Feast Day : February 11 (formerly May 14)
The date of Paschal’s birth is not known. His father was a Roman named Bonosus. He entered the priesthood while still a youth and studied at the Lateran Palace. Pope St. Leo III (r. 795–816) appointed him abbot of St. Stephen’s monastery, where he oversaw pilgrims to Rome. When Pope Stephen V (r. 816–817) died on January 24 or 25, 817, Paschal was elected to succeed him. He was consecrated and enthroned the following day, an apparent attempt to bypass confirmation by the Frankish emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Paschal justified this action to Louis I the Pious by saying that he had not sought the office but accepted it as an unwanted task. In return, Louis declared papal elections to be free of the requirement of imperial approval and in general recognized papal sovereignty. When Lothair I, Louis’s son, married, Paschal sent a special delegation bearing rich gifts. In the spring of 823, Lothair went to Rome, and on April 5 Paschal crowned him emperor. Lothair did not share his father’s position on papal sovereignty, however, nor did all in the Roman Church agree with Paschal. After Lothair left Rome, two papal officers opposed to Paschal were found blinded and beheaded. Paschal was accused of ordering the murders, which had been carried out by two members of his household. Although he denied any complicity, he refused to surrender the murderers, declaring that the dead men were traitors to the Church and that secular authorities had no jurisdiction in the matter. The upshot was the Constitution of Lothair, which instituted severe restrictions on papal jurisdiction and powers. During Paschal’s pontificate, Iconoclasm—the Islamic- inspired movement that forbade the worship of images—raged in the Byzantine Empire to the east. Paschal did what he could to uphold the position of the Roman Church. He sent his aides to try to secure the release of Abbot Theodore of Studites, who had been imprisoned for defending sacred icons. He received several Greek monks fleeing the persecutions and found places for them in newly erected monasteries such as those of St. Praxedis, St. Cecilia, and SS. Sergius and Bacchus, near the Lateran Palace. He also erected new churches and chapels and had the relics of martyrs translated from the ancient catacombs to these places. Paschal was not a popular pope. He was so unpopular, indeed, that when he died in 824, throngs prevented his funeral procession from entering St. Peter’s. His relics were interred instead in the church of St. Praxedis.