As a diplomat, warrior, and ecclesiastical administrator, John X
stands out among the popes of this period. John was born at Tossignano in
Romagna. He entered the ranks of the clergy and in 905 was elected Archbishop of
Ravenna. On the death of Landus, the dominant faction among the Roman nobles,
probably led by Theodora, invited John to come to Rome and be elected pope.
Although by this time several popes had been bishops before they became popes,
the tradition against exchanging dioceses died hard, and there were not wanting
those who called John X an intruder. A vigorous and able man, John at once
decided to put an end to the frightful devastation caused by the Saracens.
A group of Moslems had fortified themselves on a hill
overlooking the Garigliano River in Southern Italy, and from this stronghold
they brutally harried the poor Italians. John X worked feverishly to form an
alliance and for a marvel he succeeded. Northern, central, and southern Italians
were for once united. Helped by Greek naval units from the Eastern Empire, they
moved against the Saracens. Pope John in person led the Roman contingent. The
allied army defeated the Saracens and drove them back into their stronghold.
Then when the starving Moslems tried to break through the iron ring, they were
cut to pieces. A wave of rejoicing swept through Italian homes.
Pope John X, on his return to Rome, was given a triumphant
reception. He deserved it. John X tried to unite the South Slavs more closely to
Rome. He discouraged the Slavonic liturgy, and succeeded in having his views
adopted by a national synod of Spalato in 926. He also worked on the Bulgarians
and enjoyed some passing success in bringing Bulgaria under his jurisdiction. In
Germany Pope John encouraged the clergy to support the hard-pressed King Conrad
in his efforts to bring law and order to that distressed country. He sent a
legate to preside at a synod held at Altheim in 916, which not only enacted
decrees to better church discipline but threatened rebels with excommunication.
In France too the Pope tried to protect a distressed king from treacherous
nobles. When Heribert, Count of Vermandois, seized King Charles the Simple in
923, Pope John threatened him with excommunication. He did, however, make an odd
concession to this Heribert; he confirmed the election of his son Hugh to the
great diocese of Rheims. Hugh was all of five years old! Of course the Pope
provided for the spiritual rule of the diocese, but such a confirmation shows
the unholy power of the nobility. In Italy, John crowned Berenger Emperor in
915, but a faction invited Rudolf of Burgundy to compete with Berenger.
When Berenger was assassinated in 924, the Pope seems to have
called on Hugh, the successor of Louis the Blind, of Provence, to come down and
be King of Italy. He met Hugh at Mantua, but Hugh was either unable or unwilling
to help the poor Pope in his home troubles. It seems that John X was getting too
independent for Marozia, now the dominant figure of the Theophylactus clan. In
928 she had the Pope's brother Peter killed and the Pope himself thrown into
prison. Whether he was smothered with a pillow or died of anxiety, John X did
not long survive his imprisonment.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.