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John IX - Much Done In Little Time

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John IXAlthough John IX ruled the Church for only two years, he did much to bring order out of confusion. Had he lived longer perhaps the papacy might have been spared some of the misery it suffered in the dark tenth century. John IX was born in Tivoli, the son of Rampoald. He became a Benedictine monk and a priest. After the death of Theodore II, the majority which favored that pontiff's actions in favor of Formosus rallied around John. The other faction tried to elect Sergius, but John prevailed. Sergius, excommunicated, had to leave Rome.

John at once displayed his power of organization. He held a synod at Rome which confirmed the acts of Theodore's synod and repealed those of the ghastly corpse-synod of Stephen VII. These were burned. Those who had been ordained by Formosus were restored to their positions. Reordinations were forbidden. Yet John in a spirit of moderation did not punish those who had taken part in the corpse-synod. He accepted the excuse that they had done so under compulsion. In the field of politics, the synod recognized as valid the anointing of Lambert of Spoleto as emperor, and rejected that of Berenger of North Italy. John then went to Ravenna where he held another synod in the presence of Emperor Lambert. He had been horrified at the miserable disorder of the country through which he passed, and he earnestly besought Lambert to keep order in Italy. This synod echoed a decree of the Roman synod to insure order in papal elections. The elections were to be made by the clergy with the consent of the people and in the presence of the imperial envoys.

At this wild time imperial protection seemed desirable even at the risk of imperial interference. But the decree was to mean nothing. No emperor had much power; and the very next year Emperor Lambert was killed in a hunting accident. Poor Arnulf, also a crowned emperor, was paralyzed and died shortly after. With no emperor, the door of control of papal elections swung open to the unbridled ambition of the nobles. John was not so lost in political dealings that he forgot the spiritual. He pleaded with the bishops assembled at Ravenna to give the good example so desperately needed, and to bring down God's blessing by prayer and fasting. In spite of scolding letters from German bishops, Pope John IX protected the Slavs from German domination. He appointed a metropolitan and three bishops for Moravia. In the East John IX had the great satisfaction of seeing unity and harmony prevail at Constantinople. Whether or not there had been a second Photian schism, it was certainly over now.

John's accomplishments are amazing in view not only of the great difficulties of the time, but of the shortness of his pontificate. Some time in the year 900 this wise and energetic pope died. 

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

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