Sun Ra - Column for 3/14


Well, since everyone else seems to be talking about popes, I will too.

I have for some time now wanted to write a history of the papacy. It would be an immense task, obviously, and not one I in any way have the time for, but given worlds enough and time I'd love to do it. There are precious few institutions as old as the papacy - it is a common thread through many eras of human history, and is chock full of fascinating individuals, good and bad, strong and weak, corrupt and holy.

In addition to the canonical list of two hundred sixty-five popes over at the online Catholic Encyclopedia, there have been countless anti-popes, sometimes two or three at a time. Not just during the Great Schism, either - having competing popes was almost more common during the medieval period than having just one. Every Holy Roman Emperor worth his salt set up one or two.

As I say, I'd love to write a book about it all. Since I'd be writing said book more for my own enjoyment than for any academic credentials - although, not being a modern conservative, I do value the truth and would adhere strictly to it - many of the popes would rate little more than a mention. Let's face it, there are a lot of them, and many of them are either almost unknown, were pope for a very short time, and/or accomplished little. Of the first hundred and fifty, the popes during the Roman Empire and the dark ages, only a few dozen have left us much impression. Of the hundred after that, few were pope for more than ten years, many for only one or two.

But so many of them are fascinating, and they cover so much time and are so important during all that time, that it would nevertheless be a very long book. At least a thousand pages. I mean, come on. Leo the Great - St. Leo the Great - turned Attila the Hun away from Italy. We don't know how. Leo III crowned Charlemagne (apparently to Charlemagne's surprise), establishing at a stroke the concept of Papal temporal supremacy. Urban II launched the first crusade and drained Europe of the warring nobility tearing it apart. (Yes, the crusade had other effects.) Julius II rode at the head of his own army to reconquer the Papal States. Gregory XIII reformed the calendar and gave real impetus to Catholic learning, supporting the Jesuits and founding at least twenty-three seminaries and colleges.

I always wondered why some Papal names were considered better than others. Here are a few underserved names, only used once: Linus, Hyginus, Zephyrinus, Hilarius, Deusdedit, Conon (yes, Pope Conon), and Lando (I'm not making these up folks). Poor Lando, the last pope to have no one take his name. I think the next pope should call himself Lando II.

It's not that Lando was a bad pope or anything. Not that that appears to have mattered; there were several "Pope John"s after John XII, and he was awful. Check out this nifty summary of that dark period in Papal history, known as the Pornocracy. Yes, the Pornocracy meaning "Rule by Harlots". Yet John also crowned Otto I Holy Roman Emperor, which had profound historic consequence - and later sided against him, was deposed, was elevated again after Otto left town, and was killed in flagrante delicto by a husband he was in the act of cuckolding (it must be caveated, as reported by one of his detractors. Then again, he had lots of detractors and precious few supporters).

It's just fascinating. The highs and the lows.

Had I worlds enough, and time.

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra