Pope Leo VIII

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Depiction of Leo VIII from the Nuremberg Chronicle. Published in 1493.png
Pope Leo VIII in the Nuremberg Chronicle
Papacy began6 December 963 (as antipope); 23 June 964 (as pope)
Papacy ended26 February 964 (as antipope); 1 March 965 (as pope)
Predecessor Benedict V
Successor John XIII
Personal details
Birth nameLeo
Born Rome, Papal States
Died1 March 965
Rome, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Other popes named Leo

Pope Leo VIII (died 1 March 965) was the head of the Catholic Church from 23 June 964 to his death in 965; An appointee of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, his pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Holy Roman Emperor emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The title was, almost without interruption, held in conjunction with title of King of Germany throughout the 12th to 18th centuries.

Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor German king and first emperor of the Ottonian empire

Otto I, traditionally known as Otto the Great, was German king from 936 and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until his death in 973. He was the oldest son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda.



Born in Rome in the region around the Clivus Argentarius , Leo was the son of John who held the office of Protonotary, and a member of an illustrious noble family. [1] Although a layperson, he was the protoscriniarius (or superintendent of the Roman public schools for scribes) in the papal court during the pontificate of John XII. In 963 he was included in a party that was sent by John to the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, who was besieging the King of Italy, Berengar II at the castle of St. Leo in Umbria. His instructions were to reassure the emperor that the pope was determined to correct the abuses of the papal court, as well as protesting about Otto's actions in demanding that cities in the Papal States take an oath of fidelity to the emperor instead of the pope. [2]

Rome Capital city and comune in Italy

Rome is the capital city and a special comune of Italy. Rome also serves as the capital of the Lazio region. With 2,872,800 residents in 1,285 km2 (496.1 sq mi), it is also the country's most populated comune. It is the fourth most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. It is the centre of the Metropolitan City of Rome, which has a population of 4,355,725 residents, thus making it the most populous metropolitan city in Italy. Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of the Tiber. The Vatican City is an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Protonotary apostolic position

In the Roman Catholic Church, protonotary apostolic is the title for a member of the highest non-episcopal college of prelates in the Roman Curia or, outside Rome, an honorary prelate on whom the Pope has conferred this title and its special privileges. An example is Prince Georg of Bavaria (1880–1943), who became in 1926 Protonotary by papal decree.

Pope John XII pope

Pope John XII was head of the Catholic Church from 16 December 955 to his death in 964. He was related to the Counts of Tusculum and a member of the powerful Roman family of Theophylact which had dominated papal politics for over half a century. His pontificate became infamous for the alleged depravity and worldliness with which he conducted his office.

By the time Otto entered Rome to depose John, Leo had been appointed Protonotary to the Apostolic See. [3] A synod convened by the emperor uncanonically deposed John (who had fled to Tibur) and proceeded to elect Leo, who was the emperor's nominee, as pope on 4 December 963, although as he was still a layman. [4] In the space of a day Leo was ordained Ostiarius, Lector, Acolyte, Subdeacon, Deacon and Priest by Sico, the cardinal-bishop of Ostia, who then proceeded to consecrate him as Bishop on 6 December 963. [5] The deposed John, however, still had a large body of sympathisers within Rome; he offered large bribes to the Roman nobility if they would rise up and overthrow Otto and kill Leo, and so, in early January 964, the Roman people staged an uprising that was quickly put down by Otto's troops. Leo, hoping to reach out to the Roman nobility, persuaded Otto to release the hostages he had taken from the leading Roman families in exchange for their continued good behaviour. [6] However, once Otto left Rome around 12 January 964, the Romans again rebelled, and caused Leo to flee Rome and take refuge with Otto sometime in February 964. [7]

The Synod of Rome (963) was a possibly uncanonical synod held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 6 November until 4 December 963, under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I to depose Pope John XII. The events of the synod were recorded by Liutprand of Cremona.

An ostiarius, a Latin word sometimes anglicized as ostiary but often literally translated as porter or doorman, originally was a servant or guard posted at the entrance of a building. See also gatekeeper.

Reader (liturgy) a person who can read aloud the bible during catholic liturgy

In some Christian churches, a reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times the reader was of particular value due to the rarity of literacy.

John XII returned, and in February convened a synod which in turn deposed Leo on 26 February 964, with John excommunicating Leo in the process. [8] Leo remained with Otto, and, with the death of John XII in May 964, the Romans elected Pope Benedict V. Otto proceeded to besiege Rome, taking Leo with him, and when the Romans eventually surrendered to Otto, Leo was reinstalled in the Lateran Palace as pope.

The Synod of Rome (964) was a synod held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 26 to 28 February 964, for the purpose of condemning the Synod of Rome (963) and to depose Pope Leo VIII.

Excommunication censure used to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community

Excommunication is an institutional act of religious censure used to end or at least regulate the communion of a member of a congregation with other members of the religious institution who are in normal communion with each other. The purpose of the institutional act is to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community or to restrict certain rights within it, in particular, those of being in communion with other members of the congregation, and of receiving the sacraments.

Pope Benedict V pope

Pope Benedict V was Pope from 22 May to 23 June 964, in opposition to Pope Leo VIII. He was overthrown by emperor Otto I. His pontificate occurred at the end of a period known as the Saeculum obscurum.

Together with Benedict's clerical and lay supporters, and clad in his pontifical robes, the former Pope was then brought before Leo, who asked him how Benedict dared to assume the chair of Saint Peter while he was still alive. Benedict responded, "If I have sinned, have mercy on me." [9] Having received a promise from the emperor that his life would be spared if he submitted, Benedict threw himself at Leo's feet and acknowledged his guilt. [10] Brought before a synod convened by Leo, Benedict's ordination as Bishop was revoked, his pallium was torn from him, and his pastoral staff was broken over him by Leo. However, through the intercession of Otto, Benedict was allowed to retain the rank of deacon. [11] Then, after having the Roman nobility swear an oath over the Tomb of Saint Peter to obey and be faithful to Leo, Otto departed Rome in late June 964. [12]

Saint Peter apostle and first pope

Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, and the first leader of the early Church.

The Lateran Council (964) was a synod held in the Lateran Palace on 23 June 964, for the purpose of deposing Pope Benedict V.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Having been cowed by Otto, the remainder of Leo's pontificate was reasonably trouble free. He issued numerous bulls, many of which detailed the granting of privileges to Otto and his successors. Some of the bulls were alleged to grant the German emperors the right of choosing their successors in the Kingdom of Italy and the right to nominate the Pope, and all popes, archbishops and bishops were to receive investiture from the emperor. In addition, Leo is also claimed to have relinquished to Otto all the territory of the Papal States that had been granted to the Apostolic See by Pepin the Short and Charlemagne. Although it is certain that Leo granted various concessions to his imperial patron, it is now believed that the "investiture" bulls associated with Leo were, if not completely fabricated during the Investiture Controversy, at the very least so tampered with that it is now largely impossible to reconstruct them in their original form. [13]

Papal bull type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church

A papal bull is a type of public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by a pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It is named after the leaden seal (bulla) that was traditionally appended to the end in order to authenticate it.

Kingdom of Italy (Holy Roman Empire) Medieval kingdom on the Apennine Peninsula between 962 and 1024

The Kingdom of Italy, also commonly Imperial Italy or Kingdom of Lombardy, was one of the constituent kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire, along with the kingdoms of Germany, Bohemia, and Burgundy. It comprised northern and central Italy, but excluded the Republic of Venice and the Papal States. Its original capital was Pavia until the 11th century.

Investiture, from the Latin, is the formal installation of an incumbent. In the United States and other countries, the ceremonial signing in of judges, including those of the Supreme Court, is called investiture.

Leo VIII died on 1 March 965, and was succeeded by Pope John XIII. According to the Liber Pontificalis , he was described as venerable, energetic and honourable. He had a number of streets dedicated to him in and around the Clivus Argentarius , including the descensus Leonis Prothi.

Status as pope

Although Leo was for many years considered an antipope, his current status is still a source of confusion. The Annuario Pontificio makes the following point about the pontificate of Leo VIII:

"At this point, as again in the mid-eleventh century, we come across elections in which problems of harmonizing historical criteria and those of theology and canon law make it impossible to decide clearly which side possessed the legitimacy whose factual existence guarantees the unbroken lawful succession of the Successors of Saint Peter. The uncertainty that in some cases results has made it advisable to abandon the assignation of successive numbers in the list of the Popes." [14]

Due to Leo's uncanonical original election, it is now accepted that, at least until the deposition of Benedict V, he was almost certainly an antipope. The deposition of John XII was almost certainly invalid, as John did not acquiesce, and so the election of Benedict V almost certainly was canonical. However, if Liutprand of Cremona (who chronicled the events of this period) can be relied upon, if, as he wrote, Benedict did acquiesce to his deposition, and if, as seems certain, no further protest was made against Leo's position, it has been the consensus of historians that he may be regarded as a true pope from July 964 to his death in 965. [15] The fact that no one else attempted to claim the papacy during this time, and that the next pope to assume the name Leo was consecrated Leo IX also seems to indicate that he is a true pope.

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  1. Mann, pgs. 255 & 280
  2. Mann, pgs. 255-256
  3. Mann, pgs. 260 & 280
  4. Mann, pgs. 260-261
  5. Gregorovius, pg. 348
  6. Gregorovius, pg. 349
  7. Mann, pg. 262
  8. Gregorovius, pgs. 350-351
  9. Gregorovius, pg. 354
  10. Mann, pgs. 275-6
  11. Mann, pg. 276
  12. McBrien 2000, p. 159.
  13. Mann, pg. 281; Gregorovius, pg. 356
  14. Annuario Pontificio, 2001
  15. Mann, pg. 280
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Benedict V
Succeeded by