St. Paschal I - A Charitable Pontiff

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Because St. Paschal I, like Hadrian I and St. Leo III, was devoted to beautifying churches, something is known of this Pope's personal appearance. Contemporary mosaics picture him as a tall man with large eyes and without a beard. Paschal was a Roman who was brought up in the Lateran seminary. Ordained priest, he so impressed St. Leo III by his piety that he was made superior of St. Stephen's monastery. There he took care of the pilgrims who came to visit the Apostles' shrine. He was a kind man, who quietly supplied whatever the poorer pilgrims might need.

Paschal was elected unanimously to succeed Stephen V. He was consecrated without any reference to the Emperor. But though firm in his stand for independence, he enjoyed good relations with Louis. Indeed in 817 he received from Louis a document confirming the donations of Pippin and Charlemagne and recognizing the independence of papal elections. In 823 Lothair, the Emperor's oldest son and King of Italy, came to Rome to be crowned by the Pope.

A faction arose headed by no less a personage than Theodore, the primicerius, or chief minister, which favored imperial control of Rome. After Lothair's departure, a group of papal supporters entered the Lateran, seized Theodore and Leo his son-in-law, blinded them, and cut their heads off. Their followers, furious and frightened, complained hotly to Emperor Louis. When Louis sent envoys to investigate the killing, Paschal adopted the Frankish custom of compurgation to clear himself. He and a number of bishops solemnly swore that he was innocent of the bloody deed. But at the same time, the Pope refused to punish the killers because after all the victims had been guilty of high treason.

Paschal was pained to learn that image-breaking was once more rampant in the Eastern Empire. Leo V, the Armenian, replaced the Orthodox Patriarch Nicephorus with a layman, called a synod which repudiated the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and persecuted the Orthodox. The Pope wrote to Emperor Leo instructing him in true Catholic doctrine, but it was no use. He wrote letters of consolation to the great St. Theodore Studites and the persecuted clergy and religious of the East. He welcomed those who fled to Italy.

Paschal encouraged missionary activity in the North. He commissioned Abbo, archbishop of Rheims, and Bishop Halitgar to preach the gospel to the Danes.

His great kindness makes Paschal a likable saint. As superior of St. Stephen's, he had been very good to poor pilgrims. As Pope he not only helped refugees from iconoclast persecution, but he spent freely and widely to ransom poor prisoners taken by the Saracens, who at that time were making life on the Mediterranean coasts miserable for Christian folk.

St. Paschal died in 824. His feast is kept on May 14.

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

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