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ope Benedict IX is known as the youngest pope to have walked on this earth, his ruling during the 3 different terms of his papacy had left a bitter taste as he is still condemned as a disgrace to the Benedict line of popes by contemporary historians. It is imperative to mention that during the era of his ruling (10th century) religion was the politic used to rule every country, this meant that for over a decade, Rome was controlled by a child who was only outraged in war. There is an intense argument between historians as there is no hard evidence to justify if he started his first term as a pope at the age of 12 or 20, but most historians do argue that it was at 12 years of age.

First-term of the papacy (1032–1044)

The closest source to Benedict IX was Rodulfus Glaber, a monk and historian who lived from 985 to 1047. In his historical writing, he states that in 1032 when Benedict IX started his first term as a pope he was only 12 years of age. Historian F. Donald Logan (a medieval studies scholar) accepts Glaber’s statement even if there is no hard evidence to show it. However, he does make a good argument in his book “A History of the Church in the Middle Ages”.

Representation of Pope benedict IX circa 1033 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Benedict IX’s date of birth is uncertain but some historians speculate that he was born in 1020 as it would add up with his age when he actually started his first-term as a pope. At such a young age he was given more power than he could ever chew, with one of the biggest armies in his possession he became a reckless force. His young blood was boiling in him which lead to many vile murders and adulteries. By 1036, he was forced out of Rome for his recklessness but was helped by Emperor Conrad II to return.

His first-term as a pope ended by 1044. Contemporary sources state that between 1040 and 1044 Benedict IX committed unspeakable deeds such as murder, torture, and theft. Fed up with his ruling, the people of Rome drove him out of the city in September 1044 because of his dissolute lifestyle as a pope. Some contemporary historians state that he was toppled by a rival political faction.

Second-term of the papacy (1045)

In March of 1045, a bishop of Sabina became Pope Sylvester III. It took just two months for Benedict IX to depose Sylvester III and return to power. His second-term as a pope and the shortest began in April of 1045, By this, he is supposedly 22 years of age, showing that he had matured, however, his deceiving character stayed the same, especially because of the actions he caused during his second-term.

Benedict IX enjoyed his second papacy for about two months until he was supposedly abdicated. The generally accepted reason is that the archpriest John Gratian who was also his godfather gave him a great amount of money so that he will let Gratian become the pope instead. Other sources say that Benedict IX was tormented about the responsibility of being pope and just took the papacy in the first place because his parents made him do it.

According to other contemporary historians, Benedict IX wanted to marry his cousin, but as a pope, he was not allowed, therefore he gave up his papacy in order to marry his cousin. However, there is no hard evidence of him doing so. In June of 1045, Gratian became the pope of Rome. He adopted the name of Pope Gregory VI, his papacy lasted as long as Sylvester’s (the previous pope before Benedict IX second-term).

Henry III, in an illustration from circa 1045 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, Henry III, the king of Germany and of Burgundy (a region that roughly corresponds to southeastern France today), intervened in this entire affair. He met with Pope Gregory VI, Benedict IX, and Sylvester III at the town of Sutri, right outside of Rome. By this time, all three had their own followers within the Church, and Henry wanted to resolve it so that a legitimately agreed-upon pope could crown him as the Holy Roman Emperor.

Since 1039 when Emperor Conrad II died, the Holy Roman Empire had been left without a ruler for 6 years. Henry’s first pick for the pope declined, so he had a guy named Sugier, his personal confessor and the bishop of Bamberg who become Pope Clement II in 1046. Clement quickly named Henry III the Holy Roman Emperor, who was such a poor ruler that the Holy Roman Empire remained disintegrated for 30 years after his death.

Third-term of the papacy (1047–1048)

Clement II sadly did not last long as he died in November of 1047. Benedict IX seized the moment and returned to Rome to start his third and final term as a pope. According to contemporary historians, the cousin he wanted to marry had turned him down. His last term lasted 8 months until Emperor Henry III drove him away to make a friend of his pope by the name of Pope Damasus II. Damasus II died after a mere 21 days, one of the shortest papacies in history.

Benedict IX didn’t go for a fourth stint as pope. Henry III schlepped himself to Rome again and made Leo IX pope. He ruled for six years and brought stability to the papacy. Benedict’s career as a pope changed the Catholic Church forever. His supposed ruthless and deceiving behavior as a pope made the Catholic Church more aware of who they make a pope. From the studies made by Historian F. Donald Logan, Benedict IX died in 1056 as a priest in a monastery.

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