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Note D

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
Chapter X

A Papal Chaos

Sources: —

In addition to our usual authority, the Liber Pontificalis, we have, for the events connected with the election of the anti-pope Constantine, the advantage of reading the deposition of one of the chief actors in the scene, the primicerius Christopher, before the Lateran Council (12th April, 769). This is of course ex parte evidence of the most thoroughly partisan kind, and must be read with the necessary allowances for distorted vision; but it agrees in the main with the (also ex parte) statements in the Liber Pontificalis. It is contained in an old codex of the ninth century which was found in the library of the Chapter at Verona and published by Cenni in 1735. It is reprinted in the notes to Duchesne's Liber Pontificalis (I.480‑481), from which I quote. I shall call it Depositio Christophori.

Discordant union of temporal and spiritual power. The death of Paul I brought out in strong relief the difficulties which result from clothing a religious leader with temporal power. The arguments in favour of that course are obvious, and have already been often referred to. The cruelties inflicted on Popes who dared to differ from the Eastern Augustus on questions of religious dogma, the transportation of Silverius to the desolate Palmaria,​1 the attempt to drag Vigilius from the altar to which he clung for refuge,​2 the  p279 death of the persecuted Martin at inhospitable Cherson, the attempts on the liberty of Sergius and on the life of the second Gregory,​3 might not unreasonably suggest, even to an unambitious Roman pontiff, that if he was to be safe he must be also sovereign; nor can we deny that the happy device of interweaving the claims of St. Peter and his Vicar with those of the Holy Roman Republic seemed to offer a plausible means of obtaining this sovereignty without too obviously abandoning the position assumed by Christ when He said, 'My kingdom is not of this world.'

But, however the truth might be veiled by the festoons of pious rhetoric, the substantial fact remained that the bishop of Rome was now virtually king over the central City of the world, and over fair domains touching both the Tyrrhene and the Adriatic Seas; and this proud position naturally attracted the ambition of men for whom the spiritual prerogatives of the successor of St. Peter would have had no fascination. In later centuries this motive was to be made miserably manifest when the Papal See became for a time almost an appanage of the Counts of Tusculum. We have some faint presage of those evil days in the scenes which were now enacted before the bewildered gaze of the citizens of Rome.

Duke Toto of Nepi. The little town of Nepi, about thirty miles from Rome, was, as we have already seen, one of the frontier towns of the Ducatus Romae looking towards Lombard Tuscany.​4 Here dwelt an ambitious citizen of doubtful nationality,​5 named Toto, who had by means unknown  p280 to us acquired the dignity of dukedom. Conspiring with three of his brothers, named Constantine, Passivus and Paschalis, and with a troop of rustics, drawn apparently from both sides of the border and devoted to his will, this adventurer conceived the daring design of giving a Pope to Rome and of ruling the new Papal territory in his name.

Constantine, brother of Toto, elected Pope, June 28, 767; Pope Paul was still lingering on his death‑bed under the shadow of his namesake's great basilica when Toto, his brothers, and his accomplices appeared upon the scene. They intended — so we are told — to hasten events by cutting short the feeble thread of the pontiff's life, but were prevented by the primicerius Christopher, who invited them and the rest of the Roman nobility into his house and gave them 'strong and salutary' counsels as to abstinence from crime.​6 He even succeeded (so he averred) in inducing them and the heads of the opposite party to bind themselves by mutual oaths not to elect any Pope save from among the bishops, priests and deacons of the Roman Church, and not to introduce any of the suburban rustics into the City in order to carry the election. All this advice however was in vain, and the oaths solemnly taken  p281 were only so many perjuries. Scarcely had Paul I sighed out his last breath, when Toto and his brothers with a horde of rustics from the towns of Tuscany rushed into the City through the Gate of St. Pancratius on the Janiculan height, held a tumultuary election in the house of Toto (who seems to have possessed a palace within the walls of Rome), and chose as Pope, Constantine the layman, the brother of the invading chief.

and consecrated by George, bishop of Praeneste. This tumultuary election took place apparently on the evening of Sunday, the 28th​7 of June, 767, and was followed by the march of Toto, his brothers and his rustics to the Lateran palace of the Patriarchate, where George, bishop of Praeneste, was ordered to admit the new Pope to the minor orders, which were so to speak the threshold of the ecclesiastical state.​8 The bishop at first refused, cast himself at the feet of Constantine, and begged him by the holy mysteries to cease from his presumptuous attempt and forbear from introducing such an unheard‑of innovation into the Church of God. But the rough men who had just taken part in the election in Toto's palace gathered round him, and with fierce threats ordered him to do as he was bid. Terrified, the bishop consented, and ordained Constantine, who, now a cleric, stalked in and seated himself in the patriarchal chair.9

When Monday dawned the same unfortunate bishop  p282 George, who had now no choice but to cast in his lot with the usurper, admitted Constantine to the successive degrees of subdeacon and deacon in the oratory of St. Laurence at the Lateran — otherwise called the Sancta Sanctorum — and presented him to the people to receive their oath of obedience. On the following Sunday, Constantine proceeded through the streets of Rome with his usual train of armed men (doubtless marshalled by his truculent brothers), entered the great basilica of St. Peter, and was there consecrated Pope by George of Praeneste and two other bishops, Eustratius of Albano and Citonatus of Porto.

The elevation of Constantine to the pontificate was certainly irregular, for though there had been many instances (notably the case of the great Ambrose of Milan) in which laymen had suddenly been raised to the presidency of other sees, in Rome the practice was so rare as to be almost unknown, and the Pope, by a rule which had not been broken for more than two centuries, ought to be chosen from the ranks of either the deacons or the presbyters.​10 But however manifest the irregularity of the whole proceeding, the necessary formalities had been in some fashion complied with. There had been a popular election, the candidate had passed through the ecclesiastical grades up to that of deacon (higher rank in the Church was not necessary), had been consecrated Pope by three bishops of the Roman Church, and could now sit in the chair of St. Peter and call himself 'Servant of all the servants of God.' He did in fact for thirteen months preside  p283 over the Apostolic See, though he is not reckoned in the number of the pontiffs, nor is his face to be found in the long series which gaze down upon the beholder from the walls of the great church of St. Paul's Without the Gates.

Opposition of the primicerius Christopher and his son Sergius, Early tidings of these strange proceedings were brought by a notary named Constantine to his official chief Christopher, who as Primicerius Notariorum should in due course have presided over the election and formed one of the board of three​11 which should have ruled Rome during the vacancy of the Holy See. Terrible were the threats of which Constantine the notary was the bearer from his namesake unless Christopher would assist in making him Pope. This however he steadfastly refused to do, betaking himself instead to tears and prayers to Almighty God for the preservation of His Church from the impending scandal.

and of Duke Gregory. A certain Duke Gregory, a dweller in Campania, who probably attempted to resist the usurping Pope by force of arms, was put to death, and Christopher hearing that his own death also was decreed took refuge with his sons in the church of St. Peter. He was at last induced to emerge from his place of refuge on receiving from Pope Constantine a solemn assurance, confirmed by an oath before St. Peter's tomb, that he and his sons should be allowed to dwell peaceably in their homes till the approaching Easter-tide.​12 After that he was to be allowed to retire with his son  p284 Sergius to the monastery of the Saviour near Rieti, in the district of Spoleto.

Constantine's letters to Pippin. Meanwhile the new Pope had addressed two letters of the orthodox pattern set him by his predecessor, to 'his dear son Pippin, king of the Franks and patrician of the Romans.' The ordinary phrases about the starry realms, the honey-flowing Excellency of the Frankish king, his God‑protected kingdom, the duty which he owes to his protector St. Peter, and so forth, flow from the pen of this suddenly-exalted layman as smoothly as from that of the 'child of the Lateran' who preceded him. Many no doubt of those sentences were 'common forms' which would be supplied by any of the clerks in the Papal chancery to his employer. The solecisms in grammar and spelling, even more outrageous and more frequent than those which we meet with in the letters of Pope Paul, suggest the idea of a pattern set by such a clerk and imperfectly copied by an illiterate rustic.​13 The allusions, however, to the circumstances of his own elevation to the pontificate are peculiar, and if there be any truth in the account of the matter given by the Liber Pontificalis, are audacious: —

'We expect you have already heard that our predecessor Paul, of blessed memory, has by the call of God been withdrawn from the light of day, and that the inhabitants of this City and of the surrounding towns have chosen my Unhappiness to preside over them as their pastor.'

 p285  The allusion to the share which 'surrounding towns' have had in the election is a slight tribute to veracity.

'When I seriously consider with myself what are the duties of the office into which I have crept,​14 in respect of tending the rational sheep of the Lord, I must confess that unbearable sadness fills my secret soul.' (The 'office into which I have crept' sounds like a very candid confession of the truth, but is probably due to the new Pope's ignorance of the meaning of the word, which some crafty clerk dictated for his adoption.) 'But I who am greatly weighed down and perceive that by no virtues or attainments of my own have I been advanced to this dignity, conclude that the Divine compassion working on the hearts of the people has brought about this result: and therefore, like one awakened from a heavy sleep, I perceive with stupefaction and ecstasy that an honour has been conferred upon me which I never desired, which I never even thought of, and to which my little faint heart never aspired. For suddenly being seized by the violent hands of an innumerable multitude of people who all agreed in this thing, I was borne as it were by a mighty blast of wind up to the great and awful height of this pontificate. . . . Oh, how great and fearful a thing art thou, the responsibility of the pastor! And how can I, unhappy one, fulfil the onerous duty of the cure of souls!'

The Pope then goes on to make a short confession of faith in order to show his absolute orthodoxy. He alludes to Christ's converse with sinners, and (with some dexterity) to the call of Matthew the publican from the  p286 tax‑gatherer's table, and he announces the arrival of a presbyter from Jerusalem bringing the patriarch Theodore's synodical letter addressed to the late pontiff Paul, from which it is clear that the patriarchal thrones of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, all agree with that of Rome in upholding the worship of images. Upon the whole this rustic brother of Duke Toto plays his part so well and imitates so admirably the language of his predecessor — the rough Esau this time counterfeiting the bland voice of the peaceful Jacob — that one almost expects to see that he will succeed in carrying off the Church's blessing.

Christopher and Sergius call in the Lombards. That consummation was prevented by the energy of the two men, Christopher and Sergius, father and son, who had held the two highest offices in the Papal chancery,​15 and who, whether from personal ambition or from honest loyalty to the traditions of the See, were determined that Constantine's usurpation of the papacy should not be legitimatised by success. We have seen that they obtained leave to retire to a monastery near Rieti after Easter, 768. The Papal biographer, who has his own reasons for disliking the two men, though he approves their deed, says that they feigned the desire to become monks, and swore that they would assume the monastic habit, in order to obtain from Constantine the required permission to depart from Rome.​16 Instead of resorting to the convent of the Saviour at Rieti, where the abbot was waiting to receive them, they made their way to  p287 Spoleto and besought the Duke Theodicius​17 to escort them across the river Po to the court of Desiderius. He did so, and the two ministers having been admitted to the presence of the Lombard king, earnestly besought him to lend his aid 'that the error of such a novelty might be cut off from the Church of God.'

Christopher and Sergius, aided by the Duke of Spoleto, attack Constantine.. Desiderius appears to have authorised his tributary the Duke of Spoleto to interfere in the Roman troubles, but not to have sent any troops of his own for that purpose. Probably the power of this suburban 'Duke' Toto was inconsiderable, and no great display of force was needed to crush him. In fact, the only persons of whom we hear as sharing in the invasion of Rome are the inhabitants of Rieti and Furcona, two insignificant towns in the Apennine highlands belonging to the duchy of Spoleto. Under the command of Sergius and a certain presbyter Waldipert, who probably came as envoy from the Lombard king to control the impending revolution, the rustic army marched suddenly on Rome by the Via Salaria, and reached the bridge over the Anio at twilight on the 29th of July (768).​18 Next day they crossed the Ponte Molle, and worked round on the north and north-west of Rome, first to the Gate of St. Peter's and then to the Gate of St. Pancratius. Some relations of Christopher opened the gate to his son, and there the Lombards  p288 stood on the Janiculum, near the site of the present church of S. Pietro in Montorio, over­looking the outspread City. They displayed the Lombard banner, but 'stood trembling on the walls, fearing the Roman people, and not daring to descend.' So says the Papal writer, but it is more probable that Sergius and Waldipert, knowing that they had friends in the enemy's camp, determined to avoid the odium of a victory won by the swords of the Lombards, and preferred to wait for the course of events. Duke Toto with his brother Passivus mounted up to the gate, having in their train two of the ministers of the Papal household, Demetrius​19 and Gratiosus,​20 whom they believed to be their friends, but who were secretly in league with the assailants.​21 One of the Lombards named Racipert rushed upon Toto, but was stoutly resisted, and met his own death from Toto's weapon. The Lombards wavered, and were in act to flee, Toto slain. when Secundus and Gratiosus attacked Toto from behind with their lances and slew him. Thereupon Passivus rushed across the City to the Lateran palace and told his brother the Pope what things were being done on the Janiculan hill.​22 Then Constantine and Passivus, with the bishop Theodore, the Pope's delegate,​23 hastened to the great basilica  p289 of the Lateran, and fled from chapel to chapel​24 seeking some inviolable refuge. Constantine made prisoner. In vain: after they had undergone some hours of suspense the officers of the Roman militia came and dragged them forth from the oratory of St. Caesarius and put them in ward, perhaps in one of the dungeons of the palace.

Attempt to elect Philip Pope, July 31. On the throne, which was a Sunday, Waldipert, without consulting his confederate Sergius, gathered together a number of Roman citizens, proceeded to the monastery of St. Vitus,​25 and invited forth from thence a certain priest named Philip,​26 whom the crowd greeted with the acclamation, 'St. Peter has chosen Philip, Pope.' They then led him in state to the Lateran basilica: a bishop offered the customary prayer; the new Pope bestowed his blessing on the people from the balcony of the church,​27 and entered the palace of the pontiffs. Here he sat at the head of a banqueting company, among whom were some of the great ecclesiastical dignitaries and officers of the Roman militia.

Christopher annuls the election of Philip. But Philip, who was doubtless looked upon by the Lombard faction in the City as one of their own partisans, was, though a priest, not one of the regular parish-priests of Rome, and his election therefore, though not as irregular as that of Constantine, was  p290 contrary to the established custom of the Roman Church. As soon as Christopher (who had apparently travelled more slowly than his son) appeared upon the scene and was informed of Philip's election, he waited outside the gates of the City, and swore with a great oath in presence of the assembled Romans that till Philip was expelled from the Lateran he would not enter Rome. His word was recognised as decisive. Gratiosus the chartularius, the slayer of Toto, with no very large troop of Roman citizens following him, marched to the Lateran and ordered the new Pope to depart thence. Philip, who seems to have deserved a better fate than to be made Pope at such a time, calmly descended the great staircase of the Lateran palace,​28 and returned amid the reverent greetings of the crowd to his monastic seclusion.

Assembly at the Tria Fata. The election of the new Pope was thus taken definitely out of the hands of the Lombard faction, and was to be carried through by the primicerius Christopher alone. He convened an assembly of all the orders of the state at the Tria Fata,​29 the north-east corner of the Roman Forum, in front of the church of S. Adriano, which probably occupied the site of that which was known in republican times as the Comitium. Here then, where once the Roman people had listened to the orators who expounded to them the policy of the Senate, was now gathered the strangely-mingled assembly which is thus described by the Papal biographer: 'All the priests and leaders of the clergy; the chiefs of the militia and the whole  p291 army, and the honourable citizens and a concourse of the whole Roman people from great to little.'30

Election of Stephen III. This assembly, unanimously as we are told, elected Stephen, priest of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, to the vacant see. He was a Sicilian by birth, son of a man named Olivus. He was not more than fifty years of age, and had come as a boy to Rome in the time of Gregory III, who placed him in his own recently-founded monastery of St. Chrysogonus. Zacharias transferred him from thence to the Lateran 'patriarchate,' and gave him a place in his household, at the same time consecrating him as priest of S. Cecilia. He thus became one of those 'cardinal-priests' (as men were beginning to call them) from whose ranks and those of the cardinal-deacons the Pope was now usually chosen. He is said to have been learned (according to the very moderate standard of that age) in the Scriptures and in the traditions of the Church, and he was probably a person of some ability, as he was sent by Paul I on an important mission to Pippin.31

Such was the man who was now raised by the influence of the primicerius Christopher to the vacant patriarchate. The Lateran had again a lawful possessor: the interval of chaos was ended.

The Author's Notes:

1 Vol. IV p255 (225).

2 Vol. IV p672 (594).

3 Vol. VI pp267, 358447.

4 See vol. V p354.

5 The Liber Pontificalis calls him 'Toto quidam dux, Nepesinae civitatis dudum habitator.' The Depositio Christophori calls him 'quidam Nempesini oppidi ortus, Toto nomine.' Was he a Roman or a Lombard? The fact of his being a 'dweller in Nepi' (within the Roman frontier) looks like a Roman origin; the Teutonic name looks like a Lombard. The subsequent history will not decide the point, for both Romans and Lombards take part in his downfall. And of what was he duke? Hardly either of the Lombard 'Tuscia,' or of the Roman Ducatus Romae. I am inclined to conjecture that he was a Roman citizen, and that the title Dux in the disorganised condition of affairs was given to some persons, Toto for instance, and Gregorius 'habitator Campaniae,' who had no strict right to it.

6 All this is from the Depositio Christophori.

7 Dep. Christ., as corrected by Duchesne, I.480.

8 'Conpulerunt eum orationem clericatus eidem Constantino tribui' (Lib. Pont. I.468). As he was not to receive the subdiaconate till the next day, I presume this clericatus must mean the orders of doorkeeper and reader which came next below.

9 'Eundem sanctum Lateranensem invasit patriarchium.' I have introduced here a slight element of conjecture.

10 The only exceptions to the rule, according to Duchesne (L. P. I.481), were Fabianus (236‑250) and Silverius (536‑537).

11 The other two members of the board were the Arch-presbyter and the Arch-deacon (Duchesne, I.148).

12 Probably therefore all these negotiations had occupied the remainder of 767 and brought the affair down to the early months of 768. The Depositio breaks off here.

13 Take for instance 'quod nequaquam penitus obtabam nec mea exiebat merita' (Ep. 44); 'flecso poblite deprecor precellentiam vestram' (Ibid.); 'et ob oc tanquam praesentaliter coram mellifluo regali vestro aspectu consistens' (Ep. 45), and so on.

14 'Quanta mihi inrepti pastoralis officii debet insistere curandas fruendasque dominicas rationales oves' (Ep. 45).

15 'Primicerius' and 'Secundicerius.'

16 It will be seen that there is a slightly different colour given to this negotiation in the Liber Pontificalis from that which it assumes in the Depositio.

17 There seems to have been an interregnum of one or two years after the death (or deposition) of Gisulf, Duke of Spoleto, (761?). In September, 762, or March, 763, Duke Theodicius was already reigning there, the leal friend and tributary of Desiderius (Oelsner, 443).

18 The Papal biographer, in ecclesiastical fashion, adds that this was the vigil of the blessed martyrs Abdon and Sennen, two Persians who are said to have suffered for the faith in the persecution of Decius (250).

19 'Secundicerius' (the office which had been held by Sergius).

20 'Chartularius': afterwards a 'duke.'

21 'Cum praefatis nefandissimis proditoribus' says the biographer, who, as Duchesne points out, is in a ludicrous dilemma between his approval of the overthrow of Constantine and his hatred of the Lombards by whom it was effected.

22 We hear nothing in this encounter about the third brother Paschalis.

23 'Vice-dominus.' This minister acted as a sort of steward for the Pope, and had especial superintendence of the Lateran palace.

24 First to the oratory of St. Venantius (still existing on the north-west of the basilica), then through the vestiarium to the oratory of St. Caesarius. These two sites cannot now be identified (Duchesne, I.481).

25 On the Esquiline, near the Arch of Gallienus (Duchesne, ibid.).

26 This is perhaps the same 'presbyter Philip' who was sent by Paul I on a mission to Charles and Carloman about 765 (Cod. Car., Ep. 36, p127).

27 This is not expressly stated in the Liber Pontificalis.

28 'Per scalam quae ducit ad balneum.'

29 So called apparently from three statues of the Fates which were erected there.

30 'Omnes sacerdotes ac primatos cleri et optimates militiae atque universum exercitum et cives honestos, omnisque populi Romani coetum, a magno usque ad parvum' (Lib. Pont. I.471).

31 Codex Carolinus, Epp. 16 and 17.

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