The 5 Biggest Badass Popes

#2. Stephen VI (896-897)

Once he was ensconced on the throne (the nut-check apparently went smoothly), Pope Stephen VI decided to right some old wrongs. A previous Pope, Formosus, had committed some technical infractions, the kinds of minor crimes a less scrupulous Pope would have let slide, especially considering the man was dead. But not Stephen.

Consumed with an unquenchable thirst for justice, he had Formosus dug up, dressed in his papal vestments, and seated on a throne, ready to face the music in a formal trial.

It was like one of those Law & Order scenes where Jack McCoy starts yelling at a defendant, his eyebrows flying around like pissed off weightless caterpillars while the guilty bastard sits on the witness stand stunned into silence. Being as he was without an attorney and dead, all Formosus could do was sit there in his finery, perhaps letting a chunk of himself fall to the floor in silent protest.

Formosus was found guilty on all charges, of course, though the trial practically screamed for an appeal. The late pontiff's only defense was mounted by a cleric kneeling behind his throne, who answered Stephen's seemingly rhetorical questions ("Why did you usurp the papacy?!") for Formosus by explaining, "Because I was evil!" Historians do not relate whether the cleric set up a pulley device to make Formosus' jaw move up and down while he spoke for him, so we must assume that he did.

The death penalty was ruled out, since applying it to a corpse might have made Formosus a brain-eating zombie. Stephen played it safe: he chopped off the three fingers Formosus used for blessing and tossed his cadaver in the river. The lesson was inescapable. If the Pope was going to come down this hard on a guy who had violated an obscure Vatican by-law and died a year before, you didn't even want to know what kind of crazy shit he'd do to someone who really fucked up.

It's a testament to our lax and dissolute times that Stephen is now considered the bad guy in this story.

#1. Sergius III (897, 904-911)

Take Stephen VI and put about ten extra inches of penis on him, and you get Sergius III. The only man badass enough to be forcibly removed from the office and to take it back, his seven-year reign left the landscape littered with corpses and papal bastards.

Stephen was first elected in 897, but Rome clearly wasn't ready. Perhaps the nut-check chair's hole was too small. Whatever the reason, he was expelled by force and excommunicated by various factions of player-hater. While Sergius sat at home and stewed, the papacy was fought over by some guys who were actually pretty badass in their own right.

Realizing that what was needed was stability through the accumulation of dead bodies, the gangstas running things in Rome invited Sergius back to his rightful throne. The new and former pope embarked on a program of governance that combined the best aspects of the first 100 days Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and the end of The Godfather. Sergius:

  1. Had his predecessor, the Antipope Christopher, strangled in prison.
  2. Had his predecessor's predecessor, Leo V, strangled in prison.
  3. Set about impregnating a prominent Roman noblewoman with the future Pope John XI.
  4. Completed the legacy of his mentor Stephen VI by re-digging up poor old Formosus, trying his dead ass again, and beheading him.

A warning to aspiring young mediums: do not invite Sergius III to a séance. There is no doubt that his spirit will snap your neck like a stalk of celery and then proceed to make time with your lady. Just don't do it.

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