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John XVI, Antipope


Pontificate: February or March 997 to May 998. He probably died in 1001. John Philagathos was a Greek born in Rossano (Calabria). He was Otto II's chancellor for Italy from 980 to 982, when the emperor appointed him abbot of Nonantola (near Modena). In 987 he was one of young Otto III's (9831002, emp. 996) tutors. The following year he was appointed bishop of Piacenza, which Pope John XV temporarily raised to an archbishopric for him at the request of Otto. Also in 987 John Philagathos headed the king's court in Pavia, and he was chancellor for Italy again in 99192. In 994 he was sent to Constantinople to find a Byzantine princess to wed Otto III. Having made progress in this mission, he returned to Italy with the Byzantine ambassador Bishop Leo of Synada in November 996. However, the month before John and Leo arrived, Crescentius II Nomentanus had used the emperor's absence from Rome to revolt against Otto's rule. Crescentius had expelled Pope Gregory V (99699) and set himself up as dictator of the city.

Upon his return, John went to northern Italy, where he was in contact with both Otto (in Aachen) and Crescentius. It is difficult to understand John's position in this divisive situation, but for reasons that remain obscure, he went to Rome and was named Pope John XVI in February or March 997. Some scholars see in John's actions a conspiracy with the Byzantines; others consider him a victim of Crescentius' intrigues and perhaps of his own ambition. Whatever the truth, he had become involved in a dangerous political situation that quickly worsened. In March 997, Gregory V excommunicated him, removing him as abbot of Nonantola and archbishop of Piacenza. Additionally, Crescentius had usurped for himself all temporal power in the city and the Papal States. These actions left John with little spiritual authority and no political resources of his own. That summer he received messages from Otto, and a letter from Abbot Nilus of Rossano (ca. 9101004) ; both criticized his actions and called for him to step down. John attempted to contact Otto and seemed ready to submit to his demands, but Crescentius jailed the imperial messengers who were sent to negotiate with the antipope.

Finally, when Otto marched on Italy in December 997, John fled Rome for Campagna. After the emperor and Pope Gregory V entered Rome in February 998, Crescentius was seized and soon beheaded. Troops were sent to search for John, whom they captured and imprisoned in a Roman monastery. Later he was blinded, mutilated on the nose, ears, and tongue, and paraded through the streets of Rome on a donkey. Abbot Nilus protested these actions, but to no avail. At a Lenten synod in 998, Gregory formally deposed John and confined him to a monastery where he later died.

Bibliography: l. duchesne, ed. Liber Pontificalis (Paris 188692; repr. 195557) 2.26164. p. jaffÉ, Regesta pontificum Romanorum (Leipzig 188588; repr. Graz 1956) 1.49596. m. p. vinson, ed. and trans. The Correspondance of Leo Metropolitan of Synada and Syncellus (Washington, DC 1985). b. platina, De vita Christi ac omnium pontificum 143, ed. g. gaida, in Rerum italicarum scriptores 3.1, ed. l. a. muratori (Città di Castello and Bologna 191332) 17475. h. k. mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages (London 190232) 4.38990, 41546. h. zimmerman, Papstabsetzungen des Mittelalters (Graz, Vienna, Cologne 1968) 10518. a. nitschke, "Der miβhandelte Papst: Folgen ottonischer Italienpolitik, " in Staat und Gesellschaft in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit: Gedenkschrift für J. Leuschner (Göttingen 1983) 4053. j. n. d. kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 13536.

[p. m. savage]

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