Lesson #280: The Man Who Sold the Papacy

Pope Benedict IX was maybe the youngest Pope in history, having taken the position (the first time) in the early 11th century at some point between the ages of 11 and 20.* And that’s all well and good for him, but though interesting, it’s not that surprising; at the time, the papacy was granted more on who you knew and could pay off than it was on being ultra pious. Benedict, it turns out, was the nephew of his two immediate predecessors, Pope John XIX and Pope Benedict VIII and his daddy bought him the office.

What’s awesome about Benedict IX is that he was about the least qualified person to ascend the Papacy, was accused by more than one person of rape, murder and adultery, and more interestingly, he’s the only man ever to have sold the Papacy. There’s also speculation that he was the first gay Pope. (Heresy! I love it!)

Benedict was born in Rome around 1012 and became Pope** in 1032. In 1044, he was forced out by opposition and Sylvester III ascended the Papacy (sort of — politics are messy). When Benedict returned to Rome in April 1045, he resumed control of the position before resigning the office a month later (so he could marry) and selling it to his godfather, who took the title as Gregory VI. Not long afterwards, regretting the decision, he returned to Rome, reclaimed the office — though Gregory VI was still technically Pope — and sort of duked it out with Sylvester, who popped up again to stake his claim to the office. In July of 1046, King Henry III intervened and the Council of Sutri declared in December of the same year that both Benedict and Sylvester were deposed and asked that Gregory tender his resignation. Clement II was then installed as Pope and ruled*** until his death a year later, at which point Benedict, having rejected his deposition, swooped back to Rome, seized the Lateran Palace and continued to hold it until German troops forced him out in July 1048. He was brought up on simony charges, for which he refused to appear, and was excommunicated in 1049. Unsurprisingly, he’s not one of the canonized Popes.

His three recognized terms as Pope are as follows:

Term 1: Election (1032) to Sylvester III (1044)

Term 2: Return to Rome (April 1045) to Sale of Papacy (May 1045)

Term 3: Forcible seizure of Lateran Palace (November 1047) to Expulsion (July 1048)

Best. Papacy. Ever!

More can be read here, here and here.

*Most sources say he was between the ages of 18 and 20 when he first took the position, but some say he was as young as 11.

**The first time. In fact, he was Pope three times, the only person ever to be Pope more than once.

***For some reason I can’t hear the word “rule” anymore without thinking “…over all this land and we will call it…This Land!” “I think we should call it Your Grave.” “Ah! Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal!”, which is one of the first scenes of the Firefly pilot. And one of the best character introductions ever.

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