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Election of Popes (1059), Decree of


The middle of the eleventh century was a tumultuous period for the papacy. Six popes reigned during a twelve-year period (December of 1046 until March of 1058). Four of them were German bishops who were favored by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III (all four kept their bishoprics in Germany even when they served as popes). One of the popes who was elected during this period was French, while another, Benedict IX, was an Italian who descended from a powerful family. Benedict IX’s reign, in particular, embodied the chaotic period after he was elected because of bribery and expelled twice from the papacy. Another “pope” who was elected during this time was Benedict X. His election was considered as invalid as it was arranged by Lombard nobles in 1058 using bribery and intimidation. The decree of the Election of Popes was then made around 1000 AD according to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.

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The Cardinals who were supposed to take part in the election of a new pope upon the death of Pope Stephen IX in 1058 fled from Rome to Siena out of fear for their safety. In Siena, the cardinals elected Gerard de Bourgogne (Gerard of Burgundy), the Bishop of Florence, as the new pope. He had the backing of Hildebrand of Sovana (future Pope Gregory VII), the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III, and other Italian nobles who had him escorted by their own troops when he entered Rome on January 24, 1059. He adopted the name Nicholas II. He then assembled a synod in the Lateran Palace less than three months after his election to prevent the repetition of corrupt papal election practices that had persisted since the ninth century. One hundred and thirteen bishops attended the Synod of 1059.

Benedict IX”

“In Nomine Domini” of 1059

An earlier synod called the Lateran Council of 769 previously tried to address the papal election issues that persisted over the years. The Lateran Council decreed that the papal candidate should only be chosen from among the cardinal priests or cardinals deacons upon election. But since the publication of the Lateran Council’s decrees, Pope Nicholas found that only 25 of the popes previously elected were qualified (as they held the positions of cardinal priests and cardinal deacons). Five popes were of dubious backgrounds while as much as fifty percent of popes elected between 769 up to the eleventh century failed to qualify for some reason or another (the catch was that Nicholas II himself was not qualified).

To rectify this, they released a papal bull known as “In Nomine Domini” (In the Name of Our Lord) after the Roman Synod of 1059. It contained the following decrees that addressed the papal election:

  1. Upon the death of the pope, the cardinal bishops should summon the cardinal clergy, other priests, and the laity for them to give their consent to the election of the new pope.
  2. Only the cardinal bishops were allowed to elect the pope (this was done so as to prevent bribery and simony).
  3. The candidate should be chosen within the Roman clergy, but if they can’t find a suitable candidate, the Cardinals were allowed to elect one from another church.
  4. After they have chosen a pope-elect, this was followed by an endorsement by the cardinal priests and cardinal deacons.
  5. The endorsement required the agreement not only of the cardinals but also of the rest of the Roman clergy and the laity.
  6. Rome was the ideal place for the election, but if circumstances did not permit for them to vote in Rome, the cardinals were allowed to assemble and elect the new pope anywhere.
  7. The new pope would then assume his responsibilities and the powers that came along with the position. He should also send a message to the Holy Roman Emperor as a courtesy.
Picture By Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) –, Public Domain, Link Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) –, Public Domain, Link
Guruge, Anura, and Matt Kirkland. The Next Pope. Alton, NH: WOWNH, 2011.
Mann, Horace K., and Johannes Hollnsteiner. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages: The Popes of the Gregorian Renaissance. Vol. VI. London: B. Herder, 1925.
“Medieval Sourcebook: Decree of 1059: On Papal Elections.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Accessed October 19, 2016.
Weber, Nicholas. “Pope Nicholas II.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 19 Oct. 2016 <>.
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