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Pope John VIII : biography

- 16 December 882

Pope John VIII ( ; died 16 December 882) was the head of the Catholic Church from 13 December 872 to his death in 882. He is often considered one of the ablest pontiffs of the ninth century. page undated, URL retrieved on 10 June 2007

Pope Joan and connection to the name John VIII

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. The historical John VIII is not otherwise connected with this legend.

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."

Early life and career

He was born in Frankfurt. 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.Pierre Riche, The Carolingians:A family who forged Europe, Transl. Michael Idomir Allen, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 203. His efforts failed and he was forced to pay tribute to the Saracens.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.

In 873, John VIII learned of St. Methodius' imprisonment.Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817–876, (Cornell University Press, 2006), 319. 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.Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817–876, 319–320.

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.[Dawson, Christopher, "Religion and the Rise of Western Culture", (Doubleday 1950), pp. 108]

Living octopus

Living octopus

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