John VIII, Pope
JOHN VIII, POPE
Pontificate: Dec. 14, 872 to Dec. 16, 882. The son of the Roman, Gundo, he was an archdeacon of the Roman Church for twenty years before he succeeded adrian ii in the Papal See, despite the opposition of for mosus. In his ten-year pontificate John was compelled to contend with the eastern schism, Roman intrigue, the treachery of Italian princes, contention for the imperial throne, and Saracen invasion: in short, the entire gamut of troubles characteristic of his violent epoch. Although no contemporary biography was written, a long series of letters (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae 7:1–133) and a lengthy Register of his acts (Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad anum post Christum natum 1198 1:376–422; 2:704, 746) trace in detail a complicated and action-filled pontificate. John supported the missionary work of (St.) Methodius (see cyril and methodius, ss) among the Slavs. At first John forbade the Slavonic language for use in their liturgy, but later approved it. Although intrigue and violence against Methodius and his Slavic colleagues by German and Hungarian princes and churchmen crushed the use of the Slavonic liturgy in Moravia, it survived among the bul gars. Other problems prevented John from effectively seizing the opportunity offered by King boris i of bringing the Bulgarian Church under the direct jurisdiction of Rome rather than Constantinople. He did, however, manage to preserve the Church of Croatia for the West. In 879 John recognized photius as patriarch of Constantinople. John has been condemned for his early indulgent treatment of Photius, but it is more realistic to recognize that the pope continuously received false intelligence from the East and, throughout the affair of Photius, was distracted by problems at home.
In the West the most harassing of John's troubles was with the Saracen pirates who, in alliance with petty Italian princes, kept invading, occupying, pillaging, retreating, and returning to Italy throughout John's pontificate. The pope's natural ally in Italy against such an enemy was the Roman Emperor: John supported Emperor louis ii and on the death of Louis (875) named Charles the Bald emperor, crowning him in Rome on Christmas Day, 875. In February 876 Charles became king of Italy also, and he and John joined forces against the Saracens and allied Italian princes. Before his help could be of much use, however, Charles died (October 877). Pope John favored Boso, duke of Arles, to succeed to the Empire, but Boso was reluctant to fight for the crown. Staving off the pressures of Guido III of Spoleto and Adalbert of Tuscany, John crowned Charles III the Fat emperor in 881. John, in effect, was his own general and admiral; he fortified Rome, founded a pontifical navy, and defended the coasts. He was still repelling invaders when he died in 882. Pope John's ten-year pontificate seems incredibly eventful, and he emerges as one of the better popes in the centuries between Gregory I and Gregory VII.
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[c. e. sheedy]