Little is known of his background or earlier career except that he was a Roman by birth, the son of Photius and a brother of bishop Theodosius. In the violent reaction in favour of the posthumously humiliated Formosus which overthrew Stephen VI, he was elected to replace the short-lived Romanus. Described as a man who loved peace, he reigned for only twenty days, the exact dates of his accession and death being unknown. Even so, he threw himself energetically into the task of restoring some kind of order into the confused situation in which the Roman church found itself. First, he held a synod which effectively annulled the ‘cadaver synod’ of Jan. 897 at which the corpse of Formosus had been subjected to a macabre mock trial, completely rehabilitating the dead pope, recognizing the validity of his ordinations, and ordering the burning of the letters of renunciation which the men he had ordained had been compelled by Stephen VI to sign. Secondly, he arranged for Formosus' body, cast up by the Tiber into which it had been flung and then clandestinely interred, to be exhumed afresh, reclothed in pontifical vestments, and reburied, with as much honour as possible, in its original grave in St Peter's. The cause of his early death is not known.
LP ii. 231JW i. 441Mansi xviii. 221E. Dümmler, Auxilius und Vulgarius (Leipzig, 1866)DTC xv. 226 (É. Amann)EThC 144 (S. Scholz)Levillain iii. 1487 (K. Herbers)NCE xiv. 872–3 (C. M. Aherne)Seppelt ii. 342 f.Z1: 59 f.