(Oct. 974–10 July 983)
A Roman aristocrat, son of David, kinsman of Prince Alberic II, who had ruled Rome 932–54, and connected with the powerful Crescentii family, he was bishop of Sutri, near Viterbo, when with the consent of Count Sicco, representative of Emperor Otto II (973–83), he succeeded Benedict VI, whom the intruder pope Boniface VII had had assassinated. Sicco refused to recognize Boniface, who escaped to south Italy, and a fresh election was held. The choice of Benedict was a useful compromise: though the candidate of the imperial party, he was also acceptable to the noble families. He immediately held a synod at which Boniface was excommunicated, but even so his position was not secure. Based on Byzantine territory in south Italy, Boniface carried out a coup in summer 980 which compelled the pope to leave Rome. Benedict appealed urgently to the emperor, and succeeded in returning only in Mar. 981 when Otto had established himself in Italy.
A deeply religious man, Benedict promoted monasticism and monastic reform; he also collaborated obediently with the emperor. Thus many of his enactments in his early years aimed at settling, in the confusion resulting from recent wars, the relative status of great German sees; for example, in 975 he granted the bishop of Mainz the right to crown German kings and confirmed his primacy as apostolic vicar, and permitted Dietrich of Trier singular ceremonial privileges and assigned him the cell of SS. Quattro Coronati on the Caelian (the first foreigner to possess a title church in Rome). In early 976 he approved the appointment of Thietmar as bishop of the new see of Prague, originally planned to have oversight of Moravia as well as Bohemia. At the same time he gave active support to bishops who, especially in Germany (e.g. Dietrich of Trier), were restoring monasteries on reformed lines. He himself was in touch with Maiolus, the saintly fourth abbot of Cluny, near Mâcon in Burgundy, and placed the island of Lérins under Cluny. In Rome in 977 he refounded, under the refugee patriarch Sergius of Damascus (expelled by the Arabs), the monastery of SS. Bonifacio and Alexio on the Aventine, which maintained contact with eastern, and especially Slav, Christianity. He had a keen interest in Subiaco, east of Rome, site of St Benedict's grotto, where he consecrated the church of Sta Scholastica on 4 Dec. 980.
His relations with Otto became even closer after his return to Rome in spring 981. The emperor now resided in Italy, and was present with him at an important synod in St Peter's in Mar. 981 which prohibited simony, or the sale or purchase of any rank of holy orders; the decision was communicated to the entire Christian world. At the Lateran synod of 9 and 10 Sept. 981 Benedict, in compliance with the emperor's wishes, suppressed the see of Merseburg, dividing its territory among the dioceses of Halberstadt, Zeitz, and Meissen. Although there were practical considerations in favour of this rearrangement, its real object was to gratify the ambition of Otto's favourite, Bishop Giseler of Merseburg, who was now translated to the grander see of Magdeburg. Benedict also cooperated with Otto's anti-Byzantine policies in south Italy, making Salerno an archbishopric and setting up Trani as a bishopric of Latin obedience independent of Byzantine-controlled Bari.