Benedict VIII


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(17 May 1012–9 Apr. 1024)

The almost simultaneous deaths (12 and 18 May) of Sergius IV and the patrician John II Crescentius coincided with a political upheaval in Rome in which the family of the counts of Tusculum, descended from the senator Theophylact (d. probably 926), wrested power from the Crescentii, the ruling house since 1002. In bitter rivalry the Crescentians elected one Gregory, while the Tusculans chose and installed Theophylact, second son of Count Gregory of Tusculum, born c.980, still a layman, who assumed the name Benedict. In June–July he used armed force to crush the Crescentians in their mountain strongholds, while his brother Romanus (later John XIX) took over the civil government of Rome. His rival Gregory fled to Germany to plead his cause before Henry II (1002–24), but before the year's end the king effectively recognized Benedict, asking him to confirm the rights of his much loved see, Bamberg. He must have known that Benedict was in full possession of the holy see, authoritatively dealing with the church's business in ways that gratified him (e.g. granting the pallium to archbishops of Mainz in Aug. and Oct.).

One of Benedict's achievements was to restore relations with the German royal house, and he not only confirmed the rights of Bamberg but proposed that Henry should visit Rome. The king agreed, and on 14 Feb. 1014 was crowned emperor in St Peter's; he had first sworn to be the church's faithful protector, but had not insisted on the traditional suzerainty. Benedict had already authorized him, when at Ravenna in Jan., to restore his half-brother Arnold as archbishop there. At the synod following the coronation the pope not only consecrated Arnold, but yielded to Henry's request that the creed (with the addition of the Filioque) should be sung at mass, a northern practice previously not accepted at Rome. Pope and emperor then moved to Ravenna, where they held a reforming synod which settled the minimum ages for holy orders and legislated against simony and other abuses.

Henry now left for Germany, pressing the pope to visit him there, while on his instructions Benedict by force of arms restored to the abbey of Farfa, 40 km north of Rome, certain possessions which the Crescentians had seized. An efficient administrator and soldier who has been likened to a feudal baron, he spent much of the next six years in campaigns aimed at making Rome the political centre of Italy. By force of arms he restored papal authority in the Campagna and Roman Tuscany. Forming an alliance with Pisa and Genoa, he defeated Arab invaders in north Italy in a sea battle in which he himself took part and liberated Sardinia (1016). At the same time, with an eye to the papal possessions and claims in south Italy, he supported revolts against Byzantine rule there, putting Norman mercenaries at the disposal of the insurgents' leaders. When the Byzantines crushed the insurgents at Cannae in 1019 and advanced north, he betook himself to Germany, ostensibly in response to Henry's personal invitation but really to seek his help. The personal appearance of the pope on German soil created an immense impression. At Easter 1020 the two conferred at Bamberg, and Henry gave Benedict an imperial privilege which verbally reproduced the Ottonian privilege granted by Otto I in 962, including the rights of sovereignty it conferred on the emperor; he also promised military aid. He fulfilled his promise in 1022 when, accompanied by the pope, he marched with a powerful army to south Italy, but although he scored some successes these were soon lost, and Benedict had to be satisfied that the advance of the Byzantines had at least been halted.


Subjects: Christianity.

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