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Boniface VI - Mystery In Death

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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.

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