Why Pope Benedict IX was called "a demon in the guise of a priest" and the worst Pope in history
Why Pope Benedict IX was called "a demon in the guise of a priest" and the worst Pope in history

“A demon from hell in the guise of a priest,” these words, written in the 11th century by the reformer monk and cardinal Peter Damiani, do not refer at all to some depraved cleric and not even to a bishop with “sinful souls”. In fact, Damiani was talking about the most important person in the Catholic religion - Pope Benedict IX. He was the youngest priest ever to hold office and the most controversial Pope in the papacy's 2,000-year history.

Church historian Eamon Duffy claims that Benedict IX obtained his office through bribery and the use of force. Subsequently, the newly minted Pope badly tarnished the throne's reputation with scandalous behavior and ended up selling the position to the highest bidder when he decided to abdicate and marry his cousin.

The youngest pope in history sold the papacy to marry a cousin

The late 10th and early 11th centuries were some of the darkest years in the history of medieval papacy, as a number of immoral and depraved popes almost destroyed this institution. During this period, the papal throne was under the strict control of a handful of powerful, aristocratic Italian families who used their power to grant themselves maximum preference.

Benedict IX: How the Papacy Was Traded

Benedict IX, née Theophylact III Count of Tuscolo, was born in Rome around 1002 CE. NS. He was the son of Alberich III, Count of Tusculum, a key political player in Roman politics. The papacy was closely connected with his family: two popes preceding Benedict were his uncles. When the papal throne was vacated following the death of Pope John XIX, Alberi [decided to appoint his son as the new Pope.

Duffy explains that sources further disagree about Benedict's age when he became pope in 1032. Although some sources based on reports from the German monk Rupert Glaber suggest that he was only 11 or 12 years old, most historians believe that he was in fact about 20 years old.

In any case, this makes him the youngest Pope ever to hold the post, and it seems that the sudden acquisition of such power clearly hit the young man in the head.

Pope John XIX

Benedict soon earned a reputation as a terrible pontiff, even by the standards of his corrupt predecessors. According to Duffy, "He was both cruel and depraved, and even the Roman peoples, accustomed to everything, considered the Pope's behavior too immoral." He became known for his immoral and depraved behavior, and even participated in violent orgies in the Lateran Palace.

Unsurprisingly, Benedict found it difficult to stay on the throne. In 1044, a rebellious mob drove Benedict out of the city and appointed a new Pope, Sylvester III. However, just a year later, Benedict, with the support of his family's private army, stormed the city and regained power after a brutal and bloody skirmish.

Synod of Sutri overthrew three popes for simony (buying and selling dignity): Benedict IX, Sylvester III and Gregory VI

Despite his return to power, Benedict did not seem to be confident in his position and was tired of the conflict. He wanted to marry, presumably, his cousin, and therefore began looking for a possible successor.

Uncle Benedict, the pious scientist John Gratian, offered him a substantial sum for his abdication. As a result, Benedict abdicated the throne, and Gratian accepted the papacy under the name Gregory VI.

Pope Benedict IX

A year later, Benedict changed his mind and returned to Rome to again put forward his claims to the papacy. He was joined by Sylvester III, whose supporters have not yet lost hope that he can be reinstated in the post of pope.

Thus, by 1046, three opposing popes were embroiled in a terrible conflict that threatened to destroy the most important institution in medieval Christendom.

At this point, Holy Roman Emperor Henry III decided to intervene and end the chaos. At the Synod of Sutri in December 1046, he overthrew Benedict and Sylvester and asked Gregory VI to resign.

He then installed his candidate, Clement II, on the throne, starting the era of the German reformers, which was supposed to take the papal see out of the control of the Italian aristocracy, and whitewashed the institution in the eyes of the people after the debauchery of Pope Benedict.

Alleged tomb of Pope Benedict IX

Benedict refused to obey Henry, and briefly occupied the Lateran Palace after the death of Clement II in 1047. The Germans drove him out of Rome once more, and the former Pope was finally excommunicated in 1049.

He later repented and lived his days at the abbey of Grottaferrata. Nevertheless, Benedict's pontificate went down in history as one of the most scandalous episodes in the history of the medieval papacy and became a black stain on the reputation of a sacred institution.

He entered the history of religion and Rodrigo Borgia - Pope who was called "a misfortune for the church".

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