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Pope Nicholas I

POPE NICHOLAS I, sometimes called The Great, and certainly the most commanding figure in the series of popes between Gregory I. and Gregory VII., succeeded Benedict III. in April 858. According to the annalist Prudentius of Troyes, " he owed his election less to the choice of the clergy than to the presence and favour of the emperor Louis II. and his nobles" who can hardly have foreseen with what ability and persistency the rights of the Holy See as supreme arbiter of Christendom were to be asserted even against themselves by the man of their choice. Of the previous history of Nicholas nothing is recorded. His pontificate of nine years and a half was marked by at least three memorable contests which have left their mark in history. The first was that in which he supported the claims of the unjustly degraded patriarch of Constantinople, Ignatius; the history of the conflict cannot be related here, but two of its incidents, the excommunication of Photius, the rival of Ignatius, by the pope in 863, and the counter-deposition of Nicholas by Photius hi 867, were steps of serious moment towards the permanent separation between the Eastern and the Western Church. The second great struggle was that with Lothair, the king of Lorraine (second son of the emperor Lothair I., and brother of the emperor Louis II.), about the divorce of his wife Theutberga or Thietberga. The king, who desired to marry his mistress Waldrada, had brought a grave charge against the life of his queen before her marriage; with the help of Archbishops Gunther of Cologne and Thietgaud of Treves, a confession of guilt had been extorted from Thietberga, and, after the matter had been discussed at more than one synod, that of Aix- laChapelle finally authorized Lothair, on the strength of this confession, to marry again. Nicholas ordered a fresh synod to try the cause over again at Metz in 863; but Lothair, who was present with his nobles, anew secured a judgment favourable to himself, whereupon the pope not only quashed the whole proceedings, but excommunicated and deposed Gunther and Thietgaud, who had been audacious enough to bring to Rome in person the " libellus " of the synod. The archbishops appealed to Louis II., then at Benevento, to obtain the withdrawal of their sentence by force; but, although he actually occupied the Leonine city (864), he was unsuccessful hi obtaining any concession, and had to withdraw to Ravenna. Thietberga herself was now induced to write to the pope a letter in which she declared the invalidity of her own marriage, and urged the cause of Lothair, but Nicholas, not without reason, refused to accept statements which had too plainly been extorted, and wrote urging her to maintain the truth steadfastly, even to the death if need were, " for, since Christ is the truth, whosoever dies for the truth assuredly dies for Christ." The imminent humiliation of Lothair was prevented only by the death of Nicholas. The third great ecclesiastical cause which marks this pontificate was that in which the indefeasible right of bishops to appeal to Rome against their metropolitans was successfully maintained in the case of Rothad of Soissons, who had been deposed by Hincmar of Reims. It was in the course of the controversy with the great and powerful Neustrian archbishop that papal recognition was first given (in 865) to the False Decretals, which had probably been brought by Rothad to Rome hi the preceding year (see DECRETALS). At an early period in his reign it also became necessary for Nicholas to administer discipline to John of Ravenna, who seems to have relied not only on the prestige of his famous see but also on the support of Louis II. After lying under excommunication for some time he made a full submission. Nicholas was the pope to whom Boris, the newly converted king of Bulgaria, addressed himself for practical instruction in some of the difficult moral and social problems which naturally arise during a transition from heathenism to Christianity. The pope's letter in reply to the hundred and six questions and petitions of the barbarian king is perhaps the most interesting literary relic of Nicholas I. now extant. He died on the 13th of November 867, and was succeeded by Adrian II.

The epislolae of Nicholas I. are printed in Migne, Patrologia Lai. vol. 119, p. 769 seq. See F. Gregorovius, Rome in the Middle Ages, vol. iii. (Eng. trans., London, 1900-1902); H. Lammer, Nikolaus 1. und die byzantinische Staatskirche seiner Zeit (Berlin, 1857); J. Roy, Saint-Nicolas I. (Paris, 1900); J. Richterich, Papst Nikolaus I. (Bern, 1903); A. Greinacher, Die Anschauungen des Papstes Nikolaus I. uber das Verhallnis von Slaat und Kirche (1909). (X.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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