At the death of John XIX, his brother Alberic decided to keep the papacy in the
family by having his young son Theophylactus elected. Theophylactus, a young man
probably about twenty years old, was a cleric. That was about his only
qualification for the papacy.
Unqualified by his youth, his bringing up, his depravity, Benedict IX became one
of the very few really disreputable popes. The story of Benedict's pontificate
is as unsatisfactory as his life. The Romans rose against him probably about
1036 and drove him from the city. Benedict proceeded to Cremona, where he met
Emperor Conrad II and received a promise of protection. By imperial influence
Benedict returned to Rome, only to be driven out again in 1044. This time there
was a fight, and Benedict's supporters grimly clung to a foothold in the
Trastevere district. Inside the city, John, bishop of Sabina, was set up as Pope
Sylvester III, but Benedict was not idle. He had fled for help to his family's
base at Tusculum and within two months his tough Tusculans fought their way into
the city, sent Sylvester III back to his diocese of Sabina, and restored
Benedict IX. Once restored, Benedict did not feel at ease on the papal throne.
For some reason, in 1045 he decided to abdicate. As Desiderius, the abbot of
Monte Cassino (later Pope Victor III), put it, "Devoted to pleasure, he
preferred to live like Epicurus rather than like a pope." Consequently, he
abdicated and handed over the papacy to the worthy archpriest, John Gratian.
Benedict did not go empty-handed. Gratian paid a large sum to get rid of this
offensive character. The charms of retirement soon wore thin for Benedict, and a
short time after his abdication he was once more claiming to be pope. With
Sylvester III and Benedict IX fighting Gregory for the control of Rome, things
were in a frightful muddle. This was ended by Henry III, who had succeeded his
father Conrad II in 1039. Henry came down into Italy, cooperated with Gregory to
get rid of the pretensions of Sylvester and Benedict, and then had a council
demand and receive Gregory's abdication. Henry then put in a German
pope--Clement II. Benedict made one more comeback. After the death of Clement
II, he once again entered Rome and held sway at the Lateran, but only from
November 8, 1047 to July 17, 1048. Henry III insisted on his removal and
brusquely ordered Boniface, marquis of Tuscany, to expel Benedict. What happened
to Benedict after this is obscure. According to one report, which it may be
hoped is true, Benedict retired to the abbey of Grottaferrata, resigned all
claim to the papacy, and spent his last years as a penitent.
Scandalous as Benedict had been, he carried on the routine business of the
papacy. And like the few other bad men who were popes, Benedict taught nothing
but the pure doctrine of Christ, though by so doing he condemned and did not
excuse his own evil life.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.