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Pope John XII

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John XII
Traditional portrait of John XII. However it is to be noted that John XII was only 27 years old when he died.
Papacy began 16 December 955
Papacy ended 14 May 964
(&00000000000000080000008 years, &0000000000000150000000150 days)
Predecessor Agapetus II
Successor Benedict V
Personal details
Birth name Ottaviano
Born c. 937
Rome, Papal States
Died 14 May 964(964-05-14) (aged 27)
Rome, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Other Popes named John

Pope John XII (c. 937 – 14 May 964), born Octavianus, was Pope from 16 December 955 to 14 May 964. The son of Alberic II, Patrician of Rome, and his stepsister Alda of Vienne, he was a seventh generation descendant of Charlemagne on his mother's side.

Before his death in 954, Alberic administered an oath to the Roman nobles in St. Peter's providing that the next vacancy for the papal chair would be filled by his son Octavianus.[1] He succeeded his father as Patrician of Rome in 954 at only seventeen years of age. After the death of Agapetus II in November 955, Octavianus was actually chosen his successor on 16 December 955 at the age of eighteen. His adoption of the apostolic name of John XII was the third example of taking a regnal name upon elevation to the papal chair, the first being John II (533–535) and the second John III (561-574). Pope John XII was depicted as a coarse, immoral man in the writings which remain about his papacy, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general disgrace.

Liudprand of Cremona gives an account of the charges leveled against him:

Then, rising up, the cardinal priest Peter testified that he himself had seen John XII celebrate Mass without taking communion. John, bishop of Narni, and John, a cardinal deacon, professed that they themselves saw that a deacon had been ordained in a horse stable, but were unsure of the time. Benedict, cardinal deacon, with other co-deacons and priests, said they knew that he had been paid for ordaining bishops, specifically that he had ordained a ten-year-old bishop in the city of Todi... They testified about his adultery, which they did not see with their own eyes, but nonetheless knew with certainty: he had fornicated with the widow of Rainier, with Stephana his father's concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece, and he made the sacred palace into a whorehouse. They said that he had gone hunting publicly; that he had blinded his confessor Benedict, and thereafter Benedict had died; that he had killed John, cardinal subdeacon, after castrating him; and that he had set fires, girded on a sword, and put on a helmet and cuirass. All, clerics as well as laymen, declared that he had toasted to the devil with wine. They said when playing at dice, he invoked Jupiter, Venus and other demons. They even said he did not celebrate Matins at the canonical hours nor did he make the sign of the cross.

Enemies defeated him in battle and occupied lands that belonged to the popes. In order to protect himself against the intrigues in Rome and the power of Berengar II of Italy, John made a deal with Otto I, king of the Germans. He pledged allegiance to Otto and crowned him emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on 2 February 962. In return, Otto promised to recognize only John as pope. Ten days later, the pope and emperor ratified the Diploma Ottonianum, under which the emperor became the guarantor of the independence of the papal states. This was the first effective guarantee of such protection since the Carolingian Empire. After Otto left Rome and reconquered the Papal States from Berengar, however, John became fearful of the emperor's power and sent envoys to the Magyars and the Byzantine Empire to form a league against Otto. His intrigues were discovered by Otto I, who, after defeating and imprisoning Berengar II, returned to Rome. Otto I subsequently summoned a council which deposed John XII, who was in hiding in the mountains of Campania, and elected Pope Leo VIII in his stead.[2]

An attempt at a revolt was mounted by the inhabitants of Rome even before Otto I left the city. Upon his departure, John XII returned at the head of a formidable company of friends and retainers, thus causing Leo VIII to seek safety in immediate flight. The Emperor determined to make an effort in support of Leo VIII, but before he reached the city John XII had died.[3]

Pope Benedict V soon succeeded him, but he was successfully deposed by Leo VIII.

Onofrio Panvinio, in the revised edition of Bartolomeo Platina's book about the popes, added an elaborate note indicating that the legend of Pope Joan may be based on a mistress of John XII: Panvinius, in a note to Platina's account of pope Joan, suggests that the licentiousness of John XII, who, among his numerous mistresses, had one called Joan, who exercised the chief influence at Rome during his pontificate, may have given rise to the story of "pope Joan."[4][5]

See also


  • Russell Chamberlin. 2003. The Bad Popes. Sutton Publishing. p. 955-963.
  1. Imma Penn, Dogma Evolution and Papal Fallacies, (AuthorHouse, 2007), 207.
  2. Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, (Harvard University Press, 2009), 150.
  3.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "John XII (pope)". Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.  </noinclude>
  4. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 4 By John McClintock, James Strong p.980 from Google books
  5. Biography: or, Third division of "The English encyclopedia" edited by Charles Knight

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Agapetus II
Succeeded by
Benedict V