As we saw, the papacy, now in the person of Leo III (795-816) again declared by its act of crowning Charles (The Great) emperor, that it lay within its power to give and withhold kingdoms and to appoint and depose its kings, and that, such being its power, it took away from the Eastern emperor, who sat in Constantinople, the crown and bestowed it on Charles. Actually, as was explained, the pope now was subject and vassal of the mighty Charles, but in his own mind, he stood out as Charles’ spiritual and temporal lord. And Charles, on the other hand, thought of himself as the temporal and spiritual lord of the pope. Each claimed for himself the supreme judicial power over all things in church and state, conceived of by these two—Charles and the pope—as forming two sides to a Christian commonwealth—the Holy Roman Empire, founded by Charles and which was to endure for one thousand and six years. It ended in 1806 with the abdication of the elective crown by Frances II. But, as was seen, it was Charles and not the pope who made good his claim. After the example of Constantine the Great and Theodocius the Great of the Byzantine empire, which was caesaro-papal in principle and practice, Charles made himself master of the church (and thus also of the pope) regulating all her external and to a large extent also the internal affairs. And the pope did not resist Charles; for Charles, it was explained, was a mighty man and a great benefactor of the papacy. The pope concluded that he could best serve his own carnal interests by allowing Charles to do as he pleased.
Leo died in 816. Now the papacy, taking advantage of the weakness of Charles’ successors, again strove to make actual in its reign the principle of the lordship of the papacy over the temporal rulers. Of the next eight popes, the most ambitious in this respect was Gregory IV (827-844). Charles (the Great) died in 814. His son and successor, Louis, was a well-meaning but incapable ruler. He devoted too little time to the affairs of the empire and much time to monkish exercises. On this account and also because of his devotion to the clergy and of the reforms with which he began his reign—he dismissed from the court his father’s concubines and his daughters and their lovers—the Germans and the Italians surnamed him the Pious. This lack of energy of the government of Louis gave rise to many abuses. Soon after Louis placed the reins of government in the hands of his three sons who soon rebelled against their father and made war upon one another. These political disorders in the Frankish empire afforded the papacy many opportunities to assert its claim to supreme judicial authority in all matters. Accordingly, Gregory IV went to France to settle the disputes between Louis the emperor and his sons. But the pope was ill received by the party faithful to Louis, for the rumor had gotten abroad that he would decide in favor of the sons. He was reminded of his oath of allegiance to the emperor. The bishops holding with the latter assured him that if he care to excommunicate them, he might perhaps depart as excommunicated himself. They even threatened him with deposition. The pope resented these threats on the ground that, being the successor of Peter, he was judge over all and could be judged by none. He maintained, moreover, that, as the espouser of the cause of the rebellious sons, he had justice on his side! But such was the prestige of the papacy, that the unlawful proceedings of the sons of Louis took on the appearance of justification in the eyes of the people, and the emperor was repudiated by the larger part of the army. This rebuff of the pope, this challenge of his authority by the Franks, revealed that the papal idea still was far from being received. What was needed is a code of ecclesiastical laws—a Church Order—of great authority, formed for the sole purpose of setting forth the papal system in all its pretentions and of binding it upon the consciences of men by legitimizing it in the light of the Scriptures. For such a code the popes would have greatest use. They could quote it to justify their claims. It would aid them immeasurably in realizing the papal idea. Marvelous to say, precisely such a code appeared under the false name of Isidor of Seville (died 636) and thus called the “Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals.” It is called “Pseudo,” fake, false, because upon examination, it has turned out to be the [greatest fraud known in the history of church literature. The book, let us call it a Church Order, is formed of three parts, the first of which contains fifty Apostolic Canons and sixty decretals “kerkelijke Adviezen” from pope Clement (died 101) to pope Melchiades (died 314), all of which were forged. The second part of the book includes the fake document of the donation of Constantine. This document, it will be recalled, is in the form of a charter, the authorship of which is unknown, that orders all the dignitaries in the church to be in subjection to the pope and bequeaths upon them all the city of Rome and the whole of Italy with all its provinces and cities. The third part of the book contains the decretals of the popes from Sylvester (died 333) to Gregory II (died 731). Of these, too, thirty are forged, that is fabricated and yet ascribed by their unknown author, who lived and wrote these fabrications in the ninth century to these popes, thus to popes who lived and reigned in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. And the decretals of the first part of the book, were dealt with in a like manner. The spurious among them, though a pure invention of the ninth century, were affixed by their unknown author to the names of the popes of the second and third centuries, thus to the names of popes as far back as Clement of Rome. Now this doing was the next thing to holding the apostle Peter himself responsible for these decretals and their teachings. For, according to Catholic tradition, Peter was the first pope and for several years the companion of Clement. The latter is supposed to have written many books in Peter’s name and to have been appointed by him his successor as bishop of Rome, with supervision over all the churches. It means that the unknown author of the Pseudo-Isidor did not recoil from strongly suggesting, to say the least, that the teachings of his inventions originated with the apostle Peter, and that they were transmitted by him to his successors in the papal chair. It becomes more and more plain that the papal system as to its idea and that the efforts on the part of the popes to legitimize this idea and to carry it out, is from the abyss. Today the Pseudo-Isidor is universally pronounced a fraud by Roman Catholics and Protestant historians alike, although at the time of its appearance it was received as genuine. Yet its forgery is conspicuous. To mention a few examples. Roman bishops of the second and third centuries write on relations in church and state that existed centuries later, and they write on these relations in the Latin of the ninth century. Letters—the book contains also several letters—which are said to have originated in the second century, are made up of passages borrowed from documents far later.
In the totality of its decretals and canons the book under consideration is a manual on the doctrine of the Roman Hierarchy as it culminates in the papacy. The priests, in contradistinction to the laity, to which the term “carnales” is applied, form a holy caste, consecrated to God, and the apple of His eye. Constituted by God the judges over all, they are subject to no secular tribunal. Bad priests must be tolerated, if they fall not from the faith, and the laity cannot judge them. Even independent of their personal worth, they must be regarded with reverence as the organs through whom God imparts His grace unto men through the sacraments whose operations are magical. Next considered is the office of bishops, as those to whom Christ gave the power to bind and to loose. Even though unjust, their decisions must be respected. They must be protected against the arbitrary will of the lay rulers and the archbishops. If oppressed by the latter, their refuge is the pope, the judge over all from whom is no appeal. For his authority is sovereign both in state and church and was transferred to him by Constantine the Great. Judge over all, he can be judged by God only. It is plain that the teachings here are the inviolability and indispensableness of the priesthood. It must not be profaned and harmed nor can it be. And it is indispensable to salvation. And the, supreme authority in all matters spiritual and temporal is the papacy. Now all these ideas were current at the time our mysterious book made its appearance, which was in the middle of the ninth century. Hence, it is evident that the aim of the book was not to present to the age new doctrines but to trace them back from the ninth to the second and third centuries—to set back these many centuries the date of their origination, in order that they might have the great authority of antiquity. For, although the germ of the papal system is discoverable in the writings of the ante-Nicene fathers, the idea as such—the headship of the pope over all the churches in Christendom—was, so we saw, first advanced with boldness and clarity and carried, out with energy by Leo I (440-461). And, as also has been shown, Zacharias (741-752) was the first pope to crown a lay ruler and thereby to declare the headship of the papacy over all things in the state as well. And it was during the pontificate of this pope that the papacy had come into the possession of the “states of the church”, where the popes ruled supreme as temporal potentates. Hence, men could say that the fact of the pope ruling as temporal lord, exercising supreme authority in all matters spiritual and temporal was certainly representative of an idea rather novel. They could say that, at least in the beginning it was not thus. As long as they could say this, the crowned head of the pope could not lie easy. So this thing known as the Pseudo-Isidor was brought into being. Pointing to its decretals, canons, and letters, the popes could now say that all the ideas inhering in the papal system are traceable, through the unbroken succession of popes, to the noble Clement and through Clement even to the apostle Peter. However deserving of criticism the popes of the Middle Ages may be, what cannot be said of them is, that they were lacking ingenuity to devise ways and means for bringing all men under their yoke and for legitimatizing their false position. Herein they were experts; and they also did expertly, amazingly so. The Pseudo-Isidor pays particular attention to the “States of the Church” donated to the papacy by Pepin and Charles the Great. According to the Pseudo-Isidor not only these states but the whole of Italy was given to the pope five centuries previous by Constantine. This donation is universally pronounced fiction.
There still remains the question of the authorship of the book. Historians are agreed that it was written by some ecclesiastic who belonged to the Frankish church, but there is no consensus of opinion among, scholars as to the writer. It cannot be shown to have been written under the instigation of the papacy, but the popes did quote it. The first of them to do so is Nicolas I (858-867). On this account it is hard to believe that the papacy had nothing to do with the appearance of this mysterious book, especially so as by no other instrument was its power so raised and strengthened.
There is a myth, of which we must take passing notice, according to which a woman occupied the papal throne between Leo IV (847) and Benedict III (355). She is named variously Agnas, Gilberta, Joan, Jutta, She was placed in the papal chair as John VIII. That the new pope was a woman was known to no one. Ac. cording to most, of the writers, who speak of her as a real and not as a fabulous person, she was an extraordinary woman before as well as after she attained to the pontifical dignity. She was the daughter of an English missionary. She was famed for her modesty, her address, her engaging behavior, and gained daily new reputation by her appearance and outward show of extraordinary piety as a teacher of theology in Rome under the name of Joan Anglicus. But in secret she loved illicitly, and her sex was discovered when she gave birth to a child in the open street during a religious procession from the Vatican to the Lateran in Rome in consequence of which she died. It is a strange story, regarded by nearly all modern historians, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, as a mere fiction, which doubtless it is, and this on the following grounds. It was first mentioned four hundred years later by a French Dominican. If it was known in the ninth and tenth centuries, the bitter enemies of the papacy, of which there were several, would have used it as a damaging argument against that institution. According to historians of that day, no vacancy occurs between Leo and Benedict. But the question remains, how, if the story is fiction, its creation is to be explained. There are several conjectures. One says that the papess was the widow of pope Leo VI; still another that the myth of the female pope was “satirical allegory on the origin and circulation of the false decretals of Isidor (of which I have spoken in the foregoing); still another that it was an impersonation of the great whore of the Apocalypse, and the popular expression of the belief that the mystery of iniquity was working in the papal court.