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Benedict VII - A Lonely Pontificate

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Mosaic of Benedict VIIThe cruelty of the antipope Boniface did not do him much good. So great was the indignation against the murderer that Count Sicco, the imperial agent, was able to overthrow Boniface and the Patrician, Crescentius. This cleared the way for a new election. Emperor Otto II and his mother, St. Adelaide, wished Maieul, abbot of Cluny, to take the papal throne.

But Maieul firmly refused. He felt that it was his duty as it was his preference to continue to rule the monastic flock entrusted to his care. Otto then chose Benedict, the bishop of Sutri. Thus Benedict, like his predecessor and namesake, was a Roman. He was elected pope in October 974. One of the new pope's first acts was to hold a synod to condemn the antipope Boniface.

Though Boniface fled to Constantinople, he had a party at Rome which gave Benedict some trouble. Benedict was able to maintain himself for six years without much help from the Emperor, who was very busy in Germany. But it was not easy, and in 980 Pope Benedict was relieved to hear that Otto had crossed the Alps. The Emperor celebrated the Easter of 981 in Rome and so overawed the factions that Benedict was able to finish his pontificate in peace. The Pope held a great council in the presence of Otto, which legislated against simony. Benedict then addressed an encyclical letter to the Church throughout the world, publishing the decree against simony. (Simony is the buying or selling of sacred things.) The Pope added that if any bishop- elect could not get consecrated without paying money to his metropolitan, he could come to Rome and be consecrated there. Besides the Emperor, another visitor to Benedict VII was Hugh Capet, founder of France's great third dynasty. He secured from the Pope an exemption for a French monastery. Indeed, Benedict was very generous in the matter of privileges. Many were the German bishops and abbots who obtained various privileges from this gracious Pope.

It is interesting to note that Benedict consecrated a bishop for Carthage, a city which had long been under Moslem domination. He also gave the tonsure to Dunwallon, a Southern Welsh king and was kind to Sergius, archbishop of Damascus, a refugee from the Saracens. Benedict died probably on July 10, 983. According to his epitaph he was very good to widows and orphans.

Though epitaphs are not the most critical sources, it is not difficult to believe that Benedict VII was a very charitable pope.  

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

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