Breaking News: The Pope’s Corpse was Disinterred and Put on Trial

By: Tony Capobianco

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The Pope’s corpse was disinterred and a synod convened at the Lateran to judge him. The rotting cadaver was set up in full pontifical robes, with a deacon to answer the charges made, and Stephen sitting as Judge. The verdict was that Formosus could not have been valid Pope, as he had been bishop of another see at the time of his election; Stephen further ruled that all of Formosus’s clerical appointments were also invalid (this served Stephen well, as it meant that his own appointment to Anagni was annulled, thus allowing him, by his own lights, to be Pope). Further, Stephen declared Formosus’s sacramental ministrations as Pope to have been invalid, especially ordinations of priests and consecrations of bishops; all of those whom the late Pope had anointed were to be considered laymen (this judgement, incidentally, was itself heretical, since Catholic dogma holds that the sacraments work of themselves— ex opere operato), regardless of the legal standing of the cleric administering them.

The Papal vestments were stripped from Formosus’s body; his hairshirt, however, had merged with his flesh, and could not be extracted. The three fingers of his right hand, used to bless when he was alive, were cut off and his corpse flung into the Tiber after being dragged through the streets. Later, a monk would rescue it.

Despite this exciting interlude, Stephen himself was destined for a bad end. A few months later an insurrection against Guido took over Rome. The Pope was stripped of his pontifical robes and insignia and strangled.
— (Coulombe, Pp. 127-128)

The above excerpts come from the remarkable book Vicars of Christ by Charles Coulombe. The macabre and disgusting events described above took place around the year 897. The disgraceful synod and trial of Pope Formosus is historically perceived to be of dubious authority. Pope Stephen presided over this twisted debacle and soon after met his own inglorious demise.

Please forgive the over the top title to this article because it was chosen to illustrate a point. Imagine what the headlines and tweets would look like if the trial of Pope Formosus took place today. The secular cable news, the blogs, the newspapers, the late night TV hosts, the Twitterverse, along with Facebook posts would explode with obsessive intrigue. The trial would almost certainly be broadcast live on TV, radio, and streamed on the internet. It would be called The Trial of the Millennium.

Fallen man is fascinated by a scintillating scandal as the scandal allows him to take the focus off of his own faults as he lustfully peers at the faults of someone else. If a man is consumed with judging another then he will not have the time to judge himself. With all eyes on such an outrageous spectacle the trial would undoubtedly take place simultaneously at the dubious synod with Pope Stephen and across all of the media platforms. The latter being a virtual synod and trial. The cable news channels would invite “expert” panels to weigh in on the unprecedented events. These “journalists” would have their say before they even bothered to learn about the history surrounding the televised fiasco. Knowledge of Church history and the strict limits of Papal infallibility would not be researched. After all, who has time to research when you could just spew things from the top of your head? Researching and learning about a situation is difficult work whereas giving an uninformed opinion is easy while offering instant gratification. The current so called Information Age is ironically filled with great ignorance and often it is the ignorant that think themselves to be wise. Perhaps this current age should be renamed the Age of Polonius.

Church history is filled with luminous and great Popes that became saints as well dark and wretched Popes who may well be in Hell for all eternity. The vast majority of Papal history is filled with mediocre Popes. The Popes are mortal men so it should be of no surprise that concupiscence is part of their struggle. The Church has never taught that men become as angels upon their election to the See of Peter. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ but he is not divine. The Pope is not the divine oracle of Rome. The Pope is not impeccable. The Pope is infallible under the very limited conditions dogmatically defined by Vatican I. A good bishop recently noted that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, it’s not the mystical body of the Pope. If we find ourselves to be living under the reign of a bad Pope and things appear to be confusing, read the history of the Popes and realize that many of our Catholic ancestors also lived under confusing and difficult times. The Catholics that lived during the reign of Pope Stephen and the trial of Formosus were very likely confused and tremendously unsettled and yet they received the necessary graces for salvation as they safely remained in the bosom of Holy Mother Church. Each soul is granted the graces necessary for salvation no matter which period of history she lives. The events of the trial of Pope Formosus probably helped pave the way for an even darker period for the papacy, the era known as the pornocracy. Despite the disasters and triumphs of various Popes, the Church continues to be the One True Church. Church history clearly indicates that if the Church was a merely human organization then it would have perished many centuries ago. Hilaire Belloc aptly describes it like this, “An institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.” The Catholic Church is both human and divine just as Her Lord Jesus Christ is a Divine Person with two natures. The Catholic Church alone contains the Sacred Deposit of Faith. The Catholic Church alone is the Ark of Salvation, outside of which there is no salvation.

Citations:

Coulombe, Charles. Vicars of Christ, A History of the Popes. Tumblar House. 2014.

Vicars of Christ by Charles Coulombe can be found by clicking the following link: