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Top Ten Popes

Posted March 21, 2013 by Ciarán O'Brien in Ramp Lists
Top Ten Popes

The Irish have traditionally had a soft spot for a good pope. The late John Paul II’s first visit to our country was a bigger deal than the 1916 Rising, the foundation of the Republic and the Irish football team getting to the quarter finals of the 1990 World Cup combined. Even the horrendous child abuse scandals of the past couple of decades haven’t managed to dampen Irish Catholics’ love of getting poped up. There was much ado about the ascension of Pope Benny (wham ba dam), and much gasping at his resignation, the first in centuries. This was swiftly followed by a tsunami of gossip and praise for the latest fellow to inherit the funny hat, ruby slippers and solid gold toilet of the Vatican, and it is in such a spirit of popeliness that we at Ramp present to you a Top of the Popes, if you will, a Pope Idol. Given their ostentatious garb, a cruel writer might even call them Pope Tarts. Not us though, We at Ramp.ie are content to call them our twelve Top Ten Popes. Special thanks are due to Denise Murray (School of History, UCC)for helping pick out and and enlightening us about some of the most outstanding popes from nearly 270 of the buggers. Any inaccuracies are our fault. All the facts are belong to Denise.

12. Pope Soter

Soter? I hardly KNEW 'er!

Soter was born in what is now the Lazio region of Italy, and he got to wear the silly hat from about AD166-174. He’s kind of important for two big reasons. First, he formally made Easter an annual festival, leading up to the present day’s beloved traditions of eating far too much chocolate and generally hooking up whatever you’d given up during Lent directly to your veins. Secondly, he declared that marriage was only valid as a sacrament blessed by a priest. I don’t think we need go into all the trouble THAT decision has caused in the 1800 odd years since. Still, he’s mentioned as being really quite charitable to needy Christians, so he mightn’t have been a total dick. Also interesting is the fact that he’s one of the few early popes not recorded as a martyr. Perhaps people were getting tired of killing people for their faith by then, or maybe the church realised that they couldn’t all be martyrs or people would notice something was up. We may never know for sure!

11. Pope Liberius

He looks sad. Why is he sad?

This poor chap was the first pope that wasn’t automatically made a saint. It’s a bit like being the one person in the group the bouncers stop from entering the pub. Liberius was pope during the ‘Arian crisis’, where the majority of Christians, ahem, believed the wrong things about Jesus, thinking he was a man/prophet, but not divine. What an awkward position to start off in as pope. A load of councils followed, some presided over by the Roman emperor Constantinius II, and Liberius signed a letter (possibly under Imperial pressure) condemning the man heading the stamping out of this heresy (Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria). Even more awkward. He was exiled to Thrace for a while as a bit of a heretic, and the Emperor appointed Antipope Felix II to head the church. Liberius was later recalled, and while Constantinius wanted him to co-rule with the Antipope, the people of Rome kicked poor Felix out on his arse. This whole episode was a big turning point in Christianity’s history; the Arian Crisis posed a big threat to the Orthodoxy, based as it was on Jesus being divine without question, and Liberius is (indirectly, perhaps) responsible for the much more hardline exterminate-first-ask-questions-later policy adopted with regards to differences of opinion in the Church. Nice going, that man!

10. Pope Zosimus

Hey, he looks really sad too.

Zosimus didn’t have the greatest run as a pope. He got the job on March 22 AD417, and lasted until December 26 AD418, a little over a year and a half. Still, he managed to stir things up a fair bit in his time. He was known for having a temper, enough that the clergy were quite divided over his death, presumably some mourning while others cracked open the special casks of holy wine. Nobody knows anything about him before he was given a place in the Papal See, and everyone loves the mysterious newcomer, right? Alas, poor Zosimus made some impressive fuck-ups in his short career. There was a dispute over the See of Arles, where a politically savvy bishop got Zosimus to effectively make him Head Bishop for a whole bunch of provinces, which pissed off most of the bishops who lived there. Imagine that, political infighting in the Church. You wouldn’t see it nowadays, bedad.

9. Pope Honorius I

He at least looks content to have that book.

This lad was pope from AD625-638. He’s reported to have ‘successfully’ brought Irish Easter celebrations in line with the Catholic Church, thus spoiling everyone’s fun with the old heathen ways. But the most interesting thing about Honorius I is that in AD680 – 42 years after his death – he was put on trial and found guilty of heresy, and the Church declared him anathema, which is worse than excommunication, and can only be removed by the condemned person repenting, which Honorius, being dead, must have found a bit of a balls. It all stems from an argument over just how many wills Jesus was supposed to have had. That’s the ‘free will’ kind, not the record of who gets the cat and who gets the house. His side lost, so apparently Jesus is a multiple personality sort of chap. Anyway, Honorius’ refusal to tow the party line caused so much controversy that for 300 years after his death, new popes had to say the following at their coronation: ‘smites with eternal anathema the originators of the new heresy, Sergius etc, together with Honorius, because he assisted the base assertion of the heretics.’The RCC finally stopped condemning the poor fella in the 18th century. They’re good sports like that.

8. Pope Alexander VI

He looks a bit smug. We know why. The dirty fecker.

This is one of the most infamous popes around. You might know him better as Rodrigo de Borja, or Borgia. There’s a TV series about him and his family (chronologically inaccurate, but most of the stuff in the show actually happened). He was the principle bad guy in Assassin’s Creed 2, and it was an excellent choice, what with him being a wealthy politically devious and very cunning Spaniard with a horrible reputation, Ubisoft’s work was already half done. His uncle was elected Pope Calixtus III (who is alleged to have excommunicated Halley’s Comet!), and, as was the style at the time, old Calixtus made a load of his family cardinals, including Rodrigo. He had a whole rake of mistresses and children before he became pope, and made most of them bishops/archbishops/cardinals. He still had mistresses while he was pope too of course. You don’t let a little thing like vows of celibacy get in the way of getting a good seeing to. His reputation is mostly from his detractors or extracted from servants under torture by rivals, and there’s not a lot of actual evidence that he was much worse than any other pope of the time, but what a reputation, eh? Also, it looks like he died of cantarella poisoning, so someone had it in for him. Considering the amount of powerful people he pissed off as pope, it’s surprising he lasted so long. He got the last laugh though, thanks to his wanton ways; There’s a little Borgia in the veins of most Western European royalty. The auld dog.

7. Pope Clement V

And back to sad pope. Is being God's Voice on Earth so bad?

Here’s a canny chap. Before Clement got the job, there had been a whole heap of unpleasantness between the Church and King Philip IV of France. Clement’s predecessors, Boniface VIII and Benedict XI, were a bit power hungry. Boniface issued a decree, you see, called Unam sanctam, which claimed that because the Church was so holy, and God rules everything, and the pope is the voice of God on earth, then LOGICALLY the pope should be ruler of the world and all kings should submit to the pope. That didn’t go down well with King Phil, and Boniface, who was a tactless sort, excommunicated his ass. King Phil’s advisor Guillaume led a small army to Boniface’s palaces and beat the snot out of him, and he died soon after. The next pope, Benedixt XI, undid the excommunication, but then excommunicated Guillome and any Italians in the force that caught Boniface. Rumour was that he died after only 8 months in the job due to being poisoned, possibly by a French advisor to the king with an axe to grind. And into this political shitstorm came Clement, who smoothed things over by moving the seat of the papacy to Avignon, creating 9 new French cardinals and making a new declaration explaining why Unam sanctammagically didn’t apply to King Philip. By an amazing coincidence, the next 6 popes were French. He also disbanded the Knights Templar. Suck it, Ezio!

6. Pope Pius II

He wrote the Medieval Fifty Shades. That's what he did.

Porn. That’s what this guy wrote before he became pope. He had quite a healthy catalogue of erotic poems, and his erotic novel The Tale Of Two Lovers, was a best-seller, still read today. And we acted shocked when it turned out the Catholic Church owned a porn company. But even though when it came to writing he was a cunning linguist (hurr!), there was more to like about this guy. He managed to win the pope hat from the conclave’s darling with a few well-placed words. And magically the Holy Spirit convinced the conclave to unanimously elect Pius instead. Another interesting thing he did was call for another Crusade. Bloodthirsty popes are the coolest popes. The Crusade never got off the ground, but he still managed to start a war with the Turks. And who did he convince to fight for him? Why only a Bulgarian ruler by the name of Vlad III Tepes. Also known as Vlad The Impaler. That’s right, Pius II was friends with FUCKING DRACULA. Also, before he was named Pope Pius II, his real name was Aeneas. Pronounced ‘anus’. Tee hee hee! Pope Anus!

5. Pope Julius II

OMG so sad! It looks like he just heard his dog died :(

Oh man, this guy had some stories to tell. He was nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, and in the fine tradition of nepotism ended up with 8 bishoprics and the archbishopric of Avignon (essentially making him king of 9 diocese) before his uncle made him a cardinal. He had a rivalry with the cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (Yes, THAT Borgia), and was incredibly pissed off when he lost Pope Idol to Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI. He took refuge in Paris, where he convinced king Charles VIII to go conquer Naples, and they both rode into Rome looking to depose Pope Alex, unsuccessfully (Borgias are a clever lot). After the pope’s death, and the 26 day reign of his successor, Julius managed some top class wheeling and dealing (which is to say, massive bribery) to become new pope. That day he had the Borgia apartments sealed (they weren’t opened again for nearly 300 years) and threatened to excommunicate anyone who even mentioned ‘Borgia’ near him. As if that weren’t enough, he founded the Swiss Guard, personally led a papal army across Italy in an attempt to restore the glory days of the Roman Empire, and was the man who allowed King Henry VIII to marry his first wife (his brother’s widow), and we all know how THAT turned out.

4. Pope Leo X

More unhappy popes. Is it a job requirement?

A lot of religious craziness can be laid at this guy’s ruby-slipper’d feet. Son of Lorenzo (The Magnificent) de Medici, his dad pulled strings with then pope Innocent VIII to have him made a cardinal at age 14 (popes often taking their names with a huge measure of irony). He’s the last non-priest in history to have been made a pope; He was ordained a priest 6 days after he was made pope, and bishop 2 days after that. There was surely an intensive crash course on the responsibilities and obligations of the jobs; I mean, you have to be qualified to be a pope, right? Anyway, Leo was a massive patron of the arts (and, it is widely believed, a massive patron of the arse, if you know what I mean), but he funded them by introducing the sale of indulgences to all and sundry, which ruffled more than a few feathers. When a chap called Martin Luther came along with 95 theses, Leo dismissed him as a drunken German and when his Theses spread across Europe like wildfire (Leo was too busy with internal politicking to notice much), he excommunicated him. So Leo X is pretty much responsible for the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism, but for all the wrong reasons. And he had a pet elephant named Hanno. Because nobody was going to tell the pope he couldn’t have a fucking elephant stomping around the Vatican.

3. Pope Sixtus IV

He just saw someone he didn't like and it's too late to pretend he didn't see them and now he has to say hello.

Assassin’s Creed obviously played with the truth of Renaissance Italy more than a little. There isn’t a First Civilisation temple under the Vatican or the Colosseum, and the Borgias weren’t quite the phenomenally evil dickheads the game made them out to be. It wasn’t all lies, though. For example, the Pazzi Conspiracy was a real thing, and Pope Sixtus here was up to his eyeballs in it. If you haven’t played AssCreed or you aren’t a historian, the Pazzi Conspiracy was when the Pazzi family of Florence and their allies, the Salviati, attempted to wipe out the Medici family’s power by assassinating brothers Giuliano and Lorenzo (The Magnificent), who were heirs to their highly successful banker grandfather Cosimo. The pope himself, who hated the Medici family, said ‘I support it… as long as nobody is killed.’ Classic Pope doublespeak. It’s even better than ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’. Lorenzo survived the attack though, and as this all happened at a mass in front of some 10,000 people, the assassins were all torn apart by the mob and not hunted down one by one over several years by a roguish playboy in white robes as is commonly believed today for some reason. In response, Sixtus outlawed mass and communion in Florence, because one of the conspirators was an archbishop. Then he attacked it with the papal armies. How dare that pesky Medici not be assassinated like a good Catholic!

2. Pope Pius XI

He looks like M. Bison's elderly accountant.

This pope was hella diplomatic. He pretty much negotiated concordats with any country willing to do so. Officially it was all about peace, but he was seriously worried about all those post-revolutionary countries standing up and saying ‘Hang on a minute now!’ to the Church’s power. As a result, he was willing to settle for less when it came to the standard of government he dealt with. He negotiated the Lateran Treaty which made the Vatican a sovereign big-boy state… with Benito Mussolini, one of the creators of fascism and all round horrible Italian dictator. All they had to do was give him some leeway, dissolve the Italian Catholic political party and hey presto! Vatican Statehood! Oh, and there was also the Reichskonkordat he negotiated with Adolf Hitler. Which led to a mysterious turnaround by German bishops, who had been against the Nazi party up until around then. When the anti-Semitic laws started coming in, the Church got a bit upset, but then Hitler reminded them that they’d been doing the same for 1500 years previously. In the end, they compromised – by saying that the Reichskonkordat wasn’t necissarily an endorsement of Nazi teachings. And as we all know, this stern warning put Hitler in his place, prevented the murder of several million Jews and stopped nuclear bombs being dropped on Japan. Hooray for Pope Pius XI!

1. Pope John Paul II

FINALLY! A pope has learned to smile!

JP is a freaking rock star of Catholicism, and a darling of Irish Catholics who could do no wrong. The second-youngest pope ever elected, at the tender young age of 58, sure he was hardly out of his nappies. He visited 129 countries, often kissing the ground as soon as he got off the plane (whether this was because he didn’t like flying or had some kind of weird fetish remains a mystery). He beatified nearly 1,400 people (that’s step 3 of 4 on how to become a saint, for the non-Catholics out there) and he fully canonised 483 saints, which is more than the combined tally of previous popes for the last 500 years. It’s no wonder he was so popular, he gave a couple of national holidays to every country in the world! He was originally Polish, and had been training as a priest when World War 2 broke out. Our JP dealt with it like a freaking BOSS . He taught in secret underground seminaries in defiance of Nazi race laws. He was run over by a Wehrmacht truck and was tended to by German officers, never letting his secrets out. He evaded Gestapo search parties when they came to Krakow rounding up young men to curtail the planned Uprising of 1944. And when the Nazis fled Krakow, he was one of the first in to help clean up. Now there’s a pope you could respect, none of this ‘I was scared not to be in the Hitler Youth’ stuff. He was awfully charismatic, so most people never minded much that he was just as conservative as every other pope, and said really daft things like condoms cause AIDS in Africa, homosexuality is a sin, and all the usual guff. That takes some doing, and against all odds, JayPee managed it. Amazeballs.

About the Author

Ciarán O'Brien

Ciarán has been gaming since the days of the Amiga 500, all the way up to the latest tabletop RPGs and wargames. A friendly, gentle soul who wouldn't harm a fly right up until the point where you touch his whiskey.

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