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Gregory V - The First German Pontiff

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Gregory V the first German PontiffThe approach of the emperor's army inspired the Romans with such respect for Otto that they sent to ask him to name his choice for pope. Otto promptly designated his chaplain and cousin, Bruno. Bruno was thereupon elected and consecrated. He took the name Gregory V.

The first German pope was a young man in his twenties. He was learned and could preach not only in Latin and German, but in the budding Italian. He was a bit quick- tempered, but on the whole an excellent priest and a good pope. On May 21, 996, Gregory crowned Otto emperor. Naturally enough, he and Otto got along well together. But he could show his independence too, as when he condemned the monk Gerbert for the attempt to take over the see of Rheims; Gerbert was a friend of Otto's. When Gerbert submitted, however, he was made archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto had started for Rome at the request of the late Pope John XV to check the tyranny of the Patrician Crescentius. The Emperor intended to punish the usurper, but papal good nature prevailed and Gregory begged the rascal off. It was a mistake.

Scarcely had Otto left Rome when Crescentius began to plot against the Pope. Alarmed, Gregory begged Otto to return, but the Emperor was unable to do so. Within a few months Crescentius drove the Pope out of Rome and set up as antipope the Calabrian Greek, John Philagathus. Gregory went to Pavia and held a synod. The synod condemned all those who supported the antipope and excommunicated Crescentius. This synod also condemned King Robert of France for attempting matrimony with his kinswoman Bertha. The next year, 998, after all attempts to bring Crescentius and his antipope John XVI to their senses had failed, Otto marched on Rome. Crescentius holed up in the Castle of St. Angelo; the antipope fled to a castle in the country.

Without waiting upon the angry Emperor's arrival, a Roman faction seized the antipope, tore out his eyes and tongue, cut off his ears and nose, and confined him in a monastery. The Pope and Emperor made a triumphant entry in February 998. Gregory held a Council which deposed John from his rank as a priest. The mutilated wretch was then insulted by the mob and finally kept in a monastery for the rest of his life. Crescentius held out stubbornly in St. Angelo, but at last the Germans battered their way into the Castle. Crescentius was beheaded on the battlements and his body tossed into the moat. In spite of these political ups and downs, Pope Gregory found time to do much for monasteries. The great religious reform of the coming century was to be powered by monks, and Gregory V did his part in preparing for it by favoring these spiritual champions against bishops, all too often mixed up in worldly and political matters.

Gregory V died on February 4, 999.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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