Popes in a Year
#113 - Pope Stephen VI (VII)
Pope from May 22, 896 - August 897
Died: August 897
Give me the scoop on Stephen VI.
A Roman by birth, Stephen was a son of a priest. Prior to being pope, Stephen served as Bishop of Anagni under Pope Formosus. He was in office little more than a year, and died a rather undignified death. Stephen VI was imprisoned for the scandal you’ll read about next, and was strangled to death in the summer of 897.
What was he known for?
Stephen VI is infamous for being the instigator of the Cadaver Synod, the “strangest and most terrible trial in human history” that involved digging up the rotting corpse of Pope Formosus, dressing it in papal garb, and placing it on trial for a number of charges against canon law. Stephen VI appointed a deacon to speak for the deceased pontiff, but Formosus was nevertheless found guilty. The corpse was stripped of its vestments, had two fingers on its right hand (used for consecrations and blessings) cut off, and was ultimately thrown into the Tiber River.
To Stephen’s (however marginal) credit, the trial was in part the brainchild of an irate emperor, Lambert, as well as Guy IV, the Duke of Spoleto. Stephen was complicit in the spectacle, having been put in office by the powerful House of Spoleto, and seemed to be equal parts hypocrite and dunce, to boot. See, Formosus was tried for having been a bishop who transferred dioceses in order to become pope -- a no-no at the time in canon law -- but
was a bishop who transferred dioceses in order to become pope! What’s more, part of the trial’s outcomes involved Formosus’ ordinations being declared invalid. One problem: Stephen VI was ordained by Formosus. Impeccable logic.
Stephen VI is the last “Pope Stephen” to have two different Roman numerals after his name, though three more Stephens ascended to the papal throne in the coming centuries. There was a tad bit of confusion after the initial Pope Stephen II died before being consecrated. As a result, he’s omitted from most modern lists, though Popes Stephen II through VI also carry the next chronological numeral, just in case.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
The sect of Islam known as Zaidi Shia rose to power in Yemen around the year 897. It would be otherwise unremarkable, but this particular sect’s rule endured for nearly 11 centuries in Yemen, lasting until the second half of the 20th Century.
Coming Tomorrow...Pope Romanus
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Stephen VI (VII) -
Pope Stephen VI -
Stephen VI -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Wednesday, June 7 at 2:00AM