A Brief History of Young Popes


Have you seen the trailer for HBO’s The Young Pope? Of course you have, it came on before Westworld and everyone watched Westworld. If not, you can watch it above, but here’s a quick rundown: Jude Law plays Pius XIII (formerly Lenny Bernardo), who is the pope, and who is also pretty young compared to the average pope. Due, presumably, to his youthful ideologies and an entire lifetime of being named Lenny Bernardo, Pius XIII has some pretty radical ideas about what it means to lead the Catholic Church. He makes Bishops kiss his feet! He wears sunglasses! He does not negotiate! He can breathe underwater!

It's actually not super clear whether he can breathe underwater.

It’s actually not super clear whether he can breathe underwater. HBO

Based on the trailer, the majority of The Young Pope centers on the church’s more senior members freaking the hell out over this brash young Pope who, un miracolo, can set up a Facebook account without any help whatsoever. “You’ll be a terrible pope,” Cardinal Michael Spencer, played by James Cromwell, tells Pius. “The most dangerous in modern times.”

But hey, there’s WiFi inside Vatican City, right? There has to be, the Pope is so young. He has apps. So if Cardinal Michael Spencer and his bros in the cloth took some time for a simple Google search, they’d have seen that Young Popes never, ever work out. Heck, they’d be grateful; Pope Pius XIII isn’t even that bad, comparatively, and he’s not even that young. Jude Law is 43 years old. That’s 23 years older than Pope John XI (931-935), who wasn’t a bad Pope, more like a complete nothing-burger of a Pope. His most notable accomplishment, as far as I can tell, is being one of the only Popes in history to look exactly like a very sad fish:

Aw, man.

Aw, man. The Catholic Publication Society of America

But no, let’s look at the youngest of the Young Popes, this legitimately insane 18-year-old named John XII (born Octavianus, roughly 1000-percent cooler than “Lenny”), who was Pope from 955 until his death in 964. By all accounts, dude transformed the Vatican into one-half Animal House fraternity and one-half basement dungeon from the Saw franchise. In his Historia Ottonis, Liudprand of Cremona recorded the long, long list of crimes levied against the homeboy XII at Synod of Rome of 963, which included, but is not limited to: turning the Apostolic Palace into a whorehouse, ordaining a deacon inside a horse stable, countless concubines, numerous adulteries, a couple cases of incest, toasting Satan and other demons while playing dice and the castration and murder of a Cardinal. The most damning criticism in the Young Pope trailer is a voiceover whispering “This pope is strange,” followed by a shot of Jude Law, like, putting gel his hair. For comparison, here’s Louis Marie Decormenin on John XII, from A Complete History of the Popes of Rome: “This abominable priest soiled the chair of St. Peter for nine entire years and deserved to be called the most wicked of popes.”

Soiled it. And hell, that millennial-ass psycho-Pope might be the “most wicked,” but at least he only served one term, unlike this 20-year old named Benedict IX:

Ayyy, lmao.

Ayyy, lmao. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Born Theophylactus of Tusculum, which I’m pretty sure is the name of the bad guy in at least one of the Transformers movies, Benedict IX is not only one of the youngest Popes but the only one to hold the position three different times. Key point: he was Pope three times because he was kicked out of Rome twice for being such a disgusting, lecherous Pope. Plus, and I swear this is true, the only reason Benedict IX ever stopped being Pope was because he sold the papacy. The next time you get mad at your unpaid intern for being lazy, I beg you to remember the Pope who forced his way into a historic third term, got bored, and paid a guy to take over the highest position in the Catholic Church. Here’s some choice quotes about Benedict IX:

“It seemed as if a demon from hell, in the disguise of a priest, occupied the chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent courses.” – Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages.

“His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.” – Pope Victor III, “Dialogues.” (Fun fact: Victor III was around 60-years-old when his papacy began, and he was a pretty okay Pope).

So, in conclusion: Maybe let’s just not do young Popes? 

A Brief History of Young Popes