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Revelation 9:20, 21 concludes the second woe, saying,
20 And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
As with Israel of old, the church set aside the law of God in favor of “traditions of men.” Yet when we study Scripture and learn how the temple priests in Jesus’ day believed and taught, it is clear that most religious leaders never understood that they were displeasing to God. They were always taken by surprise when divine judgment struck them. Most of the time, they refused to believe that God was really judging the nation, so they concluded either that their invaders were simply too powerful for them, or they blamed their doctrinal opponents from other parties for incurring God’s disfavor.
Such is human nature. Such also is the nature of spiritual blindness. The church was no different in this regard from ancient Israel. The remedy is always found in Scripture itself, but one must have a proper understanding of it in order to see what is happening in the world. One must also know the mind of the Author in order to understand Scripture properly.
The Iconoclastic Movement
John tells us that the church was judged by the “woes” on account of its idolatry—worshiping “the works of their hands.” While there were some images (or “icons”) used by some churches prior to Constantine, most of these were adopted after 312 A.D., when Christianity was legalized in Rome. A second huge boost in their popularity came after the Emperor Justinian changed the laws of the Empire in 534 A.D. It did not occur to most of them that the second commandment might express God’s opinion about such images.
In 717-18 the Saracens laid siege to Constantinople (for the second time). They were unsuccessful, but Emperor Leo III felt the pressure as Islamics ridiculed the Christian West for their veneration of statues and images, calling them idol worship. At the same time he was disgusted with the image trade and the superstitious claims being made to sell their products. And so, from 726-730 A.D. Leo issued a series of iconoclastic (“icon-breaking”) decrees in the attempt to eradicate idol worship in the church.
The patriarch of Constantinople resigned his post in 730 rather than submit to the decree. In Rome, popes Gregory I and Gregory II also strongly opposed these laws and refused to submit to them. Leo sent a fleet to subdue the revolts, but his fleet was destroyed by storms.
The Emperor sent an army to put down the revolt, but it too was defeated in bloody battles at Ravenna. After the open warfare abated, the emperor still remained the nominal head of the West, but any real power was broken. Pope Gregory did not intend to usurp any political power, but he set a precedent that later popes were to follow. In 731, just five years after Leo’s edict, a synod in Rome excommunicated all those who would attack the images of the saints. Though the emperor was not mentioned by name, it was clear to all that he and his theologians in the East had been excommunicated by the one who called himself “Universal Bishop.”
This ended the controversy, and Leo died in 741 without succeeding in his endeavor.
Leo’s iconoclastic edicts were so distasteful that the split between East and West widened. Leo’s failure to bring the West to heel largely undercut his power over the western part of the empire. The power vacuum was filled by the Roman popes, who became the spokesmen for the passionate voices of the religious people who desired to retain their icons.
The Donation of Pepin
The decline of Byzantine power in Italy was matched by the rising power of the Lombards in northern Italy, who took many cities in Italy and soon threatened Rome itself. In 755 the Lombard threat brought Pope Stephen to seek help from Pepin, King of the Franks in the north. Their arrangement was that Pepin would help the Pope retake those cities, but instead of giving them back to the nominal rule of the Emperor in the East, they would be given as Papal States to the Roman Bishop. This transaction, which came at the midpoint of the “seven times” of divine judgment, came to be known as the Donation of Pepin. (See my book, Daniel: Prophet of the Ages, Book 3, chapter 22 for further information.)
Thus, Pope Stephen obtained political power over about 20 cities, including Ravenna, Ancona, Bologna, Ferrara, Iesi, and Gubbio, giving him a good-sized wedge of territory along the Adriatic coast of Italy. This made the Pope a feudal lord and gave the papacy the right to collect taxes from those cities. More important was that the Papal States gave the popes greater autonomy from the emperors in Constantinople.
From this point on, the papacy became a prize, not only for the spiritually ambitious, but also for those who desired political power and the wealth that could be made from it. As E. R. Chamberlin wrote in his 1969 book, The Bad Popes, page 17,
“But now that the bishop of Rome held not only the keys of heaven but also the keys of more than a score of cities, each with its revenues, the attraction of the office was considerably magnified.
“The first of the papal riots arising from the donation occurred in 767, when, on the death of the reigning pope, one of the numerous local lordlings recognized the opportunity and hastening to Rome, proposed his own brother as successor. The fact that the brother was disqualified because he was a layman was easily overcome, for he was ordained cleric, subdeacon, deacon, and priest—and then consecrated as bishop and pope on the same day. Rival factions immediately arose and two more popes appeared. The first contestant had his eyes dug out and was left for dead. The second was murdered outright and it was only when the third appealed to the hated Lombards for protection that some sort of order was restored.”
Those who have not studied the history of the papacy might be shocked that such things could happen. But this is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. The moral character of the popes was so carnal and even downright criminal that the people in Italy soon became immune to it. They came to expect such behavior. Most did not question the divine right of the popes to rule men, but they did regret that God had given them such a right. In the centuries that followed, nearly all of the popes had multiple mistresses, who bore them many illegitimate children—many of whom became cardinals and popes after them.
Conditions in the Eighteenth Jubilee
The eighteenth Jubilee of the Church extended from 866-915 A.D. The importance of this year is in the fact that King Saul was a type of the church under Pentecost, and he was disqualified from having a perpetual dynasty in the eighteenth year of his reign. Each year in the life of King Saul prophesied of a Jubilee cycle in church history. Here is the long list of popes, along with the date that each became pope during that time:
Nicolas I (858-866)
Adrian II (867)
John VIII (872)
Martin II (882)
Adrian III (884)
Stephen VI (885)
Formosus I (891)
Boniface VI (896)
Stephen VII (897)
Theodore II (898)
John IX (898)
Benedict IV (901)
Leo V (903)
Christopher I (904)
Sergius III (905)
Anastasius III (910)
John X (912)
The eighteenth Jubilee began in the last year of Pope Nicolas I in Rome. He reigned from 858-866 A.D. Of him Cormenin says,
“He was the first who ordained that the accession of the popes should be celebrated by a brilliant enthronement, and to leave to posterity an example of his own audacity and the mean spirit of the emperor, he exacted that [King] Louis should come on foot to meet him, that he should hold the bridle of his horse, and thus conduct him from the church of St. Peter to the palace of the Lateran.” (A Complete History of the Popes of Rome, Vol. 1, page 234)
Nicolas wrote a letter to the bishops of Lorraine, saying,
“You affirm that you are submissive to your sovereign, in order to obey the words of the apostle Peter, who said, ‘Be subject to the prince, because he is above all mortals in this world.’ But you appear to forget that we, as the vicar of Christ, have the right to judge all men; thus, before obeying kings, you owe obedience to us; and if we declare a monarch guilty, you should reject him from your communion until we pardon him.
“We alone have the power to bind and to loose, to absolve Nero, and to condemn him; and Christians cannot, under penalty of excommunication, execute other judgment than ours, which alone is infallible.” (Cormenin, p. 242)
He wrote another letter stating,
“Know, prince, that the vicars of Christ are above the judgment of mortals; and that the most powerful sovereigns have no right to punish the crimes of popes, how enormous soever they may be. Your thoughts should be occupied by the efforts which they accomplish for the correction of the church, without disquieting yourself about their actions; for no matter how scandalous or criminal may be the debaucheries of the pontiffs, you should obey them, for they are seated on the chair of St. Peter. And did not Jesus Christ himself, even when condemning the excesses of the scribes and Pharisees, command obedience to them, because they were the interpreters of the law of Moses?” (Cormenin, p. 243)
Cormenin continues on page 248 about Pope Nicolas,
“It is evident,” wrote Nicolas, “that the popes can neither be bound by any earthly power, nor even by that of the apostle if he should return upon earth; since Constantine the Great has recognized that the pontiffs held the place of God upon earth, the divinity not being able to be judged by any living man. We are then infallible, and whatever may be our acts, we are not accountable for them but to ourselves.”
Such was the pontiff who brought the church to the start of its eighteenth Jubilee. In this, we see the prophetic connection to the eighteenth year of King Saul, in which time he was called to bring judgment upon the Amalekites. The Amalekites had attacked Israel as they came out of Egypt, and as a result, God had laid a curse upon that nation in Exodus 17:14-16. This put Amalek on Cursed Time, which means Amalek had 414 years in which to repent before judgment was executed.
They did not repent, and since Saul was king 414 years later, he was the one divinely called to execute judgment upon Amalek. The story is told in 1 Samuel 15. Saul, however, spared the unrepentant King Agag, and thereby Saul took Agag’s curse upon himself. This disqualified him from ruling Israel, and though he ruled yet another 22 years, his dynasty was destined to end. Samuel told him later in 1 Samuel 15:23,
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.
Verse 35 concludes: “And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.”
What happened to King Saul inevitably happened also to the Roman church. The church’s eighteenth Jubilee saw so much corruption that this marked the point where God rejected the church. From that point on, it was decided in the divine court that the church, anointed by Pentecost, would ultimately give way to a greater church with a Tabernacles anointing. Such a church was foreshadowed by King David, the type of overcomer.
The House of Theophylact
Cardinal Baronius, known as the Father of Catholic History, wrote about the tenth century:
“A century that for its violence and its lack of all goodness ought to be called the Iron Century; for the monstrousness of its evil the Leaden Century; for the meagerness of its literature the Dark Century.” (A History of the Popes, Joseph McCabe, p. 213)
McCabe, a disillusioned priest who became an atheist, commented on Baronius’ assertion, saying,
“If he continues to speak of the tenth century as the Iron Century or the Dark Age, he means only as regards Rome and the greater part of Papal Europe.” (McCabe, p. 213)
Pope Sergius III, who became pope in 905 A.D., had a mistress named Theodora, the wife of a duke and senator named Theophylact. Sergius also had a son by one of Theodora’s young daughters named Marozia. E. R. Chamberlin tells us,
“The true master of Rome was Pope Sergius and Theodora owed her influence to the fact that her daughter Marozia was Sergius’ mistress…
“In whatever manner Theodora exploited her position, by the time of Pope Sergius’ death in 911 she had moved from indirect to direct control. Rome might, reasonably, have expected another murderous prelude to the next election. Instead, two of Theodora’s nominees ascended the throne with the minimum of fuss, reigned for a little over a year each, and quietly descended into the grave. Only then did she turn her attention to the boldest, most cynical act of all her career: the transferring of a lover from the bishopric of Ravenna to the bishopric of Rome.” (Chamberlin, p. 28).
Chamberlin goes on to quote Liudprand, the bishop of Cremona, in his account of that time:
“According to him, Theodora fell in love with a certain John, an ambitious young cleric in Ravenna who frequently came to Rome on official business. Under Theodora’s protection, the young man progressed steadily in his career and was at last made bishop, a post that ended his frequent trips to Rome. ‘Thereupon Theodora, like a harlot fearing that she would have few opportunities of bedding with her sweetheart, forced him to abandon his bishopric and take for himself—O monstrous crime!—the Papacy of Rome.’ In 914 Bishop John of Ravenna became Pope John X.” (Chamberlin, pp. 28, 29)
According to Cormenin, John himself was “the son of a nun and a priest” (A Complete History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 285). In his account, we read about John,
“His beauty caused him to be remarked by Theodora, the mistress of Pope Sergius, who became violently enamored of him. The ambitious youth yielded to the passion of Theodora, and thus prepared the way of arriving at the sovereign pontificate.
“His mistress, who was all-powerful in Rome, caused him first to be named to the bishopric of Bologna; but before he was consecrated, the prelate of Ravenna having died, he was chosen archbishop of that city. At last Theodora, fearful of the infidelity of her lover, if he remained in an archbishopric remote from Rome, caused him to be ordained pope on the death of [Pope] Lando.
“Platinus, an historian always correct in his assertions, says, that previous in this last election, John had been ignominiously driven from his See by the people of Ravenna, for his scandals and his crimes.” (Cormenin, p. 285)
Historical records do not tell us the ultimate fate of Theodora or of her husband, Theophylact. However, their daughter Marozia continued to be very influential in Rome and in the papacy. While she was still in her late teens, she was given in marriage to a German named Alberic, who had come to Rome with the title of marquis of Camerino. The title indicated that he owned land, which at that time was obtained only by means of the sword.
Alberic was an able soldier, and he allied himself with Pope John and Judge Theophylact in a triumvirate of power which perhaps saved Rome from the invasion of the Saracens. The Saracens had been moving up the Italian peninsula steadily and by 924 had established themselves just 30 miles from Rome. The triumvirate of Rome then raised a huge army in 926 and destroyed the Saracens who had menaced Italy for two generations.
Historical records then go dark, and we do not know the fate of Theodora and Theophylact. Even Alberic himself disappears from the records. Marozia, however, continued in her mother’s footsteps. Benedict, the monkish chronicler, laments that she was “lord of the city.” Her ambition was to merge the papacy with her own family and promote the principle of a hereditary pope. She married a feudal lord of Tuscany named Guy, who brought his own soldiers to Rome. First they took over the Castle of Sant’ Angelo. Then in 928 their soldiers took Pope John captive and imprisoned him in the Castle. Chamberlin tells us of the irony:
“There, a year later, he died either by suffocation or starvation, the first of the popes to be created by a woman [Theodora], and now destroyed by her daughter [Marozia].” (p. 35)
Cormenin says that Pope John died in 936 after spending some years in prison.
Two short papacies came to pass before Marozia’s son, Octavian, became pope in 931 at the age of sixteen. He was the son of Pope Sergius and Marozia and took the name Pope John XI. However, he was weak in character, so Marozia sought a more powerful alliance with her late husband’s half-brother, Hugh. Cormenin tells us,
“She poisoned her husband, Guy, and offered her hand, and the principality of Rome to King Hugh, his half brother.” (p. 288).
Hugh was Marozia’s third husband. Her first husband, Alberic, seeing how Marozia had killed her second husband, knew that his life was also in danger as soon as a pretext could be found.
During one of the many feasts after their wedding, Marozia deliberately humiliated Alberic by making him the water boy to wash Hugh’s hands. Alberic spilled the water, and Hugh slapped him on the face. Alberic ran out of the castle and led a revolt. The Romans responded immediately and stormed the castle while Hugh’s army was stationed outside the city. Hugh abandoned the castle, along with his new wife, let down by a rope where the castle intersected the city walls, and escaped with his army. The mob captured Marozia, handed her over to Alberic, and then disappears from history.
Such was the condition of church leadership in the eighteenth Jubilee cycle of Church history, which corresponds prophetically to the eighteenth year of King Saul. Bishop Liudprand called it the age of “pornocracy,” i.e., rule by means of immorality, and later church historians follow his lead.
While the Roman church has long taught that it will retain the divine right to rule, and that the church (meaning the Roman church) will never be overthrown, this is simply not true. It was not true for King Saul, nor is it true for the Roman church. Both were disqualified in their eighteenth year—or in this case, the eighteenth Jubilee—and for the same reason: rebellion against God.
Hence, Revelation 9:20 and 21 indicate that the church refused to repent of its idolatry and immorality, even after coming under divine pressure from Islam. Nonetheless, God did not see fit to overthrow the Roman church immediately. It was the same with King Saul, who reigned another 22 years after his disqualification.
And so we come to the tenth chapter of Revelation, where the historical account continues with events that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation.