Page 4, 7th November 1958

7th November 1958
Page 4
Page 4, 7th November 1958 — Facts and figures about the Popes from St. Peter to Pius XII

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Facts and figures about the Popes from St. Peter to Pius XII


By Brother Paul, S.V.D.

IT was when the first Pope was appointed by Christ Himself, at Caesarea Philippi in Palestine, that Our Lord made the most famous pun in history—"thou are Peter (Kepha), and it is upon this rock (kepha) that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven."

These solemn yet simple words—thou are Peter and it is upon this rock that I will build my church—also apply to all his successors, for though popes come and go, Peter never dies.

The history of the 258 men from St. Peter to Pius XII who, as Vicars of Christ, have held the most exalted office in the world for the past 2,000 years, makes a fascinating study. Baron Ludwig von Pastor, a former Austrian Minister to the Holy See, spent nearly 50 years writing "The History of the Popes" in 29 volumes.

After reading this monumental work no one will have much time for bothering about the numerous legends of popes that never existed or the fable of "Pope's Joan", who was alleged to have reigned from 855 to 858. Besides the lawful popes there were also, up to 1449, no less than 36 anti-popes, the first of whom was a saint.



BY far the most remarkable thing about these 259 mortal men who have represented Christ on earth was their holiness. So far 78 of Them have been canonised and sight more have been beatified. Most of these lived in the early centuries, for of the 52 popes in the first 500 years of the Church only two were not canonised, whereas of the 156 popes during the last 1,100 years, since St. Nicholas the Great was elected in 858, only seven were canonised.

Altogether 86 popes, or exactly a third of them, are now venerated for their sanctity.

The youngest pope was John XII, aged 16 when elected in 955; one of the few bad popes, he was murdered at the age of 25. The second youngest, Benedict IX, who had two uncles popes, was elected at 18; by serving three terms as pontiff he was the only one who was pope more than once.

He, too, was one of the half-adozen really had popes—in his "History of the Church", Mgr. Philip Hughes calls him "a precocious little blackguard".

The oldest Pope

THE oldest pope was St. Agatho, a Greek and a married man, who was said to be 103 when elected and 106 when he died in 681.

Anastasius IV was elected at 90 and Celestine III at 85. Many other popes lived to be old. Leo XIII died in this century at 94, and four more popes were over 90. About 20 others died between 80 and 90, but only six popes died under 50.

Pius IX had the longest reign. 32 years, and second longest were St. Peter and Leo XIII with 25 years each. Nine others reigned from 20 to 25 years, while 12 popes reigned for less than six weeks.

The shortest reign of all was that of Stephen II, who was pope for only four days in 752 and died before his consecration. St. , Pascal I was elected the same day 1 that Stephen V died in 817, but there was no pope for three years until Blessed Gregory X's election in 1271.

On three other occasions it took a couple of years to elect a pope. Adrian Ii, a married man, refused to be pope when elected in 855 and again in 858, but he accepted the honour the third time in 867.

Jews and Gentiles

FOUR popes were deposed, two more were forcibly removed from office and St, Celestine V. a hermit, was the only pope who ever abdicated. Formosus, who had been excom1 municated when he was a bishop !in 876, was afterwards freed from lecelesiastical censure and elected pope 15 years later.

Jews and gentiles have been ' popes and they have come from three continents—there may even have been a couple of Negro popes, for at least two of them were born in North Africa.

More than 200, or over 80 per cent. of all the popes, have been Italians, and 106 of these, including Pius XII, were Romans. Among the remainder there were 16 French, 14 Greeks, six Germans, six Syrians, three Spaniards, two were from Yugoslavia and one each from Portugal, Holland and England -Nicholas Breakspear, the only English Pope, reigned as Adrian IV from 1154 to 1159.

A few of the Italian popes were natives of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. The last 42 popes since Adrian VI, a Dutchman who died in 1523, have all been Italians.

The laity took part

DOPES were elected in 20 other places besides Rome, among them Venice, Perugia, Constance and Avignon, where seven French popes lived in the 14th century. The laity took part in papal elections up to the 9th century, when Stephen V was first pope elected (in 816) by the Roman clergy only.

Marinus I was the first bishop to be elected (in 882) Pope. St. Leo IX was the last pope who was not elected. but was appointed (in 1049) by the Holy Roman Emperor. Twelve years later Nicholas 11 made Cardinals the sole electors of the popes. Urban VI, elected in 1378, was the last pope who was not a Cardinal.

Altogether 10 popes as such were never in Route, but lived in exile instead in such places as Viterbo, Orvieto, Avignon and Savona.

Neither are all the popes buried in Rome—though most of the early ones rest in the catacombs there and 143 of them are entombed in St. Peter's—for some of them travelled widely and consequently died and were buried in 33 other places, tncluding Naples, Verona, Perugia, F 1 o r e n c e, Bologna. Pisa and Monte Cassino in Italy; Avignon. Cluny and Marseilles in France; Hamburg, Cologne and Bamberg in Germany; in the islands of Sardinia and Sicily and even in such strange places as Istanbul in Turkey and the Crimea in Russia.

But all the 49 popes since Martin V, who died in 1431, have been buried in Rome—the last one to die outside Italy was Pius VI, who ended his days in 1799 at Valence in France. where his heart still lies, though his body was brought to Rome three years later.

Violent deaths

APART from 33 martyrs, 11 other popes suffered violent deaths, some of them having been murderd, The only Portuguese Pope, John XXI, was killed when the roof of his study at Viterbo collapsed on him in 1277; Stephen VII, one of the most notorious popes, was strangled in a Roman dungeon in 897; and the last pope to be venerated as a martyr. St. Martin 1, died of starvation while in exile in Russia in 655. Another pope, Clement XII, went blind before he died in 1740.

Many of the early popes, including St. Peter, were married, as the clergy were not obliged to remain celibate during the first centuries of the Church One pope had a son who also became pope, St. Hormisdas, who died in 535, being the father of St. Silverius.

John XIX, one of the three laymen elected pope—it was he who introduced indulgences — was a brother of Pope Benedict VIII. while Pope Benedict IX was their nephew.

Quite a few popes had nephews who also became popes. One of the greatest of all pontiffs, Innocent III. who was the first to call himself "Vicar of Christ", was a nephew of Clement 111 — and Gregory IX, who canonised St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, was his nephew. One pope was an Apostle, three others were disciples of Apostles and about 50 later popes were members of some 14 religious orders. Among these were 24 Benedictines, four Cistercians, four Franciscans and four Dominicans.

The last pope who was not a bishop when elected, Gregory XVI, a Camaldolese monk who died in 1846, was also the last pope who was a member of a religious order.

The bad Popes

UNFOR I UNATELY it must also be said that there were a few bad popes, who brought shame on the Papacy —though recent historical research shows that one of the most notorious of them, Alexander VI, a Spaniard, was not as bad as some earlier writers have painted him.

That these popes did not bring total ruination on the Church is indeed further proof that it was founded by God as an unshakeable rock till the end of time. Moreover, history can scarcely record half-a-dozen—Dante found three of them in hell, Nicholas 11, Boniface VIII and Clement V (Inferno. canto xix)—or less than three per cent of all the popes, who were morally bad. Proportionately, then, there have been fewer bad popes than bad Apostles, and far fewer than bad temporal rulers of any time or place.

The 258 popes had 81 different names, ranging alphabetically from Adeodatus to Zosimus. There has been only one named Peter and five named Paul, but 13 were called Leo and Innocent, 14 Clement, 15 Benedict, 16 Gregory and 21 John—there was a John XXII, but owing to a mistake in the counting about 996. there was no John XX !

Change of name

IOHN II, who died in JOHN was the first to change his name as pope, and Continued on page 6, col. 8

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