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Marinus I - The Political Pontiff

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Marinus was a native of Gallese, a little town on the Rome-Ravenna road. His father Palumbo was a priest, and he himself started out in the service of the Church at the early age of twelve. The capable young man rose steadily. He was ordained subdeacon by St. Leo IV, and as subdeacon he assisted at the reception of the imperial embassy for Michael III in 860. In 866, after being made a deacon, Marinus was sent on a legation to Constantinople, but imperial officials refused to allow the legates to cross the Bulgarian-imperial frontier. He reached Constantinople in 869 as the third of the papal legates to preside over the Eighth Ecumenical Council. His firm conduct so irritated Emperor Basil that the bold legate was actually imprisoned for a time.

Even after being made bishop of Caere, Marinus continued to be employed by the Pope. As late as 882 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Athanasius, bishop of Naples. Though it was quite against custom to elect a bishop to be pope, Marinus was chosen to succeed John VIII. His long record of service probably led the clergy to break the custom. It was no easy task the new pope faced. John had been a strong ruler, and now Italy tossed restlessly. The Emperor, Charles the Fat, was no help. The Pope met him at the monastery of Nonantula in 883 to discuss the sad state of affairs. But Charles the Fat's policy of taking away fiefs from nobles increased the confusion. The nobles, led by Guido of Spoleto, defied the Emperor successfully.

At home Marinus reversed the policy of John VIII by recalling Formosus, bishop of Porto. John had not only banished Formosus but had made him swear never to come back to Rome. Marinus absolved him from the promise and recalled him. Formosus, austere man that he was, kept strange company. He was a focus for party feeling and remained a stormy petrel in Roman politics even as a corpse. It is said that Marinus condemned Photius again but Dvornik denies this. It is certain that out of regard for the great King Alfred, Marinus exempted the district of the Anglo-Saxons from taxation. Marinus I died around the middle of May 884. 

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

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