The original list of popes

Not only is the papacy the longest continuously operating organization in western civilization, but, in true western fashion, there is a bureaucracy attached to it. Like all bureaucracies the papacy is fond of paperwork and lists, and since the third century has kept a list of every pope. Beginning in the renaissance it has been known as the Liber Pontificalis, the book of popes.

The quality of the entries has varied widely, everything from merely a name and regnal dates, to brief lives that include some background information and deeds performed while pope. Most of the lives were written during the lifetime of the pope, or immediately after their death. We are fortunate to have that sort of detail available for the eighth century, although the details vary considerably.

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Popes of the eighth century, IN ORDER

Pope,Number,Reigned,Birthplace,Notes
Sergius I,84,Dec 15 687 – Sep 8 701,Sicily,Introduced the singing of the Lamb of God at mass in response to a prohibition imposed by the Quinisext Council.*
John VI,85,Oct 30 701 – Jan 11 705,Greece,Persuaded Gisulf the Lombard duke of Benevento to withdraw from the territories of the eastern empire he had conquered.
John VII,86, Mar 1 705 – Oct 18 707, Calabria, The second pope to bear the same name as his immediate predecessor. He also did not support the Quinisext canons.*
Sissinius,87,Jan 15 708 – Feb 4 708,Syria,Only four popes have had shorter reigns.

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Tonight’s entertainment, Roland

The Song of Roland is a chanson de geste, a “song of deeds.” The chanson de gestes were a form of popular entertainment that have come down to us as long written poems. These poems started as oral story telling, in a tradition that is as old as language itself. At some point music was probably added, in the Greek tradition.

As the stories evolved, grew, and spread, the audiences probably began to ask for specific incidents in the story. “Tell us about when Roland blew his horn!”1.Tolkien copied┬áthe scene from Roland for the death of Boromir in the Lord of the Rings. “During dinner the duke wants you to sing of Ganelon’s trial for treason, to see who sweats.” The reason I mention this is because the stories that have come down to us are too long for a single evening or meal, and can be somewhat repetitive. When they were written down the scribe probably included every version he could find, which results in a story that is, while very much a coherent whole, could use some editing.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Tolkien copied the scene from Roland for the death of Boromir in the Lord of the Rings.

The Father, in Rome

The United States has had (as of December, 2014) 44 presidents. Impressive. There have been about 52 kings and queens of England, dating back to the late 10th century. Very impressive, although of course the power of the current monarch is but the palest shadow of the authority that the scepter once commanded. Other European monarchies continue to perform ceremonial duties across the continent, but parliamentary democracy holds sway, right?

Almost. There is one holdout, an absolute monarch who answers to no one but God, makes his own laws, and has ruled without much change or challenge for almost two thousand years. The pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church, rules without peer in Vatican City, nestled in Rome, Italy. Beginning with Peter, apostle of Christ, there have been 266 popes. Now that is impressive.

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