Brief History of the Catholic Church through the Popes by Father P C Thomas

Brief History of the Catholic Church through the Popes by Father P C Thomas

     The history of the Catholic Church is shaped to a great extent by the history of the Popes. How the Catholic Church has sailed through the violent history such as the tug-of-war between popes and anti-popes, power games between emperors and kings and feuds between rival noble families; and shameful scandals of some of the popes. No institution in the world has withstood so many onslaughts from within and without and still survives. One marvels at the miracle that the Catholic Church can survive such vicissitudes. 

       I have selected some of the major and significant popes, good and bad, through the centuries below.

     All the passages below are taken from Father P. C. Thomas book’s “A Compact History of the Popes,” published by St Paul Publication in 1992.

1st & 2nd Century Popes—FROM PETER TO VICTOR I


     Some time before his death, Jesus told Peter in the town of Caesarea Philippi, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:14-20).

     The importance of Peter can be seen in the New Testament where his name is mentioned 195 times while the rest of the Apostles together are mentioned only 130 times. Because of the promise of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, Peter began to take a leading role in the affairs of the Church. Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus appeared to Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, John, James and two other disciples on the shore of Lake Tiberias. Here before the six Apostles, Jesus gave authority to Peter to rule his Church. But the Lord did not want Peter and his successors to use this authority like tyrants without love. Therefore before he invested Peter with this power, he was asked to express his love for Jesus not once, but three times.Only when he had declared this, was he given the power to rule the Church, with the words, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”

     We know very little about Peter’s early life. He came from a fishermen family of Bethsaida in Galilee. In the Acts of the Apostles, he is said to be a man of no education, meaning perhaps, he had not undergone the studies prescribed by the Rabbis. He was married, for his mother-in-law is mentioned in the gospels. He worked with his father and brother in the fishing industry at Capernaum. It was here he met Jesus. He was called to be a disciple with the promise to make him, “fishers of men”.

     Immediately after the ascension of Jesus, Peter took a leading role in the early Church. It was he who conducted the election of Matthias to replace the fallen Judas. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, he preached to the Jews and converted 3,000 in one day. He worked the miracle on the cripple at the gate of the Temple. As leader of the followers of Jesus, he was imprisoned together with John. He pronounced judgment on Ananias and Sapphira for their lie. He rebuked Simon Magus for trying to buy supernatural powers with money. He was the first to admit Gentiles into the Church in the person of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion.

     Saint Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, acknowledged him as the leader when he says that he had gone to Jerusalem to see Cephas (Peter). He was imprisoned by Herod, but an angel rescued him. He is seen again in the Council of Jerusalem where he supported the admission of Gentiles into the Church without circumcision.

     Tradition says that he left for Rome and died a Martyr during the persecution of Emperor Nero. Now this persecution began after the burning of Rome by Nero in 64 A.D. Nero committed suicide in 68. Therefore the martyrdom of Peter must have been between 64 and 68.

     It is said at the height of the Neronian persecution, the Christians of Rome arranged for the escape of Peter from the city. But as he was coming down on the Old Appian Way, he met Jesus walking toward Rome. “Quo vadis Domine?” “(Where are you going, Lord?)” asked Peter. “I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time, for the man whom I left to look after my sheep has run away,” said Jesus. Peter got the message, went back and suffered on a cross, just as Jesus had foretold him about his death. The great Basilica of Saint Peter stands over his tomb on the Vatican Hill. [9-10]


     He was the successor of Saint Peter. Tradition says that he ruled the Church from 67 to 76 A.D. We know almost nothing about him. Saint Ireneus in one of his books says that he was the same Linus mentioned in the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy. “Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia send their greetings…” (2 Timothy 4:21). Saint Paul wrote this letter from his prison cell in Rome after his second arrest. Linus must have been a pominent Christian in Rome since his name is mentioned by Paul. He suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Vespasian who ruled from 70 to 79 A.D. He was buried near the tomb of Saint Peter on the hill of Vatican. [10-11]


     He was the third Pope of the Church. He ruled from 76 to 88. According to Rufinus, he was with Peter and after him with Linus directing the affairs of the infant Church. He suffered martyrdom during the rule of Domitian. [11]


     Anacletus was succeeded by Clement in 88 A.D. He is believed to have been a slave in the house of Flavius Clemens who was the cousin and brother-in-law of Emperor Domitian. Flavia, the wife of Flavius Clemens was a Christian. She was banished from Rome by the order of her brother. Clemens was beheaded for his faith. Our Clement was freed by his master before his martyrdom. He too was a disciple of Peter. Pope Clement is well known for the letter he wrote to the Church of Corinth.

     It was Saint Paul who preached the Gospel at Corinth. Many Corinthians thought that the Church had no right to question their private lives. These Christians, most of whom were rich, thought that morality in one’s life was not under the authority of the Church. Religious prostitution was a common practice at Corinth. The temple of Arthemis had become the centre of degradation. Virgins from all over Achaea converged onto the city. They considered it a privilege to be violated in the presence of the goddess Arthemis. Any man could take a young girl and wander away into the darkness of the vast temple by paying a fee to one of the numerous priests in the temple.

     When the admonitions of the bishop and the priests fell on deaf ears, the Christians of Corinth wrote to Clement asking him to step in, in order to put an end to this immoral practice. We are not going to discuss how Clement solved this problem. Remember that Saint John the apostle was alive at this time and living at Ephesus not far from Corinth. Yet the Church of Corinth did not ask the help of the apostle in this crisis. They wrote to Clement since they knew that he was the head of the Universal Church, and not Saint John. It was with the authority of the successor of Peter that Clement acted on behalf of the Corinthian Church.

     Pope Clement died in 97 A.D. Emperor Trajan exiled him to the copper mines of Chersonesus. Here he was thrown into the sea with a stone tied to his neck. [11-12]


     He ruled the Church from 97 to 105. He divided Rome into several parishes appointing a bishop to each parish. He was martyred in 105 during the rule of Trajan. [12]


     At the death of Everistus, the Roman Church elected Alexander I to be the sixth Pope. His rule lasted ten years and he was martyred in 115 A.D.[12]


     He was a Roman by birth. He made a law for the Universal Church regarding the sacred vessels used for Mass. Only priests were allowed to handle the sacred vessels. He also made a law that the Holy, Holy, Holy of the Mass must be said both by priests and by the congregation. He died in 125 A.D. during the persecution of Emperor Hadrian. [12]


     Saint Ireneus says that he is a Greek. We know very little about his rule of eleven years. He was martyred under Hadrian in 136 A.D. [12]


     He too was a Greek. He died a martyr in 140 A.D. [13]


     Pius was Pope from 140 to 155. He was an Italian. Emperor Antoninus condemned him to death in 155 A.D. [13]


     Anicetus came from the Roman province of Syria. He had to defend the Church against two heretics, Valentine and Marcian. Valentine taught that mankind is divided into three classes, material men, predestined to destruction, psychic men, who may attain salvation through redemption, and spiritual or perfect men who are destined to eternal life. The followers of this heretic considered themselves to be this third class. The Pope got the help of Saint Ireneus to fight this heresy.

     Marcian taught that the God of the Jews was different from the God of the Christians. He said that Jesus Christ was not the Son of Yahweh, the God mentioned in the Old Testament. He did not have a large following and soon the heresy died out with the death of Marcian.

     It was during his time the saintly bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, visited Rome. His martyrdom took place on the 7th of April 166 A.D. during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius. [13]


     He was the twelfth Pope to sit on the chair of Peter. He was an Italian. He sent material help to the Church of Corinth during a famine. In 175 A.D., he was martyred by the order of Marcus Aurelius.  [13]


     His reign lasted 14 years. He was a Greek and was only a Deacon at the time of his elevation. During his time, Saint Ireneus, bishop of Lyons, came to Rome to request a ruling concerning the heresy of Montanus. The Pope asked the bishop to show mercy to the heretics. Eleutherius died in 189 A.D. [14]


     Emperor Commodus was friendly to the Christians. Victor got a decree from the Emperor freeing all Christians condemned by Marcus Aurelius to the silver mines of Sardinia. He was a native of Africa and hence spoke very little Greek. With him we see a change in the Roman Church from Greek to Latin. He settled the controversy over the date of Easter. He was martyred during the reign of Septimus Severus in 199 A.D. [14]

3rd Century Pope


     He ruled the Church from 296 to 304. The first five years were very peaceful. That was the calm before the storm. In 303 at the instigation of his generals, Diocletian began the persecution of the Christians. It began in Egypt. The first to suffer martyrdom was Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria. On the 3rd of February, 303, Diocletian ordered that all Roman soldiers must prove their fidelity to Rome by sacrificing to Roman gods. Half of the soldiers of the emperor were Christians and they refused to obey and were martyred.

     On the 23rd of February of the same year, the Cathedral Church at Nicomedia was pulled down. In March another order gave power to the people to attack churches. He then passed a law that every holy book of the Christians should be burnt under pain of death. Finally in 304 he ordered the death of every man and child who professed the religion of Christ.

     In the midst of these persecutions, Pope Marcellinus went into hiding in the Catacombs. It was from there he comforted the suffering Christians. However he died in 304. Although he did not die a martyr, yet his name is to be found in the list of martyrs who suffered under Diocletian.  [20]

4th Century Popes


     On January 31, 314, the Roman clergy elected Sylvester as the 33rd Pope of Rome. He ruled the Church till December 31, 335. Under the influence of his mother, Saint Hellena, Constantine became the protector of the Church. It was he who dedicated the hall of the Lateran Palace to Saint John the Baptist. Saint Hellena, the mother of Constantine built a church near her palace to honour the Holy Cross, a part of which she had brought from Jerusalem. In 333 A.D. Constantine ordered the building of a large church over the tomb of Saint Peter. It would be the first church over the tomb of the Apostle.

     Sylvester was a man of ability and influence. It was he who convinced the emperor to free all slaves, to declare Sunday as a universal holiday, to free the clergy from public duties and to establish hospitals for the sick. At his suggestion, the emperor allowed the clergy and the bishops of Italy and the provinces to use the imperial transport system free of any charge. This enabled many priests and bishops to make pilgrimages to Rome and meet the Pope.

     In 314 at the request of the emperor, Sylvester sent his representatives to Arles where the bishops had gathered to condemn the Donatists. When the condemnation was passed, the Pope approved it. Perhaps the most important event of Sylvester’s reign was the convening of the Council of Nicaea and the condemnation of Arius and his teachings.

     Arius was born in Lybia. He studied at Alexandria and was ordained deacon of the local church. Some time after 300 A.D. he was ordained a priest. In 311 he was excommunicated by Peter, the bishop of Alexandria for his association with the heretic Miletus. But a year later he recanted his heresy and was given a parish. In 318 he began to preach a new doctrine to his parishioners.

     The core of his teaching was that Jesus is not God. Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria at that time, ordered him to be silent. He refused and appealed to Constantia, the sister of the emperor. Bishop Alexander called a synod of all the bishops of Egypt and condemned the teachings of Arius. Meanwhile Arius published his book, Thalia, in which he attacked the traditional teachings on Jesus. In 325 another synod met at Antioch and repudiated the condemnation of Arius by the Alexandrian bishops.

     Arius then travelled to Nicomedia with the hope of receiving help from the emperor himself. It was to decide the case of Arius that Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea. It met on May 20, 325It was the first Council of the Church. The Council lasted two months and twelve days. 318 bishops were present. Pope Sylvester was represented by Hosius the bishop of Cordova. Emperor Constantine presided over the first session. Arius and his teachings were condemned. The fathers affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Council published the famous Nicaean Creed and fixed the date of Easter.

     It was during the pontificate of Sylvester that Constantine built the great city of Constantinople. It became the capital of the empire in the East. Pope Sylvester died on December 31, 335. His twenty years of rule saw the consolidation and expansion of the Church. He is a saint and his feast is celebrated on the last day of December.  [22-23]


     Damasus was 62 years old when he was elected to the See of Peter in October 366. He ruled for 18 years and was the 37th Pope. He was the first Spanish Pope. His father was a priest who served the church of San Lorenzo. As a Deacon, Damasus went with the exiled Liberius. However he returned to Rome and served the anti-pope Felix. When Liberius returned, Damasus made his peace with the Pope.

     At the death of Liberius, ten priests secretly chose the Deacon Ursinus to succeed him. Thus Ursinus became the fourth anti-popeThe rule of the Church at that time for the election of the Pope was that he should be elected by all the bishops and priests of Rome. On the seventh day of the death of Liberius, the bishops and priests of Rome met and elected Damasus.

     Fight soon broke out in Rome between the two parties. The prefect of Rome intervened. He arrested Ursinus and sent him into exile. Some of the followers of Ursinus occupied the church of Saint Mary Major. In the ensuing battle, 150 people were killed.

     There were other troubles for Damasus. Macarius an Arian bishop lived in Rome. Since the Arians had no churches, he celebrated Mass in private houses. Damasus sent his men to frighten Macarius and his men so that they might leave Rome. Instead, they beat up the old Arian bishop in such a way that he died.

     Damasus was a historian too. He wrote the lives and events of all Popes, from Peter to Liberius. He took care of the tombs of martyrs by placing inscriptions on the tombs which can be seen even to this day. The saintly archbishop of Milan Ambrose, lived during the time of Damasus. The Pope died on December 11, 384. Damasus was 80 years old.  [25-26]

5th Century Popes


     In the election held on September 10, 422, Celestine was chosen. His first act as Pope was to dismiss a certain bishop from Africa for some serious crimes. He instructed the bishops of Gaul and Upper Rhine that absolution should never be denied to any dying person. He was the first Pope to send missionaries to ScotlandIt was he who sent Saint Patrick to Ireland in 431. He sent Saint Germanus to Britain. He deposed the bishop of that Island since his son Agricola was preaching the Pelagian heresy. It was during his pontificate that the great Council of Ephesus was held.

     The Council of Ephesus met in that city on June 22, 431. It was the Second General Council of the Church. Pope Celestine appointed Saint Cyril of Alexandria to preside over it. The reason for calling the Council was to condemn Nestorius and his teaching on Christology. This Nestorius was the archbishop of the City of Constantinople. He taught that Jesus was not God at the time of his birth. Hence Mary is not the Mother of God (Theotokos) but only the Mother of Christ (Christotokos). There were only 160 bishops in the Council of Ephesus.

     Nestorius and his followers refused to attend the meeting. The fathers studied the teachings of the heresiarch for two days. Nestorius was called to answer for his heresy. He refused. The fathers passed condemnation on him. They affirmed the Nicaean Creed and stated that Mary is the Mother of God.

     Celestine built the great Basilica of Saint Mary Major to commemorate the victory of the Council of Ephesus. Celestine was a saintly Pope who was loved by all. He died on July 27, 432. [29]


     One of the greatest Popes to sit on the Chair of Peter was Leo I. At the death of Sixtus, Leo was the archdeacon of the Basilica of the Lateran. He was elected as the 45th Pope of the Church. At the time of his election he was not in Rome. He was in Gaul trying to settle some disputes between rival bishops. He was called back and consecrated on September 29, 440. He came from a Christian family in Tuscany.

     One of the most controversial problems that faced the Church was heresy. Leo stood firm to defend the deposit of faith handed down to him from the Apostles.

     Eutyches, the head of a large monastery in Constantinople taught that there was only one Nature in Christ. This was the beginning of the Monophysite heresy. The Third General Council of the Church, the Council of Chalcedon was called to settle this matter. Leo sent his representatives to this Council with a letter in which he categorically stated the true doctrine about the Nature of Christ. He taught that Jesus is One Divine Person with two Natures, Divine and Human, both present in their fullness, neither absorbing the other.

     When this letter was read to the fathers of the Council, everyone stood up and declared, “Peter has spoken through Leo.” This letter of Saint Leo remains even to this day as the accepted teaching about the Person of Jesus. Emperor Valentinian passed a decree in which he said that the whole Church should do nothing without the authority of the Roman Church. Leo took the title of Pontifex Maximus, a pagan title once given to the Roman Emperors.

     It was during his time that the Vandal king, Genseric sacked Carthage and the neighbouring cities. Thousands of refugees flocked to Rome from Africa. He received them all and went around Italy collecting alms for them.

     The influx of refugees raised certain problems for Leo. Many of these were heretics belonging to the Manichean faith. They had very strange customs which scandalized the Roman Christians. For example it was their custom when a girl reached the age of puberty, she was taken to the public square where she was publicly violated by a youth. Leo took the matter into his own hands. He sat in judgment with the bishops and senators of Rome to punish publicly those who were responsible for such crimes. At his request the emperor passed a law that forbade these heretics to own land or to work in the service of the government.

     On November 10, 461, Leo died. He was buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter. He was given the title “The Great”, and was added to the list of saints. [30-31]

6th Century Pope


   Four months after the death of Benedict I, on November 26, 579, Pelagius was elected. The Lombards were the masters of Rome at this time. The Pope sent the Deacon Gregory, who one day would become Pope, to Constantinople to ask the help of the emperor against the Lombards. When no help came he turned to the Franks and the Franks made a treaty with the Lombards. When Deacon Gregory returned from the East, he was sent to northern Italy to bring the heretics back to the Church. With the help of Gregory, Pope Pelagius promoted celibacy among the clergy. He spent his personal money to adorn the Basilica of Saint Peter. He turned his private home into a hospital. At the end of the year 589, there was a plague in Rome and one of the first victims was the Pope himself. He died on February 9, 590. [39]



     Pope Gregory the Great was one of the most illustrious successors of Saint Peter. He was neither a philosopher nor a theologian, yet he was given the title “Great” for all his achievements during his 14 years of rule. He was a lover of souls, a good preacher, a missionary, a holy monk, a good lawyer and an able administrator. These were the qualities that made him great.

     Gregory was born in the year 540 in a very wealthy family in Rome. His father’s name was Gordianus and his mother was Silvia. Silvia and two of his father’s sisters became saints. At an early age he studied grammar, rhetoric, dialectics and scripture. Then he studied Roman law. In 573, at the age of 33, he was appointed Prefect of the city of Rome. A year later he left public office and home to join the monks of Saint Andrew’s monastery.

     Ten years before the birth of Gregory, a group of Benedictine monks from Subiaco moved to the caves of Monte Cassino, outside Rome. During the attack of the Lombards, these monks left Monte Cassino and took shelter in Rome. Gregory gave his palace on the Coelian Hill to these monks. It was here the monks opened the monastery of Saint Andrew. It was to this place Gregory withdrew when he left public office. He changed his rich clothes for the rough habit of a monk. For three years he lived here and later on he would say that these were the best years of his life.

     Pope Pelagius called him from his monastery and after ordaining him a Deacon, sent him to Constantinople as Nuncio to get help from the emperor against the Lombards. He hated his job, yet in obedience to the Pope he left for the East. In order to live the life of a monk, Gregory took with him a number of monks. Although he got no military help from the emperor, he did some writing on morals, doctrines of the Church, and monastic life. He was happy when he was recalled in 586. In Rome he once again returned to his cell at Saint Andrew’s. In the same year he was elected Abbot of the monastery.

     One day he was going through the market place in Rome, when he saw some young boys being sold as slaves. To his inquiry he was told that they were Anglei (English). “No,” he said, “they are Angeli (Angels) not Anglei.” Being told that they were pagans, he made up his mind to go to England to convert them. With the permission of the Pope, he set out with some of his monks. On the third day a large number of the poor people of Rome caught up with him, imploring him to return to Rome. It is said that he opened the Gospels to pray. At once a locust sat on the book. Then he said, “Locus stat” (stay here)”. He returned to Rome.

     In 589 half of the city of Rome was devastated by flood and after the flood, there was famine followed by plague. Thousands died and in 590 Pope Pelagius too passed away. The day after the death of the Pope, the Romans elected Gregory to the chair of Peter. In his humility he refused to accept the election and wrote to the emperor to free him from this obligation. The Romans did not deliver his letter. He resisted consecration for seven months. When the emperor ordered him to take up the office for the good of the Church, he obeyed. He was consecrated on September 3, 590. He was fifty years old.

     Even as Pope he lived the simple life of a monk. He dismissed all lay persons who served in the Lateran Palace. One of the first acts of Gregory was to enforce the law of celibacy on priests, deacons and subdeacons. He appointed priests to see the distribution of corn to the poor. At regular intervals he gathered his priests and bishops at a particular church and went in procession to one of the Basilicas where he said Mass and preached. It was he who introduced the Our Father in the canon of the Mass. He was the author of the Gregorian Chant in the church.

     In 596 he sent Augustine, a monk, to convert the English. He protected the Jews of Italy from the persecutions of the heretics. It is impossible to mention all what Gregory did during his rule of fourteen years. He won over his enemies by his piety, prudence and magnanimity. Worn out by his labours and asceticism, Pope Gregory passed away on March 12, 604. The same day he was buried at Saint Peter’s and the Roman crowd acclaimed him a saint at the funeral. He was the 64th Pope and perhaps the greatest of them all. [40-41]


     Elected on October 27, 625, Honorius ruled the Church for 13 years. In the history of the Church there is no other Pope whose pontificate aroused so much controversy as that of Honorius I. Even in the First Vatican Council in the 19th century his name was mentioned by theologians. Popes and bishops, emperors and kings, saints and sinners pronounced judgment over the name of Pope Honorius.       The point of discussion was the doctrine of the Will of Christ. At present this doctrine of the Will of Christ is very clear to us. In Christ there are two Natures, Divine and Human, but only one Person, the Divine Person Jesus. But the time of Honorius was in the midst of such heresies as Monophysitism and Monothelism. It was Sergius, the archbishop of Constantinople who accused the Pope of neglecting to state the true doctrine of the Will of Christ in his letter to the Monothelists.

     It was this letter of Honorius that caused his condemnation as a heretic in the sixth General Council of the Church in 680, 42 years after his death. It should be said here that Pope Honorius did not teach heresy, but perhaps by negligence h e did not condemn it.

     At Rome he was loved by both clergy and laity. He did much for the restoration of the churches. He repaired the ancient aqueduct of Trajan to bring enough water to the city of Rome. He died on October 12, 638. [43-44]



     Pope Paul I ruled the Church for ten years from 757 to 767. He was the younger brother of Stephen II (III) at whose death he was elevated to the papal throne. While Paul was with his dying brother at the Lateran Palace, the archdeacon Theophylact called a meeting of the clergy and asked for their vote in the upcoming election. However after the burial of Stephen, on April 26, 757, the Roman clergy elected Paul as Pope. A month later he was consecrated.

     The situation in Italy was all but peaceful. The Lombard King, Desiderius, made a treaty with the Eastern Roman Emperor to fight against Rome and Pepin. The Pope sent secret letters to Pepin to act immediately. But when the Pope heard that the emperor’s fleet was on its way to Rome, he made a treaty with the Lombards.

     Meanwhile Pepin reached northern Italy and forced the Lombards to hand over all the properties taken from the Pope. In 767 a synod was held in Paris in which the French bishops re-established the doctrine of veneration of images of saints. Pope Paul was a lover of monastic life. He turned his own house into a monastery. He built a church in honour of Saint Petronilla, who tradition says was the daughter of Saint Peter. Pope Paul I died on June 28, 767. [55-56]


     For a year after the death of Pope Paul, there was trouble in the Church. As the pope lay dying, a certain Toto of Nepi, with the help of some Tuscan soldiers, burst into the Lateran palace and placed his brother, Constantine, a lay man on the throne. The archdeacon, Christopher, who had been looking after the affairs of the Church for the dying Pope, escaped to the court of the Lombard king. But the Lombards when they heard the story, put a certain priest Philip on the throne of Rome. Thus there were two anti-popes at this time.

     But Christopher managed to gather the clergy of Rome to elect Stephen, a monk although he was only 44 years old at his election. He was consecrated on August 7, 768. One of the first things he did was to call a synod of all Italian bishops which passed a law that no lay person could become a Pope. Even the right to vote was taken away from lay men. Election had to be done by parish priests who were often bishops and cardinals.

     The two anti-popes were kept in prison. With the help of the Frankish king all the territories taken by the Lombards were added to the Papal State. Pope Stephen died on February 3, 772. [55-56]


    Hadrian was the last Pope of the 8th century. His rule lasted 24 years. Born in a noble Roman family, he was a very heavy built man. He had served both Paul and Stephen. Although the Lombard king disliked him for his piety, the cardinals elected him to succeed Stephen.

     The immediate danger was that the Lombard king tried to make Hadrian his subordinate. Hadrian fortified the city of Rome and established a regular militia to fight the Lombards. He asked the help of Charles the king of the Franks. In 773, the French army crossed the Alps and defeated the Lombards at Verona. One by one the cities of the Lombards fell to Charles. In 774, the French were in Rome. Charles had brought his army to celebrate Easter at the tomb of the Apostle.

     Hadrian gave Charles a magnificent welcome. The king adopted the Pope as his father and vowed to love and respect him. He gave the famous “Donation of Charlesmagne” by which the Pope became the head of almost two thirds of Italy. This Papal Kingdom lasted for a thousand years.

     In 787 he sent delegates to the Second Council of Nicaea where important doctrines were defined. Hadrian died on December 26, 795. He was mourned by all especially by King Charles. Never in the history of the Church will we see a Pope whose political ambition so blended with that of his spiritual dignity that it is impossible to separate one from the other. He was indeed a politician and a saint. [56]



     Born into an aristocratic Roman family around the year 00, Nicholas was educated by the priests of the Lateran.

     Ordained a subdeacon by Pope Sergius, and a deacon by Pope

Leo, Nicholas was taken into the papal service by Benedict III. At the death of Pope Benedict, the emperor Louis II was at Rome. It was in his presence that Nicholas was elected. He was enthroned on April 24, 858. His pontificate was the golden time f the Church in the Middle Ages.

     The Church in Europe was in a bad situation. The great empire of Charlesmagne had disintegrated. His sons were no more champions of faith and protectors of the Church. Morality, held high by both rulers and the ruled had sunk low. The bishops and priests, custodians of morality had become “fences that ate the crop.” In short there was anarchy in the Church.

            Nicholas was a beacon of light in these dark ages. Fearless as he was, Nicholas till his death, fulfilled his mission in defence of God’s laws, morality, integrity and purity of the clergy.

     His first confrontation was with the archbishop of Ravenna. He came from a royal family and lived like a prince in pursuit of power and pleasure. He collected taxes forcefully, imprisoned priests and ill-treated his bishops. Nicholas wrote to him to appear before him. He refused. Finally the Pope excommunicated him and the archbishop fled to the court of the emperor. But the emperor ordered him to submit to the Pope. He reached Rome to plead with the Pope. But he heard that a synod was going to judge him. Fearful for his life he knelt before Nicholas and begged pardon for his misdeeds. He was sent to a monastery to do penance for his sins and was never sent back to Ravenna.

     He brought discipline in the ranks of the clergy in Germany and France by removing unworthy bishops from their Sees. He upheld the norms of morality in the Church. When a German princess left her husband to live with her paramour, she was warned by the Pope to go back to her husband. She refused and was excommunicated. When some bishops approved the marriage of king Lothiar who had abandoned his wife, the Pope excommunicated those bishops and removed them from their Sees. Even the army of Lothiar which was at the gates of Rome could not change the Pope’s decision. In another case he upheld the freedom of marriage when the daughter of King Charles married a noble man although the bishops condemned the marriage since the princess had no leave from her father.

     In the East, Ignatius the saintly archbishop of Constantinople was deposed and Photius was elevated to the archbishopric. Nicholas excommunicated Photius. His firm action brought the Eastern bishops to the fold of Rome.

     In his personal life he was an ascetic. He encouraged religious life by opening more monasteries and convents in Rome and all over Italy. He was so highly esteemed by the people of Rome, that he was declared a saint immediately after his death which took place on November 13, 867. He ruled the Church for nine years.  [61-62]


     At the time of his election on December 14, 872, John was the archdeacon of the Lateran Basilica. His election was opposed by Formosus who was the Cardinal Bishop of Porto. Although Formosus stood against John all through his rule, he never claimed to be the anti-pope. In fact in 891 Formosus himself was to be elected to the Chair of Peter.

     Saint Methodius who was returning from Rome was imprisoned by some German princes. When Pope John came to know about this, the Pope arranged for his release. He condemned the rebellious archbishop of Constantinople, Photius, who refused to submit to the authority of Rome.

     By this time the Saracens had a foothold in southern Italy. Fearing that they would be a danger to Rome and to the faith, John took command of the Roman army and marched to meet the enemy. He was victorious and returned to Rome to build a new wall that encompassed even the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls.

            After defeating the Moslems John turned his attention onto the nobles of RomeFor a long time the wealth of the Church was in their hands and it was these nobles that distributed money to the poor. These men had become notorious for their cruelty and immoral life. The chief among them were one Gregory and his brother Stephen. Stephen’s son-in-law was a notorious criminal. Cardinal Formosus was in league with these men. The Pope ordered Formosus to appear before him to answer for his crimes. When he refused he was placed under excommunication. Then he removed Gregory and his brother from the position they held at the Lateran. They escaped from Rome taking with them many valuable things of the church. They too were placed under excommunication.

     Although engaged in war constantly, John did not neglect the spiritual affairs of the Church. He passed a decree that the Cardinals should meet two times a month to discuss the affairs of the Church and the clergy. He insisted on discipline and piety among the clergy.

     John met with a violent death. One of his close relations, in order to steal some valuable treasures from a monastery, where he was staying, poisoned him. But since the poison did not work quickly, the impatient man hit him with a hammer. This happened on December 16, 882. John VIII ruled the Church for ten years.  [63-64]



     Alberic forced the Cardinals to take an oath that they would elect his son Octavian. Accordingly, Octavian, just 18 years old, a man of the world, and product of the corrupt court of his father, was elected. He soon underwent the ceremonies of ordination and consecration. He took the name John XII.

     By this time Rome was a wasteland, abandoned by pilgrims who found no safety in the eternal city because of the rule of Alberic. The influence of the Pope around the world diminished. To make matters worse, John’s father Alberic died in 958. Hence Pope John became the temporal ruler of Rome.

     John was only 20 years old at the time of his father’s death. He knew nothing about ruling the country or governing the Church. He spent his time in the company of women and friends in eating and drinking. So little he knew about his position as Pope that one day he ordained all his flatterers who were with him at table as priests. When he was not with his women he spent his time in the forests around Rome, hunting. Never in the history of the Church, the papacy had fallen into such a low state.

            Events moved fast. Seeing that King Berengar II of Italy had plans to make Rome his capital, John invited Otto, king of the Saxons to come to Rome. But once in Rome, Otto refused to go back. John took up arms against Otto. But in 962 when John saw the army of Otto on the other side of the Tiber, he fled. Otto entered Rome and deposed John for his immoral life. He selected a lay man to be the next Pope. He was Leo and the Cardinals ordained him a priest and on the 4th of December 963 consecrated him Pope.

     When peace was established, Otto left Rome leaving the city in the hands of Leo. But John came back with an army and wreaked vengeance upon the Romans. Leo fled Rome to the court of Otto. The Romans meanwhile elected a deacon Benedict as the new Pope. Now there were three popes, John, Leo and Benedict. But fortunately for the Church on the night of May 14, 964, as Pope John XII was walking to the house of his mistress, he was murdered. The murderer was the husband of his mistress. Thus ended the wretched life of an evil man.

     Otto returned to Rome with Leo, deposed Benedict and reinstated Leo. Benedict was sent to Germany where he was imprisoned in a monastery till his death. [71-72]


     After the death of Pope John XV, the Roman Cardinals sent an envoy to Otto asking him to name his choice for the papal throne. In the imperial court in Germany, Otto’s cousin Bruno was the chaplain. Otto named him and sent him to Rome. The Cardinals elected him. He was only 26 years old and he took the name Gregory V.

     He was a learned man, upright in his life and pious. He was the first German Pope. His kindness forced him to intercede for Crescensius and he was appointed as prefect of Rome. But the prefect was a wicked man. Soon he took up arms against Gregory. Fearing for his life the Pope escaped to Germany. Crescensius appointed a certain Philagathus as Pope. This man was the 16th anti-pope of Rome. He called himself John XVI.

     Meanwhile Pope Gregory gathered a synod at Pavia and excommunicated both Crescensius and John. Otto soon marched to Rome to help his cousin. The anti-pope tried to escape from Rome, but was captured. His nose, ears and tongue were cut away. Then his eyes were put out and was forced to sit on an ass. He was taken through the streets of Rome. Finally he was sent to the monastery of Fulda in Germany to do penance for his wicked deeds. A few years later he died in prison.

     Crescensius had barricaded himself in the fort of Sant Angelo. Otto captured him. He was hanged publicly. With the help of Otto, Gregory held many synods both in Italy and in Germany to reform the Church and the clergy. He died on February 18, 999. He was only 29 years old at the time of his death. [75]



     He was one of those unworthy men to sit on the Chair of Peter. Benedict IX was the cousin of Pope Benedict VIII and John XIX. He was forced to seek election by his father. At the early age of 20 he was elected. He was still a lay man devoid of all moral values. He was ordained a deacon, a priest and a bishop within a week and in July 1032 he was consecrated Pope.

     His 12 year pontificate was a disgrace to the Church. This young man of 20 knew nothing about the duties of a Pope. He spent his time amidst his women wallowing in debauchery and drunkenness. His life was a scandal in Rome and the angry Romans drove him out of the city. Then they elected a certain priest SYLVESTER III to be the Pope.

     Within a year Benedict returned and expelled Sylvester. The Romans once again forced Benedict to resign his post. Then the archpriest of the Lateran, John Gratian was elected. He took the name GREGORY VL Now there were three Popes, Benedict, Sylvester and Gregory. This resulted in the intervention of King Henry III of Germany who at a synod held in Rome deposed all three Popes. The Cardinals then elected a German bishop who took the name CLEMENT II. This happened in 1046. Now there were four Popes.

     In 1047, Clement died. Once again Benedict laid claim to the papal throne. In July, 1048, he was forcibly taken to Germany where he did penance for his sins in a monastery. Here he died in 1048.*   

     (*Pope Benedict IX occupied the Chair of Peter three times interspersed by well three anti-popes. The Annuario Pontificio lists the three reigns of Benedict as three different Pontificates (i.e. 21 Oct. 1032 to Sept. 1044; 10 March to1 May 1045; 8 Nov. 1047 to 16 July 1048)) [78-79]


     Six months after the death of Pope Damasus, the Roman Cardinals elected the candidate of the emperor. He was Bruno, a member of the imperial family of Germany. At the age of 27, he became the bishop of Toul which he administered for 20 years. He was a living saint and the people called him “The good Bruno”.

     When Pope Damasus died in 1048, the Roman Cardinals asked the emperor to send Bruno to Rome for election. But this humble prelate refused the honour. But Cardinal Hildebrand convinced Bishop Bruno to go to Rome. He agreed and set out for Rome as a pilgrim. He entered the eternal city barefooted in the garb of a monk. The Roman people at once acclaimed him Pope. At his consecration on February 12, 1049, he took the name Leo IX.

     Leo entrusted the administration of finance of the Church to his close friend Cardinal Hildebrand. Then he plunged himself into the noble task of reform. There were three evils that plagued the Church: 1. Simony. 2. Clerical laxity in morals. (Many priests and even bishops kept mistresses in their homes.) 3. Imperial interference in Papal Elections.

     In April 1049, Leo called a synod in Rome and condemned Simony (Buying or selling a religious position). Then he denounced clerical immorality. Then leaving the affairs of the Church in the able hands of Cardinal Hildebrand, Leo set out to visit Italy and the rest of Europe to bring reform to the Church. Wherever he went, he called synods, deposed unworthy bishops, punished the lower clergy and brought a life of discipline in many monasteries.

     In spite of the protest of the French king, Leo entered Reims and called a synod in which even English bishops were present. Leo returned to Rome in January 1050. The Normans were oppressing the people of Southern Italy and Leo started immediately for the south to meet the Normans. Mediation for peace failed. Two years later when all the means of a peaceful settlement failed, Leo led an army against them. It was a disaster. In the battle of Civitella, the Pope’s army was cut to pieces. Leo was taken prisoner. But Leo managed to convert the hardhearted Normans and they promised not to molest the people of Southern Italy. Leo returned to the battle-field of Civitella and ordered the building of a church in memory of the soldiers who had fallen there.

     Meanwhile he faced trouble in the East. Michael Caerularius the archbishop of Constantinople took matters into his own hands and removed the name of the Pope from the Canon of the Mass, and ordered the closing of all Latin churches in the city. He demanded an equal status with the Pope. Leo sent two legates to Constantinople. Unable to bring any reconciliation, the papal legates on July 16, 1054, excommunicated Caerularius. Thus the East was finally cut off from Rome. Even to this day the Eastern Church remains separate from the Church of Rome.

     But as the legates were on their way to Constantinople, Leo fell ill and died on April 19, 1054. His tomb was a scene of so many miracles that he was proclaimed a saint immediately. [79-80]


     Pope Stephen had asked to postpone the election until the arrival of Cardinal Hildebrand from Germany. Certain nobles influenced some Cardinals to elect John Mincius, the bishop of Velletri who took the name Benedict X. Because of the uncanonical proceedings of his election, Benedict became the 18th anti-pope of Rome.

     When Hildebrand reached Florence, he consulted the Duke of the city. Both agreed to discard Benedict and name Gerhard, the bishop of Florence for the election. Hildebrand had great influence among the Cardinals and in December 1058, Gerhard was elected and he took the name Nicholas II. On the 24th of January, 1059, he was consecrated and the anti-pope was immediately deposed.

     Nicholas was an upright man and plunged into the reform of the Church. He surrounded himself with able and holy persons. He raised the abbot of Monte Cassino to the Cardinalate and sent him as his legate to Southern Italy to carry out the programme of reform. So too the saintly Cardinal, Peter Darnian was sent to Milan for the same purpose. Here in Milan the married clergy was in revolt. With the help of the archbishop of the city, Damian brought peace by condemning simony and concubinage among the clergy.

     Hitherto, papal elections were not free. Either the Roman factions or the imperial court held strings to the election of a new Pope. In 1059 Nicholas called a synod at the Lateran. 113 bishops were present. For the first time laws concerning the election of a Pope were published.

1. At the death of a Pope the Cardinal-bishops have to confer among themselves and after agreeing upon a name, all Cardinals should meet to elect that person.

2. The choice must be from the ranks of the Roman clergy. If however no suitable person is found, they should search elsewhere.

3. The election must be held at Rome, if that is possible.

4. If for some reason, the coronation did not take place, the Pope-elect enjoys every privilage of his state.

5. The emperor of Germany must be informed for his recognition.

     Other important norms were also promulgated, such as condemnation of simony, concubinage of priests, participation of married priests at Mass, private marriages, etc. He elevated his trusted friend and able administrator, Cardinal Hildebrand to be the archdeacon of the Lateran.

     Pope Nicholas II died on July 27, 1061 at Florence. His rule was so beneficial to the Church that some historians called him Nicholas the Great. [81-82]


     Gregory was one of the greatest Popes who ever ruled the Church. A saint, an able administrator, a reformer and a leader, he steered the Church to safety and progress at a time when the powers of evil seemed to break up the rock of Peter. His friends called him “A bright flame”, while his enemies gave the name, “A brand from bell”. He was loved by all and his enemies were only those who stood for immorality and indiscipline in the Church.

    Born in the year 1025, in Tuscany, Italy, he belonged to a poor family, his father being a village carpenter. Unable to educate him, his father sent him to the school run by the monks at Santa Maria in Rome. Here he received free education and lived the life of a Cluniac Monk. He joined the monks and was made a cleric. His uncle who was the abbot of Santa Maria sent him to serve the archbishop of San Giovanni. When Gratian the archbishop of San Giovanni became Pope, he followed him to Rome. But when his patron Gregory VI was deposed, he returned to his monastery.

     In 1049, he met Bruno the bishop of Toul who was elected Pope. Hildebrand was then called to Rome where Pope Leo IX made him a Cardinal-subdeacon. At the death of Leo IX there was an attempt to elect him to the papal throne. But in his humility he refused and left for Germany. He served Pope Stephen X and Nicholas II whom he helped to be elected. In 1059 he was made archdeacon of the Lateran. He successfully removed the anti-pope and had Alexander II elected in 1061. At the death of Pope Alexander the time had come for Cardinal Hildebrand to take up the duties of the Pope.

     On April 21, 1073, as the Solemn Mass was going on for the burial of Pope Alexander, the crowd all of a sudden began to chant, “Hildebrand, Pope.” Even before the burial was over Hildebrand was forced to accept the papal Chair. On June 29, he was ordained a priest. The next day he was consecrated and he took the name Gregory VII. He did this in honour of his patron who was deposed illegally some 25 years earlier.

     Gregory ruled the Church for 12 years. He saw the triumph of the Church over evil. He brought back to the Church the apostolic simplicity and goodness in every sphere of life. His first steps were the purification of the Church itself. In the first Lenten Synod of 1074, he enacted the following decrees:

1. Priests who had obtained any position in the Church by simony were automatically suspended from exercising their duties.

2. All those who purchased any church property were to lose the ownership immediately.

3. In future, under automatic excommunication no one could practise simony.

4. All priests who lived in concubinage were deprived of their priesthood.

5. The faithful were forbidden to attend to the ministries of any cleric who would not obey these rules.

     The greatest opposition to the reforms of Gregory came from Germany. Married clergy and even some bishops opposed the promulgation of these decrees. A group of priests and bishops met the Papal Legate at Nuremburg and told him that they would rather renounce their priesthood than abandon their wives and concubines. They quoted from the scripture to assert their point. “It is better to marry than to be burnt” (1 Corinthians 7:2). “It behoveth a bishop to be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).

     In Paris, the clergy condemned the decrees of Gregory. But the fearless Pope stood firm. He sent out his Cardinals, men of piety and firmness to all parts of Europe and Italy with full power to depose, punish and excommunicate those who stood against reform. The immediate result was that the Church lost a good number of bishops and priests. The rest lived up to their high call.

     In 1075 at a synod in Rome, the punishment of excommunication was passed on anyone who would confer investiture on an ecclesiastic, whether that person is king or emperor. This was a blow to King Henry of Germany. He called a meeting at Worms in 1076. All those bishops who had paid for their office to the king, now stood with him. Henry sent a letter to the Pope demanding his right to appoint bishops in Germany. To teach a lesson to all those who refused to adhere to his decrees of reform, the Pope solemnly excommunicated the emperor and the bishops who supported him.

     Once the excommunication took effect, Henry saw that even his faithful friends had left him. One day he took his wife and his infant son, crossed the Alps to make his submission to the Pope. Gregory was at that time at Canossa. The emperor waited at the gates of the palace of the Pope for three days. On the third day Gregory appeared and the emperor knelt before him, confessed his sins and the censure of excommunication was lifted. It was a triumph for Gregory and the papacy.

     But Henry did not keep his promises. When he set up an anti-pope in the person of the excommunicated archbishop of Ravenna, once again Gregory pronounced excommunication on Henry and on the anti-pope who called himself Clement III. Henry invaded Rome. Gregory took shelter in the fortress of Sant’ Angelo. From there he escaped to Monte Cassino. He reached the castle of Salerno in April 1085. Here on the eve of May 25, 1085, Gregory died. His last words were, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”

    In 1728, Pope Benedict XIII added him to the catalogue of saints. [83-85]



     In the history of the Church no other Pope suffered so much in such a short time of one year and five days as Gelasius II. When Pope Paschal II died, the Roman Cardinals, fearing that Emperor Henry would interfere in the elections, met secretly at a Benedictine monastery in Rome and decided to elect Cardinal John of Gaeta who was living at that time in the monastery of Monte Cassino. He too was a monk. John had entered Monte Cassino in his teens and showed proficiency in his studies especially in the Latin language. He served two Popes. Paschal appointed him Chancellor of the Holy See, raising him to a Cardinal.

     When he was brought to the conclave, he refused the honour. But he was forced by the Cardinals to accept election. He was not even a deacon at the time of the conclave. But before he could be ordained and consecrated, the imperial party of Rome under the leadership of Frangipani, attacked the monastery and seized the Pope and threw him to the floor and stamped on him. Then loaded with chains he was dragged to the nearby castle.

     The cruelties meted out to this saintly man were too much for the Romans to bear. The next day thousands of Romans gathered around the castle and demanded the release of the Pope-elect. Frangipani was frightened. He not only freed the Pope but in full view of all present knelt before the Pope and begged forgiveness for his sins. With great enthusiasm John was carried to the Lateran Palace where he was enthroned. There was no time for his ordination to priesthood and consecration as bishop. Henry V was already in Rome. Gelasius and his faithful Cardinals escaped during night. They went to Gaeta where the Normans welcomed them and vowed protection. It was at Gaeta he was ordained and consecrated.

     Meanwhile the emperor placed on the papal throne, the unworthy bishop of Barga, who took the name Gregory VIII. He was the 24th anti-pope of the Church. Gelasius excommunicated both the anti-pope and Henry V. Unable to do anything against Gelasius who was under Norman protection, the emperor left Rome for Germany. The Pope secretly reached Rome. Very soon he made a journey to France and King Louis VI received him with all honour. Soon he retired to the monastery of Cluny where he died on the night of January 29, 1119. [88-89]


     Four days after the death of Gelasius, the Cardinals at Cluny elected Guido, the archbishop of Vienna who took the name Calistus II. On the 9th of February, 1119, he was crowned at the Cathedral of Vienna. In October of the same year, Calistus called a Council at Reims in which more than 400 bishops and abbots took part. The emperor too was invited. He agreed to meet the Pope at Mousson to settle all disputes. Fearing violence, the Pope did not go to meet the emperor. Since he refused to come to Reims to meet the Pope, he was once again excommunicated. Then the Council passed laws against simony and concubinage of the clergy.

     When the Council was over the Pope left for Rome where the anti-pope was holding his illegal court. At the approach of Calistus who was welcomed by the Romas, the anti-pope Gregory fled to Surti. There he was taken captive and brought to Rome in chains. He was sent to prison at Fumo.

     Once he was firm in the papal chair, Calistus turned his attention to the emperor. It was he who called the First Council of the Lateran in 1123.Some three hundred bishops and six hundred abbots were present. The investiture question was settled and the emperor abandoned his hold on the election of the Pope. Other laws against simony, marriage of the clergy, indulgences for the Crusade etc. were formulated in the Council. He died on December 13, 1124. [89]


     Hadrian’s baptismal name was Nicholas Breakspear. He was born in England around the year 1100. Early in life he went to Arles for his studies. After his studies he became a monk at the monastery of Saint Rufus near Avignon. As abbot of Saint Rufus he visited Rome and Pope Eugene III retained him making him a Cardinal and a bishop in 1146.

     On December 4, 1154, Breakspear was elected and on the next day at his consecration he took the name Hadrian IV. But his rule was not a bed of roses. King William of Sicily was in open revolt. The barons in the Campagna fought with each other and with the Pope. They even robbed pilgrims on the way to the tomb of the Apostles. The people of Rome were in revolt under Arnold of Brescia. In January of 1155, Cardinal Gerardus was wounded as some Romans attacked him as he was walking toward his home. Hadrian at once put the city under interdict and moved to Viterbo.

     As the holy season of Easter approached, the people of Rome and the nobility went to Viterbo and promised good behaviour and the Pope lifted the interdict. Hadrian returned to Rome and Arnold the troublemaker escaped. But he was caught by the barons of the north and kept in jail. He was then sent to Rome where he was publicly executed.

     Meanwhile Barbarossa was advancing through Lombardy. He was on his way to Rome to receive the crown from the hands of the Pope. On the 9th of June 1155, the Pope met him at Sutri. The Pope told him that he would not crown him. Two days later the emperor came to Nepi and kneeling before him promised to uphold the authority of the Pope. Two days later, Hadrian crowned Frederick in the Basilica of Saint Peter.

     As the coronation of Frederick was going on, the Roman army attacked the German army brought by the emperor. The battle ended only by night and the Romans were defeated. 200 of the Romans were taken prisoner. Over 1000 were dead. Frederick did not remain long in Rome for his army could not find food in the hostile environment of Rome. So he left the city leaving the Pope to face the angry Romans.

     There was trouble in Sicily where William was the king. The Pope refused to acknowledge him since he had not accepted the authority of the Pope in Southern Italy. However by 1156 a peace treaty was concluded by which the Pope gave him authority over such cities as Naples, Salerno and Ancona.When Frederick heard this he was angry with the Pope since as emperor he was the rightful owner of these cities. On his way to Rome, Hadrian died on September 1, 1159 at Anagni. [94-95]


     Orlando Bandinelli was born in the city of Sienna, Italy. As a lay man he taught law at the University of Sienna. He was called to Rome by Pope Eugene III in 1150; he was raised to the dignity of a Cardinal Deacon and then a Cardinal priest and the chancellor of the Pope. During the time of Pope Hadrian he openly stood against the emperor Barbarossa.

     When Hadrian died at Anagni on September 1, 1159, the emperor sent his men with large amounts of money to bribe the Cardinals to elect one who will serve the emperor rather than the Church. They had managed to bribe two Cardinals to the cause of the emperor. The rest of the Cardinals, 22 in number, assembled on September 7,1159, and elected Cardinal Orlando. At his coronation he took the name Alexander III. His rule lasted 22 years.

     The three Cardinals who stood with the emperor chose one of them as anti-pope who took the name Victor IV. The emperor now interposed to settle the case of two popes. He ordered the two popes to appear before a council at Pavia. Alexander who had escaped to Anagni excommunicated the emperor and the anti-pope. Barbarossa went to set up three other anti-popes successively: Paschal III, Calistus III and Innocent III. For 17 years the emperor lived under excommunication.

      In 1176 in the battle of Legnano, Barbarossa was defeated and he made an unconditional surrender to the Pope. During his stay in France Alexander made peace with King Henry of England who had murdered Thomas Becket in his Cathedral. He got from the king all the rights for the Church for which the saintly bishop had died.

     In 1179, he convoked the Third Lateran CouncilIt was in this Council that the law was passed that two thirds majority would be required for the election of a Pope. Worn out by trials, Alexander III died on August 3, 1181. [95-96]



     Cardinal Conti was only 36 years old when he was elected on February 2,119$ at the death of Celestine III. He was the son of Pope Clement III’s brother. He was a good man who lived a very virtuous life. He was the proper man for the proper time. He saw the change coming over Europe with the end of the Feudal System. He was willing to adapt to the new life of the people.

     Innocent became the protector of Frederick, the son of Henry the Emperor who was dead. Through his mother, Constantia, the little boy Frederick had become king of Sicily. In fact it was Innocent who ruled the Island for the young king. This helped the Pope to become the ruler of the whole of Italy. This brought great prestige to the papacy.

     In Germany the barons could not agree to name a ruler. There were two candidates for the throne of Germany. Innocent stood for Otto of Brunswick and he was crowned as the emperor of Germany. But soon he began to show his true colour. He broke all his promises and began to persecute the Church. Innocent deposed him and the Germans threw him out of his imperial palace.

     Innocent held a firm hand over all the kings of Europe. Where his authority was flouted he took harsh measures. He put both France and Leon under interdict when both the rulers divorced their lawfully wedded wives. He excommunicated those bishops who stood with the monarchs. They came to their senses and took back their wives. He wrote to the king of France, “The Church does not allow to discard the divine law of marriage. If I do not stand with the women of such injustice, how could I call myself the successor of Peter?”

     Innocent appointed Cardinal Langton as archbishop of Canterbury. King John of England opposed the nomination saying that he was a monk. The Pope stood firm and the king finally had to give in. He settled the appointments of kings in Hungary, Poland and Norway. He brought together the kings of Castile, Navare and Aragon to fight against the Moslems who had occupied southern Spain. He began the Crusade in 1202 which was a total failure due to the greed of the Venetians who instead of fighting the Saracens in the Holy Land went over to Constantinople to fight against the Christians.

     In France Innocent faced the Albigensian heresy. These heretics considered the sacraments sinful and avoided even marriage. The French took up matters in their own hand and in 1212, to the anguish of the Pope thousands of heretics were murdered. It was a setback to the Dominicans who were spending themselves to the conversion of these heretics.

     The man who brought a silent revolution to the whole of Europe during the rule of Innocent was Saint Francis of Assisi. He openly fought a Europe that was built on wealth and power. The poverty and simplicity of Francis and his followers overshadowed the unchristian life of Europe. Christ’s message was not only to hear but to practise, was the theme of the Franciscans. By their lives they changed the hearts of the rich and powerful nobles and bishops. This movement was a turning point in the history of the Church.

     It was Innocent who called the Fourth Lateran Council of the Church. The very numbers of those who took part was a sign of great progress in the Church. There were 71 archbishops, 412 bishops, 900 abbots and superiors of congregations in the Council. The Council passed 70 canons. It was Innocent who decreed that every Catholic must confess at least once a year and receive Holy Communion at Easter time without sin. He defined the doctrine of Transubstantiation in this Council.

     After 18 years of rule, Innocent III died in July 1216. He was only 54 years old. [101-102]


     Two days after the death of Innocent III, on July 18, 1216, the Cardinals voted the 80 year old Cardinal-priest of Saint Paul’s church and he took the name Honorius III. But Honorius had to face a powerful enemy. He was Frederick king of Sicily who was still in his teens. Although he was brought up at the Lateran by Innocent III, he began to show the barbaric nature of his grandfather Frederick Barbarossa. The immediate concern of Honorius III was to free the Holy Land from the Saracens. He wrote to all bishops of Rome to preach a Crusade and collect money and men for the same purpose. He sent special legates to the court of every king to request them to lead the Crusade. The result was disastrous. All kinds of men and women volunteered for the Crusade. Old men and women, lame and blind, poor and sick flocked to the centres. These could not fight in an army.

     Furthermore, the Christian princes not only in Italy but also in other parts of Europe were fighting among themselves and could not prepare to join the army. Frederick II emperor of Germany and king of Sicily saw his opportunity. He promised the Pope that he would lead the Crusade if the Pope would crown him Emperor. Although the aging Pope had no faith in this profligate youth, yet he hoped that he would keep his promise and crowned him in 1220. But the emperor did not keep his promise. He postponed the expedition year after year till 1227.

     Meanwhile Frederick lived worse than the Saracens whom he had promised to fight. He encroached upon Church lands and appointed bishops without the knowledge of the Pope. His court surpassed the harem of an Oriental monarch. He was outright degenerate and cruel. Once he kept a man in a closed drum to see whether his soul flew to heaven. The man was dead within an hour. But the Pope could do nothing to his old student for it was Honorius who was his teacher at the orders of Innocent III.

     On December 22, 1216, Honorius approved the constitution of the Dominican Order. Again on November 29, 1223, he signed the decree approving the Order of Saint Francis. Three years later he gave his approval to the Carmelite Order which began in Jerusalem. He canonized such men as William the archbishop of Bourges, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, William abbot of Rochshild, and William archbishop of York.

     Honorius was a man of learning and he insisted both the bishops and priests should undergo the study of theology. He deposed a certain bishop in Italy for he was illiterate. He encouraged the Universities of Paris and Bologna to take young men to train them in theology. He wrote the life of Celestine III and Gregory VII.

     In Rome there was war between the Conti and the Savelli families. Since Honorius belonged to the Savelli family, he had to leave Rome for awhile. But his efforts brought peace between the two warring groups. He brought peace between Milan and Genova, Bologna and Pistia, and brought Spoleto, Perugia, Assisi, and Nocera under the papal dominion.

     In England the cruel king John had died leaving a ten year son to rule the land. Some barons had invited the French prince Louis to England. But Honorius took up the case of the prince and appointed his legate to rule over England in the name of the boy king. The barons willingly approved the plan of the Pope and young Henry III was crowned as king of England.

     In Bohemia the Pope through his legate put an end to the persecution of king Ottocar. In Hungary he protected King Andrew against his rebellious son Bela whom he placed under excommunication. In Denmark he freed King Waldemar who was kept in captivity by Count Henry. In Sweden he brought sanity to the clergy who demanded the right to marry. He appointed Peter of Courtenay as Emperor in Constantinople. In Cypress he brought peace between the Greeks and Latins. In Portugal he excommunicated King Alphonso to protect the archbishop of Lisbon.

     Honorius ruled for 11 years. He died at Rome on March 18,

1227. [103-104]


     The abdication of Celestine was according to law and the Cardinals who gathered at Naples elected Benedeto Caetani. He was consecrated on December 24, 1296. He took the name Boniface VIII. Actually he should have been called Boniface VII since the pope of that name was an anti-pope. He ruled the Church for seven years and during this time Boniface had to face troubles everywhere.

     In January, 1297, the Pope began his journey to Rome from Naples. Once again he was crowned at St Peter’s amid scenes of unparalleled splendour.The king of Naples and the king of Hungary held the ends of his flowing vestment as he proceeded to the altar. He was afraid of the abdicated Pope since his followers, especially the Spiritualists and the Celestians thought that their leader was forced out of office. Hence he ordered that Celestine should be brought to Rome. As we have seen, the saintly Celestine escaped and was back in his monastery. But later on he was arrested and kept in prison till his death.

     Boniface tried to bring peace in Sicily, Venice, Genova, France and Germany. Besides all these troubles caused by Christian Kings and lords, Boniface had to face revolt from two of his Cardinals. They were two powerful Cardinals belonging to the Colonna family, Cardinal Jacopo Colonna and his nephew Cardinal Peter Colonna. These two had taken possession of large estates belonging to their brothers. These brothers complained to the Pope.

     Furthermore these two Cardinals were in the camp of the enemies of the Pope. To make matters worse the Cardinals seized some gold which the cousin of the Pope was bringing to Rome. The Pope ordered both Cardinals to present themselves before him. On May 6, 1297 they appeared before the Pope. The Pope ordered them to restore the lands taken from their brothers, to hand over the gold taken from his own brother, and to bring Stephano Colonna who had snatched the gold. They refused. Thereupon Boniface deposed both Cardinals and reduced them to lay state.

     On the 10th of May of the same year, the Colonna Cardinals nailed to the doors of many churches in Rome a manifesto stating that Boniface’s election was invalid due to the abdication of Celestine V. They even placed a copy of the same on the altar of St Peter. On May 17, the Pope excommunicated both Cardinals.

     The Cardinals and their followers got ready for war. The Pope went to Orvieto and entrusted the Papal army to Colonna, the brother of the Cardinal. The Cardinals’ army was defeated and peace was once again established. The Pope pardoned both Cardinals but refused to reinstate them.

     In the year 1300, Boniface ordered the celebration of a Jubilee, to honour Our Lord who was born 1300 years before. The Jubilee Year began on December 25, 1299. It ended on December 25, 1300. Over 200,000 pilgrims visited Rome during the Jubilee Year.

     In 1302 he published his great encyclical Unam Sanctam in which we read the following.

1. There is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation: One body of Christ with one head, and not two.

2. That head is Christ and his representative the Roman Pope. Whoever refuses the pastoral care of Peter, belongs not to the flock of Christ.

3. There are two swords, Spiritual and Temporal. The first held by priests the second by kings, under the direction of priests.

4. The spiritual power is above the temporal. Whoever resists the highest spiritual power resists God.

5. It is necessary for salvation that all men should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

     Some of the kings of Europe began to hate Boniface for his claim of superiority in everything. The king of France was waging a war with England with the money of the Church. Boniface sent another encyclical letter, Clericis laicos, in which he clearly stated that punishment would soon follow for those who took away the wealth of the Church.

     King Philip of France wanted to teach the Pope a lesson. He was helped by the two deposed Colonna Cardinals and their men. They called a council in France and declared that the election of Boniface was invalid. Besides they accused him of murder, cruelty and high-handedness. They asked him to abdicate his papal throne.

     As the Pope was preparing to excommunicate Philip, the army of the French King surrounded his palace at Anagni where he was staying. Nogaret, the adviser to King Philip was the commander of the 2000-strong army which had come to arrest the Pope and take him to France. The Cardinals who were with him begged him to escape. But he refused. Seated on his throne, dressed in full regalia, with a cross in his hand he waited for Nogaret and his men. When they came for him he said. “Here is my head. I am a Catholic and the Vicar of Christ duly elected. I am ready to die for the Church of Jesus Christ.”

     They arrested him and threw him into prison. On the third day the people of Anagni forced the French to free the Pope. Again he was taken prisoner and taken to Rome. No one came to help him. He died in prison at Rome on October 11, 1303. He was 86 years old. [113-115]



     Pierre Roger was born into a noble family of Maumont, France in 1291. At the age of ten, he entered the Benedictine Order. He was sent to Paris where he became a professor after his studies. In 1328 he became the bishop of Arras. A year later he became the archbishop of Sens. Benedict XII made him a Cardinal in 1338. At the death of Benedict, Roger was elected on May 7, 1342. He took the name Clement VI.

     He was the opposite of his predecessor. He loved France and never showed any interest in returning to Rome. He loved his family so much he spent his time and money to enhance their fortunes. In 1343 he elevated 25 men to the Cardinalate, out of which 12 were his own relatives, an event that brought him discredit.

     A delegation came from Rome to request the Pope to return to the city. Although he refused, he allowed them to celebrate the Jubilee in 1350. He bought the Duchy of Avignon from the queen of Naples for 80,000 florins. Clement although a monk was more a prince than a Pope. Splendid banquets and parties with brilliant receptions were the order of the day. All his relatives lived with him in the papal palace.

     It must be said in spite of all these that he was a lover of the poor and distributed money lavishly to the needy. The Black Death was passing through Europe and thousands died in Rome. Clement did his best to help these unfortunate ones.

     The Jews were blamed for the spread of the deadly plague. It was rumoured that the Jews contaminated wells with the germs of Black Death. Antisemitic riots were seen everywhere. Clement stood for the persecuted Jews. He discovered the culprits and had them punished severely.

     When he died on December 6, 1352, it was not only the Christians who wept for him, but even the Jews held services in their synagogues for the repose of his soul. [120-121]


     The election of Urban VI is a story by itself. When Gregory died there were 16 Cardinals in Rome and 8 in Avignon. Most of the 16 Cardinals in Rome were Frenchmen. The Romans demanded that they elect an Italian Pope. In order to force them to elect an Italian, the Romans stood guard at the hall where the Cardinals met. As the people waited to hear the name of the new Pope they entered the wine cellar of the Papal Palace and drank wine to their hearts’ content.

     In their predicament the Cardinals decided to name an Italian to the papal throne. They chose the archbishop of Bari, Barthelomew Pringano. The Cadinals sent men to bring the archbishop to Rome. Meanwhile the people of Rome began to agitate. In order to calm them down the Cardinals announced the name of the pope-elect. When they heard “The archbishop of Bari,” they thought of archbishop Bar who was a Frenchman. There was rioting in the streets of Rome. Amidst all this confusion some Cardinals escaped from Rome.

     The rest, to bring peace, dressed up an old Italian Cardinal in the papal vestments and presented him to the people. They were delighted and fell on his feet to kiss his shoes.

     Finally the real pope-elect was shown to the people and peace was once again restored in Rome. The archbishop of Bari was consecrated on August 18, 1378 and he took the name Urban VI.

     Urban was a good man and sincerely wanted to remove all the evils prevalent in the Church. Soon after his election he called a meeting of all bishops and abbots of Italy and told them in clear terms that some of them were living in sin and ordered them to change their lives. Most of the Cardinals did not like the Pope telling them what they should do with their lives. They hated him and his reforms. They tried to force the Pope to return to Avignon. The Pope was angry. He became more and more demanding from the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals believed that he had gone mad.

     One night most of the Cardinals escaped from Rome carrying away even the papal crown. Back in Avignon they informed Urban that he was deposed. Urban retaliated by making 24 new Cardinals. When this news reached Avignon, they elected an anti-pope. He was the archbishop of Geneva, Cardinal Robert. He took the name Clement VII. This was the beginning of the Great Western Schism. Both Urban and Clement had their own followers including some saints.

     Urban by now was a man overpowered by anger. He ordered the arrest of six Cardinals and their execution in Rome for plotting against him. Not even the pleading of Saint Catherine could save their lives. However after 11 years of rule, Urban died on October 15, 1389. [123-124]



     The Cardinals wasted no time in electing a successor to Innocent. He was the 80 year old Cardinal Angelo Coraria from Venice. On December 19, at his coronation he took the name Gregory XII. At his election he had vowed that he would end the Western Schism even if he had to resign.

            The anti-pope at Avignon was willing to come to terms with Gregory. But Gregory was prevented by the large family of his own relatives who had moved into the papal palace. He appointed new Cardinals who were his own family members or friends. The Roman Cardinals angry at this left the papal court and moved to the city of Pisa. A group of Cardinals from Avignon too came to Pisa to plan out a way to end the Schism. They held a council at Pisa and formulated that the Pope was under the authority of the council.

     Gregory soon excommunicated the Pisa Cardinals. But in 1407, 24 Cardinals, 182 bishops and an equal number of theologians held a meeting at Pisa and demanded that both Gregory and the anti-pope Benedict XIII should resign. But both refused. Hence they elected a third Pope, a Greek Cardinal, Peter Philargos who took the name Alexander V. Now the Church had three Popes, Gregory in Rome, Benedict at Avignon, and Alexander at Pisa.

     Alexander died ten months later and the Pisa Cardinals elected Cardinal Balthasar Cosa who took the name John XXIII. Now the whole Church was split into three. John XXIII had the largest following. He was more a commander of an army than the spiritual father of Christians.

     The rulers of Europe looked to the Roman Emperor, Sigmund to find a solution for the anarchy in the Church. He ordered the meeting of all bishops in a General Council at Constance. In the Council of Constance there was a large number of bishops and representatives of seven Christian kingdoms. Gregory XII gave his consent to the Council.

     The anti-pope John XXIII reached Constance with a large army hoping to preside over the Council. But what he found was a long list of his misdeeds which he was asked to answer. Fearing for his life he escaped from Constance. But the imperial soldiers brought him back. The Council found him guilty and he was sent to prison. Thus ended the case of the pope of Pisa.

     The real Pope, Gregory of Rome accepted the decrees of the Council of Constance and resigned on July 14, 1415. He died in October 1.417. The Avignon Pope, Benedict refused to resign. He was arrested and sent to prison in Spain, where he died without reconciliation.

            After having brought peace in the Church, the Fathers of the Council took up the case of the heretic John Huss of Bohemia. His teachings were condemned and he was executed in 1415. [126-128]


     24 Cardinals met at conclave to elect the successor to Innocent. The two contestants were the two nephews of Popes Calistus and Sixtus, Cardinals Borgia and Rovere respectively. Borgia managed to bribe 16 Cardinals with money and promise of honours and was elected on August 26, 1492. At his consecration he took the name Alexander VI.

     In the history of the Popes of the Church, Alexander VI stands at the bottom. He was the worst Pope in the two thousand years of the history of the Church. Brought from Spain by his uncle Pope, he was given the Cardinal’s hat when he was 16 years old. As a Cardinal he led the life of a worldly prince. In the abundance of wealth of his family and that of the Church, he wallowed in debauchery and drunkenness. He had many mistresses. The queen of his harem was one Vanessa who bore him four children. The weakest point of Alexander was his illegitimate children. The history of Pope Alexander and his children is to be found in the black pages of Church history.

     He arranged the marriage of his eldest son to the daughter of the king of Naples. The French king who had an eye on the throne of Naples objected. Savanarola encouraged the French king to march to Rome. He wrote to many Christian princes of Europe to march with the French to depose Alexander who according to him sat on the Chair of Blessed Peter with the mark of the devil on his forehead. He roared from the pulpit of the Cathedral of Florence, “This Alexander is not a Pope. He climbed to the Chair of Peter with bribes and murder. He sits upon the laps of prostitutes. He sells Church benefices to the highest bidder to pay his partners in flesh. He is not even a good Christian, much less a Pope. He is the devil spoken of in the scriptures.”

     The Pope excommunicated the monk who was arrested and condemned to death. No one came to his rescue and he died with a curse on his lips for his persecutor. Alexander continued his sinful life, devastating the wealth of the Church on his family. Romans prayed for a change of heart in their Pope. It came with the death of his son Juan the Duke of Grandia. One night Juan was on his way to the house of his mistress, when someone murdered him. The culprit was never caught. But the Romans knew that his own brother Caesar Borgia had a hand in the murder of the eldest son of the Pope. The mutilated body of the victim was fished out of the River Tiber. The Pope was unconsolable. “He died for my sins. I will reform my life,” cried Alexander.

     But there was no change in the life of Alexander. He showered wealth and honours on the only remaining son, Caesar Borgia. He made him a Cardinal who lived with women of ill repute. But his immoral life forced him to resign his post as Cardinal. He then married the daughter of the French king. The Pope was delighted and gave him the post of the Commander of the papal army. He was made duke of Umbria, and Romagna. The papal treasury was put under his care. He spent 100,000 gold florins for his journey to France to bring his bride.

     Caesar Borgia was a very cruel man. He murdered his own sister’s husband and forced his widowed sister Lucretia to marry the Duke of Ferrara. Both father and son lashed out a reign of terror in Rome for eleven years. People prayed for the death of both. In 1503 Alexander died. It is believed that he drank poisoned wine which the son had prepared for some Cardinal who refused to pay his share for his appointment as Cardinal. When he died on August 18, 1503, the Romans breathed a sigh of relief. One historian wrote, “The glory of Blessed Peter will not be extinguished by the unworthiness of his successor.” So the Church survived in spite of Alexander VI. [133-134]



     Cardinal Della Rovere was the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. In 1471 he was given the Cardinal’s hat by his uncle. At the time of his election he held the Sees of Ostia, Verecelli, and Avignon. He was a very worldly minded man. He spent his vast income from the three Sees in building beautiful palaces and fortresses. He had a few mistresses and had already three children. He tried his hand to be elected at the death of Pope Innocent. But the Cardinals hated him for his evil life and elected Alexander VI. He feared for his life and withdrew to his fortified palace at Ostia. As Alexander VI and his son Caesar Borgia were making plans to murder Rovere, he escaped to the court of the French King.

     When Alexander VI died Rovere returned to Rome with the intention of bribing the Cardinals. But his dream did not materialize and Pius II was elected. When Pius died he moved fast. Out of the 38 Cardinals present in the conclave, he bribed 37 with large sums of money and the promise of benefices. The conclave was the shortest in the history of the Church. On October 30, 1503, Rovere was elected and he took the name Julius II. In history he was known “the Terrible Pope”.

     His greatest enemy was Caesar Borgia the son of Alexander VI. He had occupied the whole of Romagna which belonged to the Papal States. Julius ordered Borgia to hand over the province of Romagna into his own hands. Caesar Borgia refused and the Pope ordered his arrest. He was brought back to Rome in chains and was thrown into prison. Here he was murdered at the orders of the Pope.

     The cities of Bologna and Perugia resisted the Pope. Julius put aside his papal garments and dressed as a soldier led the Roman army into Perugia. The city opened its gate without a battle. Next he turned to Bologna and after a month’s battle it too fell. Next he took up arms against Venice. At the battle of Agnadello on February 8, 1509, Julius defeated the Venitians,

     Now Julius was the master of the papal states. But his ambition was to become the supreme lord of the whole of Italy. The French stood against this policy of Julius. He took up arms against them. In the bloody battle of Ravenna, he defeated the French on April 11, 1512.

     Although he was chiefly a soldier yet Julius did not forget his spiritual duties. He was free from nepotism for he did almost nothing for his three illegitimate daughters. He heard Mass daily and celebrated it sometimes. He erected new dioceses in the American colonies of Haiti, San Domingo and Porto Ricco. He called the Fifth Lateran Council for the reform of the Church.

     Above all he was a patron of the arts. It was he who made use of the skills of such great artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante. On April 18, 1506, he laid the foundation stone of the great Basilica of Saint Peter. It was Julius who ordered the famous frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

     Julius died in Rome on February 20, 1513. He ruled the Church for ten years. [135-136]


     The conclave that met after the death of Julius II was peaceful. The Cardinals chose the 38 year old Giovanni De Medici to succeed Julius. Cardinal Medici was not even a priest. After his ordination and consecration as bishop, he was crowned as Pope on March 19, 1513. He took the name Leo X.

     Leo came from the Medici family of Florence. His father wanted him to become a leader in the Church. Hence he was given the best teachers who were all monks. Under their influence he grew up to be a man of virtue and piety. All the evils of the day did not change his life. At the age of 13 he became a Cardinal. At 20 he was ordained a deacon. He refused priesthood and remained a deacon till his election to the papal throne.

     The most important duty of the 38 year old Pontiff was the completion of the Basilica of Saint Peter. There was no money in the papal treasury and hundreds of workers who laboured day and night went unpaid. Leo found a way to collect money. It was to give Indulgences for a gift of money for the building of the Basilica. He sent hundreds of monks all over Europe to preach the Indulgences to raise money.

     When Tezel the monk came to preach at the University town of Wittenburg, he was opposed by Martin Luther an Augustinian monk. Luther nailed to the church of Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, 95 theses condemning the sale of Indulgences and attacking the Pope. It was the beginning of the Protestant Revolution which would divide the church into Catholics and Protestants.

     Oblivious of the impact of Luther’s rebellion, Pope Leo abandoned his pious life and began to imitate Alexander VI. He began to lavish wealth and honours upon his relatives. Banquets and parties were the order of the day. In 1518 he elevated 31 men to the rank of Cardinals. Six of them were his own relatives, most of them unworthy to hold such an office. From the rest he collected 3,000 ducts as price for the red hat. He appointed his own brother as Commander of the Papal Army. He made another brother the ruler of Florence.

     The Cardinals who elected Leo were angry with him for they received nothing for the favour they showed. Four of these Cardinals conspired to murder Leo X. They bribed the Pope’s physician to poison Leo. But the Pope who did not trust even his personal doctor was able to discover the plot and save himself. He condemned to death Cardinal Petrucci the leader of the conspiracy and the physician. They were hanged publicly in Rome. The other three Cardinals were reduced to lay state and imprisoned for life.

     All this brought discredit to the papacy. Martin Luther in Germany proclaimed a crusade against “the devil that sat on the throne of Peter.” A scandal in Germany brought the Pope to the lowest level among the reformers. The archbishop of Brundenburg was the 20 year old Albert who belonged to the royal family. The Pope transferred him to the See of Mainz. Albert was not against his transfer. He wanted to keep also his old See of Brundenburg for it gave him a large income. The Pope was willing, but at a price. Albert had to pay 14,000 gold ducts and an annual subsidy of 10,000 ducts for keeping his old See.

    Now the young archbishop had no money and he borrowed it from a banker. When he found that he had no money to pay even the interest on the loan, Albert obtained from the Pope the right to collect money by the preaching of the Indulgences. The Pope allowed him to keep one half of all he collected. It was Albert who sent Tezel to preach at Wittenburg. No one in Germany or Rome took the revolt of Luther seriously. But the whole of Germany was in flames. Everywhere people began to agitate for reform in the Church. A year passed. When Leo was told of the revolt of the Augustinian monk, he wrote to the General of the Augustinians to order Luther to silence. But this had no effect on Luther.

     The emperor of Germany saw trouble and went to Rome to plead with the Pope to punish the troublesome monk. The Pope ordered Luther to present himself before him in Rome. But he published new leaflets attacking the Pope and the Roman Church. Leo sent Cardinal Cajeten to Germany to meet Luther. But he refused to appear before the Cardinal. Finally he came with his followers, not to hear the Cardinal but to denounce the Pope.

     “We hang thieves, we behead murderers, we burn heretics; then why do we not take up arms against those who lead us from pulpits and thrones into perdition with deceit and murder, with debauchery and immorality? Why do we not destroy these popes, these cardinals and bishops, who have turned the Church into Sodom and Gomorah? Why don’t we wash our hands in their blood?” That was what he told Cardinal Cajeten.

     32 months after the publication of the 95 theses, Pope Leo condemned 45 of them and ordered Luther to withdraw them within 60 days. The ruler of Saxony stood with Luther. On the 60th day, at Wittenburg, Luther publicly burned the Bull of Leo. “Time has come,” he told his followers, “for us to burn the Pope himself. With that we will burn all the evils that come from Rome.” Two months later, Martin Luther was excommunicated. It was the beginning of the split in the Church. Ten years later Protestantism became a reality in Germany.

     In the midst of all these, Leo died on December 1, 1521. [137-139]


     The Medici family won the next election. On November 19, 1523 Cardinal Julio Medici, the nephew of Leo X was elected. At his coronation on November 26, he took the name Clement VII. He was 56 years old and was a man of no ability.

     War broke out soon between France and Germany. After defeating the French, the Germans marched into the papal states. Then to the consternation of both the Pope and the people, the German army laid siege to the city of Rome. The Swiss came to the help of the Pope. They captured a German General and put him to death. The Germans were angry and fought hard. Finally they entered the city and put to sword a large number of people.

     Clement escaped from Rome with seven of his Cardinals. He hid in a fortress in the Adriatic coast for a time. When he returned to Rome he was forced by the Germans to go to Bologna where he had no choice but to crown the German Emperor.

     Clement then undertook a journey to France to bless the marriage of his brother’s daughter with the Duke of Orleans where he met the French King. He demanded from the Pope an annulment of the marriage of his close friend King Henry VIII of England with Catherine who was the daughter of the brother of the German Emperor. He told the Pope that he would invade the papal states if he did not give an annulment.

     Catherine was married to Henry VIII for 17 years and had given him five children although only one of them survived. The king had a mistress whose name was Mary BolynHe became very fond of her sister Annie Bolyn who was a court girl. When the king knew that Annie Bolyn was with his child, he insisted that a quick annulment must be given to his earlier marriage with Catherine.

     But the Pope stood firm. The minister of Henry, Cardinal Woolsy tried to convince the Pope to grant an annulment. But he too failed. Meanwhile Henry took Annie Bolyn to France where the king received them as King and Queen. Before she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, Henry officially married Annie Bolyn, after divorcing his wife Catherine. Thereupon, the Pope excommunicated Henry VIII.

     With his excommunication, Henry began to persecute the Church in England. All those who stood against his divorce were put to death. Cardinal Woolsy escaped the gallows since he died on his way to London to hear his sentence from the king. His last words were, “Had I served my God as I served my king, he would not have abandoned me in my gray hairs.” Such close friends of Henry like Sir Thomas Moore and John Fisher were put to death. Religious Orders were suppressed and Church properties were looted.

     Many European States shook off the alliance of Rome and established Protestantism. Thus the Church lost Germany, Scandinavia and Switzerland. In the midst of all these calamities, Clement VII died on September 25, 1534. He ruled the Church for 11 years. [140-141]


     Four months after the death of Paul IV, the Cardinals chose Angelo Medici who took the name Pius IV on Christmas Day 1559.   .

    The Papal State of Paliano was ruled by the brother of Cardinal Karafa. He suspected his wife of infidelity. The angry Duke ordered the arrest of her lover. When he was brought before the Duke, he stabbed the unfortunate man to death. The Duchess was with child at that time. As she wept at the death of her lover, her own brother entered her room and murdered her with his bare hands. Her brother was the Duke of De Alif and was a very influential man. Cardinal Karafa was an unwilling partner in these two murders.

     The case came to Pius. He ordered an inquiry. The court found Cardinal Karafa and his cousin Cardinal Alphonso Karafa and three other members of the family guilty of murder. All of them were put to death except the elder Cardinal Karafa since he was on his death bed at the time of his trial. The punishment of the Karafa family brought discredit to the Pope.

     One of the relatives of Pope Pius who received the red hat was Charles Borromeo whom he appointed as archbishop of Milan. He was a very able and pious bishop who brought many reforms in the Church of Milan. He was declared a saint of the Church soon after his death. Pius IV died on December 9, 1565. [143-144]


     Cardinal Felice Peretti was elected to succeed Gregory on April 24, 1585. At his crowning he took the name Sixtus V. He ruled the Church for 5 years.

     Felice’s father came from Dalmatia. He was one of those who fled the country when the Turks invaded Illyrium. Felice’s father was a worker in the garden of a rich man in Grottomare and he himself was a swineherd in his teens. His uncle was a monk in the monastery of Montalto. He took his nephew to the monastery and gave him an education. He became a novice at the age of twelve. He was sent to Bologna to study law. In 1547 at the age of 24 he was ordained a priest at Siena.

    He was a good preacher and in 1552 preached the Lenten sermons at Rome. Here he met many great men like Cardinal Karafa, saint Philip Neri, and Ignatius Loyola. Soon he was appointed rector of a monastery at Venice. In 1560 he was called to Rome and worked in the Curia. In 1566 he was appointed bishop of Goti. Four years later he became a Cardinal. In the Conclave of 1585, he was elected Pope.

     As Pope he found that the number of pilgrims who visited the tombs of the Apostles was reduced almost to nothing. Groups of thieves and bandits molested these pilgrims with the result that life was not safe even in Rome. He put all his energy to put an end to these bandits. Within a period of two years, the papal army captured over 20,000 highway bandits and those who had murdered pilgrims were executed and the others spent their lives in prisonsHe made not only the Papal States but the whole of Italy free from the bandits. At his election the papal exchequer was empty. He knew that money was necessary for a good administration. He never begged or taxed the people for more money. His efficient administration and account keeping brought plenty of money to the papal treasury. He had so much money left after spending large amounts for the welfare of Rome that he deposited over three million scudi in gold in the fort of Sant’ Angelo.

     Sixtus rebuilt the Lateran Palace, completed the palace at the Quirinale, richly decorated the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, built a printing press near the Vatican Library, made a new water system for the city of Rome and did many other monumental works.

     In 1586, he issued a Bull limiting the number of Cardinals to 70. This included 6 cardinal-bishops, 50 cardinal-priests, and 14 cardinal-deacons. Two years later he established 15 congregations each under a Cardinal to see to the administration of different needs of the Church. Some of these congregations can be seen even to this day in the Roman Curia.

     In 1588 he edited the Septuagint of the Old Testament. When the Vulgate edition was in print, Sixtus died on August 27, 1590 at his palace at the Quirinale in Rome. [146-147]



     At the sudden death of Pope Leo, the Cardinals elected Camillo Borghesse on May 16, 1605. He took the name Paul V. He was only 50 years old. He was a lawyer in his early days and taught for many years in Rome. Soon after his coronation, he told the Cardinals that he wanted the immediate implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trent.

     His first encounter was with the city of Venice. This city which had become very rich due to trade began to challenge even the Holy See. When the Duke of Venice arrested two priests and put them on trial without the consent of the Pope, Paul V put the whole city of Venice under interdict. The priests were forbidden to say Mass and to administer the Sacraments. The Duke ordered the priests to disobey the Pope’s order. Most of the secular clergy obeyed the Duke, while the Jesuits and the Theatians refused. They were expelled from the city and their property was confiscated. The Protestants of Europe waited to see war break out between the Pope and Venice. But the French forced Venice to make peace with Rome.

     Then came the case of Galileo of PisaCenturies ago, Copernicus the monk had proved that the sun was the centre of the Universe. Galileo discovered that the theory of the monk was correct and that the earth moved around the sun. He proved this theory with experiments. A few learned men, including some Jesuits opposed the theory of Galileo. They informed the Roman Inquisition that the sun-centred theory of Galileo would undermine the credibility of the Bible.

      Galileo was called to Rome to appear before the Inquisition. The members of the Inquisition feared that the progress of science would hinder that of faith. They were able to pinpoint certain mistakes in the teachings of Galileo. They even argued that the sun-centred theory of Copernicus was against the teachings of the Bible.

     Galileo did not argue against the Inquisition. He promised that he would not teach his theory to the public. Thus he was freed. Although he did not break his promise, his followers did what was forbidden. Again he was ordered to appear before the judges.

     Paul V ruled the Church for 16 years. When the Thirty Years War began in Europe, Paul took ill and died on January 28, 1621. [149-150]


     The next Pope Clement IX was the Secretary of State of Alexander. He was elected on June 20, 1667. Six days later he was crowned as Clement IX.

     Clement did not rule the Church as a king for he was a father to all. Anyone had the right to speak to the Pope. Two days a week he sat in Saint Peter’s to hear confessions of the pilgrims. He did not allow his relatives and friends to come to Rome seeking honours. Although he built numerous churches and monuments, he did not carve his name in any one of them.

     He loved the poor. He cut taxes, removed the duty on imported grain, demolished the monopoly of the nobles in the selling of corn and wheat, distributed free grain to the poor. Everyone in Rome loved Pope Clement.

     Pope Clement was so orthodox in his teaching that even the Jansenist heretics knew that it was difficult to get any consideration from him. It was his intervention that brought peace between France and Spain. Pope Clement hoped to unite the forces of these two Catholic countries against the Turks. Unfortunately before his dream could be fulfilled, the Turks attacked Crete. The fall of Crete troubled the Pope so much that he died on December 9, 1669. [152-153]


     Benedetto Odescalchi was born at Como in 1611. He was educated by the Jesuits of Como and later studied law at Naples and Rome. Innocent X made him Cardinal in 1645. He was a man of deep piety and unselfish devotion to the Church. He loved and worked for the poor so much that he was called the Father of the Poor. In 1650 he became the bishop of Novara.

     On September 21, 1676, the Cardinals elected Benedetto to succeed Clement X. He took the name Innocent XI. His first act as Pope was to warn the Cardinals of the evils of nepotism. He lived a parsimonious life and expected the Cardinals to do the same. Within two years he cleared the deficit of the papal treasury.

     The whole pontificate of Innocent XI was a continuous fight against Louis XIV of France. All the efforts of the Pope to make the French King respect the rights of the Church fell on deaf ears. Louis kept vacant many French Sees in order to receive their income. In 1682, the French king called an assembly of all French bishops and priests and passed four regulations to curtail the power of the Pope over the French Church.

     Innocent annulled the four regulations and punished the bishops who had signed them. Meanwhile, Louis to show his stand as the defender of the Church lashed out against the Protestants. But Innocent did not fall into the trap of the French King. He withheld the names of those the king had chosen to be bishops. He refused to accept the Marquis of Lavardin as ambassador to the Holy See. But the Marquis with the help of 800 French soldiers entered Rome and forcibly occupied the ambassador’s palace in Rome. Innocent excommunicated him and put the Church of Saint Louis under interdict.

     As the struggle with the French king was going on, there was trouble in Germany. Innocent had appointed Cardinal Joseph Clement as archbishop of Cologne. The French king objected and put his own candidate, but he was forced to give up his claim.

     Innocent was very much concerned about the purity of faith and morals in the Church. He insisted on the education of the clergy, the reformation of the monks, and the modesty of women in their dress. He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion often and if possible daily.

     Innocent XI died on August 11, 1689 [154-155]



     It took three months for the Cardinals to meet in a conclave. And when they met, there was no agreement as to the candidate. One day after counting the votes, the archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Zambertini got up and spoke. “Fathers, listen to me. We are wasting our time here. If you are looking for a saint, then vote for Gatti, if you want an administrator, then vote for Aldorini, but if you want an ordinary insignificant man, then vote for me.”

     He said this to diffuse the situation. But the Cardinals took his remarks seriously and voted him to the papal throne. On August 12, 1740 he took the name Benedict XIV.

     He was not only a simple man, but one of the greatest administrators the Church had ever seen. He was born at Bologna where he received his education from the University of the city. For his life of piety and deep knowledge he was made bishop of Ancona. Soon he was moved to the archbishopric of his own city of Bologna. He was made a Cardinal soon.

     He was loved and respected not only by Catholics but even by the Protestants. Even Val Pole who hated the Church, spoke well of him. Voltaire and Rosseau who wrote against the Popes called him a friend. The Roman Cardinals felt envy for his popularity. When he made peace with Spain and Portugal, these Cardinals objected. He gave both of these kingdoms some power to appoint their own bishops.

     He reproved some bishops who tried to impose the Latin Rite on Eastern Rite Christians. “I like everyone to be Catholic, but I dislike everyone to be Latin,” he told the bishops. He recognized the right of Eastern Rite priests to marry before their ordination. He held to the teachings of his predecessor on Freemasonry. He put two books of Voltaire under index although he had praised him in public. He passed rules for mixed marriages which lasted till the Second Vatican Council.

     Pope Benedict was a born writer and wrote many books on theology and history in spite of all his engagements as Pope. His last years were very painful due to sickness. But he bore the pain heroically. He died at the age of 83, on May 3, 1758. One French paper wrote: “What a miracle, there is no one to say an evil word against Benedict XIV.”  [159]


     For four months the Cardinals fought among themselves to find a successor to Clement XIV. On February 15, 1775, they elected Cardinal Angelo who on February 22, took the name Pius VI. He was 60 years old.

     He began his pontificate on the wrong foot. He made one of his nephews a Cardinal and built for him a palace in Rome. To another of his nephews he gave a lavishly furnished marble palace and a large estate. These two lived like kings amidst the poverty of ordinary Romans.

     The question of the Jesuits once again came up. The commission that was appointed to study the case of the Society of Jesus gave its final judgment. The Jesuits were found innocent and their suppression ungodly. All the accusations against them were found baseless. Pius ordered that the Jesuits could continue their work in the Church. Those who took refuge in Russia and Prussia returned to their old posts.

     Joseph II of Austria began to persecute the Church. He forced the closing of hundreds of Religious Houses and confiscated Church properties. He passed new laws for the Church of Austria which were so ridiculous that one law established the number of candles to be used at Mass. Those who protested against these laws were severely punished.

     To make peace with Joseph II, Pius went to Vienna. He was received with all respect by the people, but he could not get anything from the emperor. He did not put Joseph under excommunication for he feared that the Church would suffer the loss of Austria. Pius returned to Rome and spent his time in prayer for the conversion of Austria. His prayer was heard for in 1790 Joseph II died and his brother Leopald became king. His first act was to free the Church and make peace with the Pope.

     By this time the American War of Independence was over and the United States of America was born. Immediately Pope Pius appointed John Carol] as the first bishop of Baltimore. He was a Jesuit before the Society was dissolved.

     Pius was a silent witness to the French Revolution. He saw with sorrow the overthrow of the Church in France and the death and apostasy of hundreds of Catholics. But the bloody revolution did not end with the fall of the king and the queen. From the blood of the French Revolution came Napoleon Bonaparte. The French army invaded Italy in 1796. The Pope ordered his soldiers not to fight the French for he knew that it would be suicidal. Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of the emperor became king of Italy.

     One night some French soldiers entered the Pope’s Palace. They woke up the sleeping Pope and informed him that all his political powers were taken away from him. They even removed his ring from his finger. Pius was old, weak, and sick. He begged the soldiers to leave him alone for he wanted to die in Rome peacefully. But they took him away that very night to Siena where he was kept in prison for some time. Then he was moved to Florence where he was lodged in a monastery for a month. Napoleon ordered the removal of the Pope to France. On his way, Pope Pius VI died at Valence on August 29, 1799.

     Napoleon when he heard the news of the death of the Pope exclaimed. “The last Pope of the Catholic Church has died. There will be no more Popes. The line of Peter has ended with Pius.” Little did he know the words of Christ who said, “I will be with you till the end of the world.” [161-163]



     The next conclave acted swiftly for the Cardinals feared the intervention of the Austrians in the election. On June 14, 1846 the 50 Cardinals who met to elect a successor to Gregory XVI could not find an agreeable candidate. Two days later on June 16, Cardinal Giovanni Mastai-Ferreti received three votes more than what was needed. He took the name Pius IX.

     Early in life Giovanni Mastai was sent to Rome for his studies. It was his desire to join the army. Found unfit, he was rejected by the army. Hence he began to study theology and was ordained a priest in 1819. In 1823 he was sent to Chile as Apostolic Delegate. In 1827 he was made archbishop of Spoleto. Three years later he was transferred to the See of Imola and was given the rank of a Cardinal. At the time of his election he was the bishop of Imola.

     Pius IX was in favour of some political changes in the Papal States. His first act was to give amnesty to all political prisoners. Over 2000 of such men were freed from prisons and those who were exiled were recalled. He appointed lay men to posts which were held only by the clergy in the papal states. He took Count Rossi as Prime Minister of Rome. He gave him a cabinet of lay people taken from the provinces. But the people were not satisfied. They clamoured for a constitutional government. There were revolts and assassinations in many parts of Italy. His Prime Minister fell dead on his way to the parliament as an assassin shot him. One of the bishops who regularly attended the Pope was shot to death.

     In 1846 he published an encyclical in which he lamented the oppression of Catholic interests, intrigues against the Holy See, machinations of secret societies, sectarian bitterness, the Bible associations, indifferentism, false philosophy, Communism, and the licentious press.

     Finding it difficult to live and work in Rome, Pope Pius IX on November 24, 1849, disguising himself, escaped from Rome to Gaeta where he was joined by some of the Cardinals. The French came to the help of the Pope. They marched into Rome and re-established order in the city. On April 12, 1850, Pope Pius returned to Rome.

     Meanwhile under the influence of Count Cavour, the Prime Minister of King Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont, plans were being made by the king to unite the whole of Italy under him with Rome as capital.

     In 1859, the combined armies of Piedmont and France defeated the Austrians. With the fall of Austria, the papal states were at the mercy of Piedmont. On September 20, 1860, Victor Emmanuel’s army occupied Rome and declared it as capital of Italy. He gave the Pope the rights of a sovereign and an annual remuneration of 3.25 million lire. But the Pope did not accept the offer.

     Although Pope Pius IX failed to keep the papal states under his dominion, yet he was successful in all his spiritual and religious reforms. He fought against false liberalism which threatened to destroy religion. In an encyclical he condemned 16 propositions on Pantheism, Nationalism, Rationalism, Communism, Freemasonry, and Religious Liberalism.

     As early as 1849, when he was in exile at Gaeta, he had written to bishops around the world asking their opinion on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. On December 8, 1854, in the presence of more than 200 bishops he declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary a dogma of faith. He made the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus universal in 1856. In 1875, he consecrated the human race to the Sacred Heart. He raised to the honour of the altar an unprecedented number of men and women.

     On June 29,1869, by the Bull, Aeternis Patris, he convoked the first Vatican General Council. 700 bishops were present when the Council opened on December 8, 1869. The Council proclaimed the Papal Infallibility a dogma of the Church on July 18, 1870.

     The extensive growth of the Church during the long pontificate of Pius IX should be attributed to his ability as an administrator. Only men of piety and leadership were appointed to lead the dioceses around the world. He made eminent men as Cardinals to assist him in his work. Some of the great men who received the Cardinal’s hat were Manning, Wisemen, Cullen, Me Closky, Pitara and Geissel. He restored the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Holland. He established 46 new Dioceses in North America. He founded the Latin American College in Rome. In 1859 with his own money he built the American College.

     His was the longest papacy in the history of the Church. He ruled for 32 years. Pope Pius IX died on February 7, 1878. [167-169]


     Leo XIII was the last Pope of the 19th century. He ruled the Church for 25 years.

     Gioacchino Pecci came from a noble family. At the age of eight he was sent with his ten-year-old brother to Viterbo to study at the Jesuit School. For eight years he remained at Viterbo and in 1824 was sent to the Roman College. Here he studied philosophy and natural sciences. In 1827 he began the study of law at the Sapienza College where he also took lessons in theology. In 1832 he obtained a Doctorate in theology. He was 40 years old and had not yet received ordination.

     He joined the office of Cardinal Sala who insisted Gioacchino to ask to be ordained. At the age of 45 he was ordained a priest. A year later he was made a Monsignor and was sent to Benevento a papal city to drive out the brigands who were molesting the people. With the help of the army of Naples, he put an end to the brigands who roamed the high-ways.

     After three years of service at Benevento, Pecci returned to Rome. He was ordained a bishop and was sent to Paris as nuncio. Two years later he was appointed archbishop of Perugia. For the next 32 years he remained in Perugia making it a model diocese. In 1853 he was made a Cardinal. His work in Perugia earned him the name, “the Father of Perugia”.

     He ordered his priests to preach every Sunday at Mass. He edited a new Catechism for the children. He wrote a practical guide for his clergy in which he insisted the need for prayer and reflection every day. He encouraged retreats and missions in the parishes. He wanted educated clergy and established a seminary in Perugia. Occasionally he himself taught the students. He introduced the study of philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas. During his episcopate he built 36 new churches in his diocese.

     In 1877, Pope Pius IX called Cardinal Pecci to Rome and appointed him as Camerlengo in the Vatican. When Pius IX died a year later, Pecci was elected with 44 votes out of 61. He took the name Leo XIII.

     Throughout his pontificate he kept an amicable relationship with France. In Germany he got from Bismark the withdrawal of anti-Catholic lawsSo too he established peace both in Russia and Switzerland. In England he made John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglican Church a Cardinal. In 1886 he raised 50 English Martyrs to sainthood. In 1896 with his encyclical Apostolicae Curae, the case of the Anglican Orders was settled by establishing its nonvalidity. In India he established three Dioceses in 1886. The Apostolic Delegation of Washington was instituted in 1892. He received the representatives of the Sultan of Turkey, the Shah of Iran and the emperors of China and Japan.

     With regard to the Kingdom of Italy, he like Pius IX, held an attitude of protest. He demanded complete independence for the Holy See and full sovereignty.

            He modified the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis and the movement spread all over the Catholic World. He advocated the devotion to the Rosary and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

     Under Pope Leo the Catholic Faith made great progress. He created 248 new dioceses and vicariates around the world. He saw the conversion of the schismatical Armenians and their bishops. In 1897 he appealed to all Eastern Schismatics to return to the fold of the Catholic Church. He opened the Vatican Library to the public and established the Vatican Observatory. He in 1892 appointed a Bible Commission.

     Among all his encyclicals, the one on Social Justice, Rerum Novarum was the greatest. In it he attacked the errors of Socialism. He clearly showed the relationship between Capitalism and Labour. He organized Catholic Action in Italy.

     Religious Congregations benefited much from the Pope. He reunited the many branches of the Franciscans and Cistercians. The Benedictines were given an Abbot Primate.

     He celebrated three Jubilees, the Golden Jubilees of his priesthood and episcopate and the Silver Jubilee of his Pontificate.

Leo XIII died on July 20, 1903. [169-171]



     On February 12, 1922, Cardinal Achillo Ratti, archbishop of Milan was elected and he took the name Pius XI.

     For 22 years he was in charge of the Ambrosian Library in Milan and another 8 years director of the Vatican Library. In 1918 he was sent to Poland as nuncio. Germany had taken a large part of Poland, the Communists were trying to enter the country, and the Latin and Slavic Catholics were fighting among themselves. Ratti faced the situation and forcefully guided the affairs of the Polish Church.

     In 1921 he was made a Cardinal and appointed as archbishop of Milan. He spent a month in retreat and made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes before he took charge of his See. But five months later he had to go to Rome to attend the funeral of Pope Benedict XV. There were 53 Cardinals in the conclave that met to elect a new Pope. Cardinal Laurenti, the Prefect of the Propagation of Faith was elected. But he refused to accept the honour. So the voting continued. On the 14th ballot, Ratti was elected and he took the name Pius XI.

     The new Pope did not come from a noble family. His father was a poor weaver. It was through the help of benefactors that Ratti completed his studies. At his election, 35 heads of nations accepted the sovereignty of the VaticanThe Italian Government was not one among them. But the Italian people loved the Pope and Mussolini saw that it was necessary to make peace with the Vatican. In 1929, Mussolini and the representative of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Gaspari, signed the Lateran Treaty. Italy acknowledged the sovereignty of the Vatican State and thus the Roman Question was solved. Thus the Pope became a king without a kingdom, a Commander without an army.

     When Peter came to Rome from Judea, he had no land. It was in 312 A.D that the wife of Emperor Constantine presented the Lateran Palace to Pope Miltiades. It was the first property the Pope owned in Rome. In 382 Emperor Theodosius made the Pope the ruler of RomeDuring the Middle Ages half of Italy was added to the Papal States. But all was lost when Cavour and the Piedmont army took the Papal States and even Rome from the Pope. Finally it fell to Mussolini to re-establish the Vatican State, the smallest in the free world.

     Once the Papal States were over 1500 Sq. miles in area. According to the Lateran Treaty it was reduced to half a sq. mile. Certain churches outside this area were also included in the Vatican State. They are the Lateran Basilica, St Paul’s outside the walls, Propaganda College, and Pope’s summerhouse at Castel Gandolfo.

     Meanwhile the whole of Europe was rushing toward anarchy and war. The emperor of Russia lost his head. In Germany, Hitler and his Nazi party raised the flag of revolt. In Italy Mussolini and his black shirts established dictatorship.

     In his encyclical Quadragessimo Anno, Pius XI clearly stated that the Church would not be a slave to either Capitalism or Communism. In the beginning Pius XI thought that both the Nazis and the Facists would fight the Communists. But very soon he discovered the destructive ideologies of both as a great danger to the Church. Mussolini was determined to fight against the Church and the Pope. Pius wrote an encyclical against the Nazis and Facists and gave to Cardinal Spellman of America who published it in France. Mussolini understood his mistake and withdrew the laws against the Church.

     Hitler began to persecute the Church in GermanyIn Spain the Republican Government confiscated the properties of the Church and expelled the Jesuits. General Franco led an army against the Republicans and the Church was saved. In 1924, President Calles of Mexico began to arrest hundreds of priests. Many like Fr Pro faced the firing squad in defending the faith. There was a time when there were only 200 priests for a Catholic population of 17 million in Mexico. But with the death of Calles the situation was reversed.

     In 1936 Pius XI ordained six Chinese bishops in Rome. He established a College for the Ethiopians in Rome. In Peking he built a Catholic University. In Africa he built new seminaries. He created 52 new Cardinals and wrote 37 encyclicals.

     In 1936 Pius XI fell ill and the world came to know that their beloved Pope was dying. But by Easter he was up again. He saw the shadow of an oncoming war in the horizon. He worked hard to avert such a calamity. At the age of 82, Pius XI died on February 12, 1939. [174-176]


     On November 4, 1958, Cardinal Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, was crowned to succeed Pope Pius XII. He took the name John XXIII. No one thought that the new Pope would be able to achieve anything important for he was an ordinary man. Born in a poor peasant family, Roncalli had served as papal nuncio for a time in some countries including Turkey. He had no other qualifications. The Cardinals thought that his pontificate would be very short because of his advanced age.

     But he turned out to be one of the greatest Popes that ever sat on the Chair of Peter. With him began a new era in the Church. He saw his way barred by the bureaucratic Curia officials of the Vatican. He demanded an open policy in the administration of the Church. “There is nothing that should be closed or locked up in the Vatican. We have nothing to hide,” he told the Cardinals.

     With his two encyclicals, Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, he outlined the course of action of openness. He broke the barriers that surrounded him. The world admired the new Pope. From Moscow, Washington, and Paris came representatives to pay respects to Pope John. From Asia and Africa, Presidents and Prime Ministers rushed to Rome to extend their friendship. He opened a dialogue with non-Catholics with the view for reunion with Rome. He wanted his openness in the Church should spread to all parts of the Catholic world. His idea of calling the Second Vatican General Council was the result of this desire. More than 4000 bishops from all over the world attended the first session of the Council. But Pope John was not destined to see the end of it for he died on June 3, 1963. [177-178]


     Born in 1897, in the Montini family of Concessio, Giovanni was ordained a priest at the age of 23. Ten years later he began his work in the Vatican Secretariat. He worked for 32 years in the Curia. He did not like the anti-Communist policy of Pius XII. Hence he was removed from the Curia and made archbishop of Milan in 1954. It was the first time in 600 years that Milan was ruled by an archbishop who was not a Cardinal. Pope Pius XII did not give him the Cardinal’s hat. When John XXIII became Pope his first act was to make Montini a Cardinal. That was in 1958. He was elected on June 21, 1963 to succeed Pope John. He took the name Paul VI.

     He concluded the Second Vatican Council which his predecessor had started. On December 8, 1965 the Council came to an end. This historic Council had altered the very face of the Church’s two thousand years of history. Introduction of local languages into liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Mass was a great step toward progress. The talks which began with the Council about the reunion of all Christians was another step toward the stability of the religion of Christ.

     Ever since Peter left Jerusalem in 62 A.D, no successor of the Prince of the Apostles had set foot in the Holy Land. In 1965 Pope Paul VI flew to Jerusalem to pray at the tomb of Our Blessed Lord. He embraced the Orthodox Patriarch of the East. It was in 1054 Michael Cerularius the archbishop of Constantinople left the fold of Rome which began the schism of the Orthodox Church. Paul VI removed the excommunication pronounced on the Orthodox Church.

     The Coptic Church that broke away from the Roman Church in 451 sought a dialogue with Rome. The Anglican Primate came to Rome seeking means to end the five hundred year old dispute with Rome. In 1964 Paul flew to Bombay, India, to attend the Eucharistic Congress. In 1969 he went to Geneva to address the World Council of Churches.

The result of the Second Vatican Council was disastrous to some aspects of the ChurchHe saw hundreds of priests and religious leave their sacred call. But he stood firm. He raised the number of Cardinals to 130. He took away the right to vote from Cardinals who were over 80 years of age.

     Pope Paul VI died in August 1978. [178-179]


     The sudden and unexpected death of John Paul I put the Cardinals once again to search for a suitable candidate. The list of the Cardinals from Italy and the West European countries could not point out any particular person fit to be elected. Finally they found the Polish Cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Cracowe and elected him to succeed Pope John Paul I. He was elected on October 16, 1978. On October 22 he was crowned as Pope John Paul II

     He was the son of a soldier. When Hitler attacked Poland, Karol was 19 years old. He was arrested and spent some time in jail. As a prisoner, the Nazis forced him to cut stones. When he was freed he began the study of philosophy and theology. In 1949 he was ordained a priest. He worked as a parish priest in spite of Communist persecution. The Polish are a very religious people. Although the hammer and the sickle ruled the state, yet it was the Cross that dominated everywhere.

     Pope John Paul II had the good fortune to see his persecuted native Poland triumph over atheism when the Solidarity Union shook off the shackles of Communism and made Poland a free country again.

The Polish Pope is the best loved and admired person in the world today. His speeches are headlines in secular papers. His travels are international events. Time weekly reported that the most influential man of today’s world is the Polish Pope of Rome.

     In 1977 he published his encyclical Redemptor Hominis. It brought out the true nature of the Church in the modern world.

It was not a lecture on sociology or economy, but it was the restatement of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles which made a whirlwind in the land of Palestine two thousand years ago. He looked back into the days of Christ and the salvation he brought to mankind through his cross.

     With delight he sees the changing world, the fall of the iron curtain, the freedom of religion and the new spirit of love overshadowing evil and hatred. To a world that is searching for God, John Paul II is the beacon of light. He is blunt and direct when he demands Christian values from the faithful. The exodus of priests and nuns is over. He refuses to listen to those who advocate the change of centuries old traditions of celibacy for priests. He asks nuns who are demanding ordination to go back to their convents to lead a life of prayer and service. He tells women who want a change in the male domination in the Church to live the life of nobility of motherhood.

     Pope John Paul II is not a prisoner of the Curia. He has visited almost all the countries of the world. Wherever he went, he preached equality between the haves and havenots. He met dictators and oppressors and demanded an end of human slavery. He rejoiced with the fortunate while he lamented with the downtrodden. Everywhere he is the messenger of Christ bringing peace into a troubled world.

     Pope John Paul has completed 13 years of his pontificate. Let us hope and pray that this Pope would lead the world to the third millennium of glory to the Church which Jesus Christ himself founded on Peter the fisherman on that day in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi when he said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [180-181]

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