Friday, September 14, 2018

Pope Stephen VI Was A Very Messed Up Individual

Secular monarchies and republican governments are not the only systems that sometimes put madmen in charge. 

The Roman Catholic Church's non-hereditary monarchy, in which a College of Cardinals serving a role analogous to a self-perpetuating board of directors of an ordinary non-profit has also produced some dubious leaders, with the late 9th century CE being a particularly troubled time for the papacy. Consider for example, Pope Stephen VI.

Pope Stephen VI was the Pope from May 22, 896 CE to August 897.
Stephen is chiefly remembered in connection with his conduct towards the remains of Pope Formosus, his penultimate predecessor. The rotting corpse of Formosus was exhumed and put on trial, before an unwilling synod of the Roman clergy, in the so-called Cadaver Synod (or Synodus Horrenda) in January 897. Pressure from the Spoleto contingent and Stephen's fury with his predecessor probably precipitated this extraordinary event. 
With the corpse propped up on a throne, a deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff. During the trial, Formosus's corpse was condemned for performing the functions of a bishop when he had been deposed and for receiving the pontificate while he was the bishop of Porto, among other revived charges that had been levelled against him in the strife during the pontificate of John VIII. The corpse was found guilty, stripped of its sacred vestments, deprived of three fingers of its right hand (the blessing fingers), clad in the garb of a layman, and quickly buried; it was then re-exhumed and thrown in the Tiber. All ordinations performed by Formosus were annulled. 
The trial excited a tumult. Though the instigators of the deed may actually have been Formosus' enemies of the House of Spoleto (notably Guy IV of Spoleto), who had recovered their authority in Rome at the beginning of 897 by renouncing their broader claims in central Italy, the scandal ended in Stephen's imprisonment and his death by strangling that summer.
N.B. Pope Boniface VI, who served as Pope between Stephen VI and Formosus for just fifteen days.
His election came about as a result of riots soon after the death of Pope Formosus. Prior to his reign, he had twice incurred a sentence of deprivation of orders as a subdeacon and as a priest. After a pontificate of fifteen days, he is said by some to have died of the gout, by others to have been forcibly ejected to make way for Stephen VI, the candidate of the Spoletan party. 
At a synod in Rome held by John IX in 898, his election was pronounced null and void.
Given some of the antic of Kim Jong-Un, the current supreme leader of North Korea, however,  we should not kid ourselves into thinking that society and human decency has advanced all that far in the meantime. For example:
O Sang-hon (Chosŏn'gŭl: 오상헌; RR: O Sangheon; MR: O Sanghŏn) was a deputy security minister in the Ministry of People's Security in the government of North Korea who was reportedly killed in a political purge in 2014. According to the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, O was executed by flamethrower for his role in supporting Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek.

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