Pope Stephen III
Pope from August 7, 768 – February 1, 772
Lived: 720 – February 1, 772
Give me the scoop on Stephen III.
Stephen was born in Sicily, the son of a man named Olivus. Stephen first served as a Benedictine monk in the abbey of St. Chrysogonus (sound familiar? His name is in the Roman Canon), then was ordained a priest and sent to work in the Lateran Palace under Zachary, Pope No. 91. Following St. Paul I’s death, Stephen III was finally elected after a yearlong sede vacante, being consecrated on August 7, 768. During his time as pope, Stephen suffered as a result of a lack of unity among the Franks, and thus had little protection from the Lombards when they invaded Rome in 771, killing two men who helped get Stephen elected. Stephen III died on February 1, 772.
What was he known for?
With not one, but TWO antipopes opposing Stephen III prior to election, his accession to the papacy had more drama than a high school hallway. Before Paul I’s death, Constantine, a layman and a Roman noble, wanted to be made a priest and placed on the throne as the next pope. He coerced a bishop to ordain and consecrate him, then even “reigned” for a few months. Soon a rival group said, “Nice try,” and instead promoted a priest named Philip. This latter antipope was described as nothing more than a Lombard tool. Christopher, the head of Rome’s clergy, said, “tool indeed” and rallied the majority of Rome’s lay and clergy population to depose Philip and elect a third man, Stephen, to become Paul I’s real successor and rightful pope.
Fun fact: After the hullabaloo between Constantine, Philip, and Stephen, not to mention all of the ensuing bickering and violence between the trio’s supporters, a council at the Lateran Palace in 769 decided, from then on, that only clergy should elect a pope.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 771, Carloman, the son of Pepin and brother of Charlemagne, died of a severe nosebleed, leaving his brother to be sole ruler of the Frankish Kingdom.
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Stephen (III) IV – http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14289a.htm
Pope Stephen III – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Stephen_III https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/770s