FORMOSUS: Pope 891-896. He was born at Rome c. 816, was elevated to the office of cardinal bishop of Porto in 864, and was employed by various popes on important missions. Nicholas I. sent him to the Bulgarians in 866, when Prince Bogoris asked for Roman missionaries (see BULGARIANS, CONVERSION OF THE). Adrian II. sent him to Gaul in 869, to negotiate with the Frankish clergy concerning the divorce of King Lothair, and to Trent in 872 to take part in the conferences between the Empress Engelbérga and Louis the German respecting the transfer of Italy to the latter's eldest son. John VIII. also honored Formosus at the outset, in 875 sending him as envoy to Charles the Bald. Soon afterward, however, there set in a complete reaction in this pope's opinion of Formosus. As opponent of John's West Frankish policy, he was summoned by the pope before a Roman synod; and on failing to present himself within the appointed term, he was sentenced, at a second synod, June 30, 876, to deposition and excommunication. This severe sentence was based on allegations that Formosus had aspired to the archiepiscopate in Bulgaria; that he had created a party for himself in Rome with designs upon the apostolic see; and that he had once forsaken his diocese ten weeks, when it was menaced by the Saracens. The fact is that Formosus fell a victim to political opposition. The excommunication was repeated at the Synod of Troyes in 878. Formosus then submitted himself to the pope and gained reinstatement in the Church, but only under sworn promise never again to return to Rome, or to strive to recover his diocese. Till the death of John VIII. Formosus lived in the West Frankish kingdom at Sens. But John's successor, Marinus, absolved him from the compulsory oath, permitted him to return to Rome, and restored to him the diocese of Porto. In this episcopal capacity he bestowed consecration upon Stephen V., in 885. In 891 he himself ascended the papal throne.


As pope Formosus had opportunity to display energy in several directions. He showed great strictness toward the Eastern clergy, and rejected the appeal for the reconciliation of the priests ordained by the Patriarch Photius, being ready to receive them into the fellowship of the Church merely as laymen. In the strife between Archbishop Hermann of Cologne and Archbishop Adalgar of Hamburg-Bremen about the relations of the dioceses of Bremen and Cologne (see ADALGAR; HAMBURG, ARCHBISHOPRIC OF), Formosus, conformably to the synod held at Frankfort in 892, under the presidency of Archbishop Hatto of Mainz, decided that Bremen should remain united with Hamburg; only the archbishop of Hamburg, either in person or by deputy, must be present at the provincial synods in Cologne. In the strife between Count Eudo of Paris and Charles the Simple for the throne of the West Franks, Formosus upheld the latter, and summoned to his support the German king Arnulf. The dissolution of the Frankish kingdom was a matter of great moment for the apostolic see. At the outset, Formosus was compelled to ally himself with Duke Vido of Spoleto, but the latter's aggressive attitude proved so formidable that even by 893 he called Arnulf to help. He invested the latter with the imperial crown in 896. Formosus died Apr. 4, 1896.

The name of Formosus, however, owes its renown not so much to his deeds as pope, as to the crimes committed against his dead body, and to the dogmatic confusions therewith connected. Under Stephen VI. (896-897), the Spoletan party again came into ascendancy at Rome, and used its power to make a repulsive exhibition of its hatred for the deceased pope on account of his German sympathies. Stephen VI. convened a synod, the corpse of Formosus was exhumed, and, arrayed in pontifical state, it was enthroned on St. Peter's cathedra; thereupon complaint was lodged against the departed pontiff, charging him with uncanonical usurpation of the papal see; the synod pronounced him deposed, and all the consecrations he had performed null and void; they tore from his body the apostolic vestments, cut off the three oath-fingers from his right hand, and buried his body in a remote place; it was afterward sunk in the Tiber. In 897 Pope Theodore H. repealed the decisions of the synod; and in the following year John IX. expressly proclaimed, through two synods, the validity of the consecrations dispensed by Formosus. Nevertheless the infatuation of the anti-German party was such that Sergius III. (904-911) surpassed the decisions of that scandalous synod, compelling the clergy ordained by Formosus to undergo a second consecration.