What is the difference between power and courage?
What it means to bounce back.
The Fulcrum of Courage, Part 11
Empress Theophanu was known for being moderate, trustworthy, and polite. She accepted personal risk and only waged war when necessary.
In 988, she began to suffer from a mysterious disease that slowly consumed her. She continued to serve as regent until she passed away at age 31, in 991.
Otto III was fatherless from age 3, and 11 when his mother died.
Another schism was underway.
Gerbert of Aurillac was elected Archbishop of Reims.
As the surviving wife of Otto the Great and nearest living blood relative, Adelaide of Italy was granted regency. She gracefully fulfilled her duty until September of 994.
Three years into the new schism, 14 year-old Otto III was granted the unfettered ability to govern the kingdom of Germany and Italy by the Imperial Diet.
Gerbert was 50 when he met Otto III in 996.
There was an immediate affinity between them, and Otto III made good use of Gerbert’s talent for writing letters.
In 997, a resolution to the schism was within reach, but several Western bishops faced excommunication unless Gerbert stepped aside.
He decided to leave the Archdiocese of Reims behind and follow Otto III to Italy.
In Rome, Gerbert took a break from politics and spent more time with Meridiana. He went back to teaching logic, mathematics, astronomy, and music.
That spring, Gerbert built a horologium – a timepiece that displays the positions of constellations, the sun, and the moon. It bolstered his reputation as a scholar.
He enjoyed his scientific pursuits and teaching, but by the end of the summer he longed to return to the emperor’s court.
In October of 997, the Western Bishops rebelled.
Byzantine Emperor Basil II acclaimed Antipope John XVI, and there was a revolt in Rome. Otto III peacefully, but decisively, quashed it.
A few of his troops captured John XVI trying to escape. Believing he was conspiring with demons to hand control of Otto III’s armies over to Satan, they mutilated, tortured, and publicly humiliated him.
Upon learning of what they did, Otto III sent John XVI to a distant monastery in Germany to live out the remainder of his truncated life in peace.
The young emperor’s next move was to select a new pope. He chose one of Gerbert’s former students, Gregory V.
In February of 998, Otto III restored and expanded Gerbert’s influence by appointing him Archbishop of Ravenna.
Gerbert recalled the debate with Otric but it no longer tormented him. He knew what happened, and knowing was enough.
He found a new appreciation for the roads and buildings. It enabled Gerbert to rethink past mistakes. As a result, he was able to successfully negotiate changes to the land laws in Lombardy that had frustrated his efforts.
It took him less than a year to implement new agricultural policies, and they led to greater food security for most of the empire.
Gregory V died mysteriously on February 18, 999.
Foul play was suspected, even in the Vatican.
Fearing the Devil was responsible, the people of Rome began a penance that involved wearing sackcloth and bathing in ash daily. It quickly spread across the entire Holy Roman Empire, around the Mediterranean, and into the Holy Land.
Gerbert’s agricultural reforms, his scholarly reputation, and his decision to set his personal interests aside to avoid a schism made him the natural successor.
He was elected pope with the full support of the Imperial Court, and was consecrated on April 9, 999.
Gerbert of Aurillac took the name Sylvester II, in honor of Sylvester I, who was behind the construction of many great churches and cathedrals.
Upon learning of Gerbert’s election, the provost’s daughter immediately left Magdeburg for Rome. There, she searched the cathedrals, libraries, and monasteries.
One day in June, she spotted Gerbert and Meridiana walking together in a monastery garden. She kept her distance and followed them to a patch of flowers, where they paused for a moment.
The two noticed a borage, plucked it, and held hands.
They seemed to float on air.
Seeing them so happy together flooded the provost’s daughter with envy. She immediately began plotting to steel him.
Then she heard them laugh and felt an intense craving.
Her envy turned to rage and she vowed to humiliate him for consorting with Meridiana.
Next: Can the courageous be manipulated? The origins and journeys of warnings.