Skip to comments.Did the Medieval Catholic Church Have a Female Pope?
Posted on 03/17/2013 5:55:14 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
The election of Pope Francis as the 266th bishop of Rome held many milestones. Francis is the first Latin American pope in history and the first non-European pontiff in about 1,200 years.
However, some have claimed that a Medieval pope might have reached a milestone considered impossible given the standards and rules of Vatican City for ordained clergy.
Legend has it that in the ninth century the Roman Catholic Church was ruled briefly by a "Pope Joan," who disguised herself as a man, rising through the ranks of the male-dominated hierarchy.
Many have hailed the legend as true, with two feature-length films (1972 and 2009) and a 2009 novel by American writer Donna Woolfolk Cross advancing the idea.
"For 1,200 years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die--the woman who disguised herself as a man and sat for two years on the papal throne," reads an entry on the home page of Cross' website for the work.
"In this stirring international bestseller, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor, and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose courage makes her a heroine for every age."
However, historians are unconvinced. Mack Holt, professor of History at George Mason University, told The Christian Post that the "Pope Joan" story is fictional in nature.
"Pope Joan is a myth and no serious scholar today believes the story to be true. It was first claimed in the 13th century by Jean de Mailly, a Dominican chronicler, that a woman in male disguise succeeded Pope Leo IV in 855," said Holt.
"After reigning for two years she gave birth to a child and died soon thereafter. Although many medieval Christians believed in this myth, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the story."
Holt attributed the enduring nature of the story to "some people's readiness to believe in any and every conspiracy theory out there."
Diarmaid MacCulloch, a theologian and historian from Oxford University, recently told CNN in an interview that the Pope Joan story is merely fictional satire.
"It keeps appealing to new anxieties and new interests So first it's medieval people who resented the papacy. Then it's Protestants. Then it's French revolutionaries who want to discredit the church," said MacCulloch.
"The next constituency is actually Catholics who want to see women priests. And this seems to me the most dangerous aspect of the story, because it's using a story which is patently nonsense to boost a good cause."
Oren Falk, associate professor of History at Cornell University and director of its Medieval Studies Program, told The Christian Post that stories like the Pope Joan one were products of Medieval imagination and politics.
"Dominicans and Franciscans were often in conflict with the papacy, especially in the later 13th and early 14th century (at that time the Franciscans were forced by the papacy to relinquish one of their founding principles of not owning property, or be burned as heretics, which a number of them were)," said Falk.
"There are reasons why a scandalous story against the papacy might have been launched, and there are always stories of cross-dressing of heroes and holy men in medieval culture. The oddity of a very learned woman always attracted interest in the Middle Ages as well."
In addition to no confirmed accounts from the ninth century of a "Pope Joan," positioning her after the reign of Leo IV becomes awkward given the confirmed record of papal reigns. According to Catholic Encyclopedia, in the same year that Pope Leo died Pope Benedict III was consecrated; this would make it make hard for a two-year reign by a female pontiff to take place.
There was a TV show about that last year. I tried watching it, but it got boring.
“Legend has it that in the ninth century the Roman Catholic Church was ruled briefly by a “Pope Joan,” who disguised herself as a man,...”
Legend has it that Mr. Big Foot was seen in Central Park, too...
There are several women from the early years of the Church, and into the Medieval era, who are considered "Doctors of the Church"
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Thanks Alex Murphy.
Interesting that a legend such as there being a woman pope is more scandalous than warring factions of religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church over one groups' principles about the ownership of property. Those that believed the orders should not be about amassing wealth were threatened with execution - and some WERE executed - if they refused to approve the Church's building of its temporal fortune. Somehow, I think the Franciscans had it right. Maybe the new Pope Francis will carry on that tradition. It appears he has already made public his eschewing of the finery, pomp and frills. (Think he might have read Free Republic when we were talking about this?)
There's that extraterrestrial, "some" again. Maybe we should pronounce it so-may to make it sound more authoritative, when the "some" is always characterized by the subculture of the "sexual perversion" description.
Pope Joan was probably lesbian too...wonder why they left out that same degree of accuracy in this speculation? Might as well eat the whole cake.
I don’t see why anyone even cares...
Papal history is full of stuff like this.
“Otto I subsequently summoned a council which demanded that John present himself and defend himself against a number of charges. John responded by threatening to excommunicate anyone who attempted to depose him. Undeterred, the emperor and the council uncanonically deposed John XII, who by this time had gone hunting in the mountains of Campania, and elected Pope Leo VIII in his stead.”
“Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, (Harvard University Press, 2009), 150.”
[Otto I] didn’t like what Pope John XII was doing so he deposed him and put in his own Pope, Leo VIII. Doh!
So why all the denial? Pope Joan is pretty small potatoes compared to all the other little “oopsies” with which the Catholic Church has to contend.
Not everyone has the suspension of disbelief required to be a Mormon sympathizer.
Leave the direct personal insult notes out of it, if possible please.
Try reposting it, with the sneer removed, and you may have something worthwile. Then hit the ol button on the prior reply, have it removed, sins then not only forgiven, but removed as far as East from West. :^)
The moderator could likely be persuaded to play along as "editor".
Discuss the issues all you want, but do not make it personal.
I'm told that's part of the myth, too. The topic of the papal examination chair (possibly a commode) is covered in this thread:
Pope Joan film sparks Roman Catholic Church row