The trial of Pope Formosus

This story amuses me. While not parallel (how could it be?), it reminds me of the second impeachment of Donald J. Trump, private citizen. An attempt to bring his administration back to life so they can inflict political punishment on the President.

According to Mysterious Universe, it was the 9th century, a time of upheaval and power struggles within the Roman Empire.

By the 800s, the glory days of the Roman Empire were fast fading, and the death of the Roman Emperor Charlemagne caused the Empire to crumble further, as differing factions, fiefdoms, and dynasties vied for control, sparking violent feuds and power struggles across the Italian peninsula.

Stuck in the middle of this intrigue and turmoil was the Vatican, which was already divided itself. At the time, Popes were not really looked up to as spiritual leaders, but were rather seen as diplomatic tools to be put into power and influence by the enemy, and as such they were not elected for their standing in the church but rather through which sides they chose.

Formosus was in and out of favor even before he becoming pope. He was excommunicated in 876, but not permanently as it turned out, and not for long. In 891 he was elected to the papacy, an office he held for five years before dying, and during which he made powerful enemies.

A short time later, Stephen VI was pope, and a friend to Formosus’ greatest enemies, the Spoleto family. The story continues:

It was decided to convene a type of ecclesiastical council or trial for issues related to faith, called a synod, but how could Formosus be put on trial when he was dead and buried? For Stephen VI the answer was simple- just dig him up and have him attend anyway.

Formosus was disinterred from his grave, dressed up in his pontifical robes, and propped up in a throne for the trial at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano, where various cardinals, bishops, and other important church dignitaries were in full attendance for the macabre spectacle. Since he obviously could not speak for himself, the Pope assigned a deacon to be Formosus’ ears and mouth, and to speak for him. He was then read the charges of coveting the papacy, ruling over more than one place at a time, and of breaking canon law, with the court addressing the dead man propped up in his seat directly…

It was all a rather surreal sight, seeing these charges shouted at a lifeless corpse, and it was made even more bizarre by an earthquake that shook the basilica and damaged part of it during the proceedings, now known as the “Cadaver Synod.”

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Formosus was found guilty as charged, and the punishment was fairly severe, although he was too dead to really appreciate the gravity of it all. He was stripped of the title of pope, all of Formosus’ reign and decrees were totally stricken and voided, as were all of the appointments he had granted to various bishops, and his robes were all taken away.

Beginning to sound familiar?

The court then lopped off the three fingers of his right hand he had used in consecrations and blessings, and his body was unceremoniously buried again in an anonymous plot.

Formosus actually had the last laugh, even though he was dead. Let’s just say that the outcome wasn’t what his accusers either expected or wanted.

The moral of this story, I think, is that he who stretches the law to punish a political opponent may not get the results he thinks that he will.

The DC denizens have been living in DC for too long, and not paying attention to the plebes in the countryside.

What happened to the enemies of Pope Formosus?

…The morbid trial and aftermath had angered many people in Rome, and made Stephen VI quite unpopular among the people in general. Riots broke out and the Pope was captured by the mobs and sent to languish in prison, where he would ultimately be strangled to death. In a fitting twist, Formosus ended up having the last laugh when his body was then brought to St. Peter’s Cathedral to be buried yet again with full Christian honors in 897, and shortly after this he was reinstated by Pope John IX, who also incidentally made it illegal to ever put a corpse on trial again.


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6 Responses to The trial of Pope Formosus

  1. auscitizenmom says:

    Great story.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. stella says:

    Jonathan Turley’s response to retroactive impeachment trials.

    … If impeachment applied to private citizens, one would have expected a substantive discussion given the anti-federalist mistrust of the Constitution and the rising hostility between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians. The greater danger in my view is not evasion by office holders but opportunism by Congress. A new Congress with a new majority can seek retroactive impeachments and disqualifications for figures in an opposing party…

    The problem from my perspective remains the balancing of such values against the countervailing costs. The Trump impeachment only magnified those concerns. For the first time in history, the House used what I have called a “snap impeachment” without the traditional hearing or formal opportunity for a president to respond. The House could have waited a couple days to allow such a hearing to occur. Instead, it used a snap impeachment and then sat on the article of impeachment for many days — similar to what it did in the first Trump impeachment. The Senate would then hold a retroactive trial for someone who is now a private citizen.

    Under this approach, any new Congress could come into power and set about disqualifying opponents from public office despite their being private citizens. A Republican Congress could have retroactively impeached Barack Obama or retried Bill Clinton. They could insist that there is no escaping impeachment by merely leaving office. That is why, even if the Senate does not view this as extraconstitutional, it should view this trial as constitutionally unsound.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. jeans2nd says:

    No one expects the Roman Inquisition?
    Cannot wait to see who the Commies impeach next. Don Jr? Ivanka? Barron? Our First Lady?
    What fun.

    What is the over/under for when the Commies start rioting due to Congress not giving Les Miserables all their promised freebies?

    Great story re: Pope Formosus, and how sad. Thanks Stella.
    No doubt Our Lord welcomed that Pope with Open Arms, provided Pope Formosus committed no blasphemy.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. TigerBear says:

    A prime example of what hatred and thirsting for vengeance can do to a person.
    Very good lesson.
    I laughed at this story as a child as I could see it was an act of vengeance and hatred and cost the corpse nothing and the nasty pope everything.

    Liked by 6 people

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