The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Nicholas I the Great (858-867)
864 (II)


(2) 1. FORMOSO (ca. 815/816-896)

Birth. Ca. 815/816, probably in Rome (or Ostia or Corsica). Son of Leone.

Education. He was educated in Rome. "Colto e di austeri costumi, intraprendente ed energico, Formoso si distingueva per la forte personalità" (1)

Cardinalate. Bishop cardinalis of Porto in 864 (2). Consecrated (no information found). Sent as the head of a Roman mission, from the end of 866 to the beginning of 867, together with Bishop Paolo of Populonia, to Bulgaria, after the visit to Rome of an embassy from King Boris I; he was so successful that King Boris I insistently asked Pope Nicholas I, and then his successor, Pope Adrian II, to name him metropolitan archbishop of the kingdom but both popes refused because of the canons then in force which prohibited the translation of bishops from one see to another. Shortly before his death in 867, Pope Nicholas I arranged to send two other bishops to Bulgaria and to confer on Formoso an embassy to Constantinople. The decision was confirmed by his successor Pope Adrian II. It seems, however, that the mission of Formoso did not take place, probably because of the difficult situation created in Byzantium after the assassination of Emperor Michael III and the rise to the throne of Basil II the Macedonian in 867. In 868 Formoso returned to Rome where he was -perhaps despite himself- one of two bishops chosen to ordain the Slavic disciples of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. King Boris I had not given up to have Formoso as archbishop of Bulgaria; and after having unsuccessfully proposed a new name, the king returned to Formoso with an insistence that was deemed inappropriate by some; again, however, the Bulgarian monarch received a flat refusal; in 870, the attitude of the Holy See not only opposed to the choice of Formoso, but postponed because of the appointment of the Bulgarian primate; King Boris then decided to return to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. Engaged in the governance of his diocese, Formoso was a point of reference for the Roman Curia during the pontificate of Adrian II. He had a leading role in the Roman Synod of June 869 which condemned Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, who had instigated the excommunication and deposition of Pope Nicholas I in the Council of Constantinople in August-September 867. Pope Adrian II decided to send Bishop Formoso to the Gaul, along with another bishop, to prepare a general council to be held in Rome on the question of the irregular marriage of King Lothair II of Lorraine, when the latter's death on August 8, 869 made the legation unnecessary. Bishop Formoso was then charged with another important mission: together with Bishop Gauderico of Velletri he was to represent the Holy See in the negotiations, held in Trent in May 872, between King Louis the German and Empress Engelberga. The death of Pope Adrian II late in 872 brought to Bishop Formoso as an alternative to the papacy instead of the old Archdeacon Giovanni (future Pope John VIII), who had been active in the Lateran patriarchy. It is likely that against the election of Bishop Formoso was invoked the same canonical reasons which had previously prevented his transfer as head of the Bulgarian Church. Pope John VIII sent him in August-September 875, together with Cardinal Gauderico, bishop of Velletri, and Bishop Giovanni of Arezzo, to offer King Charles II the Bald of West France the imperial crown and to invite him to go to Rome to be crowned; the decision of the pope was intended to assert the papal role in the imperial election. Relations between Pope John VIII and Bishop Formoso deteriorated when the pontiff wanted the members of the secular aristocracy who had obtained too much importance to leave the papal administration, in particular Nomenclatore Gregorio and his son Giorgio di Aventino. Linked to this faction, Bishop Formoso felt threatened himself and fled, along with Gregorio and others, on the night between April 14 and 15, 876. The flight exacerbated the hostility of the supporters of the pope against Bishop Formoso. Two councils held in Rome were concerned with the incident: the first, on April 19, 876, presented a series of accusations against the fugitives, and ordered them, threatening them with anathema, to appear shortly; the second, on June 30, 876, condemned them in absentia, raising new accusations. Bishop Formoso was deposed, reduced to the lay state and excommunicated; he was scolded for trying to move from his episcopal seat to a more important one, of intrigues with King Boris I of Bulgaria; and intrigues to obtain the throne of the Apostle Peter; furthermore, he was accused of having abandoned his see and of conspiring against the pope and the emperor; two years later, in August 878, the pope met Bishop Formoso in the Council of Troyes, presided by the pontiff; the sentence of 876 was confirmed but the cardinal bishop was admitted to lay communion after he had humbly begged the forgiveness of the pope and promised under oath to remain in exile permanently and never try to obtain his see of Porto again. The situation changed after the death of Pope John VIII, who was assassinated on December 16, 882; the new Pope Marinus I, elected on that same day, authorized the return to Rome of all who were condemned in 876; he also released Formoso from his 878 oath; and, after June 883, returned the bishopric of Porto to him. As bishop of Porto, he was one of the consecrators of Pope Stephen V (VI) in September 885. At an unknown date, he established his episcopal residence on the Tiber Island, near the church that he had dedicated to S. Giovanni Calibita, after Anastasio Bibliotecario in 868 had translated for him from the Greek the life of this saint. The transfer of the episcopal seat of Porto was decided mainly because of the Saracen invasions, but also to be closer to the Roman Curia. To emphasize the continuity between the two seats, Bishop Formoso moved into the church of S. Giovanni Calibita the relics of S. Ippolito and those of other two martyrs of Porto; he also founded a xenodochio (a free hospice for pilgrims and foreigners who traveled to Rome) near or inside of his new episcopal residence.

Papacy. Elected pope on October 6, 891. Kept his baptismal name as papal name. That he was a bishop of another see did not count against him until after his death. This rule had been in fact already derogated by the election as pontiff to Marino, who had previously been bishop of Cere. Like his predecessor, Pope Formosus had to immediately intervene in the long conflict between Archbishops Hermann of Cologne and Adalgar of Hamburg-Bremen, which had arisen in 848, when the diocese of Bremen had been separated from the metropolitan see of Cologne to go to Hamburg. After having a council meeting in Frankfurt in 892, under the presidency of the archbishop of Mainz, review the issue, Pope Formosus in 893 decided for a compromise solution: the church of Bremen would remain united with Hamburg until the latter, with the expansion of Christianity, had not had suffragan sees; and in the meantime, the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen was required to provide assistance to the church of Cologne "per amore fraterno"; the title of the bull was "Arbitrabamur tuam".. The decision was however rejected by the council of Tribur, which met in May 895, that sanctioned the return of Bremen to the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Cologne. In this affair Formosus was able to express his special concern for the evangelization of the Nordic countries, the more important to the pontiff because he was once a missionary in that area. His commitment to the work of evangelization is also testified by the letter "Audito nefandos" sent to Archbishop Pleimund of Canterbury and the bishops of England, on an unknown date, in which he exhorted them to act promptly in the provision of new bishops for the vacant sees and to react against the revival of paganism, and the consequent incursions and appropriations of the Vikings; the pope also confirmed the primacy of the see of Canterbury. Also in 893, Archbishop Fulco of Reims rebelled against the illegitimate King Eudes of West France, formerly count of Paris, who had been elected in 888, disregarding the legitimate heir to the throne, Charles the Simple, son of Louis the Stutterer; the archbishop took the initiative to consecrate Charles as king, and then had turned to Pope Formosus to have the support of the Holy See; the pope accepted the request and tried with a series of messages sent in the spring and summer of 893 to Archbishop Fulco, to the French bishops, to King Eudes and to the same Charles, to reach a compromise solution; Charles only became the effectual monarch at the death of Eudes in 898. Pope Formosus also intervened in matters concerning the ecclesiastical provinces of Reims, Sens, Lyon and Vienne; and in others concerning attacks on bishops; conflicts between suffragan and metropolitans sees; irregular ordinations of bishops; and other ecclesiastical problems. Pope Formosus also participated in the last phase of the dispute concerning Patriarch Photius of Constantinople (3). In a letter responding to Metropolitan Stilano of Neocesarea, concerning the validity of Patriarch Photius' ordinations, Pope Formosus firmly invalidated all orders conferred by Photius, provided that those who had been ordained could only be admitted to lay communion if they presented a document with the confession of their error and asked for forgiveness; finally, the pope announced that he was sending two papal legates to Constantinople, Bishops Landolfo of Capua and Romano, of an unknown see, who were going to be responsible for receiving penitents to lay communion and to excommunicate the recalcitrant. The pope proposed that the ordinations of Photius's first patriarchate be considered invalid, but those of his second patriarchate as valid. The compromise was well intended but not realistic and failed to restore the religious peace within the Greek Church. Formosus decided to consider the issue in a general council, initially planned for 892 and then postponed for the following year, but it could not take place because of the political situation in the Italian peninsula and in the western world. In Italy, on February 21, 891 Pope Stephen V (VI) had been forced to crown Count Guido III of Spoleto as emperor; the pope had unsuccessfully turned to the German king, Arnulf, which would have been a less cumbersome and more prestigious patron for the papacy. At the insistence of Emperor Guido, who wanted to associate his son Lamberto with the imperial throne, Pope Formosus, on April 30, 892, had to proceeded with the coronation of the latter as co-emperor; the ceremony took place in Ravenna and not Rome, apparently because Guido did not want to give excessive emphasis to the presence of the pope; on this occasion, the two emperors ended with an agreement with Pope Formosus of which text only two short fragments on papyrus is known. Relations between the pope and Emperor Guido soon deteriorated and, in September 893, papal envoys accompanied by some important Italian nobles, went to Bavaria request the intervention of King Arnulf for the liberation of Italy and the Holy See from the " bad Christians". After a futile expedition led by his son Sventibald, Arnulf himself went to Italy, but once in Piacenza, he returned back in 894. Emperor Guido's death, occurred that same year, made possible a rapprochement between Emperor Lamberto and Pope Formosus, but the agreement, which had been helped by Archbishop Fulco of Reims, related to the house of Spoleto, was short-lived. In August 895, probably instigated by the empress mother, Ageltrude, Guido IV, cousin of Lamberto and regent of the March of Spoleto, conquered Benevento, which had been for four years in the hands of the Byzantines. Since the expansion of Spoleto in southern Italy was a direct threat to the papal dominion, Formosus turned again to King Arnulf of Germany. The king took to Italy in October 895 and marched on Rome, where Empress mother Ageltrude had entered with a corps of the Spoletan army. She, after reducing Pope Formosus and the supporters of the papal party to impotence, prepared the city's defenses to fight against the troops of Arnulf. In February 896, the German king had, in spite of the Spoletan defense of Rome, entered the city, while Empress Ageltrude fled to Spoleto. Pope Formosus crowned him emperor in mid-February 896 and the Roman people took the oath of allegiance and two important members of the aristocracy were deported to Bavaria for having supported the empress mother. Emperor Arnulf was in Rome two weeks, then entrusted the city to one of his faithful and marched on Spoleto. But an attack of apoplexy, which left him paralyzed, put an end to the expedition. The unfortunate outcome of this undertaking by the emperor had to strike the pope deeply and he did not survive long.

Death. April 4, 896, of illness at 80 years of age, Rome. Buried in the atrium of the Vatican basilica, next to his predecessors. A few months later, at the end of 896 or early in 897, the corpse of the late pope was exhumed and dressed in papal vestments, and brought to the Lateran basilicas, where it appeared before a council presided over by Pope Stephen VI (VII), second successor of Pope Formosus, who had sided in favor of Emperor Lamberto and Empress mother Ageltrude. The body was placed on seat and a deacon was appointed to answer in the name of the deceased, to the charges against him. Pope Formoso was condemned for not respecting the oath he had taken in the council of Troyes and above all to have passed from his see of Porto to that of Rome; the late pope was then deposed and all his actions were canceled, including ordinations that had taken place during his pontificate. The ruling resulted in some symbolic gestures: the body was stripped of its pontifical robes, the two or three fingers of his right hand were severed (the ones with which he blessed and ordained), and the body was then dragged out of the church and buried in the cemetery of foreigners, and later thrown into the Tiber. The horrible and macabre process may be attributed to a desire for revenge of Lambert and Ageltrude although their presence in Rome at that time is not proven. On the other hand, the invalidation of acts of Pope Formosus canceled, along with the imperial crowning of Arnulf, that of Lamberto. The responsibility should be attributed in all probability, to Pope Stephen VI (VII) and other opponents of Pope Formosus in Rome. The process shows how little is known of the struggles between the Roman factions in those years. The fact remains that the ruling went in favor of the interests of the new pope because it canceled the Formosian orders including the one of Pope Stephen VI (VII) as bishop of Anagni, thus allowing him to occupy the papal throne without infringing the canonical norms. However, the pope could not enjoy the legitimacy for long done because a riot dismissed him in August 897 and he died strangled in prison. In the pontificate of Pope Theodore II, the remains of Pope Formosus were solemnly buried "in basilicam Apostolorum Principis, ad ipsam scilicet confessionem... inter apostolicas tumbas... suo sepulchro " (Le Liber Ppntificalis, II, p. 231, note I, in "Invectiva in Romam pro Formoso papa di Auxulius"). Pope Theodore also celebrated a Roman synod repudiating the "cadaver synod". But the matter did not end then. Formosians and Antiformosian factions vied for several years for the papal throne, while the orders of Pope Formosus continued to be the subject of conflicting decisions. Popes Theodore II and John IX reinstated Pope Formosus and proclaimed, in the councils of Rome at the end of 897 and Ravenna in 898, the validity of the orders conferred by him. The archenemy of the late Pope Formosus, Pope Sergius III annulled all the rehabilitations made by his predecessors of the acts of Pope Formosus even declaring invalid Formosus' election to the pontificate and the sacred orders he had conferred to several bishops and those bishops to many priests. Pope Sergius III convoked a council in Rome, forcing bishops and priests to attend; a great confusion followed; in Rome, no priest or bishop felt sure of his consecration, and the pope used this to blackmail them into obedience to his arbitrary disposition; the few who dared to protest had to face not only the pope but the powerful Teofilatto family; the decisions of the synod of 897, provoked the publication of pamphlets by Auxilius and Eugenius Vulgarius in defense of Pope Formosus. The controversy concerning Pope Formosus did not end until the pontificate of Pope John X (914-928), with the publication of the anonymous pamphlet Invectiva in Romam pro Formoso papa, which objected to the position of this pope in respect to Pope Formosus. His tomb was destroyed during the demolition of the old basilica and the construction of the new one in the 16th and 17th centuries (4).

Bibliography. Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1792, I, pt. 1, 59-62; Chacón, Alfonso. Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificum Romanorum : et S.R.E. Cardinalium ab initio nascentis Ecclesiae usque ad Clementem IX P. O. M. Alphonsi Ciaconii Ord. Praed. & aliorum opera descriptæ : cum uberrimis notis. Ab Augustino Oldoino, Soc. Jesu recognitae, et ad quatuor tomos ingenti ubique rerum accessione productae. Additis Pontificum recentiorum imaginibus, & Cardinalium insignibus, plurimisque aeneis figuris, cum indicibus locupletissimis. Romæ : P. et A. De Rubeis, 1677, I, col. 651, no. 1; and cols. 675-678; Cristofori, Francesco. Cronotasi dei cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Tipografia de Propaganda Fide, 1888, p. XXXIX and 9; "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. Les cardinaux des 10 premiers siècles". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1926. Paris : Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1927, p. 152-153, no. 2; Gams, Pius Bonifatius. Series episcoporum Ecclesiae catholicae. 3 v. in 1. Graz : Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1957, p. VIII; Kelly, John Norman Davidson. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 114-115; Le Liber pontificalis. Paris : E. de Boccard, 1981, 1955. 3 v. : facsims. (Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome). Notes: Reprint of the 1955 edition./ Includes indexes./ Vol. 3: "Additions et corrections de L. Duchesne publiées par Cyrille Vogel ... avec L'Histoire du Liber pontificalis dupuis l'édition de L. Duchesne une bibliographie et des tables générales, II, LXVII-LXVIII, LXXV, 227, 229, notes 1 and 2; and 231, note 1; Montini, Renzo Uberto. Le tombe dei papi. Roma : Angelo Belardetti, 1957. Note: At head of title: Instituto di studi romani, p.146 ; Petruzzi, Caterina. "Formoso, papa." Mondo vaticano. Passato e presente. Città del Vaticano : Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995, p. 506-508; Reardon, Wendy J. The deaths of the popes : comprehensive accounts, including funerals, burial places and epitaphs. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2004, p. 66-67; Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab conditio Ecclesia. Ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII. Graz : Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1956. 2 v. Reprint. Originally published : Lipsiae : Veit et comp., 1885-1888. Original t.p. included : Regesta pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia : ad annum post Christum natum MCXCVIII. Editionem secundam correctam et auctam edidit Philippus Jaffè ; auspiciis Gulielmi Wattenbach; curaverunt S. Loewenfeld, F. Kaltenbrunner, P. Ewald, I, 435-439; Sansterre, Jean-Marie. "Formoso." Enciclopedia dei papi. 3 vols. Roma : Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 2000, II, 41-47.

Webgraphy. Biography, in English, The Catholic Encyclopedia; biography, in English, Encyclopaedia Britannica; images and biography, in English, Wikipedia; biography, in Englih, Christ's Faithful People; biography, in Italian, by Jean-Marie Sansterre, Enciclopedia dei papi; images and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia; biography, in German, Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikon; biographies, in German, Mittelalterliche Genealogie; Cadaver synod, in English, Wikipedia; his engraving, Fondazione Marco Besso, Rome; his engraving, Fondazione Marco Besso, Rome; hs engraving by Cavalleiri, All Posters; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, from the same source; another engraving, also from the same source; his engraving, in color; his effigy on a medal, Numismatic collection of Olomouc archiepiscopate, Czech Republic; and the exhumation of his remains; The strange case of Pope Formosus by O.S. Matthew , in English, Catholic Answers.

(1) Sansterre, "Formoso." Enciclopedia dei papi, II, 41: "Cultured and of and austere manners, enterprising and energetic, Formoso distinguished himself by a strong personality.Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, p. 114, says that he was "A man of exceptional intelligence, exemplary life, and strict asceticism (the only fault alleged against him was ambition)." Both Cardella, Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa, I, pt. 1, 59; and Chacón, Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificum Romanorum : et S.R.E. Cardinalium, I, col. 651, no. 1; and col. 675, say that he was a canon regular. None of the other sources consulted mention it.
(2) He was named bishop of Porto in place of Bishop Rodoaldo, who had been condemned for having approved the deposition of Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople and for having accepted the communion with his successor, Photius, in the Council of Constantinople of 861.
(3) Photius had been returned to the patriarchal throne in 877, on the death of his rival Patriarch Ignatius. Although his restoration had been approved by Pope John VIII and the Council of Constantinople of 879-880, which had fully rehabilitated him, part of the Byzantine clergy, belonging to the faction of Ignatius, had refused to enter into communion with him. Because of their opposition, the Ignatians had been exiled, but 886 had returned to the capital, when the new emperor, Leo VI, had forced Photius to abdicate and had promoted in his place his younger brother, Stephen. The head of the Ignatians, Metropolitan Stiliano of Neocaesarea, wrote to the pope asking Stephen V to confirm the deposition and condemnation of Photius, and to recognize an appropriate measure of exemption for the priests ordained by Patriarch Photius, and particularly for the new Patriarch Stephen, who had just received from the diaconate from Photius. Pope Stephen V, rejected both requests and requested more precise information about the advent of the new patriarch. In 891, Metropolitan Stiliano made a second attempt, merely restating the request for exemption, which meant the illegalitimacy of the former patriarch. The letter the metropolitan was addressed to Pope Stephen V, but was responded by Pope Formosus with a letter, of which only a fragment is known, preserved in a Greek anti-Photian collection.
(4)This are the verses in relation to Pope Formosus by Flodoard of Reims, who wrote about the acts of the pontificates of the 9th and 10th centuries, which substantially reproduce Pope Formosus' epitaph, taken from Montini, Le tombe dei papi, p. 146:

Praesul hic egregius Formosus laudibus altis
Evehitur, castus, parcus sibi, largus egenis,
Bulgaricae genti fidei qui semina sparsit,
Delubra destruxit, populum coelestibus armis
Instruxit, tolerans discrimina plurima, promptus,
Exemplum tribuens, ut sint aversa ferenda,
Et bene viventi metuenda incommoda nulla.
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