STEPHEN VII, THE INTRUDER TO
THE PAPAL SEE
Stephen VII is commonly put in the list of Popes, although the Dominican historian, Hyacinthe Graveson, holds him to be an intruder. Stephen intruded on 22nd May, 896, was strangled in prison in 897. Some modern false prophets erroneously call him Stephen VI. Stephen VI actually ruled from 885 to 891 followed by Pope Formosus who reigned from September 891 until April 4, 896, followed by Stephen VII, the intruder whose true story is illustrated below:
The Charges brought against the Popes are, in many instances, totally destitute of foundation. . .
The first serious scandal that occurs in the papal history, took place at the close of the ninth century, when Stephen, who had forcibly taken possession of the See, offered indignities to the corpse of Formosus, the deceased Pontiff, by cutting off the fingers with which he was wont to bless the Roman people. The barbarity of this act reflects disgrace on the age in which it was perpetrated, and cannot be extenuated by the plea then put forward to justify it, namely, that Formosus had violated the canons, through immoderate ambition, by passing from the See of Porto to that of Rome. It may relieve our feelings somewhat from the horror of this outrage, to know that it was committed by an intruder into the See, not by one who entered by canonical election; and though his name still appears on the list of Popes, Graveson, a judicious historian, disputes the propriety of its insertion. In the scarcity of documents of that period, and in the confusion which was caused by the violent struggles of secular nobles for the mastery of the Church, it is in some cases difficult to distinguish with certainty, whether the intrusion was remedied by the subsequent acquiescence of the canonical electors. These may have yielded to the dire necessity of the times, and borne the shame of tolerating unworthy incumbents in the apostolic chair, rather than endanger the unity of the Church, by an effort to expel them from a place which they had no right to occupy. We must, in such circumstances, remember, with Saint Leo, that the merit of Peter does not totally fail in the unworthy heir of his authority: and with Saint Augustine, that occasion of schism must not be taken from the bad examples of those who are in high station: “of which,” he says, “our Heavenly Master so carefully forewarned us, as to give the people an assurance in regard to bad prelates, lest on their account the chair of saving doctrine should be abandoned, in which even bad men are forced to utter what is good: for what they say is not their own: it is God’s who has placed the doctrine of truth in the chair of unity.”
(The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated, by Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick, 1848, third edition, pages 502-503)