THE BOOK OF GOMORRAH, Part Two of a Review


Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is an essayist, journalist, and author whose articles have appeared in numerous publications worldwide, both secular and Catholic, including the Wall Street Journal, London Sunday Times, Detroit News, New York Daily News, LifeSiteNews, Catholic World Report, Crisis Magazine, and theNational Catholic Register. He is the translator and author of The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian’s Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption (2015). He holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, where he is certified for academic competency in five foreign languages. He currently resides in Mexico, and does specialized coverage of Latin America for LifeSite and other publications.

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is obviously a vey talented person.  The above brief biographical sketch, taken from the LifeSite website, does not mention his competency in Church History, but the reader of the Book of Gomorrah should linger on the biographical introduction he wrote for The Book of Gomorrah because as a contribution to our understanding of what is happening in the Church at the present time its value cannot be overstated.  Hoffman writes Church History extremely well.  The facts of the life of Saint Peter Damian presented in the Introduction by Hoffman to this book speak clearly to our present situation in the Church as well as does the content of Saint Peter Damian’s own book.

In this Part Two of my Review I will quote from Hoffman’s Introduction with my own interlinear commentary.



by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman


A Church in Crisis

The great reformer who would become known to the world as Peter Damian was born into a troubled Italy and a troubled Church.

When he first opened his eyes in the year 1007, Western Europe was in the last decades of its most obscure period, having suffered more than a century and a half of violent incursions of Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars {and equally violent misrule by popes, emperors, kings and clergy}.

The region had fragmented into countless principalities, and trade and intellectual commerce had declined. The literary patrimony of Latin antiquity maintained a tenuous presence in the care of monasteries and diocesan libraries, which had been decimated by the marauding invaders. During this tumultuous epoch, Italy had been largely cut off from the stabilizing rule of the German emperors and had become an armed camp of fortified towns under the rule of local strongmen, constantly on the defense against attacks by invaders as well as one another.

The papacy had also become embroiled in the anarchy of the time, as the popes, who had ruled the city of Rome since the sixth century, became power brokers and ultimately pawns in the political infighting that convulsed the peninsula.

The precipitous decline of the papacy had begun after the deposition in 887 of Charlemagne’s great-grandson, Charles the Fat, the last of a line of Carolingian kings who had protected the papacy and held the title of Roman Emperor. With the end of Charles’s reign, the empire that had been erected by Charlemagne, stretching from the Pyrenees to the Elbe river and encompassing half of Italy, collapsed in all but name.

Pope Stephen VI (885–91) gave the title of emperor, and therefore the rule of Italy, to the Italian Guido III, duke of the neighboring territory of Spoleto. However, Stephen’s successor, Pope Formosus (891–96), favored Guido’s Frankish rival, Arnulf of Carinthia, crowning him as Emperor instead. The battle over the throne of Italy then became a vindictive rivalry between kingmaker popes, as Formosus’s successor, the pro-Spoletan Stephen VII (896–97), had his predecessor’s body disinterred and put on trial for the purpose of declaring him an antipope and invalidating all of his ordinations and acts of governance. 

The tit-for-tat between the two parties continued for a decade, with Pope Theodore II (897) confirming the papacy of Formosus and nullifying his condemnation by Stephen, a verdict confirmed by his successor, John IX (898–900), and in turn reinforced by Benedict IV (900–03), who crowned the German king Louis the Blind as emperor. However, after Benedict’s successor was violently deposed and imprisoned, the pro–Spoletan Sergius III (904–11) in turn deposed his predecessor and again nullified the tenure of Formosus and all of his ordinations.1

{Wow! And we think we are in terrible times!  At least Francis has not disinterred the body of Saint John Paul II, put him on trial for the purpose of declaring him an antipope and invalidating all of his ordinations and acts of governance along wth his magisterial teachings, especially VERITATIS SPLENDOR which contradicts AMORIS LAETITIA.  But Francis should beware, his successor might very well do that to Francis.}

The battle over the papacy (and the body) of Pope Formosus was devastating for the Holy See and the Italian church. The illegal acts of Stephen VII and Sergius III, and the political rivalry of the popes who opposed them, could only undermine respect for papal authority and cast into doubt the validity of the ordinations of countless bishops and priests. The popes had politicized the papacy by appropriating its spiritual functions for secular ends.

{That certainly resonates with what we are experiencing.}

However, the shameful affair was merely a prelude to decades of instability, violence, and corruption, as rival factions of the Roman elite vied for control of the city and the ecclesiastical regime that governed it. In 928 the Roman noblewoman Marozia, daughter of papal kingmakers Count Theophylact of Tusculum and his wife Theodora, had the illustrious Pope John X deposed and imprisoned, whereupon he quickly died.2 She soon placed a young son (rumored to also be the illegitimate offspring of Pope Sergius III) on the papal throne as John XI (931–35). After Marozia and her faction was overthrown by her disowned son, Alberic II, Pope John XI was converted into a political protégé of the latter, as were his successors Leo VII (936–39), Stephen IX (939–42), Marinus II (942–46), and Agapetus II (946–55).

Finally, following the death of Alberic, his eighteen-year-old son, Octavius, was elected Pope John XII (955–63). We are told by commentators of the time that John “lived in a pigsty of lust,”3 which was so scandalous that a synod of bishops was called to treat the problem, and an antipope was unsuccessfully named to replace him.4 He died shortly after deposing and mutilating his rival and restoring himself to power at the age of 26 (5).

The turmoil in the papacy continued following the restoration of the imperial title in 962 under the Saxon king Otto I, who began to rein in the recalcitrant Italian aristocracy by supporting his own papal candidates. A century more of sometimes violent conflict over the papacy would follow, which only slowly subsided as Otto and his successors began to subdue the chaotic mess that was northern and central Italy. The popes continued to function as the temporal rulers of Rome but were now perceived as political vassals of the German emperors, who in turn depended upon the popes for their own imperial title.

The dynamics of this symbiotic relationship were often confused with the spiritual power of the papacy, which in theory remained distinct and independent of the secular power. Although the official acts of the popes of this period were generally unobjectionable and often laudable, their compromised situation and poor personal example had combined with the vicissitudes of the age to provoke a catastrophic decline in clerical morality.

The ranks of the monasteries and secular priesthood had been adulterated with lax and uneducated men, unworthy of their office. Corruption was rife, and the offices of the clergy, including bishoprics, were often sold. Many priests violated the Church’s strictures against sacerdotal marriage by entering into illicit unions with wives or concubines, with the consent and even the approval of their flocks. Large numbers had succumbed to unnatural sexual practices, alone or with others, all of which fell under the dread name of “sodomy,” in reference to the city of Sodom destroyed by God in the book of Genesis.

{ This graphic historical portrait of the ecclesial world into which Saint Peter Damian was born may be of small comfort to us when we compare it with our own times, but what Matthew Hoffman has done for us is give us hope.  If the Lord could rescue his Church from the clutches of such evil men (and women) surely it should give us hope that He can rescue us from the reign of Jorge Maria Bergolio, aka Francis.  In the next part of our review we will focus on the early life of Saint Peter Damian.}


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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