Nicholas I of Rome

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Pope Nicholas I of Rome, also Nicholas the Great, was the Pope of the Church of Rome from 858 to 867. His assertions that the pope of Rome has suzerain authority over all Christians in matters of faith and morals brought strong opposition from the Eastern Church. His support of Patriarch Ignatius, who had been removed from office in favor of Patr. Photius seriously strained relations between Rome and Constantinople.


Nicholas was born about the year 800, the son of the Defensor Theodore. Having received education at the Lateran, Nicholas entered the service of the church at an early age. He was made a subdeacon by Pope Sergius II and ordained a deacon by Leo IV. After the death of Pope Benedict III on April 7, 858, Nicholas was elected pope on April 24 while Holy Roman Emperor Louis II was present in Rome and exerted his influence upon the election. The emperor was also present for Nicholas' consecration and enthronement in St. Peter's Basilica.

Nicholas became pope in a western Europe that was loosing its integrity, approaching anarchy, and in an environment in which even Christian morality was despised. In this world Pope Nicholas appeared as a conscientious representative of the primacy in the Church, filled with a high conception of his mission for the vindication of Christian morality and the defense of God's law against powerful bishops. Against erring hierarchs, Pope Nicholas took firm action to forced their recognition of the prerogatives of the papal see, using excommunication when necessary.

Notable were his actions against Archbishop John of Ravenna who, in addition to harsh treatment of his subordinate bishops and priests, resorted to forging documents to support his claims against the Roman see. Brought before a synod of bishops in Rome, John submitted, but soon again colluded with the archbishops of Trier and Cologne, forcing another excommunication before submitting again. Against Archbishop Hincmar of Reims, Nicholas asserted his right to hear final appeals from bishops who were in conflict with the see of Reims concerning important legal causes (causae majores). In 861, Bp. Rothad of Soissons appealed to Pope Nicholas his deposition by the Synod of Soissons over the objections of Abp. Hincmar, who finally acknowledged the prerogatives of the papal see.

Nicholas maintained the same zeal in other efforts to maintain ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regarding marriage laws. Among the aristocracy, he had placed Count Boso's wife Ingiltrud, who deserted him, under ban after she refused the command by Pope Nicholas to return to her husband.

In the midst of the controversies between the emperor and patriarchs of Constantinople, Nicholas placed himself as the divinely appointed ruler of the Church when, in 857, Photius was enthroned after Patriarch Ignatius was allegedly deposed. Calling the action illegal, he called upon the eastern patriarchs and all their bishops to refuse recognition to Photius. Then, in April, 863, he called a Roman synod that excommunicated Patr. Photius. According to Dvornik, Patr. Ignatius had actually resigned, making Patr. Photius a legitimate patriarch.

Nicholas encouraged the missionary activity of the Roman Church. In the Balkans in 863, he encouraged Prince Boris of Bulgaria, who had been converted with his people to Christianity by Greek missionaries, to come under the Roman see. But, in the end Boris joined the Eastern Church.

In his own personal life, Nicholas was guided by a spirit of earnest Christian asceticism and piety. He rebuilt and endowed several churches and was esteemed by the Roman citizens.

Pope Nicholas died on November 13, 867.

Succession box:
Nicholas I of Rome
Preceded by:
Benedict III
Pope of Rome
858 - 867
Succeeded by:
Adrian II
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