Pope John VIII

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Papacy began14 December 872
Papacy ended16 December 882
Predecessor Adrian II
Successor Marinus I
Personal details
Born Rome, Papal States
Died(882-12-16)16 December 882
Rome, Papal States
Other popes named John

Pope John VIII (Latin : Ioannes VIII; died 16 December 882) was the bishop of Rome and ruler of the Papal States from 14 December 872 to his death. He is often considered one of the ablest popes of the 9th century. [1]


John devoted much of his papacy attempting to halt and reverse the Muslim gains in southern Italy and their march northwards. When his efforts to obtain assistance from either the Franks or the Byzantines failed, John strengthened the defenses of Rome. He supported Methodius of Thessalonica in his mission to the Slavs, and defended him against the Carolingian rulers and Bavarian clergy. He authorized the translation of the Bible into Slavonic as well as celebrating the liturgy in Slavonic, which is the only time a pope allowed non-Latin liturgy until the Second Vatican Council in 1962. John also extended diplomatic recognition to the Duchy of Croatia and resolved the Photian schism. John's pontificate ended with his assassination, and the papacy became significantly weaker in the aftermath.

Slavonic liturgy

John VIII's letter to Svatopluk I of Moravia Letter svatopluk.jpg
John VIII's letter to Svatopluk I of Moravia

Pope Adrian II consecrated Methodius of Thessalonica as archbishop and supported his mission to the Slavs. Unbeknownst to Rome, Methodius was imprisoned in 870 by the Carolingian King Louis the German and Bavarian bishops, who objected to his use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy and his encroachment on their jurisdiction in Moravia. [2] Adrian II died in 872, and John VIII, a Roman native, [3] was selected to succeed him. When Bishop Anno of Freising visited Rome, John inquired about the whereabouts of the missing Methodius, but Anno lied to him. In the summer of 873, John finally learned the truth. Furious, he forbade the celebration of mass in Bavaria until Methodius was released. [4] After his release, Methodius came to Rome and convinced John to allow him to translate the Bible to Slavonic as well as to perform liturgy in Slavonic. John wrote: "He who made three main languages - Hebrew, Greek, and Roman - also made all other languages to sing his praise and glory." This was the first time a pope sanctioned a non-Latin liturgy, and the last time it happened until the Second Vatican Council in 1962. [5]

Saracen incursions

As a young man, John witnessed the Arab raid against Rome. Their expansion into Italy was severely affecting the economy of the Papal States. [3] After the raids against Campania and the Sabine Hills, Pope John asked for military aid from Emperor Charles the Bald and later Count Boso of Provence. [6] His efforts failed and he was forced to pay tribute to the Emirate of Sicily. [7] The threatening Muslim military presence (which he believed was God's punishment against "bad Christians"), [8] coupled with alliances they formed with the local Christians, prompted John to promote "a new and uncompromisingly hostile view of the Saracens." This included a ban on forming alliances with the Muslims. However, his efforts proved unsuccessful, [9] partly because Christian leaders viewed his calls for unity as an excuse to assert papal authority in southern Italy. [8]

An 876 bull of John VIII EB1911 Palaeography - Bull of Pope John VIII.jpg
An 876 bull of John VIII

In 876, John VIII traveled throughout Campania in an effort to form an alliance among the cities of Salerno, Capua, Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi against Muslim raids. By 877, all five cities sent delegates to Traietto to formalize an alliance. [10] The Pope John VIII urged Charles to come to his defence in Italy. Charles again crossed the Alps, but this expedition was received with little enthusiasm by the nobles, and even by his regent in Lombardy, Boso, and they refused to join his army. At the same time Carloman of Bavaria, son of Louis the German, entered northern Italy. Charles, ill and in great distress, started on his way back to Gaul, but died while crossing the pass of Mont Cenis on 6 October 877. [11]

Obtaining relatively little support from outside sources, John fell back on what resources he could command. He reinforced the walls previously restored by Pope Leo IV. As the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was located outside the Aurelian Walls, and had been damaged in a Saracen raid, the pope fortified the basilica, the monastery, and the nearby dwellings of the peasants. He also founded a papal fleet. [5]

Constantinople problems

In 879, John recognised the reinstatement of Photios I as the legitimate patriarch of Constantinople. Photius had been condemned in 869 by Adrian II. This was undertaken mainly to appease the Byzantines, since in them he saw the only hope of removing the Arabs from Italy. [12] Some time afterward, John VIII re-confirmed the excommunication of Photius, which eventually enabled Emperor Leo VI to move against Photius. [13]

John was anxious that the Duchy of Croatia would follow in the steps of Bulgaria, which had recently accepted the spiritual authority of Constantinople rather than that of Rome. After the overthrow of the pro-Byzantine Zdeslav in 879, John thanked the new duke, Branimir, for returning Croatia to papal jurisdiction. In return, John recognized Croatian independence from the Carolingians. [14]


John VIII was assassinated in 882 by his own clerics; he was first poisoned, and then clubbed to death. [5] The motives may have been his exhaustion of the papal treasury, his lack of support among the Carolingians, his gestures towards the Byzantines, and his failure to stop the Saracen raids. [15] Without the protection of powerful magnates or the Carolingian emperor, the papacy after John VIII's reign became increasingly subject to the machinations and greedy ambition of the rival clans of the local nobility. [5]

See also

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  1. Mann, Horace. "Pope John VIII." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. retrieved 10 June 2007.
  2. Goldberg 2006, p. 300, 319.
  3. 1 2 Kreutz 1996, p. 57.
  4. Goldberg 2006, p. 319.
  5. 1 2 3 4 O'Malley 2009, p. 79.
  6. Pierre Riche, The Carolingians: A family who forged Europe, Transl. Michael Idomir Allen, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 203.
  7. The Expansion of Saracens:Africa and Europe, C.H. Becker, The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol.2, Ed. John Bagnell Bury, (The Macmillan Company, 1913), p. 387.
  8. 1 2 John Victor Tolan; Gilles Veinstein; Henry Laurens (2013). Europe and the Islamic World: A History (illustrated ed.). Princeton University Press. p. 35. ISBN   9780691147055.
  9. Andrew Shryock (30 June 2010). Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend. Indiana University Press. p. 32. ISBN   9780253004543.
  10. Kreutz (1991), p. 58.
  11. Riche, Pierre. The Carolingians:The Family who forged Europe. 1983. University of Pennsylvania Press
  12. Barbara M. Kreutz (7 Jun 2011). Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 60. ISBN   9780812205435.
  13. https://sensusfidelium.us/apologetics/history-of-heresies-their-refutation-st-alphonsus/the-errors-of-the-greeks-condemned-in-three-general-councils/
  14. Curta 2006, p. 140.
  15. Barbara M. Kreutz (7 June 2011). Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 59–60. ISBN   9780812205435.

PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope John VIII". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.


Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Adrian II
Succeeded by
Marinus I