Pope Benedict IX was born around 1012 in Rome, Italy. Named Teofilatto, the future pope was a member of the influential Tusculani family. As the nephew of two previous popes, Benedict VIII and John XIX, the Tusculani put young Teofilatto on the path to a church career. In 1032, Teofilatto’s father, Count Alberic III of Tusculum, bribed the clergy to elect his son pope. At 20 years old, Teofilatto took the pontifical name Benedict IX. His accession to the papal throne began a chaotic reign in Rome.
First Reign (1032 – 1044)
Pope Benedict IX showed his true colors early on. A violent and immoral man, the new pope enraged the Romans with his behavior. By late 1044, Benedict was so unpopular that the Roman population revolted. Fearing for his life, the pope fled. In his absence, the Romans elected a new pope, Sylvester III, in January 1045. Despite this development, Benedict’s brothers were still in Rome. Wanting to return their brother to power, the pope’s siblings overthrew Sylvester and re-installed Benedict in April 1045.
Second Reign (1045)
Although he had regained the papal throne, the revolt haunted Benedict IX. Doubting his ability to keep his position, the pope decided to sell off the papacy to his godfather. After agreeing to give Benedict a pension, Giovanni Graziano became Pope Gregory VI in May 1045. The new pope genuinely wanted to correct the mistakes of Benedict and restore the Holy See’s reputation. Over the next 2 years, Gregory reigned in relative peace.
Third Reign (1047 – 1048)
By 1047, Pope Benedict IX had begun to regret his retirement. Seeking to regain his former position, Benedict publicly re-asserted his claim to the papacy. At the same time, Sylvester III put forth his claim as well. Seeking to avoid a bloody conflict, the clergy desperately sought Holy Roman Emperor Henry III’s intervention. Upon crossing the Alps and restoring order, Henry held the Council of Sutri. The resolution declared that Benedict and Sylvester were deposed.
Emperor Henry III strongly urged Gregory VI to resign due to his agreement with Benedict. Bowing to the emperor’s demand, the pope resigned from the papacy. In his place, the German Clement II succeeded to the papacy. Since Benedict IX had not attended the council, he refused to acknowledge Clement as pope. Upon Clement’s passing in October 1047, Benedict took the opportunity to re-take the papacy.
Benedict IX’s triumph would be short-lived. By July 1048, German troops removed the pope from power for the final time. In his place, the German Damasus II became pope. Accused of simony the following year, Benedict refused to show up to court and was excommunicated. Although his fate is unconfirmed, it is believed that the pope spent his remaining years in obscurity, dying around 1056.
Pope Benedict IX had a chaotic pontificate. During his three reigns, the pope proved himself to be a poor spiritual leader. A violent and cruel man, Benedict unified the Romans through hate, not love. His removal, return, and retirement from the papacy caused instability in the church. The pope’s attempts to regain his power only resulted in more disruption and turmoil within the church. By the time he died in 1056, Benedict had left behind a legacy of scandal and chaos.
Shamsian, J. (n.d.). The youngest Pope in history was a tween who ruled 3 separate times in his life. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/who-was-the-youngest-pope-2017-1
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Benedict IX. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Benedict-IX