Christ's Faithful People
891 - 896 AD
Formosus is one of the most puzzling of the popes. His friends described him in glowing terms--his chastity, his austerity, his prayer, and his kindness to the poor; and if his friends' testimony might be suspected, there remains the fact that he was given high honors and great responsibilities by the great St. Nicholas, that he was used on important missions by several popes, and that Boris, king of the Bulgarians, admired him so much that he insisted on having Formosus as archbishop of the Bulgarians and was very much put out when his pleas were not granted. On the other hand, John VIII deposed him from his see, excommunicated him, and made him swear not to return to Rome. And the same praise and blame followed him even after death. It may be that, as happens often enough to good men, Formosus was taken advantage of by rascals. It is certain that he was a storm center in Roman politics.
St. Nicholas made Formosus cardinal-Bishop of Porto in 864, and in 866 sent him to convert the Bulgarians. He made such an impression on King Boris that he demanded Formosus for his archbishop, but neither Nicholas nor Hadrian II would listen to the Bulgarian's plea. Formosus served on several important legations, and his career was brilliant until John VIII made his famous purge. When John swept away the nest of evildoers, headed by men like Gregory and George of the Aventine, Formosus fled. John then had him deposed and excommunicated. It still remains obscure just what the trouble was. Formosus was accused of ambition and of conspiracy. Pope Marinus I recalled Formosus to Rome and restored him to his position as cardinal- bishop of Porto.
At the death of Stephen VI, Formosus was the popular choice for pope. If his friends may be believed, he showed no ambition, even clinging to the altar of his Church at Porto when they came to bring him to Rome.
Formosus lived up to his high character by his efforts to rule the Church wisely. He held a council at Rome and ordered or encouraged councils at Chalons, Tribur, and Vienne. He was deeply concerned with the growing interference of laymen in church affairs. He made some regulation about the ordinations of Photius. He decided that Bremen should remain under the archdiocese of Hamburg.
In high politics, Formosus was, perhaps, not so wise. In the welter of anarchy which followed the deposition of Charles the Fat, Stephen VI had crowned Guido, duke of Spoleto, emperor. Formosus had followed the same policy, even crowning Guido's little son Lambert as emperor; but since order and peace were not to be expected from the turbulent Spoletans, Formosus invited Arnulf of Carinthia, King of Germany and the ablest of Charlemagne's descendants, to come down to Italy and rescue the Holy See from the stifling grasp of the house of Spoleto. Amulf defeated Guido, who died at that time, and then marched on Rome to expel the empress mother Ageltruda. Formosus welcomed Arnulf and crowned him emperor in 896. Arnulf marched on Spoleto, but was struck down by paralysis. Ageltruda was now safe, but she did not forget what she considered was the double-dealing of Pope Formosus.
Formosus died April 4, 896, but even dead he remained a storm center.