That the Pope should be king had numerous advantages, but one grave
disadvantage was the intense stimulus royal power gave to the ambition of
the little lords who infested the area around Rome. One of these, Toto,
duke of Nepi, led an armed gang into Rome, held his private election, and
declared his brother Constantine pope. That Constantine was a layman did
not trouble the duke. But Christopher and his son Sergius, two high
officials of the late Pope Paul, managed to get out of the city and fly to
the Lombards. They got a Lombard army to come down and throw out the
intruder. After a fight in which Toto was killed the way was open for an
honest election; but before Christopher could get back to the city,
Waldipert, a Lombard priest, staged his private election, and proclaimed
Philip, a monk, the next pope. Christopher demanded the removal of this
intruder and finally held an open and honest election, from which the
priest Stephen emerged pope.
Stephen had come to Rome from Sicily at an early age and had entered the
Benedictine monastery of St. Chrysogonus. St. Zachary ordained him priest
and used him in the papal service. Stephen remained with the dying Pope
Paul while Toto was beginning his intrigues. His early career of goodness
and service fits the character given him by his biographer in the Liber
Pontificalis, but horrible cruelties took place in his reign. Probably he
was not able to control his subordinates. Even before he was consecrated on
August 7, 768, the terror began. Antipope Constantine, his brother Passious
his official Theodore, the Lombard priest Waldipert--all had their eyes
In 769 Pope Stephen held a synod at the Lateran at which the eyeless
Constantine was ordered to be beaten and cast out of the Church. More
constructively, the synod decreed very wise regulations for future papal
elections. The pope must be chosen from the cardinals, that is, the more
important of the Roman clergy. The clergy are to elect, and only after the
election are the Roman army and the people to acclaim the elected pope.
Nobles outside the city are to have nothing to do with the election. The
synod also upheld the veneration of holy images and condemned Emperor
Constantine's image-breaking council of 754.
Christopher, the primicerius, had been the hero of Stephen's election; and
he remained the Pope's right-hand man. He tried to get back the territory
which Desiderius had promised to restore. And when Desiderius forgot his
promises, Christopher had tried to get Charlemagne to intervene. Naturally
Desiderius hated Christopher. He paid the Pope's chamberlain, Paul Afiarta,
to blacken the character of Christopher and his son Sergius. Then in the
Lent of either 770 or 771, he came down to Rome with an army to pray!
Christopher manned the walls and refused to let this strange pilgrim
inside. But after some obscure intrigues, Christopher and his son Sergius
went out to St. Peter's (then outside the walls) to Pope Stephen who had
been talking to the Lombards. The Pope went back to the city and Paul
Afiarta came out, seized Christopher and Sergius, and put out their eyes.
Pope Stephen died in February 772. His last years like his first were
troubled by cruelty. Paul Afiarta, now in power, wreaked vengeance on his
Stephen is venerated as a saint in certain districts of Sicily but not by
the universal church.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.