Enthroned 985; d. April, 996. After John XIV had been removed by force, the usurper, Boniface VII, reigned eleven months, dying in July, 985. A Roman named John, the son of a Roman presbyter Leo, was then elected pope, and crowned between 6 August and 5 September, 985. A few later chroniclers ( Marianus Scotus , Godfrey of Viterbo ) and some papal catalogues give as the immediate successor of Boniface another John, son of Robert, who is supposed to have reigned four months, and is placed by a few historians in the list of popes as John XV. Although this alleged Pope John never existed, still the fact that he has been catalogued by these historians has thrown into disorder the numeration of the popes named John, the true John XV being often called John XVI. At this time the patrician John Crescentius, son of Duke Crescentius, with the help of his adherents, had obtained entire control of the temporal power in Rome. According to some chroniclers the ascendancy of Crescentius became so irksome to the pope, to whom he even forbade access except in return for bribes, that John fled to Tuscany and sought aid from the Empress Theophano, but allowed himself to be induced by the promises of Crescentius to return to Rome. As a matter of fact, John remained throughout his pontificate under the influence of the powerful patricius, though he maintained friendly relations with the German court and with both empresses–Adelaide, widow of Otto I, and Theophano, widow of Otto II . The pope's mediation was sought by England in the quarrel between King Æthelred and Richard of Normandy. The papal legate, Leo of Trevi, brought about between the parties the Peace of Rouen (1 March, 991), which was ratified by a papal Bull.
A serious dispute occurred during this pontificate over the archiepiscopal See of Reims, the pope's interference leading at first to no definite result. Hugh Capet , who had been raised to the throne of France, made Arnulf, a nephew of Duke Charles of Lorraine, Archbishop of Reims in 998. Charles was an adversary of Hugh Capet, and succeeded in taking Reims and making the archbishop a prisoner. Hugh, however, considered Arnulf a traitor, and demanded his deposition by the pope. Before the latter's answer was received, Hugh Capet captured both Duke Charles and Archbishop Arnulf, and called a synod at Reims in June, 991, which deposed Arnulf and chose as his successor Abbot Gerbert (afterwards Pope Sylvester II ). These proceedings were repudiated by Rome, although a synod at Chela had sanctioned the decrees of that of Reims. The pope summoned the French bishops to hold an independent synod at Aachen to reconsider the case. When they refused, he called them to a synod at Rome, but they urged the unsettled conditions in France and Italy as a reason for not obeying this summons. The pope then sent Abbot Leo of St. Boniface to France as legate, with instructions to call a council of French and German bishops at Mousson. At this council only the German bishops appeared, the French being stopped on the way by Kings Hugh and Robert. Gerbert tried to exculpate himself at the synod convened on 2 June, 995, but was condemned and suspended until 1 July, when a new synod was held at Reims. Through the exertions of the legate, the deposition of Arnulf was pronounced illegal. After Hugh Capet's death (23 October, 996), Arnulf was released from his imprisonment, and in 997 the Holy See secured his restoration to all his dignities. Gerbert set out for the imperial court at Magdeburg, and became the preceptor of Otto III. At a Roman synod held in the Lateran on 31 January, 993, Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg was solemnly canonized, an event which the pope announced to the French and German bishops in a Bull dated 3 February. This was the first time that a solemn canonization had been made by a pope. John conferred many privileges on churches and convents, and was a patron and protector of the monks of Cluny. In 996 Emperor Otto undertook a journey to Italy to obtain imperial coronation from the pope, but John died early in April, while Otto lingered until 12 April in Pavia, where he celebrated Easter.
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