Pope John XII

Originally posted 9/22/2006.

Pope John XII was a Satan-toasting, simoniacal, colossally adulterous arsonist who died while having sex with a married woman

Now Liutprand of Cremona records the following about Pope John XII, who is often cited as an extremely wicked pope and the most wicked of popes, by Catholics and anti-Catholics alike:

Then, rising up, the cardinal priest Peter testified that he himself had seen John XII celebrate Mass without taking communion. John, bishop of Narni, and John, a cardinal deacon, professed that they themselves saw that a deacon had been ordained in a horse stable, but were unsure of the time. Benedict, cardinal deacon, with other co-deacons and priests, said they knew that he had been paid for ordaining bishops, specifically that he had ordained a ten-year-old bishop in the city of Todi… They testified about his adultery, which they did not see with their own eyes, but nonetheless knew with certainty: he had fornicated with the widow of Rainier, with Stephana his father’s concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece, and he made the sacred palace into a whorehouse. They said that he had gone hunting publicly; that he had blinded his confessor Benedict, and thereafter Benedict had died; that he had killed John, cardinal subdeacon, after castrating him; and that he had set fires, girded on a sword, and put on a helmet and cuirass. All, clerics as well as laymen, declared that he had toasted to the devil with wine. They said when playing at dice, he invoked Jupiter, Venus and other demons. They even said he did not celebrate Matins and the canonical hours nor did he make the sign of the cross.

It is fairly certain that Liutprand’s portrayal of Pope John XII is wildly exaggerated and unreliable. This is my conclusion after having read information on Pope John XII from Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, Chamberlain, Monk Benedict of Soracte, Peter De Rosa, Tony Bushby, Angelo S. Rappoport, Flodoard, Gustavov Roskoff, James Bryce Joyce, Ferdinand Gregorovius, Philip Schaff, Rev. Horace Kinder Mann, and several others.

Pope John XII of Rome (Octavian) [r. 12/16/955-5/14/964] was far from exemplary but he was not nearly as evil as the incredible Bishop Liutprand of Cremona and most subsequent historians taking him at face value would have you believe. Flodoard, the Chronicle of Monk Benedict Soracte (which is at times confused and relies on Liutprand for e.g. the charges of rampant adultery, etc.), Bishop Ratherius of Verona, and the anonymous Chronicle of Salerno are the most reliable sources that John XII was not a great pope, but Flodoard and Ratherius of Verona are the two most independent and reliable of these, much moreso than the two Chronicles which can be jumbled and dependent on Liutprand. In sum, the verified sins of Pope John XII are not the trumped up majority of charges that Liutprand libelously records, but consisted in, viz., hunting, hawking, gaming, excessive wine drinking, lying, youthful inexperience, and at the end of his pontificate torture and mutilation of cardinal-deacon John and Azzo when he returned after being invalidly deposed. The charges of Satanism, rampant adultery with numerous women, death inflicted by the devil during adultery, simony, arson, etc. are not credible because they originate exclusively from the embellishing gossip Liutprand who is not credible with regard to the pontificate of John XII for at least the 18 reasons I am about to give.

All the quotes from the praiseworthy Rev. Horace Kinder Mann come from Mann, Rev. Horace K. (1910), The Lives of the Popes, vol. IV. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., Ltd. pp. 241-272.
a. Reverend Horace Kinder Mann says (242) that Frodoard “has recorded practically nothing to the detriment of John.” Mann says (242), “The only words in Frodoard that reflect on the character of John XII are that he was blamed for his irreligious life (quia de inreligiositate sua corripiebatur) [Ann., 965] and that too by Otho, whose plans were the better served when John was made to appear as black as possible.”
b. Mann (255):If such things were ever told to the envoys of Otho, they must have been looking for gossip. The historians of foreign nations (always excepting those of Germany) say nothing about the infamies of John, and the churches must have gone to decay of set purpose, when such wholesale ruin was produced in some six years!
c. Mann (256): Liutprand claims that John XII sent Bishop Leo and Cardinal Deacon John to Constantinople against Otto’s interests, which is inconsistent with John’s punishment of these men afterwards (Liutprand says in c. 19 that John XII severed Cardinal Deacon John’s right hand while the confused Monk Benedict of Soracte said John XII severed Azzo’s hand).
d. Liutprand:

These therefore being present, and keeping perfect silence, the holy emperor began thus: “How right it would be that the Lord Pope John should be present at so distinguished and holy a council! But we ask you, O holy Fathers, who have had life and business in common with him, why he refused to join such an assembly?” Then the Roman bishops and cardinal-priests and deacons with the whole populace replied: We wonder that your most holy prudence should want us to inquire into this matter, which is not unknown to the inhabitants of Iberia, Babylon, or India.

This is clearly exaggerated, especially in light of point J. “Keeping perfect silence,” “the whole populace replied,” “not unknown to the inhabitants of Iberia, Babylon, or India;” give me a break!
e. Liutprand: “The whole assembly exclaimed, ‘as one man,’ that they prayed they might be eternally lost if the charges brought against John were not true;” come on!
f. Mann (243): “Those who brought the most definite charges against John XII were partisans of Otho and the Germans” who were “anxious to make the best case out for Otto.”
g. Liutprand falsely claims that John XII was the one who began to treat with Adalbert when the Continuator of Regino shows that Adalbert was the instigator who exploited John’s “youthful inexperience.”
h. Mann (264): Liudprand says that Beelzebub struck John XII on the temple while he was fornicating with a woman outside Rome, and that John XII died eight days later “without receiving the Holy Viaticum” []. Why would Satan want to put an end to the life of a servant who could wreak more havoc on earth and cause more disgrace to the Church with his notorious sin had he been spared? Gregorovius [] makes Beelzebub a jealous husband to make the myth more plausible and others, like Hefele [Conciliengeschichte, IV, p. 619], attribute the death of John XII to apoplexy. In fact the mode of his death is uncertain [c.f. Liber Pontificalis; Ann. Alth. Maj.; Continuation of Chron. Reg.].
i. Mann (272) points out that Abbot Leo said that John was ruthlessly slandered and libeled: Abbot Leo, John XV’s legate to France, refers those at the 991 council at Rheims to an incident, “in the times of Pope John the son of Alberic, whom you (the kings and bishops of Rheims) have wantonly besmirched” [“In his letter to the kings Hugh Capet and his son, Robert the Pious, ap. Olleris, OEuvres de Gerbert, p. 242”].
j. Sigebert wrote over a century after John XII died and likely obtained a great deal of his information from the Chronicle of Liutprand and its Appendix.
k. Mann (259): there is “no doubt” that Liutprand forged a grammatical error in John XII’s 11/22/963 reply to the pseudo-synod, and he is the one who made the “childish remarks” in his rejoinder to John XII.
l. Liutprand says that John XII’s numerous lovers roused the Romans to fight against Leo VIII and oust him, but this is absurd.
m. Mann (267): John XII told St. Dunstan “to let his life be as bright and spotless as the pallium itself, to be strictly yet mercifully just, and to defend the poor.”
n. Mann (245-246):

Writing (957) to another German archbishop, Henry of Trier, while granting him the use of the pallium, he exhorts him to a good life. Equally significant is his confirmation (958) of the possession of the monastery of Subiaco. This he did on condition “that every day by priests and monks should be recited, for the good of our soul and the souls of our successors, a hundred Kyrie-eleisons and a hundred Christe-eleisons, and that thrice each week the priests should offer the Holy Mass to Almighty God for the absolution of our soul and those of our successors.” If John was bad himself, he had no intention of letting others do wrong, and showed himself fully alive to the value of prayer.

o. Mann (245): “John sympathises with the archbishop in his troubles, declares that he will have a care of the honour due to him, and exhorts him boldly to assail those who contumaciously wish to lead a bad life, and devastate the churches of God. He expresses a great wish to be informed of all that was going on in the parts of the Gauls and Germany.”
p. Mann (258):

This is not the last time that such a farrago of charges against a Pope will be forthcoming to meet the convenience of a powerful enemy. However, in this instance, they are in the main supported by the testimony of Benedict (c. 35); unless, indeed, he has drawn his information from Liutprand. In relating the doings of Otho, Benedict is confused, even for him. The Cont. Reg. mentions the synod at which John was deposed, but not the crimes related of him by Liutprand.{1}

q. Mann (276): “Considering, however, the courage which, according to Liutprand himself, was displayed by Benedict during the siege, the story of his appeal for mercy related by that narrator or fabricator of myths may be dismissed, and we may take it as a fact that he was simply deposed by Otho by brute force.”
r. Liutprand: (Antapodosis, ii. c. 48), Pope John XI was the natural son of Pope Sergius III [1/29/904–4/14/911], (Johannes, natione Romanus ex patre Sergio papa). Horace Kinder Mann,{2} Reginald L. Poole,{3} Peter Llewelyn (Rome in the Dark Ages), Karl Josef von Hefele, August Friedrich Gfrörer,{4} Ludovico Antonio Muratori, and Francis Patrick Kenrick{5} maintain that Pope John XI was sired by Alberic I of Spoleto, Count of Tusculum.
s. The so-called deposition of Pope John XII was invalid for many reasons which I will give later.

Thank God most of the Popes of Rome have been holy!{6} There have always been sinners in the Church{7} and if you lose confidence in the Holy See because of the history of a handful of evil popes, remember the following gem of wisdom from History of the Popes III, 475 by Dr. Ludwig Pastor{8}:

An imperfect does not affect the intrinsic worth of the jewel, nor does the golden coin lose its value when it passes through impure hands. In so far as the priest is a public officer of a holy Church, a blameless life is expected from him, both because he is by his office the model of virtue to whom the laity look up, and because his life, when virtuous, inspires in onlookers respect for the society of which he is an ornament. But the treasures of the Church, her Divine character, her holiness, Divine revelation, the grace of God, spiritual authority, it is well known, are not dependent on the moral character of the agents and officers of the Church. The foremost of her priests cannot diminish by an iota the intrinsic value of the spiritual treasures confided to him.

Amen! God protect His earthly Vicar!{9}

Notes & References
{1} There are false charges against many popes (e.g., there is a White Robed Monks of St. Benedict website which culls allegations against 77 of popes from Vicars of Christ by Peter de Rosa) which will be refuted in a future post. As depraved as Benedict IX was, he, like John XII, was also falsely accused. Benedict IX was a murderer [Pope Victor III Dialog. iii] but he did not murder Pope Clement II by lead sugar poisoning [old Catholic Encyclopedia]. And apparently after giving up the papacy, Benedict IX did penance up until the very end of his life at Grotta Ferrata. As depraved as Alexander VI was, he, like John XII and Benedict IX, was also falsely accused. Alexander VI did not murder Sizim, brother of Sultan Bajazet, via slow poisoning [Essai sur l’Histoire Generale, t. iii. ch. ciii.] He did not commit incest with his daughter Lucrezia Borgia [Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth, vol. ii].
{2} “Sergius at once declared the ordinations conferred by Formosus null; but that he put his two predecessors to death, and by illicit relations with Marozia had a son, who was afterwards John XI, must be regarded as highly doubtful. These assertions are only made by bitter or ill-informed adversaries, and are inconsistent with what is said of him by respectable contemporaries [such as Flodoard].” Mann, Horace. “Pope Sergius III.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 21 Dec. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13729a.htm>.
{3} Poole, Reginald L. (1917). “Benedict IX and Gregory VI.” Proceedings of the British Academy 8: 230.
{4} Gfrörer, August Friedrich, Allgemeine Kirchengeschichte, vol. III, Stuttgart: A. Krabbe, pp. 1133-1275, <http://www.archive.org/details/a5831149p103gfrouoft>. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.
{5} Kenrick, Francis Patrick (1855), The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated, Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., p. 418, <http://books.google.com/books?id=EXFCAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA418>. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.
{6} Coming soon.
{7} Dave Armstrong (8/18/2006),”Biblical Evidence for Sinners in the Church” in Cor ad Cor Loquitur @ http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/08/biblical-evidence-for-sinners-in.html.
{8} Loughlin, James. “Pope Alexander VI.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 21 Dec. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01289a.htm>
{9} Coming soon: proof that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and that the papacy is no prejudice to Christ being properly the Head of the Church.

One Response to Pope John XII

  1. […] the cases of Popes St. Silverius the Martyr (536-537), Stephen VI (896-897), John X (914-928), John XII (955-964), Benedict V (964-965), Benedict IX (1032-1045, 1047-1048), and Gregory VI […]

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