Pope Sergius III (c. 860 − 14 April 911) was Pope from 29 January 904 to his death in 911. He was pope during a period of feudal violence and disorder in central Italy, when warring aristocratic factions sought to use the material and military resources of the Papacy. Because Sergius III had reputedly ordered the murder of his two immediate predecessors, Leo V and Christopher, and allegedly fathered an illegitimate son who later became pope (John XI), his pontificate has been variously described as "dismal and disgraceful", and "efficient and ruthless".
|Papacy began||29 January 904|
|Papacy ended||14 April 911|
|Born||Rome, Papal States|
|Died||14 April 911|
Rome, Papal States
|Other popes named Sergius|
Sergius was the son of Benedictus, and traditionally was believed descended from a noble Roman family, although it has been speculated that he was in fact related to the family of Theophylact, Count of Tusculum. He was ordained as a subdeacon by Pope Marinus I, followed by his being raised to the deaconate by Pope Stephen V. During the pontificate of Pope Formosus (891–896), he was a member of the party of nobles who supported the Emperor Lambert, who was the opponent of Formosus and the pope’s preferred imperial candidate, Arnulf of Carinthia. Formosus consecrated Sergius as bishop of Caere (Cerveteri) in 893, apparently in order to remove him from Rome. Sergius ceased to act as bishop of Caere with the death of Formosus in 896, as all of the ordinations conferred by Formosus were declared null and void, although Formosus’ ordination of Sergius was later reconfirmed by Theodore II. He also actively participated in the farcical Cadaver synod that condemned the pontificate of Formosus.
With the death of Theodore in 898, Sergius, with a small following of Roman nobility led by his father Benedictus, attempted to have himself elected pope, contrary to the wishes of the emperor Lambert, who was also duke of Spoleto. Although Sergius was actually elected, a rival candidate, Pope John IX (898–900), was also elected. With Lambert’s support, John was successfully installed as pope, and one of his first acts was to convene a synod which excommunicated Sergius and his followers. Sergius was then forcibly exiled by Lambert, fleeing to his see at Caere, where he placed himself under the protection of Adalbert II, Margrave of Tuscany.
By the time the Antipope Christopher (903–904) seized the chair of Saint Peter by force, circumstances had changed at Rome, with the rise of the magister militum Theophylact, Count of Tusculum, who had been stationed at Rome by the retreating emperor Louis the Blind in 902. Putting himself at the head of a faction of the nobility, Theophylact revolted against Christopher, and asked Sergius to return to Rome to become pope. Sergius accepted, and with the armed backing of Adalbert II, he entered Rome, by which stage Christopher had already been cast into prison by Theophylact. Sergius was then consecrated Pope on 29 January 904.
Sergius III owed his rise to the power of his new patron Theophylact, and rewarded him with the position of sacri palatii vestararius, the principal official at the top of papal patronage in control of the disbursements, and thus of patronage. All real power now devolved onto Theophylact, and Sergius essentially became his puppet. Perhaps the first clear sign of this shift in power was the fate of Sergius’ two predecessors, Pope Leo V and the Antipope Christopher. According to the pro-Formosan Eugenius Vulgarius, Sergius ordered both men to be strangled in prison sometime in early 904. That both men were murdered during Sergius’ pontificate appears probable, although other accounts state that Christopher at least was allowed to retire to a monastery. Given where the real power lay, it seems more likely that either Theophylact gave the orders directly, or that he directed Sergius to give the orders. For the remainder of his pontificate, Sergius promoted his family and members of his aristocratic party to positions of authority and prominence within the church.
Pope Sergius III convoked a synod which annulled all the ordinations of Formosus and required all bishops ordained by Formosus to be re-ordained. It was alleged that Sergius managed to get the consent of the Roman clergy at the synod by threatening them with exile, violence or through the use of bribery. The decision to require reordination was very unpopular, and those affected at sees distant from Rome not only ignored the synod’s instructions, but wrote letters both condemning the revoking of ordinations and justifying validity of the original ordinations. The ruling was subsequently reversed again after his death.
Confirming his continued support of the anti-Formosus faction, Sergius honoured the murdered Pope Stephen VI (896–897), who had been responsible for the "Cadaver Synod" that had condemned and mutilated the corpse of Pope Formosus, by writing a laudatory epitaph on Stephen VI's tombstone. For centuries it was believed that Sergius then had the much-abused corpse of Formosus exhumed once more, tried, found guilty again, and beheaded, thus in effect conducting a second Cadaver Synod. However, the source for this was Liutprand of Cremona, who mistakenly placed the cadaver synod in the pontificate of Sergius III, instead of Stephen VI.
Although neither Sergius nor Theophylact supported the continued nominal rule of Emperor Louis, they were somewhat unwilling to grant the imperial title to the only other contender, Berengar I of Italy. On the one occasion that Sergius agreed to crown Berengar in around 906, Berengar was prevented from reaching Rome by the forces of Alberic I of Spoleto and Adalbert II of Tuscany, both of whom had been supporters of Sergius, but were unhappy with his decision to support Berengar. Nevertheless, Berengar’s unwillingness to control his vassals also contributed to the papal reluctance; when Albuinus, the Margrave of Istria began taking papal territory off John, the Archbishop of Ravenna in 907, Sergius had written to Albuinus asking for him to desist. When Sergius was ignored, the pope wrote to the bishop of Pola in 910, making it clear that: ”he would never bestow the (imperial) crown on Berenger till he promised to take the (Istrian) March from Albuinus, and give it to some better man.”
Sergius rebuilt the Lateran Palace, which had been shattered by an earthquake in 896, and then stripped of its treasures by the Antipope Christopher. Sergius refurbished it with objects, images and crucifixes, and decorated its newly built walls with frescos. In 905 he provided funds to the Church of Silva Candida, which had been devastated by a Saracen raid. He also helped with the rebuilding of Nonantola Abbey, which had suffered attacks from the Magyars, and finally he granted privileges to some monasteries and churches in West and East Francia.
Sergius, like his predecessors, continued to defend the Filioque interpolation into the Nicene Creed, which was at odds with the position of the eastern church. Papal legates who attended the Synod of Trosle in June 909 attacked the Byzantine position, which the synod then condemned in the fourteenth canon:
As the Holy Apostolic See has made known to us that the blasphemous errors of a certain Photius against the Holy Ghost are still vigorous in the East, errors which teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the Son but from the Father only we exhort you venerable brethren, together with us, in accordance with the admonition of the ruler of the Roman See, after a careful study of the works of the Fathers, to draw from the quiver of Holy Writ arrows sharp enough to slay the monster which is again springing into life.
However, the major issue with Constantinople that presented itself during Sergius’ pontificate was the question over the fourth marriage of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI. Both the emperor, who wanted to marry Zoe Karbonopsina and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nicholas Mystikos, appealed to Sergius; the pope sent papal legates to Constantinople, who confirmed the pope’s ruling in favour of the emperor, on the grounds that fourth marriages had not been condemned by the Church as a whole. Nicholas’ refusal to accept this ruling saw him deposed by Leo VI, upon which he too appealed to Sergius, claiming his deposition was unjustified.
Sergius’ ties with the family of Theophylact were made even closer, at least according to rumour, by Sergius’ supposed affair with Theophylact’s daughter, Marozia. This relationship was promoted by Marozia’s mother, Theodora, and the result of this affair was a male child who in time became Pope John XI (931–935). The only source of this affair is the chronicler Liutprand of Cremona, writing some 50 years after the events of Sergius’ pontificate. Neither Auxilius of Naples nor Eugenius Vulgarius, both of whom were exact contemporaries of Sergius, and both of whom were hostile towards Sergius for his attacks on Formosus, mention this allegation at all.
The affair, while not an impossibility, would certainly not have persisted beyond Marozia’s marriage to Alberic I of Spoleto in 909. The question of whether Theophylact and Theodora needed to tie Sergius to them by such means, particularly when Sergius was already deeply indebted to them for his elevation to the papacy, as well as wasting Marozia in a relationship when, as the daughter of an important house, she would have been a valuable tool to link via marriage to another noble house, is open to debate. The birth of the future John XI in 910, after her marriage to Alberic, would seem to indicate that Sergius was not the father. However, it was highly unusual that the eldest son of a noble house would be destined for a career in the church, instead of inheriting his father’s title. That the younger brother Alberic took his father’s place as duke of Spoleto, suggests the possibility that the elder brother John was illegitimate, with Sergius being the most likely candidate for his father.
Much of Sergius’ pontificate has been maligned throughout history, principally through the reporting of his character and the state of Rome at the time by Liutprand of Cremona. His recounting of the period was remarkable for the rise of what 19th century papal historians saw as a "pornocracy", or "rule of the harlots", a reversal of the natural order as they saw it, according to Liber pontificalis and a later chronicler who was also biased against Sergius III. This "pornocracy" was an age with women in power: Theodora, whom Liutprand characterized as a "shameless whore... [who] exercised power on the Roman citizenry like a man" and her daughter Marozia, the mother of Pope John XI and reputed to be the mistress of Sergius III, largely upon a remark by Liutprand.
Caesar Baronius, writing in the 16th century, and basing himself on Liutprand, was particularly scathing, describing Sergius as: ”a wretch, worthy of the rope and of fire... flames could not have caused this execrable monster to suffer the punishments which he merited. It is impossible to believe that such a pope was a lawful one.”
However, the reality is that when Sergius was forcibly exiled by Lambert, duke of Spoleto, all the official records were destroyed; consequently, most of the surviving documentation about Sergius comes from his pro-Formosan opponents who had fled to Naples. Horace Mann, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia states the following concerning the alleged illicit relationship of Pope Sergius III with Marozia: "that he put his two predecessors to death, and by illicit relations with Marozia had a son, who was afterwards John XI, must be regarded as highly doubtful. These assertions are only made by bitter or ill-informed adversaries, and are inconsistent with what is said of him by respectable contemporaries."
Nevertheless, most modern opinions about Sergius’ pontificate remain poor. According to Horace K. Mann, “Sergius was, unfortunately, a pronounced party-man, and anxious for the supremacy of his party.”
The best that Ferdinand Gregorovius could say of him was: “That Sergius, who remained Pope throughout the storms of seven years, was at least a man of energy must be admitted, although apostolic virtues are scarcely to be looked for in a character such as his.”
James S. Packer described him as malignant and ferocious, slaughtering his enemies with a private army, while Walter Ullmann described Sergius as a typical representative of the House of Theophylact, concerned with power and sexual liaisons.
|Catholic Church titles|
Year 911 (CMXI) was a common year starting on Tuesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.Alberic I of Spoleto
Alberic I (died c. 925) was the Lombard Duke of Spoleto from between 896 and 900 until 920, 922, or thereabouts. He was also Margrave of Camerino, and the son-in-law of Theophylact of Tusculum, the most powerful man in Rome.Antipope Christopher
Christopher held the (anti)papacy from October 903 to January 904. Although he was listed as a legitimate Pope in most modern lists of Popes until the first half of the 20th century, the apparently uncanonical method by which he obtained the papacy led to his being removed from the quasi-official roster of popes, the Annuario pontificio. As such, he is now considered an antipope by the Catholic Church.Cluny Abbey
Cluny Abbey (French: [klyni]; formerly also Cluni, or Clugny) is a former Benedictine monastery in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France. It was dedicated to St Peter.
The abbey was constructed in the Romanesque architectural style, with three churches built in succession from the 4th to the early 12th centuries. The earliest basilica was the world's largest church until the St. Peter's Basilica construction began in Rome.Cluny was founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine in 910. He nominated Berno as the first Abbot of Cluny, subject only to Pope Sergius III. The abbey was notable for its stricter adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict, whereby Cluny became acknowledged as the leader of western monasticism. The establishment of the Benedictine Order was a keystone to the stability of European society that was achieved in the 11th century. In 1790 during the French Revolution, the abbey was sacked and mostly destroyed, with only a small part of the Abbey surviving.
Starting around 1334, the Abbots of Cluny maintained a townhouse in Paris known as the Hôtel de Cluny, which has been a public museum since 1843. Apart from the name, it no longer possesses anything originally connected with Cluny.Eugenius Vulgarius
Eugenius Vulgarius (Italian Eugenio Vulgario; fl. c. 887–928) was an Italian priest and poet.
Eugenius' epithet may allude to a Bulgar heritage, and he may have been a descendant of the horde of Alzec that settled in the Molise in the seventh century and were still distinguishable by their language in the late eighth century. The ethnonym was sometimes rendered as Vulgares in Latin. Knowledgeable of Latin and Greek, he was also deeply learned in the Classics and displays familiarity with Virgil, Horace, and the tragedies of Seneca.
Around 907, when he was a presbyter and teacher of rhetoric and grammar at the episcopal school in Naples, Eugenius wrote a pamphlet defending Pope Formosus, who had given him holy orders, from the attacks of the reigning Pope Sergius III. He produced a second treatise on this same subject in dialogue form. In these, entitled De causa Formosiana and Eugenius Vulgarius Petro Diacono fratri et amico, he denies the authority of the Holy See and proclaims that only a deserving man can ever truly be pope. Sergius ordered him imprisoned in a monastery, probably that of the monks of Montecassino at Teano, where his compatriot, the defender of Formosus called Auxilius (a pseudonym meaning "defender"), was also protected. Sergius soon reversed his decree and summoned him to Rome for trial. Eugenius responded to the threat posed by this with a series of fawning verses of praise for Pope Sergius and the city of Rome, aurea Roma ("golden Rome"), to which the pope (he claimed) had brought renewed glory. He even went so far as to declare the pope's lover, Theodora, "full of virtue".
Eugenius composed three different pattern poems eulogising the Byzantine emperor Leo VI; one (no. XVI) is in the shape of a pyramid. He credits Leo with victories over barbarians in both Europe and Africa. Eugenius also praised Atenulf I of Benevento for his victories over the Saracens of the Garigliano. Among his other works are some glosses on Martianus Capella and a poem about nature, the arrival of springtime, and the hymn of the birds. Eugenius also produced metrical calendars.Marozia
Marozia, born Maria and also known as Mariuccia or Mariozza (c. 890 – 937), was a Roman noblewoman who was the alleged mistress of Pope Sergius III and was given the unprecedented titles senatrix ("senatoress") and patricia of Rome by Pope John X.
Edward Gibbon wrote of her that the "influence of two sister prostitutes, Marozia and Theodora was founded on their wealth and beauty, their political and amorous intrigues: the most strenuous of their lovers were rewarded with the Roman tiara, and their reign may have suggested to darker ages the fable of a female pope. The bastard son, two grandsons, two great grandsons, and one great great grandson of Marozia—a rare genealogy—were seated in the Chair of St. Peter." Pope John XIII was her nephew, the offspring of her younger sister Theodora. From this description, the term "pornocracy" has become associated with the effective rule in Rome of Theodora and her daughter Marozia through male surrogates.Nicholas Mystikos
Nicholas I Mystikos or Nicholas I Mysticus (Greek: Νικόλαος Α΄ Μυστικός, Nikolaos I Mystikos; 852 – 11 May 925) was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from March 901 to February 907 and from May 912 to his death in 925. His feast day in the Eastern Orthodox Church is 16 May.Nicholas was born in the Italian Peninsula and had become a friend of the Patriarch Photios. He fell into disfavor after Photios' dismissal in 886 and retired to a monastery. Emperor Leo VI the Wise retrieved him from the monastery and made him mystikos, a dignity designating either the imperial secretary or a judicial official.
On 1 March 901, Nicholas was appointed patriarch. However, he fell out with Leo VI over the latter's fourth marriage to his mistress Zoe Karbonopsina. Although he reluctantly baptized the fruit of this relationship, the future Constantine VII, Nicholas forbade the emperor from entering the church and may have become involved in the revolt of Andronikos Doukas. He was deposed as patriarch on 1 February 907 and replaced by Euthymios. Exiled to his own monastery, Nicholas regarded his deposition as unjustified and involved Pope Sergius III in the dispute.
About the time of the accession of Leo VI's brother Alexander to the throne in May 912, Nicholas was restored to the patriarchate. A protracted struggle with the supporters of Euthymios followed, which did not end until the new Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos promulgated the Tomos of Union in 920. In the meantime Alexander had died in 913 after provoking a war with Bulgaria, and the underage Constantine VII succeeded to the throne. Nicholas Mystikos became the leading member of the seven-man regency for the young emperor, and as such had to face the advance of Simeon I of Bulgaria on Constantinople. Nicholas negotiated a peaceful settlement, crowned Simeon emperor of the Bulgarians in a makeshift ceremony outside Constantinople, and arranged for the marriage of Simeon's daughter to Constantine VII.
This unpopular concession undermined his position, and by March 914, with the support of the magistros John Eladas, Zoe Karbonopsina overthrew Nicholas and replaced him as foremost regent. She revoked the agreement with Simeon, prompting the renewal of hostilities with Bulgaria. With her main supporter Leo Phokas crushingly defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Acheloos in 917, Zoe started to lose ground. Embarrassed by further failures, she and her supporters were supplanted in 919 by the admiral Romanos Lekapenos, who married his daughter Helena Lekapene to Constantine VII and finally advanced to the imperial throne in 920. The Patriarch Nicholas came to be one of the strongest supporters of the new emperor, and took the brunt of renewed negotiations with the Bulgarians until his death in 925.
In addition to his numerous letters to various notables and foreign rulers (including Simeon of Bulgaria), Nicholas Mystikos wrote a homily on the sack of Thessalonica by the Arabs in 904. He was a critical thinker who went as far as to question the authority of Old Testament quotations and the notion that the emperor's command was unwritten law.Origins of the papal tiara
The origins of the Papal Tiara remain somewhat nebulous and clouded in mystery, first appearing in the Early Middle Ages, but developing a recognizable form in the High Middle Ages, after the Great Schism of 1054. The word tiara itself occurs in the classical annals to denote a Persian headdress, particularly that of the "great king." A camelaucum which was similar in shape to papal tiaras, was part of court dress in Byzantium; it was also inspired by the Phrygian cap, or frigium. Given that other rituals associated with the Papal Coronation, notably the use of the sedia gestatoria, were copied from Byzantine and eastern imperial ceremonial, it is likely that the tiara is also of Byzantine origin.Plegmund
Plegmund (or Plegemund; died 2 August either 914 or 923) was a medieval English Archbishop of Canterbury. He may have been a hermit before he became archbishop in 890. As archbishop, he reorganised the Diocese of Winchester, creating four new sees, and worked with other scholars in translating religious works. He was canonised after his death.Pope Anastasius III
Pope Anastasius III (died June 913) was Pope from April 911 to his death in 913. He was a Roman by birth. A Roman nobleman, Lucian, is sometimes recognized as his father, although other sources assert that he was the illegitimate son of his predecessor Pope Sergius III (904–911). Almost nothing is recorded of Pope Anastasius III, his pontificate falling in the period when Rome and the Papacy were in the power of Theophylact, Count of Tusculum, and his wife Theodora, who approved Anastasius III's candidacy. Under his reign the Normans of Rollo were evangelized.
His papacy faced renewed threats from the Saracens, after they established themselves on the Garigliano river.He was buried in St. Peter's Basilica.Pope John XI
Pope John XI (Latin: Ioannes XI; d. December 935) was Pope from March 931 (at the age of 20) to his death in December 935.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 Sergius
Pope Sergius could refer to:
Pope Sergius I (pope 687–701)
Pope Sergius II (pope 844–847)
Pope Sergius III (pope 904-911)
Pope Sergius IV (pope 1009–1012)Saeculum obscurum
Saeculum obscurum (Latin: the Dark Age) is a name given to a period in the history of the Papacy during the first two-thirds of the 10th century, beginning with the installation of Pope Sergius III in 904 and lasting for sixty years until the death of Pope John XII in 964. During this period, the popes were influenced strongly by a powerful and corrupt aristocratic family, the Theophylacti, and their relatives.Sergius III
Sergius III may refer to:
Pope Sergius III (reigned 897 and 911), Italian-born pope
Sergius III of Amalfi, Duke of Amalfi 1031–1073Theodora
Theodora may refer to:
Theodora (given name), a given name of Greek origin, meaning "God's gift"Theodora (senatrix)
Theodora (circa 870 – 916) was a senatrix and serenissima vestaratrix of Rome.
She was the mother of Marozia, alleged concubine to Pope Sergius III, and the mother of Pope John XI, fathered by—according to Liutprand of Cremona and the Liber Pontificalis— Sergius. A third contemporary source, however—the annalist Flodoard (c. 894–966)—says John XI was the brother of Count Alberic II of Spoleto, the latter being the offspring of Marozia and her husband Count Alberic I of Spoleto. Hence John too was probably the son of Marozia and Alberic I.
Theodora was characterized by the aforementioned Liutprand as a "shameless whore ... [who] exercised power on the Roman citizenry like a man". Liutprand, a bishop of Cremona, was described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as frequently being unfair to adversaries and could be partial in his judgments.Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum
Theophylact I (before 864 – 924/925) was a medieval Count of Tusculum who was the effective ruler of Rome from around 905 through to his death in 924. His descendants would control the Papacy for the next 100 years.
During the Roman Empire (until 493)
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Ostrogothic Papacy (493–537)
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