Paul I, Pope, St.
PAUL I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: May 29, 757 to June 28, 767. A member of an important noble family in Rome, Paul's career prior to his election as pope was spent in the service of the papal curia. During the pontificate of his brother, Pope stephen ii (III) (752–757), he served as a key papal adviser at a crucial moment that witnessed an interrelated sequence of events that revolutionized the political map of Italy and the position of the papacy in the Christian world. Included among those events were the precipitate decline of the power of the eastern Roman Empire in political and religious life of Italy, and the end of papal subordination to and dependence on the emperor in Constantinople. It also saw the formation of a papal alliance with the Franks, and the military intervention of the Franks in Italy, which prevented lombard domination the peninsula, as well as the creation of the Papal States as a sovereign entity ruled by the pope. Those massive changes created a wide range of uncertainties that would dominate Paul I's pontificate, as the concerned parties struggled to adjust to the change and to seek advantage from the new conditions.
Although his election to the papacy was briefly challenged by another candidate, Paul I began his career as pope from a position of strength bequeathed by his predecessor. He was firmly linked to a strong ally, the Frankish king pepin iii (751–768). Pepin was indebted to the papacy for the approval granted him in 751 by Pope Zacharias (741–752) to replace the merovingian dynasty with his own family, the carolingians, as rulers of the kingdom of the Franks. Then in 752 the new Frankish king had entered into a pact with Pope Stephen II, which among other things promised Frankish protection for the papacy, a restoration of territories that belonged to the pope, and papal sanctification of Pepin and his heirs as legitimate rulers of the Frankish kingdom. In two military campaigns in 755 and 756 against the Lombards Pepin III had demonstrated that he was prepared to protect an independent pope ruling the "special people" (peculiarem populum ) of St. Peter inhabiting the Republic of St. Peter. The territory ruled over by the new pope had been substantially expanded as a result of the Donation of Pepin bestowed on the papacy as a consequence of the Frankish victory over the Lombards. The Lombard kingdom, defeated by the Franks shortly before Paul's accession, was ruled by a king, Desiderius (757–774), who owed his crown to papal support and who was well aware of the military impotence of the Lombards in the face of the Frankish threat. The position of the eastern Roman emperor in Italy had been fatally weakened by widespread opposition to iconoclasm and by the territorial losses resulting from Pepin III's concessions to the papacy after the Frankish victory over the Lombards in 755 and 756. From the beginning of his pontificate Paul I demonstrated his intention of keeping or even improving that position.
Immediately upon his election Paul I wrote to Pepin III in terms that indicated his dependence on the Frankish king for protection of the Papal States and for restoration of other territories claimed by the papacy. His understanding of the Donation of Pepin and promises made by the Lombard king prompted Paul I to envisage the extension of the Papal States over a large part of Italy. Throughout his pontificate Paul I never ceased conveying that message to Pepin III; so insistent were his claims that some historians have concluded that territorial acquisition was his only concern as pope. The Frankish king remained steadfast in his alliance, although not always acting in accord with the pope's demands.
From Paul I's perspective, the chief obstacle to gaining the territories he claimed was the Lombard king, Desiderius, who had made promises to surrender territories to the papacy in return for the support of Pope Stephen II in securing his election to the Lombard throne. Having become king, Desiderius showed little inclination to abide by his promises or to accede to papal demands. He was determined to continue a policy initiated by earlier Lombard kings aimed at establishing a united Lombard kingdom as the dominant political force in Italy, a goal that threatened the independence of the papacy and the Papal States. During the early years of Paul I's pontificate, extending from 757 to 762, the demands of the king resulted in a series of confrontations. Aside from spurning papal demands for territory, Desiderius on occasion threatened to use force to keep Paul from aiding those who resisted Lombard overlordship, especially the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento. Paul in turn pleaded with Pepin to force Desiderius' compliance to papal demands. His appeals were couched in terms that sought to convince the Frankish king the Republic of St. Peter was in dire danger. Although Pepin did mediate between Paul I and Desiderius, he was unwilling to commit himself to new military campaigns in Italy. Aside from problems in his own realm, the Frankish king was never persuaded that the Lombards offered as serious a threat to the papacy or the Papal States. Fully aware of Frankish military power, Desiderius was too astute a political leader to mount a threat on the papacy so serious that Pepin would feel compelled to repeat his earlier military attacks on the Lombard kingdom. Gradually, Paul I came to realize that he could not depend on the Frankish military to gain all the territory he claimed. During the last years of his pontificate, his territorial demands were greatly reduced. He was content to negotiate with Desiderius only minor adjustments of his boundaries of the Papal State and to avoid a major confrontation. Therefore although the boundaries of the Papal States were slightly enlarged, the pope and the Lombard king tacitly agreed to accept a state of equilibrium that constituted part of the newly emerging power structure in Italy.
Paul I was also always mindful of the eastern emperor, constantine v Copronymos (741–775). The pope's concerns were both political and religious. Despite his weak political and military position in Italy and serious problems in the East, Constantine V nurtured hope of reestablishing an imperial political presence in Italy. Although on occasion Paul I sent alarmist reports to Pepin about impending invasions of Italy from Constantinople, Constantine V simply lacked the military resources to undertake such ventures. As a consequence, he sought to weaken the papacy by diplomatic means, but none of his ventures succeeded. During Paul I's pontificate it became clear that the eastern emperor was no longer a major factor in the Italian power structure.
Of greater concern to Paul I was the relentless effort of Constantine V to promote his iconoclastic policy. As had been the case with his predecessors, Paul I condemned iconoclasm as heretical and made every effort to defeat it. To offset Constantine V's efforts to propagate iconoclasm, Paul I offered refuge to large numbers of monks who fled the eastern Roman Empire to escape persecution for opposing iconoclasm and granted them freedom to worship according to their own liturgy and in their own language. He appealed by letter and by embassy to the emperor to abandon his heretical position. Some evidence suggests he may have been involved in an effort to persuade the eastern patriarchs to speak out against iconoclasm. He was especially concerned about the emperor's attempt to exploit reservations held by some in the Frankish church about the use of icons, but Paul was able to retain the loyalty of Pepin III and the Frankish Church to Rome's position on iconoclasm. Although Paul I was not successful in persuading Constantine V to abandon his policy on icons, his efforts restricted the spread of iconoclasm and fortified the papal position as the guardian of orthodoxy.
The surviving record provides little information about Paul's activities beyond his campaign to enlarge the Papal States and to defeat the heretical eastern emperor. There are hints indicating that he encouraged and advised those who were engaged in reforming the Frankish church, thereby strengthening the bonds linking the papacy and the Franks. He maintained contacts with the English hierarchy and with the newly established ecclesiastical structure put in place by Boniface in Bavaria and Germany. His biographer reported that some of his subordinates in the papal curia were tyrannical, suggesting that he introduced measures to strengthen papal administration in the Papal States. Perhaps his administrative actions were necessitated by the major enlargement of the papal territory that occurred under his predecessor, Stephen II, but they also helped to create the opposition to his regime that surfaced in the disputed election of his successor, Pope stephen iii (768–772). Paul was credited with initiating and supporting efforts to rebuild and redecorate churches in Rome. He also removed many relics from the catacombs and installed them in various churches in Rome. Perhaps these activities were a tangible response to iconoclasm. All these bits of evidence indicate his awareness of his role as a spiritual leader whose influence was spreading throughout western Europe. But the fact remains that Paul I's chief accomplishment was his successful effort to clarify the boundaries of the Papal States, to stabilize the administration of his realm, and to establish the pope as the political sovereign of that new political entity during a period of uncertainty following the changes that had occurred while he was a key adviser to his brother and predecessor, Pope Stephen II.
Feast: June 28.
See Also: carolingian reform.
Bibliography: Le Liber Pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne, 3 v., 2nd ed. (Paris 1955–1957) 1:463–467, English trans. in The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis). The Ancient Biographies of Nine Popes from ad 715 to ad 817, trans. with intro. by r. davis, Translated Texts for Historians 13 (Liverpool 1992) 77–84. Regesta Pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum MCXCVIII, ed. p. jaffÉ, 2 v., 2nd ed. (Leipzig 1885–1888) 1:277–283. p. conte, Regesto delle lettere dei papi del secolo VIII: saggi (Milan 1984) 97–117, 222–229. Codex Carolinus, Epp. 12–43, ed. w. gundlach, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae: Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini aevi, v. 1 (Berlin 1892; reprinted, 1994) 507–558. Concilia aevi karolini, Part 1, ed. a. werminghoff, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Concilia, v. 2/1 (Hannover and Leipzig 1906; reprinted, 1997) 64–71.
[r. e. sullivan]
"Paul I, Pope, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paul-i-pope-st
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