A Roman by birth, son of a bishop named Hadrian whose diocese has never been identified, he was elected almost immediately after the death of Formosus, probably on 11 Apr. 896. His past had been murky, for he had been twice degraded by John VIII, first as subdeacon and then, after rehabilitation, as priest, for immorality; after his second unfrocking he had not been restored. His election was forced through by the rioting populace, and may have represented hostility to the absent German emperor, Arnulf (896–9), and his resident governor Farold. The victim of severe gout, he died after fifteen days, and was buried in the portico of the popes in St Peter's. The Roman synod held by John IX in 898 deplored, and prohibited the repetition of, such an uncanonical promotion.
LP ii. 228JW i. 439Mansi xviii. 223 f.PL 135: 829 (Flodoard of Reims)DBI xii. 142 f. (P. Bertolini)DHGE ix. 899 f. (F. Baix)EC ii. 1866 (P. Goggi)Levillain i. 188 (K. Herbers)NCE ii. 500 (A. T. Ennis)Seppelt ii. 341