John XII (Pope)

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John XII (* 937 or 939 as Octavian of Spoleto in Rome ; † May 14, 964 in the Campagna ) was Pope from December 16, 955 until his deposition on December 4, 963. In 962 he crowned Otto the Great for the first time a Roman-German king to the emperor, whom he himself had asked for help. As a descendant of the leading city-Roman families, Octavian ruled the city and at the same time tried to defend the Papal States against encroachments by the so-called "national kings" with Otto's help. He was the only pope - perhaps with the exception of Pope Benedict IX.– who took office as a youth. John was deposed due to allegations of an immoral way of life, but Roman politics probably played the decisive role for the emperor. Although the deposed pope succeeded in recapturing Rome, he also saw to it that his opponents were punished and the anti-pope deposed, but he died shortly afterwards.


descent, papal election

Octavian was the son of Count Alberic II of Spoleto and thus a grandson of the progenitor of the Tusculans , the Lombard Alberic I , and the senatrix Marozia . On the deathbed, Alberic II had Pope Agapitus II and the Roman nobility sworn by oath not only to make his son Octavian princeps of Rome, but also to elect him as his successor after the death of the pope. After the death of Agapitus, the now lord of Rome Octavian was elected pope on December 16, 955 at the age of 18 and John XII. called. He was the fifth pope elected by order of Alberic. The election was contrary to the decree of Pope Symmachus , which expressly forbade collusion before the papal election during the lifetime of the still incumbent pope. John pursued the two main goals of his father, namely the preservation of the autonomy of Rome and that of the Papal States, but he lacked the necessary experience.

According to later accounts, he was uneducated and did not speak Latin. Despite the tendentious descriptions of his tenure in the tradition by Liutprand of Cremona , it can be considered certain that John was neither a pious nor an able pope, but led a secular life. The abbot and bishop Rather of Verona claims that Octavian did not even belong to the Roman clergy, nor did he receive any religious instruction. In the Liber pontificalis it says: "totam vitam suam in adulterio et vanitate duxit" (p. 246), so he spent his whole life in adultery and vanity. Nonetheless, his authority, including on doctrinal matters, has been recognized throughout the Church, as evidenced by a number of related inquiries. Whether compared to John XIII. It cannot be clarified that a significantly lower number of these inquiries can be attributed to the less favorable source situation or the poor or worldly lifestyle and reputation of Octavian.

Embedding in the historical context, administration

Otto I meets Pope John XII, unknown artist, workshop of Diebold Lauber , c. 1450 Drawing, pen and colored

Foreign Conflicts, King Berengar and Adalbert

His lack of political experience led him into political adventures in both the North and the South. On the one hand, he came into conflict with Berengar II , Margrave of Ivrea , and with his son Adalbert , as well as with the territory of the former Exarchate of Ravenna . On the other hand, he received support from the Marquises of Spoleto and Tuscany, with whom he led an ill-fated campaign against Capua and Benevento to regain papal prerogatives in southern Italy.

Call for help to the East Frankish King Otto, offer of the imperial crown

In 960, Berengar, who was at war with the Marquis of Spoleto, occupied some areas of the Papal States and threatened ecclesiastical jurisdiction there in the eyes of the Pope. John called - possibly prompted by circles of the Cluniac reform - the East Frankish King Otto I for help, who raised claims to the title of King of Italy , like Berengar . In 961, Otto marched across the Alps with an army; Berengar retreated to his castles. Johannes probably assumed that these operations would be carried out in transit to Rome, and that the king would also receive support from Berengar's northern Italian opponents. Above all, however, it was expected that Otto would then withdraw back behind the Alps.

John sent his own legates to the court, namely the cardinal deacon John and a scriniarius named Azzo. In addition to offering the imperial crown, they may have reminded the king of his duties to the church. They were accompanied by Margrave Oberto I degli Obertenghi , then the Archbishop of Milan and the Bishop of Como and other malcontents. The message from Benedetto del Soratte (p. 174 f.), which does not fit chronologically at all, that the embassy was sent by the Roman opponents of the pope, is more likely to be seen as a preliminary reference to Otto's later behavior towards John XII. to understand.

At the beginning of December 961, before his entry into Rome, Otto swore to the Pope, represented by delegates, that after entering the Eternal City he would use his powers for the elevation of the Church and for the protection of the person, life and "honor". of the Pope would argue. In Rome he should not be allowed to decide anything concerning Roman affairs without consulting the Pope. He was also to repay everything that fell into his hands in the way of ecclesiastical claims; the kingdom of Italy was to become the protector of the church ( Tractatus cum Iohanne XII pontifice , n. 23). For his part, John swore for himself and for the Roman people to remain loyal to the king and never to support Berengar and Adalbert. The relationship between Otto and Johannes was already characterized by distrust, especially since the Pope feared attacks on his city government.

Imperial coronation (962), Privilegium Ottonianum, Otto's victory over Berengar

On February 2, 962, in Rome, John anointed and crowned Otto and his wife Adelheid of Burgundy as emperor and empress. At the same time he transferred the Roman imperial dignity to the East Franconian Empire. Otto, in turn, guaranteed the Pope the preservation of the Papal States by using the Privilegium Ottonianum to preserve the gifts of the Frankish king Pippin III. and Charles I and the Constitutio Romana of 824 confirmed. As already stipulated in the latter, he determined that the papal consecration could only be carried out after an expressly canonical election and after an oath of fealty by the elected person to the emperor. In a subsequent synod in the Basilica of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica , the founding of the Archdiocese of Magdeburg for the mission of the Slavs was discussed. The other main topics have not been handed down. The only source is a papal document dated February 12, 962 (Papal Documents, n. 281). The aforementioned Privilegium Ottonianum , which confirmed all the privileges and donations of the predecessors, was probably also negotiated at the synod. We learn nothing about the question of whether the Pope's lifestyle has already been debated. During the Roman stay, which lasted until the middle of 962, the Pope handed over some relics ; evidently there was unanimity between the emperor and the pope. Rather of Verona , who had been expelled from his church, regained his bishopric. According to Heinz Wolter (pp. 71-74), this question and the question of the Reims bishop 's see were decided after Otto's ideas at a synod in Pavia in the autumn of 962. This was the last time that imperial plans met with the approval of John XII.

After taking the oath of allegiance to the pope, Otto had left Rome to subdue Berengar and thus establish his kingship over the ruling nobles. After about a year, Berengar surrendered at Castle San Leo . He was exiled to Bamberg . Berengar's son Adalbert initially fled to Corsica .

Alliance with Adalbert, quarrel with Otto, dismissal proceedings against the Pope, anti-imperial alliance

After the Emperor's departure, Pope John broke his oath of allegiance and allied himself with the escaped Adalbert. The latter fought for his inheritance with Saracen support. Emperor Otto then moved from northern Italy to Rome again. Johannes and Adalbert fled with the church treasury.

In Rome, on November 6, 963, the emperor held a synod to depose the pope. According to the eyewitness Liutprand of Cremona (p. 160 f.), thirteen cardinals were present, but the majority was with John. Then the summons was read, accusing the pope, without giving details, of murder, perjury , desecration of the temple, incest, drinking to the devil, and invoking Zeus, Venus, and other demons. In addition, the papal legates who brought forward the case of John against Otto in Constantinople , namely Leo von Velletri and the cardinal deacon John, were arrested in Capua . The Bulgarians "Salecco" and "Zacheo" traveled with them, whom the Pope had intended for the mission of the Hungarians . These in turn would have carried letters with them in which they were asked to incite the Hungarians against the East Frankish Empire. The pope had thus become the center of an anti-imperial alliance that threatened Otto's authority not only in Italy but also beyond the Alps. John simply claimed they were fakes designed to discredit him. In addition, not he but Otto broke his oath, because he did not restitute all areas of the Papal States. According to the envoys, the Pope's other behavior can be traced back to his youth. This promised improvement.

In this situation, the Emperor sent Bishops Landward of Minden and Liutprand of Cremona. If necessary, an ordeal should decide the matter, in the form of a duel between knights of the emperor and the pope. The Pope received the envoys with hostility and in turn sent an embassy to Otto. Even before their return, Adalbert, who had been invited by Johannes, appeared in Rome. He allied himself with the Pope and Adalbert was received in the city with all honours. This, however, represented a breach of oath and offered Otto the opportunity to intervene militarily. However, the events can only be reconstructed using anti-papal sources. The motives for the Pope's change of policy are not clear from this.

Otto I's march to Rome (963), flight and deposition

In the autumn of 963 Otto moved to Rome, Johannes took over, according to Liutprand (p. 168, 171), the command over the besieged. But a part of the Romans, perhaps already when Adalbert entered, turned against the pope. Now the resistance of the besieged collapsed and Johannes and Adalbert fled the city to Tivoli . They carried church property with them. The imperial party opened the city gates, but had to take a solemn oath of allegiance and take hostages . The emperor also received the right to control the election of the pope. On November 6, at the request of the Roman people and the bishops present in Rome, a synod was convened in St. Peter's Basilica, presided over by the emperor. In it the guilt of John should also be examined.

We have Liutprand's extremely tendentious report on the course of this synod (pp. 164-171). He reports on the said bishops, but also those from the Roman countryside, 16 cardinals, functionaries of the Curia , a large part of the Roman nobility and representatives of the people and the militias. Former followers of the Pope also attended. During the first session, after the Emperor had asked where the Pope was, Cardinal Presbyter Peter, Bishop John of Narni and Cardinal Deacon John presented a series of charges against the absentee. So the following charges were included: liturgical misconduct, the ordination of a deacon in a stable, then the elevation of a ten-year-old to the position of bishop of Todi , episcopal elevations for money, sacrilege and adultery, then carrying weapons, a passion for hunting, the blinding of his godfather Benedict, the murder of the cardinal subdeacon Johannes, finally diabolical magic potions. Summoning idols while playing dice , disregarding canonical prayer times, and ignoring the sign of the cross. Even if the veracity of these charges cannot be established, the allegations were enough for the participants in the synod to quote Pope John before the synod.

This happened three times, and he was also given the opportunity to take an oath of purification . The fled John refused the summonses and forbade those present, under penalty of excommunication , to elect a new pope. On December 4, the synod assembled to pronounce the verdict, and Otto himself accused the pope of perjury and rebellion. The synod called for the removal of the pope, more because of his moral than his political failings. He was formally declared an apostate . With triple acclamation , the layman and protoscriniar Leo (VIII) was elected and enthroned in the Lateran . He was consecrated on December 6th in St. Peter's Basilica. For the first time in church history , a pope who was labeled a criminal and a traitor was deposed. Formally, however, according to canon law, there was no correct conviction.

Rebellion in Rome (964), dismissal of the imperial pope and excommunication

On January 3, 964, an uprising broke out with the aim of killing the new pope and the emperor. But the uprising was crushed by Otto's army. A hundred hostages were taken the next day, and the Emperor only released them a week before the fight against Adalbert. In mid-January, Otto moved to Spoleto against Adalbert. The emperor had scarcely left Rome when the fled pope returned in February and at a synod had Leo, who had fled to Otto's army camp, and his supporters deposed. The two prelates who made the treaty with Otto were mutilated. Azzo's right hand was chopped off, Cardinal Johannes' nose, tongue and fingers were cut off.

John convened a council attended by 16 bishops from around Rome, plus 12 cardinals, the majority of whom had already attended the Deposition Synod. The assembly met for the first time on February 26, 964. It reversed all decisions of the previous synod. Leo VIII was declared illegitimate, stripped of his dignity and excommunicated. In contrast to the aforementioned synod, one acted exactly according to synodal law. Leo's treason was branded as well as his breach of allegiance to John XII. and the attainment of the papacy during the lifetime of a legitimate pope. The layman was accused of having come into office through simony , contrary to canon law. The decision against Bishop Sico of Ostia, ordained by Leo, who had fled, was postponed until the third session to give him an opportunity to justify himself. Benedict of Porto and Gregory of Albano , who had ordained Leo, submitted to John. They acknowledged orally and in writing that they had elected a pope during the lifetime of the still incumbent and legitimate pope, and a layman. All those who had attained office through Leo had to acknowledge that Leo would not have had the right of transmission. In the spirit of the Cluniac reform , the antipope was accused of having carried out the ordinations through simony. With reference to the Lateran Council of 769, all appointments were declared null and void. All these men were restored to their former positions and deprived of the opportunity to hold higher offices. The bishop of Ostia, who had not followed the summons, was deposed and excommunicated.

Circumstances of death, choice of successor

There is nothing to indicate opposition to John, even though he imposed harsh and cruel punishments. Otto could not intervene because he had to wait for military reinforcements. By now the alliance with Adalbert was broken, leaving John only to try to regain imperial favour. Thus he released Ottgar von Speyer , whom Otto had left in Rome to protect imperial rights. But he had this bishop arrested and flogged. Without getting anything from the emperor, Johannes died in mid-May 964 before Otto could punish him.

Pope John XII, modern depiction in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Imaginative depiction of the manner in which John XII. died (Franco Cesati: I Misteri del Vaticano o la Roma dei Papi , vol. 1, 1861, p. 413). The caption reads: "Giovanni XII è gettato dalla finestra dal marito di Stefanetta, che lo ha sorpreso colla moglie" (meaning: 'John XII is thrown out of the window by Stefanetta's husband, who surprised him with his wife')

Except for Liutprand, the sources record the death without comment. According to the polemical version of the biting bishop of Cremona (p. 173 f.), the pope died without confession and last rites during an adultery from a stroke .

Older historiography adopted this version, especially since it long rumored about divine intervention against the negative hero and in favor of the emperor, who was nicknamed "the great". Hans Kühner assumes that his betrayed husband probably beat him up so badly that he only lived for eight days. In his 36-volume Histoire ecclésiastique , published between 1691 and 1720, Claude Fleury wrote extensively about what was happening at the Curia. In the 8th volume of his Storia ecclesiastica , translated into Italian under this title and published in 1770, “Stefanetta” died giving birth to a child conceived by the Pope. Nor were church visitors safe from rape, regardless of whether they were beautiful or not, rich or poor, married, widow or virgin.

The followers of John XII. elected Benedict V as pope after his death .


Sources of papal and imperial provenance

  • Philipp Jaffé : Regesta pontificum Romanorum , published by Samuel Löwenfeld , 2 vols., Leipzig 1885–1888, vol. I, pp. 463–467 and vol. II, p. 706.
  • Louis Duchesne (ed.): Le Liber pontificalis , II, Paris 1892, pp. 246–249.
  • Johann Friedrich Böhmer : Regesta Imperii , II, 1: The Regesta of the Empire under Heinrich I. and Otto I. 919-973 , published by Emil von Ottenthal , Innsbruck 1893, pp. 140-171; II, 5: Pope's regesta 911-1024 , published by Harald Zimmermann , Böhlau, Vienna and others 1969, pp. 99-137.
  • Paul Fridolin Kehr : Italia pontificia , IX, Berlin and others 1906–75, ad indices ( Elenchus pontificum Romanorum ).
  • Giuseppe Zucchetti (ed.): Benedictus monachus S. Andreae de Soracte, Chronicon (= Fonti per la storia d'Italia [Medio Evo], LV), Rome 1920, pp. 184-186.
  • Harald Zimmermann : papal documents 896-1046 , I, Vienna 1984-1985, ad indicem.

Narrative sources, letters

  • Friedrich Kurz (ed.): Reginonis abbatis Prumiensis Chronicon cum continuatione Treverensi (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica , Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum, L), Hanover 1890, pp. 171-174.
  • Josef Becker (ed.): Liutprandus Cremonensis, Historia Ottonis (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum, LI), Hanover 1915, pp. 159-174.
  • Ludwig Weiland (ed.): Tractatus cum Iohanne XII pontifice (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Leges, Legum sectio IV, Constitutiones et acta publica imperatorum et regum, I), Hanover 1893, n. 10-12, 23.
  • Fritz Weigle (ed.): Rather's letters from Verona , letters of the German Imperial Age 1, Weimar 1949, n. 16, pp. 71-106, 21, pp. 111-115.


Biographical Approaches

individual questions

  • Antoni Grabowski: Liudprand of Cremona's papa monstrum: the image of Pope John XII in the Historia Ottonis , in: Early Medieval Europe 23 (2015) 67–92.
  • Ernst-Dieter Hehl : The well-advised pope. The Roman Synod of John XII. dated February 964 , in: Klaus Herbers , Hans-Henning Kortüm , Carlo Servatius (eds.): Ex ipsis rerum documentis. Contributions to Medieval Studies. Festschrift for Harald Zimmermann on his 65th birthday , Sigmaringen 1991, pp. 257–275.
  • Heinz Wolter : The synods in the imperial territory and in imperial Italy from 916-1056 , Paderborn et al. 1988, pp. 69-86.
  • Ernst-Dieter Hehl : The alleged canons of the Roman synod of February 962 , in: Deutsches Archiv XLII (1986) 620-628.
  • Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller : The History of the Pope's Names , Münster 1980, pp. 29–32.
  • Harald Zimmermann : trial and dismissal of Pope John XII. Sources and Judgments , in Österreichisches Archiv für Kirchenrecht XII (1961) 207–230.
  • Nicola Cilento: La cronaca dei conti e dei principi longobardi di Capua dei codici Cassinese 175 e Cavense 4 (815-1000) , in Bullettino dell'Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo e Archivio muratoriano LXIX (1957) 56-59.

web links

Commons : John XII  – Collection of images, videos and audio files

See also


  1. Werner Goez : Pictures of life from the Middle Ages. The time of the Ottonians, Salians and Staufers. 3. to add a foreword. Edition (special edition 2010), WBG, Darmstadt 2010, p. 87.
  2. ^ Letter n. 16, p. 80.
  3. Siegfried Obermeier : The unholy fathers , Bastei-Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1995, p. 65 f.
  4. Böhmer, II, 5, n. 314.
  5. Jan Dhondt : The early Middle Ages (= Fischer world history . Volume 10). Fischer paperback, Frankfurt am Main 1968, p. 208 f..
  6. Hans Kühner: Lexicon of the Popes , p. 53.
  7. Claude Fleury : Storia ecclesiastica , Italian edition, Genoa 1770, p. 208.
predecessor government office successor
Agapitus II Pope
Leo VIII Pope
Benedict V