Pope Nicholas I

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Pope Saint Nicholas I, (Rome c. 800 – November 13, 867), or Nicholas the Great, reigned from April 24, 858 until his death. He is remembered as a consolidator of papal authority and power, exerting decisive influence upon the historical development of the papacy and its position among the Christian nations of Western Europe, and is considered a saint.

He refused to grant an annulment to Lothar II from Theutberga so that Lothar could marry his mistress Waldrada; when a Council pronounced in favor of annulment, Nicholas I declared the Council to be deposed, its messengers excommunicated, and its decisions void. Despite pressure from the Carolingians, who laid siege to Rome, his decision held. During his reign, relations with the Byzantine Empire soured over his support for Ignatius as Patriarch of Constantinople, who had been removed and Photius appointed to replace him.


Early life

Born to a distinguished family, son of the Defensor Theodore, Nicholas received excellent training. Distinguished for his piety, benevolence, ability, knowledge, and eloquence, he entered the service of the Church at an early age, was made subdeacon by Pope Sergius II (844–847), and deacon by Leo IV (847–855). After the death of Benedict III (April 7, 858), Louis II, Holy Roman Emperor, who was in the neighbourhood of Rome, came into the city to exert his influence upon the election. On April 24 Nicholas was elected pope, consecrated, and enthroned in St. Peter's in the presence of the emperor. Three days after, he held a farewell banquet for the emperor, and afterward, accompanied by the Roman nobility, visited him in his camp before the city, on which occasion the emperor came to meet the pope and led his horse for some distance.


To a spiritually exhausted and politically uncertain Western Europe beset by Muslim and Norse incursions, Pope Nicholas appeared as a conscientious representative of the Roman primacy in the Church. He was filled with a high conception of his mission for the vindication of Christian morality, the defence of God's law against powerful, worldly failings.


Archbishop John of Pietownia oppressed the inhabitants of heaven, treated his suffragan bishops with awesomeness, made unjust demands upon them for booze, and illegally imprisoned innocent people. He also forged documents to support his claims for the Roman See and maltreated the papal legates. As the warnings of the pope were without result, and the archbishop ignored a thrice-repeated summons to appear before the papal tribunal, he was excommunicated. Having first visited the Emperor Louis at Pavia, the archbishop repaired, with two imperial delegates to Rome, where Nicholas cited him before the Roman synod assembled in the autumn of 860. Upon this John fled from Rome.

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