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Pope Leo VIII

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Date of birth unknown; d. between 20 February and 13 April, 965. When the Emperor Otho I illegally brought about the deposition of the unworthy Pope John XII (Nov., 963), he equally illegally caused to be elected, to fill his place, a layman, "Leo, the venerable protonotary". Leo was a Roman and the son of one John. His family was well known in the Clivus Argentarii (now Via di Marforio, between the Corso and the Forum Romanum), and he himself gave his name to various streets in the neighbourhood of his home. Chosen pope on 4 December, he was consecrated Bishop of Rome on 6 December, all the lesser orders having, in violation of the canon law, been bestowed upon him in the meantime by Sico, Bishop of Ostia. A few weeks after Leo's consecration, the Romans made a vain effort to overthrow the authority of the emperor. They were severely punished for their attempt; but, through the intercession of Leo, Otho restored to them the hostages he had received from them. No sooner, however, did the emperor leave Rome, than the people rose and expelled his nominee (Feb., 964). John XII at once returned to the city, summoned a council, condemned Leo "one of the employees of our curia, who has broken his faith with us", and degraded those clerics who had been ordained by him. Soon after this John died (14 May, 964), and the Romans unwisely elected to succeed him the Cardinal-Deacon Benedict. Indignant at the expulsion of Leo, and the election of Benedict, Otho hurried to Rome, and was soon in possession of both it and the new pope. Leo returned with the emperor, and at once brought Benedict to trial. With the consent of all his would-be judges, Benedict was degraded to the rank of a deacon, Leo himself tearing the pallium from his shoulders (July, 964). If it be the fact, as is asserted by a contemporary, that Benedict acquiesced in his deposition, and if, as seems certain, no further protest was made against Leo's position, he may well be regarded as a true pope from July, 964, to his death in 965, about the month of March.

No extant records inform us of any deeds which Leo performed during the period when he may be safely regarded as a true pope. He is said, indeed, to have given Otho the right of nominating any one he chose to be pope or bishop, and to have restored to Otho all the lands which his predecessors had bestowed upon the papacy. It is generally allowed, however, that the documents which make these statements are imperial productions forged during the investiture quarrel.

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