Dark Secrets of Medieval Christianity


THE 1000


Assignment #2 05/15/04


As we all know throughout the history of human kind, there have always been facts and actions that are usually disgraceful or unflattering for the people who were involved. These facts and actions usually remain untold or overall are not seen in your average history book, or they are hushed up or even just forgotten with time. Even though these people might have had the best interests or motives at heart, things some times turn ugly. Along with the important people in our world’s history, religions have also been the center of criticism because they did not always do the right thing. To be more specific, Roman Catholicism has received a lot of this criticism, especially for its actions during the Middle Ages since that was a time when the Catholic church was running things, actions like Pope Stephen VII unburying his dead predecessor to trial him for his crimes, Pope John XII repeatedly committing adultery with even his niece, Cardinals being hideously tortured to pick a new Pope, unreasonable penances and monks eating rabbit fetuses as they were considered appropriate for lent.


Pope Stephen VII (in office 896 – 897) was furious with his predecessor, Pope Formosus (in office 891 – 896), over his pick for Holy Roman Emperor (Zacks, R. pp.217). He had Formosus’s corpse dug up from the grave where it had lain for eleven months. He then had it carefully dressed in full pontifical vestments and placed upon the papal throne in the Lateran to stand trial for his capital crimes. Scholars have dubbed the event “The Cadaveric Synod,” which almost sounds respectable (Zacks, R. pp.217). Pope Stephen VII glowered at the rotting corpse and shouted: “Why did you usurp this See of the Apostle?” And a teenage deacon, crouched nearby, replied: “Because I was evil.” (Zacks, R. pp.217).The synod convicted the former pope, invalidated his appointments; soldiers hacked off his blessing fingers (i.e., first three on his right hand), stripped him to a hair shirt, and tossed his body in the Tiber. Pope Stephen VII was strangled soon after.


In his mid-20’s, the heir of one of the wealthiest families in Rome, John XII (in office 955 – 963) was leading a very gourmet life that was shocking for the average Roman (Zacks, R. pp.217). At a trial conducted by the pope’s enemy, Holy Roman Emperor Otto, a bishop and a cardinal “declared they had seen the Pope ordain a deacon in a stable… Benedict, cardinal deacon, with his fellow deacons and priests, said they knew the Pope had been paid for ordaining bishops… On the question of sacrilege, they said, inquiries were hardly necessary because it was a matter of eyesight, not of hearsay. As regards the pope’s adultery, widow, with Stephana, his concubine, with the widow Ana, and with his own niece. He had gone hunting in public, had blinded his spiritual father Benedict, and caused the death of cardinal sub-deacon John by castrating him…” (Zacks, R. pp.217) Those are a few highlights of the charges as recorded by Otto’s secretary, Liudprand. Pope John XII, not surprisingly, refused to come to Rome to answer the charges. Pope Leo VIII was installed in his place but when Emperor Otto went back north, John rushed back to Rome and reclaimed the Vatican. He then called his own synod and thirty of the hundred high Church officials who had attended the previous one showed up. Those who had made specific charges against him got punished; one had his tongue yanked out; another his hand cut off; and a third lost his nose and fingers. With Emperor Otto being caught up with war Leo was never reinstated and John XII was back in power for his eighth year. At the end though John XII’s lifestyle caught up with him. He was sporting with a married woman when her husband came home. He bashed John XII’s head in with a hammer. He died a few days later (Zacks, R. pp.218).


In the medieval times when papacy was temporarily vacant between the death of one pope and the election of the next, the election had to be made fast and that decision laid in the hands of the cardinals. The 1200’s was the first time