Spirituality for Today – May 2009 – Volume 13, Issue 10

The 33rd Pope

Saint Sylvester

A photo of an etching of Saint SylvesterSaint Sylvester

Pope St. Sylvester 1st (314-335) – The pontificate of Pope Sylvester occurred in dizzying times indeed. The Church has been raised to favored status by the new emperor Constantine and a new spiritual and diplomatic relationship between pope and emperor was being born. The emergence of the meshing of Church and the State was in its infancy. The emperor as well as local bishops would call synods of regional Church leaders to discuss and, it was hoped, to resolve issues of the day. Constantine called a council at Arles and designated the bishop of Arles to preside over the assembly. The reason for the council surrounded the Donatist controversy over the requirement of re-baptism of lapsed Catholics. The decisions reached at the council, however, were submitted to the pope as the one who had primacy over the Church.

Defining the nature of the Trinity and, especially the divinity of Christ (Nicene Creed) in response to the Arian controversy was the work of the first ecumenical council held in Nicaea in 325.Once again, Constantine called it, but most probably in concurrence with Pope Sylvester. The bishop of Cordoba presided over the council.

Pope Sylvester continued the work of building churches in Rome. The beneficence of the grateful emperor Constantine produced the first Basilica of Saint Peter and the cathedral church of the pope, then as now, Saint John Lateran. Pope Sylvester also improved record keeping and established the first martyrology (list of the martyrs of the Church).

The remains of the pope were interred in the cemetery of St. Priscilla, but later buried by Pope Paul I in 762 in the church of San Silvester in Capite.

Habemus papam!