Popes in a Year
#107 - Pope John VIII
Pope from December 14, 872 - December 16, 882
Died: December 16, 882
Give me the scoop on John VIII.
John, a Roman by birth, was steeped in the work of the Church from a young age. Having been born between the years 800 and 825, we see him emerge both in 853 and 869 as archdeacon under two previous popes. Elected and consecrated December 14, 872, John undertook many great tasks during his 10 years in office. He reformed what we would now call the Roman Curia -- the Church’s department heads -- after it had become infected with many “disreputable nobles.” John even excommunicated a group of the more unruly ones, including Formosus, who, believe it or not, would become pope himself just nine years after John’s death. The excommunication was lifted in 878.
The pope worked much with the Church in Spain and England, in addition to securing peace with the Eastern emperor and patriarch, even if it only lasted a little while. John VIII was, by and large, a solid pope, and any accounts that call his character into question --
of which have been debunked by historians -- are full of baloney. He died two days after his 10th anniversary, December 16, 882.
What was he known for?
Though widely renowned, for many reasons, as one of the best popes of the Ninth Century, Pope John VIII is perhaps best known for his work in protecting Rome from the Saracen army while simultaneously organizing the Western imperial succession, following the death of Emperor Louis II. The two went hand in hand because Louis’ initial successor, Charles the Bald, wasn’t able to make good on his promise of protection to the pope.
After Charles’ untimely death in 876, John made the rounds in Italy, asking any king and prince who would listen to unite and come to Italy’s aid against the marauding Muslims. After three years without much success, John chose Charles the Fat (yes, real name) as the next Holy Roman Emperor. However, this Charles, who cared more about his home kingdom of Germany than any other, was indifferent to the plight of Italy. So, the task fell on John’s shoulders to lead an army, build fortifications, and at times even patrol the region single-handedly in order to fend off the Saracens, who gave him gray hairs until the end of his papacy.
John VIII was yet another pope who supported the work of the great apostles to the Slavs, Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Given that St. Cyril had died in 869, the work fell on St. Methodius to continue their mission. After being harassed for saying Mass in the vernacular Slavonic language (which, keep in mind, he had permission from Rome to do) and being imprisoned by his opposition, Methodius was called to Rome by John VIII. John examined the now-archbishop and affirmed his orthodoxy before promptly sending Methodius back to the Slavs with the full weight of Rome behind him. It’s said that with the pope’s help, Methodius overcame all obstacles in his missionary work, continuing until his death in 885.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
The year of John VIII’s election (872), the first hospital in the Muslim world was founded, in Cairo, Egypt by the Abassid governor, Ahmad ibn Tulun.
Coming Tomorrow...Pope Marinus I
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope John VIII -
Pope John VIII -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Tuesday, May 30 at 2:00AM