Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Pope Benedict IX was “A Devil from Hell”

Read Part I: an Eastern Message to Western Trads

Pope Benedict IX

Benedict IX, born Count of Tuscolo, was elected Pope for the first time at the age of 18 or 20[1] (although other sources say the age of 11 or 12[2]), and was a notorious Pope. Known to be a devil from hell, coming in the guise of a priest, complicit in vile adulteries and murders – a man who was devoted to pleasure, Benedict IX was also said to be a homosexual.[3]

However, at the end of his life, after his deposition and excommunication in 1049, he came to the Greek Catholic monastery of Grottaferrata, where St. Bartholomew was the abbot at the time. According to tradition, Benedict repented from his sinful life to spend his last days in repentance and prayer among the brethren.

St. Bartholomew could have rejected Benedict, as it was not completely safe for the monastery to hide a pope who had fallen into disfavour. He could also have gone into schism – being far more moral than this particular Vicar of Christ. But the holy man did what was virtuous, showing us now an example of charity, generosity, and obedience. Even if we had a pope like this, our way should be alike: waiting for his conversion while submitting to him in all things proper – for Jesus Christ.

Pope Stephen V Banned an Approved Liturgy

Here in Eastern Europe any Catholic probably knows that saints Cyril and Methodius were praised by St. John Paul II and proclaimed to be heavenly patrons of Christian ecumenism. Fewer faithful know, though, that St. Methodius, a born Easterner and an ordained Roman Catholic prelate, was accused of heresy during his first visit to Rome by his fellow clergymen!

Truth be told, the accusers among the German episcopate were actually the ones to be accused of heresies (surprise, surprise!). They believed that the Liturgy could only be celebrated in Hebrew, Latin, or Greek, while Methodius and Cyril invented a brand new writing for the slavic population of Moravia – the Glagolitic. Using the vernacular language and books in that new local script, Methodius celebrated Mass for his growing flock.

Pope Adrian II blessed that mission, just as Benedict XVI favoured the ancient form of the Roman Rite. The hagiographical Life of St. Methodius retells the corresponding bull in the following words:

‘May this be [seen as] holy and blessed by God and by us and by the entire universal and apostolic Church, so that you may more easily learn God’s commandments.’[4]

It also provides the introduction:

‘Not to you alone, but to all those Slavic lands, I send him [Methodius] as a teacher from God and from Holy Apostle Peter, the first vicar (of Christ on earth) and holder of the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’

The author of this ancient hagiographic book, a close follower of the two holy brothers, clearly expresses the Catholic reverence towards Roman Pontiffs, so does Methodius himself in the same book, when presenting his confession of faith and rendering special importance to the popes in solving the dogmatic problems during the first millennium at the primal Ecumenical councils.

What the author did know but deliberately failed to mention is that the political and ecclesiastical situation had dramatically changed. Under the influence of German bishops and their feudal lords, guided by their own political and theological interests in the Slavic lands, the next pope, Stephen V, banned it all in his letter[5] to Svatopluk the Great, ruler of Great Moravia. Banning the first Church Slavonic (Glagolitic) Liturgies and practically condemning St. Methodius, Stephan V used the traditional ‘papal language’ – all the references to his special role and power in the Church – thereby abusing the good pathos and ethos of Peter’s authority for the bad cause. One may say that Stephen V contributed much to the near complete destruction of the Latin Church’s liturgical richness, while simultaneously bringing harm upon the integrity of Catholic missions among the Slavs and instilling in the Moravians distrust and resentment towards the Church of Rome – the resentment which, through Jan Hus and others, would lead to the deplorable state of Christianity in the region nowadays.

Did St. Methodius or his disciples go into a schism, though? Absolutely not.

The former died in peace with the pope who persecuted him, as a true follower of Christ. The latter found refuge in Bulgaria, where they developed a new Church Slavonic language and made a considerable contribution to the Christian enlightenment and education of the southern and eastern Slavs. One of them wrote the Life of St. Methodius and included all the Catholic elements of respect and obedience to the pope, even while criticising the German clergy, their practices, and theology.

Indeed, after Pope Francis practically banned the liturgical form once known as usus antiquor or the Traditional Latin Mass, many devout Latin Catholics went East to this or that Byzantine Catholic Church. I dare to suggest that Methodius himself would approve of this response, as I am sure he prays to the Lord for all his fellow Latin Prelates who are now facing challenges similar to those he faced. He would probably approve of some decent criticism towards (unsurprisingly) the same German bishops and their agenda, as he would be in favour of the attempts, I suppose, to keep the fire of the Glagolitic rite in the Balkans and the Latin Mass among all the Latins around the world as far as it helps to glorify God and save souls for Heaven.

When the Teaching of Popes and Synods are Imperfect

We know and appreciate all the Lateran Councils, the Second Council of Lyon, and the Ferrara-Florentine Council not just as Synods of Bishops, but as Ecumenical Councils akin to Vatican I. However, one must understand that they were also akin to Vatican II.

Trying to establish unity between East and West, bishops, among whom the Latins had the greatest influence, came up with formulations that did not always take into account the peculiarities of the Greek language and mentality, thereby creating scandals and reasons to doubt the orthodoxy of the Roman Church.

In defending the truth behind the Filioque, Popes and Councils forced the Greeks to use such formulas in their language, making them sound utterly bad and ambiguous, as if reminiscent of ancient heresies. While defending transubstantiation in terms of form and matter, they did not understand the ancient Eastern concept of the exact moment bread and wine turn into Body and Blood of Christ, that moment coming with certainty after the Lord’s words (Dominica) are said by the celebrant in the Byzantine Liturgies, though never before or without these Words. Pope Eugen IV even called the Eastern Patriarchs his tenants or vicar deputies![6] Of course, all these factors did not help the cause of unity and mutual understanding.

What did our heroes do? There were two responses.

Response 1. The Pauline Role of Correction in Obedience

At the Ferrara-Florentine Council there were several fiery Uniate speakers who, unlike their other Greek brothers, would argue and debate with the Latins to death and till the end. They did not leave the Council, nor did they sign the Union for no reason and go into another schism at the first opportunity. They did not turn out to be oathbreakers, but they were far from simply meek lackeys of the Pope either.

Metropolitan Isidore of Kiev and Vissarion of Nicaea defended the Eastern tradition as best as they could before the Latins, even arguing with the Pope![7] As a result, the formulations of the Council did not show any condemnation of the Eastern liturgy, although the wording was still imperfect and in need for further clarification.

It was only St. John Paul II who provided such a clarification on the topic of the Filioque in 1995,[8] half a millennium after the Council. And yet, it was not perfect, not to mention other issues left untouched until Vatican II or even to the introduction of the Code of Canons for Eastern Churches, or just left untouched. I do believe that if there had been more Catholic Easterners or Eastern Orthodox people historically interested in contacting Rome, going to Rome, bombarding it with dubia and corrections of varying explicitness, the needed clarification would have come earlier, as well as the restoration of justice towards the Eastern rites and Churches within the Catholic Church. If only the majority of Greeks had not left. In other words, millions of Eastern Catholics would not have been so alone and oppressed by the Latins if their brothers and sisters had not left them, staying outside of the Catholic Church. The long way that required Russian post-revolutionary emigration and many other factors including Protestantism and two World Wars to form would have been shorter and safer for all of humanity.

Analogically, it would be easier if the Traditional Latin Mass societies and Traditionalists in general to gather their efforts in unity with Rome rather than to be pitted against each other . I also believe that any academic work and petition run on a good basis of obedience and charity, which may help the Traditional Latin cause today.

One has to admit that the very presence of those in full- and semi- schismatic churches and ecclesiastical institutions has to some degree kept Rome from going too far in the abuse of its power and from simple mistakes: the pain of loss and the ache of separation can sober up a man in white. Nonetheless, as shown by Francis’s approach to the SSPX and legal celebration in usus antiquor, a schismatic blackmail is rarely a sustainable strategy, not to mention all the dangers to the eternal salvation of those involved. Out of sight, out of mind. We went through this before with the Eastern rites in the post-Trent baroque Catholicism in the West and got used to segregation.

Response  2. ‘Hermeneutic of Continuity’ for export and in domestic use

The hero of the Council that took place before that of Florence, Patriarch of Constantinople John XI Bekkos, was such a staunch supporter of unity with Rome that he did not renounce Catholicism when the political situation changed and most of his brethren fell again out of their hatred for the Latins. He chose loyalty dooming himself to a near martyr’s death in a monastery prison in Greece.

Not only did he not renounce the Second Council of Lyon, but he continued writing letters to his brothers in defence of the Holy Union. In his main letter on the issue (‘Apologia’), he honestly describe the imperfection of Latin’s language and theology, but defended their essential orthodoxy, and therefore the unconditional need for unity and unacceptability of any schism. He did so by using many references to Church Fathers like Basil and Gregory the Great, finding corroboration of evidence in the early history of Christianity.[9]

The example of John Bekkos, this brave champion of the One True Faith (who even before the exile did not look at ranks, but, for example, defended the unjustly convicted, poor, and oppressed by the State[10] and did not fall in the moment of calamity) can inspire all these Catholics of our present times who follow the line of Pope Benedict XVI in defence of Vatican II and tradition at home as well as in front of the candid world.

The hermeneutic of continuity contains a remedy for the theology of rupture, the a priori heretical interpretation of the Second Vatican Council – the Synod that despite all the problems with its language belongs to the authentic and orthodox magisterium of the Church in which we should all stand and grow. Although, as always in the Church, this Council must be made more and more clear for the sake of a deeper understanding of God’s mysteries, His more profound glorification and adoration by the People of God, and for the sake of all human souls.

Read Part III: When the Pope communes and colludes with heretics


[1] Agostino Mathis, Appunti critici di Storia Medievale in La Civiltà Cattolica 66 (1915), nr. 4.

[2] Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon and Schuster), 412.

[3] Open sources refer to  Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher,  First Gay Pope and Other Records (Boston: Alyson, 1992).

[4] Here and herefrom quotes from the Life of St. Methodius are provided based on Сказания о начале славянской письменности. СПб. Алетейя. 2000. URL: are translated from Russian by the author. Some reflections and conclusions regarding these hagiographic quotations are based on the critical apparatus taken from Сказания о начале славянской письменности. М.: Наука, 1981. – 200 с. URL):

[5] See Epistola Stephani papae ad Zventopolcum regem in Wattenbach, 43–47. Zeitschr. f. d. katholische Theologie, v. VII, 362–367; Erben, 20 sqq. URL:

[6] In Laetentur caeli (1439). It reads ‘locatentibus.’

[7] See Christiaan Kappes, “The Epiclesis Debate  at the Council of Florence” (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019), ch. 6, 8, et alia.

[8] He did so via his Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity that ussied a document titled ‘Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit’ URL:

[9] See the English translation of Apologia that was made from Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1864) and published at De unione ecclesiarum internet blog URL:

[10] In March 1279, having received a refusal in one of such requests, John XI threw the patriarchal rod at the feet of Michael Palaiologos and retired to the Constantinople monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Parachranta. Another time, during a Liturgy  in the Mangan monastery of Constantinople, in front of the flock, Bekkos deprived the Emperor of the ‘antidoron’ (prosphora, i.e. a sacramental that is bread left from the preparation of the Eucharist) after he refused to satisfy the Patriarch’s petition for the unjustly persecuted. The insistence of John XI displeased Michael Paleologus. But he gave up.

In order to somehow protect himself from these constant demands for royal mercy, the obstinate Emperor was forced to appoint a special day of the week (Tuesday) so that the Patriarch could personally report on the cases of the poor. He also appointed a special official responsible for the documents on such cases.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...