Pope John VIII

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Pope John VIII Illustration.jpg
Papacy began 13 December 872
Papacy ended 16 December 882
Predecessor Adrian II
Successor Marinus I
Personal details
Birth name ???
Born Rome, Papal States
Died 16 December 882(882-12-16)
Rome, Papal States
Other popes named John

Pope John VIII (Latin: Ioannes VIII; died 16 December 882) was Pope from 13 December 872 to his death in 882. He is often considered one of the ablest pontiffs of the 9th century.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

He was born in Rome and as a young man witnessed the Sack of Rome by the Aghlabids.[2] Among the reforms achieved during his pontificate was a notable administrative reorganisation of the papal Curia. He asked for military aid from Charles the Bald and later Count Boso of Provence, in response to Saracens who were raiding Campania and the Sabine Hills.[3] His efforts failed and he was forced to pay tribute to the Emirate of Sicily.[4]

In 873, John VIII learned of St. Methodius' imprisonment.[5] Methodius had been imprisoned by his German enemies, who objected to his use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. John forbade the celebration of Mass in Bavaria until Methodius was released. Following Methodius' release John allowed him to resume his episcopal duties in Illyricum, but forbid him to celebrate Mass in the Slavonic language.[6]

In 876, John VIII traveled throughout Campania in an effort to form an alliance among the cities of Salerno, Capua, Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi against Muslim raids. By 877, all five cities sent delegates to Traietto to formalize an alliance.[7]

In 879 he recognised the reinstatement of Photius as the legitimate patriarch of Constantinople; Photius had been condemned in 869 by Pope Adrian II. In 878 John crowned Louis II, king of France. He also anointed two Holy Roman Emperors: Charles II and Charles III. He was assassinated in 882.[8]

Pope Joan and connection to the name John VIII[edit]

According to the legend of Pope Joan, a woman reigned as pope under the name of John earlier in the 9th century. Her true sex was discovered, and she would eventually be erased from the historical record because of this. If she existed, when regnal numbering was applied to papal reigns in the 10th century, she would have been designated John VIII and the Pope John that is the subject of this article would have been John IX. However, there are no contemporary references to a female pope; the legend was apparently created during the 13th century, and included in medieval mystery plays. The tarot scholar Paul Huson was persuaded by this inclusion to believe in the reality of the legend, but this is not supported by modern research. The historical John VIII is not otherwise connected with this legend.

However, according to Patrick Madrid, author of Pope Fiction, a book about the legend of Pope Joan, Pope John VIII *himself* may have been the origin of the legend. He writes,

He appears to have had a very weak personality, even perhaps somewhat effeminate.

Cardinal Caesar Baronius, in his history Church Annals, suggests that John VIII's reputation as effeminate gave rise to the legend. Indeed, it would seem that over time, the common folk added ever more lurid embellishments until the vulgar jokes about the hapless (and certainly male) pope ballooned and metamorphosed into a female "popessa."[citation needed]


  1. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope John VIII" page undated, URL retrieved on 10 June 2007
  2. ^ Barbara M. Kreutz, Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 57.
  3. ^ Pierre Riche, The Carolingians: A family who forged Europe, Transl. Michael Idomir Allen, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 203.
  4. ^ The Expansion of Saracens:Africa and Europe, C.H. Becker, The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol.2, Ed. John Bagnell Bury, (The Macmillan Company, 1913), 387.
  5. ^ Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817–876, (Cornell University Press, 2006), 319.
  6. ^ Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817–876, 319–320.
  7. ^ Barbara M. Kreutz, Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 58.
  8. ^ [Dawson, Christopher, "Religion and the Rise of Western Culture", (Doubleday 1950), pp. 108]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Adrian II
Succeeded by
Marinus I