The only official requirements to being elected pope are to be male and to be a baptized Catholic. However, don’t hold your breath  – the last time a non-Cardinal was elected was over 600 years ago. That makes being elected to the papacy an incredible and literally once in a life time honor, to be elected the actual Vicar of Jesus Christ. In fact, old Church traditions would have the pontiff-elect refuse the office twice to show the proper reverence before finally accepting. But can you believe there was a pontiff who held the office of the papacy not once or twice, but three total times?

The papacy of Pope Benedict IX is the one of the most unique in the Church’s history. He was the youngest pope ever elected, the first verified pope to ever resign, and the only person to ever hold the office more than once – a total of three times.

Born Theophylactus of Tusculum, he first ascended to the papacy at the age of 20, although some historians place his age at 11 or 12. He began his first and longest term as pope in October of 1032, taking the papal name Benedict IX. it is traditionally said he led a rather dissolute life, and his young age and inexperience made him unqualified for the papacy. However, in matters of theology and Church functions he was entirely orthodox.

In 1044, Benedict IX was deposed by a crowd who drove him from the Lateran Palace over charges of immorality and living a scandalous lifestyle, ending his first term as pope. Pope Sylvester III was elected to succeed him. However, Sylvester III did not sit on the Chair of Peter for more than four months before Benedict IX returned with an army and retook the papacy in the Spring of 1045, beginning his second term.

Not even a month passed in his second term before Benedict IX decided he wished to marry. Benedict IX offered the papacy to his godfather, John Gratian, provided he pay him a hefty sum in return for becoming Pope Gregory VI in 1045. However, Benedict IX soon became bored with life and returned to Rome in 1046, taking the city and the the papacy with it, while Gregory VI continued to be recognized as the true pope. At the same time, Sylvester III reasserted his claim to the papacy.

With three separate claims to the papacy, Emperor Henry III called for the Council of Sutri, in which all three claimants were deposed, and Pope Clement II installed as the new pope. However, Benedict IX did not accept his deposition, and when Clement II died of mysterious causes in in 1047, Benedict IX again seized the throne by force, beginning his third term in November of 1047.

In July of 1048, Benedict IX was forced out of Rome by German soldiers, ending his third term, and then excommunicated for failing to appear on charges of simony. He was sent to live out the end of his days at the Abbey of Grottaferrata. The abbot recounted that before his death in 1056, Benedict IX repented for his sins, made penance, and was welcomed into full communion with the Church.

All three terms of Pope Benedict IX were strife with harsh accusations of living an immoral, scandalous, and dissolute life. However, the late Oxford University historian Reginald Lane Poole suggests these accusations were made by his incredibly hostile political enemies, saying that,

“In a time of acute political hostility, accusations, as we know too well, are made and are believed, which in a calmer time would never have been suggested.”

Editorial credit: Zvonimir Atletic /
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  1. Ton understand the position of the Papacy at this time, it is necessary to know that Rome no longer could tax an enormous empire and had gone into serious decline compared to seaports like Genoa or Venice. The local families in Rome competed among themselves to try to get their candidate to exercise whatever power was still in the hands of the Pope. The situation was dreadful, but as the author points out, the Popes remained orthodox in the midst of this chaotic situation. This in itself could be the strongest confirmation of the words of Jesus: “the gates of hell will not prevail against it [the Church]” The only alternative possible at the time was for the Pope to be the pawn of some powerful king who would have the Church do his bidding (like Henry VIII’s divorce).

  2. Perhaps “orthodoxy” is the most convenient way, and best cover, to use the papacy for worldly gain and behavior. That assurances he was “orthodox” are even relevant to the story of an obviously violent, ruthless and manipulative man seems oddly perplexing.

    • Orthodoxy and orthopraxis are two very different things. Orthodoxy has the greater effect on those far away, whereas orthopraxis has the greater effect on those close by.

  3. Being “deposed” by a mob does not mean he ceased to be pope. Neither does the election of an antipope. Likewise, if I were to break into the Tower of London and put St. Edward’s crown on my head, that act would not make me King of England.

    This article is careless and gives a thoroughly wrong understanding of the papacy.

  4. Gentili amici, il dramma è che facendo conoscere la Storia della Chiesa, si instilla lo spirito imitativo di chi, avendo già in sè manie di protagonismo e smania di restare sempre al centro dell’attenzione, vuole rifare le stesse pantomime, che divengono, casomai, soltanto la parodia dei fatti precedentemente accaduti.
    Chi è spontaneo e se stesso?
    I bambini.
    Lasciati in pace e libere dagli adulti ambiziosi.


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