by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
In the days before Christmas in the year of Our Lord One Thousand and Forty-Six, the King of the Germans, Henry III came to Sutri, Italy, in the environs of Viterbo to put in order the Roman Church.
As he descended with his armed knights into Italy, he sent emissaries to Pope Gregory VI to summon a provincial council there, to settle once and for all who was the real pope.
For in the year 1046, there were 3 claimants to the Papacy. One whom had been juridically elected, but sold the papacy and resigned, but then returned to claim it again. This was Pope Benedict IX, a teenager known for debauching himself with both sexes. Then, there was an errant Bishop who came to Rome and paid the clergy to acclaim him, so that they would have a decent man rather than this young perp. That was Pope Sylvester III. And then there was the Cardinal John Gratian, a wealthy man, who disgusted at the immoral depravity of the teenager Pope, offered to buy the papacy from him, so that he could be free to run off and marry his girlfriend. He accepted. This third claimant was Pope Gregory VI.
I have spoken about the facts before here, in my article The Doors to Sutri are opening, back in 2020, where I cited the Polish ecclesiastical historian, Prof. Grzegorz Kucharczyk, who pointed out the historical importance of Sutri for the Church of today. See all my articles on the Synod of Sutri, here.
Actually there were two Synods of Sutri, one in 1046, which I have just described, and another in 1061, for the reformation of the discipline of the clergy of the Roman Church. So obscure is this history, that even at Sutri, the first Council has been forgotten. It just runs contrary to too many theologians ideals of an exaggerated papal authority: the thought that the Church can depose Popes.
Sutri today is still in the ecclesiastical province of Rome. But it belongs to the Diocese of Civita Castellana. Sutri is also important in the story of the Papal States, on account of the fact that it was the first city put under the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff in 728 A. D., by the King of the Lombards, Luitprand, in the Donation of Sutri.
Because of the important historical value of this Synod, held 977 years ago, I made a long pilgrimage to Sutri this evening to attend mass in the Church of Saint Sylvester, where in 1046 3 popes were deposed in the presence of the the German King, Henry, at whose consent only one was canonically elected.
The Synod was not held in the Cathedral of the City (shown in the feature image above and here to the right), whose large dimensions inspired the imagination to conceive of rows and rows of nobles, knights, Cardinals, Bishops, clergy, monks, faithful, all gathered in the most solemn array, to witness the most unique event in all Church history, the deposition of 3 popes on the same day.
No, it was held in the Church of Saint Sylvester, which is no bigger than a chapel in a Seminary. (This was probably done so that the combined body warmth of all those attending would heat the building on those cold December days of 1046.) And in that room from December 23-24, there stood not only Henry III, who would be crowned Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day at Rome, but also Saint Hildebrand (the future great Pope Gregory VII, savior of the medieval Papacy), who was at that time still the acolyte of Pope Gregory VI, and Bl. Daufer, who would ascend the Apostolic Throne as Pope Victor III only twenty years later.
The events of 1046 show us that despite the scandals and tribulations of history, Our Lord remains in charge of His Church. After Mass He showed this by inspiring the priest to expose Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament at the center of the Altar, to receive the praise, love and above all adoration of the Faithful.
In the image above, Saint Anne teaches Our Lady to read from Sacred Scripture, while Saint Peter prays for Pope Saint Sylvester, Martyr. Our Lord remains with us, and His Saints are at His back! This is where we should be: upholding His unchanging will for Holy Mother Church.
And this is why we must all now insist, as I have recently urged, that a provincial council be called. Read that article to see what can do, to make it happen!