Pope John VIII

Pope John VIII was the 107th man to hold the highest position of the Catholic Church. His reign was a controversial one. Intense military standoffs and the threat of constant invasion forced the Pope to strengthen the Church’s defenses in Italy. This made the Church very powerful during his reign. Unfortunately, that all ended with his assassination.

Background and History with the Church

Born sometimes around 820, John VIII has a long history with the Church. He was considered to be one of the ablest popes of the 9th century. It’s not hard to see why.

He held many positions before becoming pope. Just before consecration, he elevated to the position of Archdeacon.


He was elected towards the end of 872. While his election was praised by many due to his experience, he also had some opposition. One of his biggest opposers was the cardinal bishop of Porto, Formosus. Formosus would continue objecting to his pontification during his entire reign.

Throughout his papacy, Pope John VIII continually fought to resist the spread of the Muslim faith throughout Sicily and southern Italy. During his childhood, he had experienced the Arab raid against Rome. This experience, alongside the impending threat of the Saracens, led to John VIII forming many alliances.

He allied with the Frankish emperor Louis II. He also supported King Charles II the Bald of France. These alliances united southern Italy against the invasion of Saracens. His entire papacy helped to fortify Rome against the Muslim enemies.

A couple of days after celebrating 10 years as Pope, John VIII was assassinated by his clerics. Several parties allegedly conspired to remove Pope John VIII from the papacy. There are several theories about this motivation of this act. It could have been his failures to stop Saracen raids, the depletion of the papal treasury, or even his displays towards the Byzantines. Whatever the case may be, his assassination severely weakened the papacy, leading to a tumultuous time for the Church.

Quick Facts About Pope John VIII

  • Pope John VIII was born around the year 870 AD.

  • His birth name is not known.

  • The Pope died on December 16th, 882. He was 62 years old.

  • John VIII was brutally assassinated by his own clerics. According to historical records, he was first poisoned before being clubbed to death.

  • John VIII became pope on December 14th, 872.

  • His papacy ended on December 16th, 882. He died two days after his 10-year anniversary as pope.

  • Pope Marinus I succeeded Pope John VIII.

  • Pope John VIII predecessor was Pope Adrian II.

Interesting Facts About Pope John VIII

  • Pope John VIII was the first pope in history to be assassinated.

  • He was the first pope to sanction a non-Latin liturgy. In this case, he allowed the liturgy to be performed in the Slavonic language.

  • John VIII supported King Charles of France in his quest to defeat the Saracens.

  • Due to opposition and harassment, Pope John VIII excommunicated a bishop named Formosus. Formosus would eventually go on to become Pope.

  • Before his death, Pope John VIII successfully formed a papal Navy to protect Rome against the Saracens.

All of the Popes that took the name “John”

There has been 21 popes that have taken the name of John.

John I (St.) (#53) (523 – 526)
John II (#56) (533 – 535)
John III (#61) (561 – 574)
John IV (#72) (640 – 642)
John V (#82) (685 – 686)
John VI (#85) (701 – 705)
John VII (#86) (705 – 707)
John VIII (#108) (872 – 882)
John IX (#117) (898 – 900)
John X (#123) (914 – 928)
John XI (#126) (931 – 935)
John XII (#131) (955 – 963)
John XIII (#134) (965 – 972)
John XIV (#137) (983 – 984)
John XV (#138) (985 – 996)
John XVII (#141) (1003)
John XVIII (#142) (1003 – 1009)
John XIX (#145) (1024 – 1032)
John XXI (#188) (1276 – 1277)
John XXII (#197) (1316 – 1334)
John XXIII (Blessed) (#262) (1958 – 1963)