Benedict V

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John XII (d. 964)


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(22 May–deposed 23 June 964: d. 4 July 966)

A Roman by birth, described by contemporaries as devout, morally exemplary, and learned (grammaticus), he was a deacon who favoured the movement for reform in the church. Although he apparently took part in the election of Leo VIII on 6 Dec. 963 after the (temporary) deposition of John XII, he did not play a prominent role in the bitter factional strife at the time; when John resumed control of the holy see in Feb. 964 and had Leo deposed, he left Benedict, who was in the city, undisturbed. On John's death on 14 May the Romans, instead of recalling Leo, sent envoys to Emperor Otto I (962–73), at Rieti, begging leave to elect Benedict; they wanted a reformer in place of a libertine, had no liking for Leo, and perhaps hoped that Otto would be prepared to drop him in favour of such an irreproachable candidate. Otto, however, angrily refused. In spite of this the clergy and people elected and enthroned Benedict, promising to defend him at all costs. Only when Otto laid siege to the city and looked like starving it out, notwithstanding the anathemas Benedict hurled at the besieging army from the walls, did the citizens yield and hand him over (23 June). A synod was immediately held in the Lateran, presided over by Leo and Otto, which condemned Benedict as a usurper (he was in fact one if Leo VIII was legitimate pope). Humbly refusing to defend himself, he was formally stripped of his pontifical robes and insignia, and had his pastoral staff (the first recorded mention of the papal sceptre) broken over his head by Leo himself as he lay prostrate; the story of the chronicler Liutprand (d. 972) that he removed his robes himself is a canard intended to suggest that he abdicated voluntarily. On the emperor's intervention he was allowed to retain the rank of deacon but was exiled to Hamburg, where the bishop, Adaldag, treated him with marked consideration. On Leo's death there was a call, which went unheeded, for his restoration. He died at Hamburg, deeply respected for his holy life, on 4 July 966. His remains were brought back to Rome by Emperor Otto III in 988.

Further Reading

LP ii. 251JW i. 469 f.ZPR 139–51Mann iv. 273–81DBI viii. 342–4 (P. Delogu)DHGE viii. 31–8 (F. Baix)Seppelt ii. 371Levillain i. 155 (R. Grosse)NCE ii. 240 (S. McKenna)Z1: 92–5Z2: 151–3

Subjects: Christianity.

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