Echoes of the tumult following the 9th-century 'Cadaver Synod'
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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The day before the end of the Amazon Synod, dawn broke over Rome to reveal a new sign among the city's ancient scenery: a huge banner hanging from a central bridge, whose defiant words declared, "John IX has taught us: Annulling a synod is not a sin!"
The writing was accompanied by a drawing of the Sacred Heart, a symbol of the historic devotion central to a number of Catholic counterrevolutionary movements throughout modern history, most famously known for its signifance to the Vendéan insurgents fighting against Catholic persecution during the French Revolution.
The banner — which referred to Pope John IX and his nullifying of the remarkable "Cadaver Synod" (more below) — could be interpreted as an ultimate token of counter-rebellion, the last among many manifestations of frustration that arose from the faithful during the 22 days of the controversial synod. The unsettling discussions on married priesthood, the women's diaconate and public displays of paganism led to the peak act of protest by Austrian Catholic convert Alexander Tschugguel, who took five statues of pagan Andean deity Pachamama ("Mother Earth") from the church of Santa Maria del Traspontina and tossed them into the River Tiber.
The statues were first spotted in an indigenous ceremony in the Vatican Gardens just before the beginning of the synod, surrounded by prostrating faithful, in a distinct atmosphere of idolatry. Heterodox Bp. Erwin Kräutler, one of the main organizers of the synod, has since suggested the idols could be "integrated" into Catholic liturgy.
The Vatican's insistently equivocal responses about the identity of the statues, along with the clear acceptance of their worship inside Catholic churches, wound up exasperating not only the laity but also distinguished prelates like Cdl. Gerhard Müller, Cdl. Walter Brandmüller, Bp. Athanasius Schneider and even Vatican whistleblower Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, who called for the reconsecrations of the church of Santa Maria del Traspontina and of St. Peter’s Basilica "in light of the appalling idolatrous profanations that have been committed in them."
The writing on the banner is a reference to Synodus Horrenda, or the "Cadaver Synod" of 897, so dubbed because it staged the gory posthumous trial of Pope Formosus, accused of perjury by Pope Stephen VI.
Condemned to damnatio memoriae, all of his decrees and acts were annulled, any orders conferred by him declared invalid and his papacy proclaimed void. Formusus' body, much like the Pachamama idols, were dragged across Rome and thrown into the Tiber.
This macabre spectacle stirred Romans and turned public opinion against Pope Stephen VI (much like its modern kin, the disastrous Amazon Synod). Rumors started circulating around the Eternal City that Formosus' body, after drifting to the banks of the Tiber, had begun to perform miracles. An uprising led to the deposition of Pope Stephen VI, who died strangled in prison.
An uprising led to the deposition of Pope Stephen VI, who died strangled in prison.
In December 897, newly elected Pope Theodore II called a synod to annul the Synodus Horrenda and rehabilitate Formosus: the dishonored Pope's body was recovered from the Tiber and reburied in St. Peter's Basilica in fine pontifical vestments. Even after Theodore II's death, the Romans were still very strongly divided into Formosian and anti-Formosian factions. The Anti-Formosians chose Sergius III as Pope, but the Formosians managed to install Sergius III's rival, John IX, as official Pope. John IX immediately excommunicated Sergius, who then went to live in exile for several years.
As a partisan of Formosus, John IX deemed it rightful to uphold Theodore II's acquitting deeds and also officially nullify the Cadaver Synod. In the brief two years of his papacy, John IX held three synods, but the canons of only two of them (the one in Rome and the one in Ravenna) remain.
The canons confirmed Theodore II's synod, ordered the acta of the Cadaver Synod destroyed, excommunicated seven cardinals and prohibited any future trial of a deceased person. The synod re-established the honor of Formosus' memory and revoked any act previously performed against him. A 12-article decree from this synod states [translated excerpt from Storia universale della chiesa cattolica dal principio del mondo sino ai di' nostri, by Abbot Rohrbacher and René François]:
We fully reject the synod held under Pope Stephen VI, where Pope Formosus' venerable body was pulled out of his grave, desecrated and dragged to a purported trial where he was pronounced guilty, an unparalleled event under any of our predecessors; and we forbid, with the authority of the Holy Spirit, that such an action may ever be repeated. ... Since the bishops, the priests and the rest of the clergy who intervened in the synod have asked for forgiveness, claiming fear alone was what obliged them to attend, we have forgiven them ... .
We re-establish in their respective ranks the bishops, the priests and other clerics of the Roman Church canonically ordered by Formosus and driven away by the temerity of a few. In conformity with the African Council, we condemn re-ordination and rebaptism, and we ban the removal of validly ordained bishops in order to be replaced by others, encouraging schisms in the Church. ... We also command that the canons of the aforementioned synod to be cast into flames, as were the canons of the council of Rimini, of the Second Council of Ephesus. ... We also declare that in case of no repentance, those who have violated the sacred tomb of Pope Formosus to rob its treasures and have dared to haul his body in the Tiber are separated from the Church.
The faithful's distrust of Pope Francis has become far more glaring over the years. A papacy that took off in a climate of hope is now considered the source of one of the greatest crises in the history of the Church.
Not surprisingly, public reactions to the overwhelming confusion have been strong and numerous: In 2017, for instance, anonymous posters appeared all over Rome questioning Pope Francis' boasted "mercy," noting his refusal to meet the dubia cardinals, as well as the punishment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a traditional order.
In the town of Viterbo, not far away from Rome, similar posters were seen at least twice (once in 2017 and again in 2019, both times criticizing the pontiff's relentless pro-immigration propaganda).
Church Militant reached out to Radio Spada (which reported on the banner): "We know that those who did it wanted to make it very clear that this synod will not be accepted by Catholics; the example of John IX is a forewarning for Bergoglio."
Radio Spada clarified that for the sake of confidentiality, they "aren't allowed to give any names."
With the Amazon Synod now over, no more banners have appeared in Rome, but the lasting effects of what critics have called a pro-pagan synod are still being felt throughout the Church and the world.