(25 Dec. 1003–June or July 1009)
A Roman, John Fasanus (‘Cock’) by name, son of Ursus and Stephania, he was cardinal priest of St Peter's when he succeeded John XVII. Like him, he owed his appointment to the patrician John II Crescentius, all-powerful ruler of Rome from 1003 to 1012, with whose family he also may have been connected.
Although Crescentius' nominee, John seems (from the sparse reports that survive) to have taken a vigorous initiative in church affairs. By putting pressure on the new German king, Henry II (1002–24), he brought about (1004) the restoration of the see of Merseburg, which Benedict VII had suppressed and Gregory V had sought to revive. In 1007 he approved the foundation of the see of Bamberg (Bavaria) by Henry, who wanted to make it both a base for missionary work among immigrant Slavs and a political centre on the upper Main; he made it suffragan to Mainz rather than to Würzburg, as the latter's bishop desired, and placed it under papal protection. When he learned (late 1007) that the bishops of Sens and Orléans had threatened the privileges of the abbey of Fleury, ordering its abbot to burn the bulls granting it papal exemptions, he peremptorily summoned them to Rome on pain of excommunication, and even threatened King Robert II of France (996–1031) that he would place his entire kingdom under a ban if they failed to appear. He also commanded the French king to stop persecution of the Jews. The chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg (975–1018) noted that John was eager for Henry II to visit Rome, presumably in May 1004 when he was crowned king of Italy at Pavia, but that Crescentius set his face against the idea. On the other hand, it may have been Crescentius, with his pro-Byzantine sympathies, who brought about the temporary suspension during this pontificate of the schism between Rome and the eastern church. At any rate there is evidence that the name of John XVIII was at some date restored to the diptychs at Constantinople. Following the precedent set by John XV, he solemnly canonized (mid-1004) the five Polish martyrs, Benedict, John, Isaac, Matthew, and Christian. He sent the pallium to Archbishops Meingandus of Trier and Elphege (d. 1012) of Canterbury.
When he died, John is stated to have been a monk at S. Paolo fuori le Mura. The general view is that he retired there, possibly having abdicated, shortly before his death, but the circumstances are wrapped in obscurity. His fostering of contacts with the German court was unwelcome to Crescentius and it is highly likely that his withdrawal was forced upon him rather than being voluntary.
LP ii. 266JW i. 501–3, ii. 708ZPR 388–409DBI lv. 596–8 (A. Sennis)DTC viii. 629 f. (É. Amann)Brezzi 185Z1: 114Levillain ii. 844–5 (K.-J. Herrmann)NCE vii. 928–9 (W. M. Plöchl)Seppelt ii. 401