(14 July 939–late Oct. 942)
Although later sources describe him as of German descent, imposed on the holy see by Otto I (962–73), king of Germany since 936 and later emperor, he was in fact a Roman by birth, born in the last quarter of the 9th century, and was cardinal priest of SS. Silvestro and Martino when elected. Like his predecessor, he owed his elevation to Alberic II (c. 905–54), prince of Rome, senator and patrician, who was absolute ruler of the city from 932 to 954 and, like his mother Marozia (d. after 932), appointed the popes of his choice. A learned man, Stephen was said to be blameless in his private life and in his public relations devoted to peace. In Rome and the papal state, wholly subject to Alberic, he was allowed no independent role and confined himself to routine acts of administration; even when he supported the movement, radiating from Cluny in Burgundy, for the reform of monasteries in Rome and central Italy, he was collaborating with one of Alberic's deepest interests. In the wider political sphere, however, he intervened in early 942 in favour of Louis IV d'Outremer (936–54), son of Charles the Simple (879–929), who had been crowned king of France in 936 but was facing a formidable rebellion; he dispatched Bishop Damasus as papal legate to France to urge the nobility and people of France and Burgundy, on pain of excommunication, to recognize Louis as king and give up their hostility to him. Later in the year he sent the pallium to Archbishop Hugh of Reims, restored to his see after being displaced for several years, and this conciliatory gesture helped to quell the opposition to Louis.
In his last months Stephen seems to have fallen foul of Alberic and to have taken part in a conspiracy or uprising directed against him, at least according to not entirely reliable sources. It appears that the pope was imprisoned, brutally mutilated, and died of his injuries.
LP ii. 244JW i. 457 f.ZPR 60–64Watterich i. 34, 671MGSS 22: 431DHGE xv. 1198 (R. Aubert)Z2: 84Mann iv. 212–17Levillain iii. 1460–61 (H. Zimmermann)NCE xiii. 520–21 (M. A. Mulholland)