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Benedict IX

(1032—1044)


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(21 Oct. 1032–Sept. 1044; 10 Mar.–1 May 1045; 8 Nov. 1047–16 July 1048: d. 1055/6)

On the death of John XIX his brother Alberic III, now head of the ruling Tusculan family, bribed the electorate and had his son Theophylact, nephew of both John XIX and Benedict VIII, elected, and the following day enthroned, with the style Benedict IX. Still a layman, he was not, as later gossip alleged, a lad of 10 or 12 but was probably in his late twenties; his personal life, even allowing for exaggerated reports, was scandalously violent and dissolute. If for twelve years he proved a competent pontiff, he owed this in part to native resourcefulness, but in part also to an able entourage and to the firm control which his father exercised over Rome. He was the only pope to hold office, at any rate de facto, for three separate spells.

In general his policies followed those of his predecessors. In 1037, however, he made important changes in the curia aimed at centralization, perhaps also at getting rid of German control. Emperor Conrad II (1024–39) found him less pliant than John XIX; when he invited him to Cremona in 1037, expecting him to ratify his deposition of Aribert, the rebellious archbishop of Milan (1018–45), the pope first sought to arrange a compromise. Only a year later at Spello did he excommunicate Aribert and recognize his imperial replacement. Meanwhile, as a result of his aunt (or sister) Theodora's marriage to Pandulf, brother of Count Waimar of Salerno, he was able to play a helpful role in Conrad's expedition to south Italy. A beneficiary was the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples, which on 1 July 1038 he placed under papal protection. With Conrad's successor, Henry III (1039–56), his relations were initially friendly, not least because Henry needed papal approval if he were to marry Agnes of Poitou. At the Roman synod of Apr. 1044, however, he asserted his independence, restoring to Grado the patriarchal status of which John XIX, in abject deference to Conrad, had deprived it in 1027.

In Sept. 1044 there was a sudden reversal of his fortunes. An insurrection at Rome, to which growing disgust at his loose life and, even more, resentment at the Tusculan domination contributed, forced him to abandon the city. Bloody fighting ensued, but on 20 Jan. 1045 the Stephanian branch of the Crescentian family succeeded in getting their local bishop, John of Sabina, installed as Pope Silvester III. Benedict, who had never been formally deposed and whose partisans were based in Trastevere, promptly excommunicated Silvester, and on 10 Mar. expelled him from Rome and reassumed the papacy. His second term in the Lateran, however, lasted less than two months; on 1 May he made out a deed of abdication in favour of his godfather John Gratian, who was then elected and took the style Gregory VI. A feeling of insecurity based on awareness of the hostility of the people, probably also pressure from friends, and according to some the desire to marry, seem to have impelled him to this surprising step. But John had to raise and hand over to him a huge sum of money; if it was intended as a payment for the papal office, it seems Benedict did not personally profit from it, the money going to the Tusculan faction in Rome.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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