Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Stephen IV, Pope

illustration of Saint Stephen IV, Pope, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberSaint Stephen was born in Sicily, and was brought to Rome, where he entered the Order of Saint Benedict. As a boy, he showed a great disposition for learning, piety and for religious worship, which he regarded as the highest of all duties. When he reached manhood, the rumour of his sanctity having reached the ears of the Sovereign Pontiff, Zachary, he sent for him from his Monastery and raised him to the purple under the title of Saint Coecilia. His virtue and diligence caused him to be greatly valued by Pope Zachary and by the Pontiffs who immediately followed him, who all were glad to keep Saint Stephen near them to assist them in the management of the affairs of the Church. After the death of Zachary, Stephen III, and Paul I, the Roman people desired that Saint Stephen should be appointed to the chair of Saint Peter, and they led him with great pomp to the Lateran to be inaugurated as Pope. His first care after his exaltation was to promote the internal union of the Church, which had been harassed and torn by many troubles, and he accordingly sent letters to summon all the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, etc., to a Council, to be held at Rome the following year, with Charles, the King of Gaul, and the other Christian Princes of Europe. At the opening of the Council a tumult arose between, the followers of the foreign Princes, some of whom favoured the cause of the anti-Pope, Constantine; they took him out of the Monastery to which he had retired, and were conducting him with great pomp to the Council, when they were assailed, and the unfortunate man was thrown to the ground and blinded.

In order to prevent any future disorders of the kind, Saint Stephen caused it to be decreed by a perpetual law of the Church, that for the future no laic should have any right to the highest and sacred honours, but that those who were to be chosen to the Papal Chair must be taken from the clergy. In order to ask the blessing of the Lord upon the acts of the Council, and to offer some atonement for the crimes that had been committed, Saint Stephen caused public prayers to be offered in the Church of the Vatican to which he called all the Bishops and dignitaries of the Church to walk in procession from the Lateran, and, throwing away his shoes, he led the procession himself, walking with bare feet and carrying his crucifix in his hand. True it is that “Words teach, but examples move to action.” For when all the Archbishops and Bishops saw the humility of the Saintly Pontiff, they followed him, and taking off their shoes, joined in the procession with bare feet. Saint Stephen was called to receive his heavenly crown on January 31st, in the year of our Lord 772.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.