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John X - Rising To The Occasion

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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.

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