After the death of Formosus, anarchy touches even the papal
throne. This period is well termed by Cardinal Baronius the Iron Age. Magyars
now were to add their savage raids to the misery caused by the fury of Norsemen
and Saracens. And over the corpse of Charlemagne's empire little lords fought
brutally. There was little room for learning, little time for culture in the
midst of raids and burnings. Sanctity itself, while present, was not
over conspicuous. The tide of ancient culture had gone out, leaving malodorous
and muddy flats. The tide of the great medieval culture was not yet beginning to
flow. Even the papacy felt the impact of this gloomy age.
The Italian nobles, free from imperial interference, felt
themselves masters of Rome. They dominated papal elections, they thrust
relatives onto Peter's throne, they proved themselves unworthy of power and
responsibility. Yes, it was the Iron Age of the tenth century that was dawning
for the papacy too. Boniface VI was a Roman. the son of Adrian. His career, like
those of many popes of this period is obscure. Boniface had been degraded from
both the subdiaconate and the priesthood. Now a popular faction made him pope.
The third canon of a council held at Rome in 898 by Pope John IX declared this
election of Boniface was invalid because, as a degraded priest, he was
ineligible. Boniface lasted as pope only fifteen days.
Some say that he was deposed by the Spoleto gang to clear the
road for their man, Stephen. Others say that he was carried off by gout on May
22, 886. Horace Mann, the historian of the popes, doubts whether the third canon
of Pope John's council actually refers to a pope. He claims that Boniface was
acknowledged as pope, both at the time and by later popes. Most historians,
however, agree that the Boniface mentioned in the council is Boniface VI. In
favor of Mann's theory is the fact that Boniface VI has maintained his place in
the list of true popes even in the last revision published in the "Annuario
Pontificio" in 1948. Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.