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Pope Nicholas I

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Pope Nicholas I

Portrait of Pope Nicholas I taken from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Artaud de Montor.

Public Domain

This profile of Pope Nicholas I is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 

Pope Nicholas I was also known as:

Pope Nicholas the Great, Pope Saint Nicholas

Pope Nicholas I was known for:

Being the most significant, forceful, and influential of the early medieval popes. He stood firmly by his decisions in the face of varied and extreme opposition, and he paved the way for the reform popes of the 11th century. Nicholas envisioned the papacy as the epitome of the Catholic Church as well as its leader, and his actions throughout his pontificate were guided by this philosophy.

Occupations:

Pope
Saint

Places of Residence and Influence:

Italy

Important Dates:

Elected pope: April 24858
Died: Nov. 13, 867

About Pope Nicholas I:

Nicholas served during a time of great turbulence in Europe, when the late Carolingian empire was well on its way to disintegration. Little is known of his life before he became pope. He entered the Church at an early age, served in the Curia for about 15 years, and was elected to succeed Benedict III in April of 858. The emperor, Louis II, was on hand for his election and consecration, and may have exerted some influence on the process.

The first significant ecclesiastical struggle that Nicholas faced involved the uncanonical replacement of Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople by the lay scholar Photius. Nicholas sent legates to Constantinople to investigate, but when they upheld the findings against Ignatius, he disavowed them. Nicholas then excommunicated Photius, who would later counterdepose Nicholas; but the pope didn't live to see this action or the schism that resulted.

Meanwhile, King Lothair of Lorraine wanted to divorce his wife, Theutberga, on false charges of incest, and Theutberga turned to Nicholas for justice. A synod met in Aachen in April of 862 and granted Lothair permission to marry a new bride. A second synod in Metz in 863 confirmed this decision, probably because the archbishops in charge were bribed by Lothair. When the archbishops arrived in Rome, Nicholas deposed them and quashed all proceedings against Theutberga.

This set a significant precedent regarding the inviolability of marriage and bolstered the primacy of the papal office, but it also resulted in violence when Lothair led an army to Rome and lay siege to the city. After two days holed up in St. Peter's without food, Pope Nicholas managed to reconcile with Louis, although he was never able to get him back together with his wife.

A third important ecclesiastical conflict concerned the rights of bishops to maintain a degree of independence. When Bishop Rothad II of Soissons was deposed by Archbishop Hincmar of Reims, Rothad turned to Nicholas, who ordered an investigation. He found in favor of Rothad, using the False Decretals -- a partially-forged set of 9th-century documents that upheld the autonomy of bishops against the encroachments of archbishops -- in the process.

Pope Nicholas I rebuilt and endowed churches in Rome. He was highly regarded by the people, and was considered a saint after he died.

Pope Nicholas I Resources:

Pope Nicholas I on the Web

Pope St. Nicholas I
Substantive biography by J. P. Kirsch at the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866 (Letter 99)
Translation by W. L. North; online at Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook.

Pope Nicholas I in Print

The links below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at booksellers across the web. More in-depth info about the book may be found by clicking on to the book's page at one of the online merchants.

Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II
by Richard P. McBrien

Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy over 2000 Years
by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart


The Papacy
Hagiography
Early Europe
Chronological List of Popes
 

Guide Note: This Who's Who Profile of Pope Nicholas I was originally posted in August of 2005, and was updated in March of 2012. Content is copyright ©2005-2012 Melissa Snell.


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