrea), and after 940 led the aristocratic opposition to Kings Hugh and Lothair II. In 950 he succeeded the latter and had his son, Adalbert crowned as his co-ruler. In 952 he recognised the suzerainty of Otto I of Germany, but he later joined a revolt against him. In 960 he invaded the Papal States, and the next year his kingdom was conquered by Otto. Berengar remained at large until his surrender in 964. He died imprisoned in Germany two years later.

December 6

December 6 is the 340th day of the year (341st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 25 days remain until the end of the year.

Diploma Ottonianum

The Diploma Ottonianum (also called the Pactum Ottonianum, Privilegium Ottonianum or simply Ottonianum) was an agreement between Pope John XII and Otto I, King of Germany and Italy. It confirmed the earlier Donation of Pippin, granting control of the Papal States to the Popes, regularizing Papal elections, and clarifying the relationship between the Popes and the Holy Roman Emperors.

Einsiedeln Abbey

Einsiedeln Abbey (German: Kloster Einsiedeln) is a Benedictine monastery in the village of Einsiedeln in the canton of Schwyz, Switzerland. The abbey is dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits, the title being derived from the circumstances of its foundation, for the first inhabitant of the region was Saint Meinrad, a hermit. It is a territorial abbey and, therefore, not part of a diocese, subject to a bishop. It has been a major resting point on the Way of St. James for centuries.

Heinrich Joseph Floss

Heinrich Joseph Floß, or Floss (29 July 1819–4 May 1881), was a church historian and moral theologian in the 19th century. As a professor of theology at the University of Bonn, he edited a collection of the work of John Duns Scotus, the Franciscan theologian. During the Kulturkampf, Floss was constrained by the anti-Catholic legislation.

Lateran Council (964)

The Lateran Council (964) was a synod (or church council) held in the Lateran Palace on 23 June 964, for the purpose of deposing Pope Benedict V.

Leo, Minnesota

Leo is an unincorporated community in Roseau County, in the U.S. state of Minnesota.

List of popes

This chronological list of popes corresponds to that given in the Annuario Pontificio under the heading "I Sommi Pontefici Romani" (The Supreme Pontiffs of Rome), excluding those that are explicitly indicated as antipopes. Published every year by the Roman Curia, the Annuario Pontificio attaches no consecutive numbers to the popes, stating that it is impossible to decide which side represented at various times the legitimate succession, in particular regarding Pope Leo VIII, Pope Benedict V and some mid-11th-century popes. The 2001 edition of the Annuario Pontificio introduced "almost 200 corrections to its existing biographies of the popes, from St Peter to John Paul II". The corrections concerned dates, especially in the first two centuries, birthplaces and the family name of one pope.The term pope (Latin: papa, lit. 'father') is used in several Churches to denote their high spiritual leaders (for example Coptic Pope). This title in English usage usually refers to the head of the Catholic Church. The Catholic pope uses various titles by tradition, including Summus Pontifex, Pontifex Maximus, and Servus servorum Dei. Each title has been added by unique historical events and unlike other papal prerogatives, is not incapable of modification.Hermannus Contractus may have been the first historian to number the popes continuously. His list ends in 1049 with Pope Leo IX as number 154. Several changes were made to the list during the 20th century. Antipope Christopher was considered legitimate for a long time. Pope-elect Stephen was considered legitimate under the name Stephen II until the 1961 edition, when his name was erased. Although these changes are no longer controversial, a number of modern lists still include this "first Pope Stephen II". It is probable that this is because they are based on the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.

A significant number of these popes have been recognized as saints, including 48 out of the first 50 consecutive popes, and others are in the sainthood process. Of the first 31 popes, 28 died as martyrs (see List of murdered popes).

Pope Benedict V

Pope Benedict V (Latin: Benedictus V; died 4 July 965) was Pope from 22 May to 23 June 964, in opposition to Pope Leo VIII. He was overthrown by emperor Otto I. His pontificate occurred at the end of a period known as the Saeculum obscurum.

Pope John XII

Pope John XII can also refer to Pope John XII of Alexandria.Pope John XII (Latin: Ioannes XII; c. 930/937 – 14 May 964) was head of the Catholic Church from 16 December 955 to his death in 964. He was related to the Counts of Tusculum and a member of the powerful Roman family of Theophylact which had dominated papal politics for over half a century. His pontificate became infamous for the alleged depravity and worldliness with which he conducted it.

Pope Leo

Pope Leo was the name of thirteen Roman Catholic Popes:

Pope Leo I (the Great) (440–461)

Pope Leo II (682–683)

Pope Leo III (795–816)

Pope Leo IV (847–855)

Pope Leo V (903)

Pope Leo VI (928)

Pope Leo VII (936–939)

Pope Leo VIII (964–965)

Pope Leo IX (1049–1054)

Pope Leo X (1513–1521)

Pope Leo XI (1605)

Pope Leo XII (1823–1829)

Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903)

Synod of Rome

The Synod of Rome may refer to a number of synods or councils of the Roman Catholic Church, held in Rome.

Some of these synods include:

Synod of Rome (313), attended by the bishop of Beneventum, and Reticius, bishop of Autun

Council of Rome (382), a meeting of Christian Church officials and theologians under the authority of Pope Damasus I

Synod of Rome (465), attended by Concordius, bishop of Bari

Synod of Rome (499), attended by Saint Justus, bishop of Acerenza and Menecrates, bishop of Cariati

Synod of Rome (721), a synod held in St. Peter's Basilica under the authority of Pope Gregory II

Synods of Rome (727), held under the authority of Pope Gregory II

Synods of Rome (731), two synods held in St. Peter's Basilica under the authority of Pope Gregory III

Synod of Rome (732), a synod held in Rome under the authority of Pope Gregory III

Synod of Rome (745) held under the authority of Pope Zachary

Synod of Rome (898) Multiple councils held by John the XI to rectify the wrongs of the Cadaver Synod

Synod of Rome (963), a possibly uncanonical synod held in St. Peter's Basilica under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor to depose Pope John XII

Synod of Rome (964), a synod held in St. Peter's Basilica, for the purpose of condemning the Synod of Rome (963) and to depose Pope Leo VIII

Synod of Rome (963)

The Synod of Rome (963) was a possibly uncanonical synod held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 6 November until 4 December 963, under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I to depose Pope John XII. The events of the synod were recorded by Liutprand of Cremona.

Synod of Rome (964)

The Synod of Rome (964) was a synod held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 26 to 28 February 964, for the purpose of condemning the Synod of Rome (963) and to depose Pope Leo VIII.

Year of three popes

A year of three popes is a common reference to a year when the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church are required to elect two new popes within the same calendar year. Such a year generally occurs when a newly elected pope dies or resigns very early into his papacy. This results in the Catholic Church being led by three different popes during the same calendar year.

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