PODCAST: Decay in the Papacy, Part 2 (The History of Christianity Podcast #210 with Daniel Whyte III)

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #210, titled, “Decay in the Papacy, Part 2.”

When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our Scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 which reads: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from St. Ambrose [AM-BROHZ]. He said: “The Church is like the moon; it may wane, but never be destroyed; it may be darkened, but it can never disappear.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Decay in the Papacy, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

But the reign of the next pope, John VIII, saw the first signs of decline. In order to respond to the threat of Muslim invasion, he sought the support of Charles the Fat, as well as the Byzantines [BI-ZUHN-TEENZ], and found that neither of them would come to his aid. He was murdered in his own palace, and it is said that when the aide who had poisoned him saw that he was slow in dying, he broke the pope’s skull with a mallet.

From then on, pope succeeded pope in rapid sequence. Their history is one of intrigues too complicated to follow here, as the papacy became the prize for which the various rival parties in Rome and beyond the Alps fought. Popes were strangled, or died of starvation in the dungeons where they had been thrown by their successors. At times there were two popes, or even three, each claiming to be the one true successor of Saint Peter.

Some instances will suffice to illustrate the mood of the times. In 897 Pope Stephen VI presided over what came to be known as the “Cadaveric [KUH-DAV-UH-RIK] Council.” One of his predecessors, Formosus [FOR-MOH-ZUHS], was disinterred, dressed in his papal robes, and exhibited on the streets. Then he was tried, found guilty of a multitude of crimes, and mutilated. Finally, what remained of the body was thrown into the Tiber [TAHY-BER].

In 904, Sergius III [SUR-JEE-UHS] had his two rivals, Leo V and Christopher I, incarcerated and killed. He had come to power with the support of one of the most powerful families of Italy. This family was headed by Theophylact [THE-OH-FY-LAK-TUHS] and his wife Theodora [THE-OH-DOR-UH], whose daughter, Marozia [MAH-ROH-ZEE-AH], was Sergius’s [SUR-JEE-UHS] lover. Shortly after the death of Sergius [SUR-JEE-UHS], Marozia [MAH-ROH-ZEE-AH] and her husband Guido of Tuscia [GWEE-DOW of TWO-SHUH] captured the Lateran [LAT-ER-UHN] palace and made John X their prisoner, subsequently suffocating him with a pillow. After the brief pontificates of Leo VI and Stephen VII, Marozia [MAH-ROH-ZEE-AH] placed on the papal throne, with the name of John XI, the son whom she had had from her union with Sergius III [SUR-JEE-UHS]. Thirty years after the death of John XI, that papacy was in the hands of John XII, a grandson of Marozia [MAH-ROH-ZEE-AH]. Later, her nephew became John XIII. His successor, Benedict VI, was overthrown and strangled by Crescentius [KRES-SEN-TEE-UHS], a brother of John XIII. John XIV died of either poison or starvation in the dungeon where he had been thrown by Boniface VII [BON-UH-FEYS], who in turn was poisoned.

Next time, we will continue looking at “Decay in the Papacy.”

Let’s pray.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.