Lanternarius Press

Pope Benedict I, Against The Lombards

Pope Benedict ruled just over four years during one of the most vicious, violent and disordered times in the Church’s history.

A son of Rome, Benedict was called Bonosus by the Greeks. His father was named Bonifacius, but we know nothing further about him.

In the seven years before Benedict came to the throne of Peter, northern Italy had been invaded. Hordes of Lombards, a Germanic tribe, who brought 20,000 of their closest Saxon friends with them, moved across the Alps and into the plains, moving south at an impressive pace. Warriors and their women and children took over everything in their paths. Within four years, the Lombards ruled everything north of the Po River (ie, where Turin and Milan are). Within a few more years, they had Tuscany, except Rome, and formed the Kingdom of Italy.

The Ostrogoths, who had lost the war against the Byzantine Empire only a few years before, were still living a comfortable lifestyle in the peninsula. The emperor, thinking he had no problems left in Italy, had withdrawn most of his troops. The only military left was along the Adriatic Sea, centered at Ravenna, the old capital. That small contingent could not defend against the Lombards. So, the Ostrogoths tended to join the Lombards in their efforts.

The Lombards organized according to relationships, granting 35 duchies throughout the north and central regions of Italy. They carried with them their pagan or Arian cultures. It took several generations before they became Orthodox Catholics.

In 572, Alboin, the leader of the Lombards, was assassinated in a plot led by his young wife, Rosamund. She escaped to Ravenna, still held by the Byzantine empire. Alboin’s successor, Cleph, reigned ruthlessly, treating landowners poorly, until he, too, was assassinated 18 months later. This precipitated the “Rule of the Dukes”, the time of violence and disorder. There was no central government, no ruler over all to contain the people. For ten years, every ruthless action was committed against the Italians.

Rome was in a precarious position of being free from the Lombards. The only other free city was Ravenna, on the opposite coast. Commerce and communication ground to a halt. It was a time of famine and plague. In addition, the weather for a few years was terrible, as flooding of the Tiber River became problematic.

Benedict spent most of his time trying to help his people materially. As far as his Church work, he was said to have consecrated in his four years, twenty-one bishops, ordained fifteen priests and raised three men to the deaconate. One of the three deacons he ordained was the future Pope Gregory I. One of the few records extant shows that Benedict granted an estate, the Massa Veneris, in the territory of Minturnae, to Abbot Stephen of St. Mark's "near the walls of Spoleto”, one of the two more independent duchies.

In the summer of 579, Rome was under siege. It is said that Benedict was killed in this siege July 30. He was buried in the vestibule of the sacristy at the old basilica of St. Peter’s. There was not another pope for months.

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