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LEO VIII

963 - 965 AD

Was Leo VII true pope or antipope? For a long time he was considered by many historians as only antipope. But the latest revision of the list of popes in the "Annuario Pontificio" includes Leo VIII. This might seem to indicate that the more or less official opinion is that Benedict actually did agree to his deposition and that Leo's position was regularized by the consent of the Roman clergy.

Leo was a Roman of well-known family. A lay official of the papal court, he had taken part in the council which had deposed John XII. He was then chosen to succeed John. This was highly irregular, not only because the council had no right to depose the pope, but because Leo was a layman. The bishop of Ostia hurried through the necessary ordinations without the customary intervals. Elected as a layman on December 4, Leo was consecrated bishop on December 6.

Leo was quite unpopular with the Romans, who regarded him as an imperial tool. Shortly after his consecration Otto sent a part of his army north. At once the Romans revolted. Otto's remaining warriors sallied into the streets and wrought havoc on the poor Romans. Realizing how much his hold on Rome depended on brute strength, Otto took a hundred hostages from Roman families. Leo. with more good nature than shrewdness, urged Otto to release them. The result was that when Otto went north the Romans soon sent Leo packing and welcomed John XII back to the Lateran.

After John's death in 964 the Romans still refused to accept Leo, but when Otto's army forced them to surrender, Leo's moment of triumph arrived. Entering the city in the train of the victorious Otto, Leo was able to summon a council and have Benedict V brought before him. Liutprand had described the scene. Assembled in the Lateran Basilica were the Pope, the Emperor, and a number of bishops. Benedict, clad in the pontifical robes, stood before them. After admitting his fault, Benedict took off the pallium and handed it to Leo. Leo then removed the chasuble and stole from Benedict and declared that he was reduced to the rank of deacon. Since Benedict seems to have consented to his deposition, Leo may be regarded as true pope from July 964.

Leo was said to have repaid his imperial maker by giving him extraordinary privileges and indeed by surrendering to the Emperor the lands donated by Pippin and Charlemagne. But these concessions and gifts were only forgeries cooked up in the bitter days of the lay-investiture struggle.

Leo VIII died in March 965.


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