John X


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(Mar./Apr. 914–deposed May 928: d. 929)

Born at Tossignano in the Romagna, ordained deacon at Bologna, frequently sent on missions to Rome, elected but not consecrated bishop of Bologna, he had been archbishop John XI of Ravenna for nine years (905–14) when, on the demand of the Roman nobility, in effect of the all-powerful family of Theophylact (d. c.920) and Theodora (d. after 916), he was elected successor to Lando (913–14). While at Ravenna, he had had close relations with Berengar I, king of Italy (888–924), a fact which also counted in his favour. Scandalous tongues alleged that Theodora wanted him in Rome because he had been her lover when visiting the city as a deacon, but the real reason for his choice was Rome's desperate need for a vigorous and experienced leader. His translation evoked protests among supporters of Pope Formosus since it made nonsense of Formosus' posthumous condemnation for having moved from one see to another, but there is no evidence that his policies were anti-Formosan. With the growing recognition of the unique position of the holy see, the old canonical objections to a bishop's promotion to it were losing force.

John immediately set himself to deal finally with the Muslims, whose devastating raids were terrorizing and impoverishing central Italy. It was because he seemed capable of doing this that the Roman aristocracy, alarmed for their estates, had taken the unprecedented step of summoning him from Ravenna. With Theophylact and his son-in-law Alberic I, duke of Spoleto (d. c.925), he skilfully organized a coalition of Italian rulers, with Count Landulf of Capua negotiated naval assistance from Byzantium, and after a three-month siege of their stronghold at the mouth of the river Garigliano decisively defeated the Saracens (Aug. 915). He was later to recall proudly the part he had personally taken in fighting the dread enemies who had devastated Roman territory for 60 years. At the height of his political success he crowned (Dec. 915) Berengar I as emperor in St Peter's; in return Berengar took the traditional oath to guarantee the rights and patrimony of the holy see.

More than a politician and man of action, John carried out a wide range of ecclesiastical policies which enhanced the prestige of the papacy. In 915 and 920 he settled damaging splits over the succession to the sees of Narbonne and Louvain respectively, in the latter case favouring the candidate of King Charles III the Simple (879–929). In Sept. 916 his legate presided at the synod of Hohenaltheim, in Swabia, important not only for re-establishing church discipline but in buttressing the shaky throne of King Conrad I (911–18). Although his efforts were to prove unsuccessful, he struggled for years to bring Croatia and Dalmatia back to Roman obedience and to suppress the use of the Slav language in the liturgy. His decisions were sometimes motivated by expediency, as when he confirmed the election of a count's 5-year-old son to an archbishopric. On the other hand, he gave the bishops of Rouen and Reims wise pastoral advice on dealing with converted Normans who were relapsing into paganism. Towards the end of 923 his legates were able to restore unity with the eastern church, interrupted since 912 when Patriarch Nicholas I, furious that Rome had sanctioned Emperor Leo VI's (886–912) fourth marriage and refused to go back on that decision, struck the pope's name from the diptychs. According to the patriarch, writing to Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, they agreed to condemn tetragamy as an abomination, but this is an improbable simplification. It is likely that they recognized the eastern legislation of 920 forbidding fourth marriages as the local law of the Byzantine church. Early in 928 he intervened on behalf of the Benedictine abbey of Cluny, founded in 909, emphasizing that it was under the protection of the holy see.


Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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