The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Stephen V (VI) (885-891)
At an unknown date between 885 and 891 (II)


(2) 1. SERGIO (?-911)

Birth. (No date found), Rome. Of a noble Roman family, related to the counts of Tusculum. Son of Benedetto.

Education. (No information found).

Sacred orders. He received the subdiaconate from Pope Marinus I; and the diaconate from Pope Stephen V (VI).

Episcopate. Named bishop of Cere by Pope Formosus in order to have him away from Rome. Consecrated by that same pope. Subscribed the decree of 896 against the late Pope Formosus. He took part in the "cadaver synod" presided by Pope John VI (VII), which condemned Pope Formosus and declared all his ordinations null and void. Sergius happily saw himself reduced to the diaconate and made himself to be reordained a priest by Pope Stephen VII (VIII); ambitious for the papacy, he did not wish the fact that he was a bishop to exclude him from a future pontificate.

Cardinalate. Presbyter cardinalis of an unknown or deacon cardinalis of the Holy Roman Church at an unknown date between 885 and 891(1). At the death of Pope Theodore II in 897, he was elected pope by the anti-Formosian faction and was installed at the Lateran but the pro-Formosian faction had elected Pope John IX, with support of Emperor Lamberto di Spoleto, and Sergius was deposed, condemned by Pope John IX in the Roman Synod of April 898; and sent to exile to Tuscany for seven years. While in exile, he tried every possible way to regain the papal throne leaning on friends in Rome. In 903, the supporters of Formosus divided themselves and Cardinal Cristoforo overthrew and imprisoned Pope Leo V in September of that year and proclaimed himself pope. Sergius took the opportunity and assisted by Duke Alberico I di Spoleto, marched on Rome with an army, took Pope Christopher prisoner and threw him into Castello Sant'Angelo. Sergius was acclaimed and consecrated pope.

Papacy. Elected pope on January 29, 904. Took the name Sergius III. Shortly after, it is said, that he had Pope Leo V and Antipope Christopher strangled while imprisoned. He started counting his pontificate from 898, when he was first elected; he considered all his immediate predecessors as intruders. He obtained his election to the pontificate with the support of the powerful Teofilatto, financial director of the Holy See and consul and commander of the militia, and his ambitious wife Senatrix Teodora; the family effectively governed Rome; the dependence on that family of Pope Sergius and his immediate successors was complete (2). Archenemy of the late Pope Formosus, Pope Sergius III annulled all the rehabilitations made by his predecessors in 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. He 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. He favored the establishment of the abbey of Cluny in France, in order to revive the spirituality of Benedictine monasticism. By a bull issued in 906, he gave a good number of funds belonging to the patrimony of Tuscia to the see of Silva Candida, whose inhabitants were almost all killed by the Saracens. He sent legates to Constantinople to try to resolve the conflict between Emperor Leo VI (who had appealed to Rome) and Patriarch Nicholas I Mysticus due to the emperor's fourth wedding in 906. The legates, without taking into consideration the Oriental canon law then in force and its opposition to tetragamy, approved the marriage. As a result, the patriarch was deposed and exiled in 907; the Byzantine Church fell into a period of great confusion and controversy and the prestige of the papacy was weakened. Pope Sergius III fought vigorously the schism of Patriarch Photius of Constantinople; the pope asked the Frankish episcopate for their help in refuting the patriarch's stance against the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit. He confirmed the establishment of several episcopal sees in England. He protected the archbishop of Ravenna against the encroachments of the count of Istria. He completed the restoration of the Lateran basilica, destroyed in the earthquake of 897, during the celebration of the "cadaver synod". To him is attributed by some sources the paternity of Pope John XI by Marozia Teofilatto, daughter of the power Roman Senatrix Teodora Teofilatto. He minted his own coins and was the first pontiff since Pope Adrian I to have his own effigy, wearing a conical mitre, on the coins. He created six cardinals in four promotions.

Death. April 14, 911, mysteriously, in exile. Buried in the Vatican basilica. His tomb was destroyed during the demolition of the old basilica and the construction of the new one in the 16th and 17th centuries (3).

Bibliography. Cardella, Lorenzo. Memorie storiche de' cardinali della Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Stamperia Pagliarini, 1792, I, pt. 1, 73-76; 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. 678; 684, no. 1; and 691-694; Cristofori, Francesco. Cronotasi dei cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa. Rome : Tipografia de Propaganda Fide, 1888, p. XL and 265; "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. Les cardinaux des 10 premiers siècles". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1926. Paris : Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1927, p. 154, no. 3; Gams, Pius Bonifatius. Series episcoporum Ecclesiae catholicae. 3 v. in 1. Graz : Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1957, p. II; Gnocchi, Claudia. "Sergio III." Enciclopedia dei papi. 3 vols. Roma : Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 2000, II, 60-63; Gregorovius, Ferdinando. Le tombe dei papi.. Roma : Edizioni del Centauro, 1931. Seconda edizione italiana riveduta e ampliata da C. Huelsen, p. 39*; Kelly, John Norman Davidson. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 119-120; 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, LXVIII, LXXVI, 236-238; Montini, Renzo Uberto. Le tombe dei papi. Roma : Angelo Belardetti, 1957. Note: At head of title: Instituto di studi romani, p. 150-151; Reardon, Wendy J. The deaths of the popes : comprehensive accounts, including funerals, burial places and epitaphs. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2004, p. 69-70; 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, 445-447; Scano, Gaetana. "Sergio III, papa.". Mondo vaticano. Passato e presente. Città del Vaticano : Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995, p. 979.

Links. Biography, in English, The Catholic Encyclopedia; biography, in English, (Britannica); his engraving and biography, in English; biography, in English; biography, in Gernan, Biographisch-bibliographischen Kirchenlexikon; biographies, in German, Genealogie Mittelalterliche; images and biography, in Italian; Apologia pro Papa Sergius Tertius, in English; his engraving, Fondazione Marco Besso, Rome; his engraving, iStockphoto; his engraving by Cavallieri, AllPosters.com; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; and his effigy on a medal, Numismatic collection of Olomouc archiepiscopate, Czech Republic.

(1) This is according to "Essai de liste générale des cardinaux. Les cardinaux des 10 premiers siècles". Annuaire Pontifical Catholique 1926, p. 154, no. 3. Chacón, Vitæ, et res gestæ Pontificum Romanorum : et S.R.E. Cardinalium, I, 678, says that he was created cardinal deacon but does not give a date. Cristofori, Cronotasi dei cardinali di Santa Romana Chiesa, p. 265, says that he was created cardinal priest of an unknown title in 896 (?).
(2) Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, p. , says that the following decades were castigated as the pornocracy of the Holy See.
(3) This is according to Reardon, The deaths of the popes : comprehensive accounts, including funerals, burial places and epitaphs, p. 69-70, which adds that some historians indicate that the epitaph of Pope Sergius I belongs to Pope Sergius III. Duchesne, Le Liber pontificalis, II, 238, says that Pietro Mallio, a 12th century ecclesiastical historian, who transcribed the epitaph of Pope Sergius, confused him with Pope Sergius I. Mallio, says that Pope Sergius III was buried in the Vatican basilica, inter portam Argenteam et portam Ravennaticam, and gives the following epitaph:

Limina quisquis adis pape metueneda beati
cerne pii Sergii excubiasque Petri.
Culmen apostolice sedis is iure paterno
electus tenuit ut Theodorus obit.
Pellitur urbe pater, pervadit sacra lohannes
Romuleosque greges dissipat ipse lupus,
Exul erat patria septem volventibus annis,
post multis populi urbe redit precibus,
Suscipitur, papa sacratur, sede recepta
gaudet, amat pastor agmina cuncta simul.
Hic invasores sanctorum falce subegit
Romane ecclesie iudiciisque Patrum.


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