Stephen IV (V) - Politically Savvy Pontiff

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The first election of a pope under the restored empire of the West shows the independence the papacy intended to have in the new regime. The Byzantine emperors' claim to confirm the election of a pope had caused some difficulties. Now since the time of Zachary confirmation of an election was no longer sought, even from the Exarch of Ravenna. The Roman clergy did not give the new Western emperor, Louis the Pious, any chance to interfere. Speedily they elected the deacon Stephen, and speedily was he consecrated.

Stephen was a Roman of noble family, a family that was to give to the papacy not only himself, but two other ninth-century popes, Sergius II and Hadrian II. Stephen had been trained by Pope Hadrian I and had gained an excellent reputation as a young man of virtue and ability. Ordained a deacon by Leo III, he was a zealous worker in the Lord's vineyard. He was an amiable man who loved peace.

Such a pope was bound to do nothing to provoke the Emperor. Once the independence of the papacy was safeguarded, Stephen showed the greatest good will. He had the Romans swear allegiance to the Emperor as protector. He sent a legation to Louis the Pious to notify the Emperor of his election and to arrange for an interview.

Pope Stephen crossed the Alps in August and met Emperor Louis the Pious at Rheims. The Emperor received the Pope with joy and profound respect. Stephen crowned Louis and his wife, Irmengard as emperor and empress. To Theodulf, bishop of Orleans, one of the Emperor's principal advisers, the Pope granted the pallium. Louis gave the Pope many presents including an estate in France. The meeting at Rheims was most harmonious.

On the way back to Rome, Stephen visited Ravenna whose archbishop, Martin, had given Leo III some trouble. But now all was sweetness, and the Pope celebrated Mass in the cathedral and exhibited a relic, very precious, if authentic--the sandals of Christ. Stephen entered Rome in November. With him came a number of prisoners from the time of Leo III to whom the kind Pope gave pardon.

Stephen died on January 25, 817, and was buried in St. Peter's.

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

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