Spirituality for Today – June 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 11

The 58th Pope
Saint Silverius

An image of Saint Silverius the 58th PopeSaint Silverius the 58th Pope

Pope St. Silverius (536 – 537)
His predecessor was the son of a priest, but Silverius was the son of a pope! Pope Hormisdas was married before being elected pope (mandatory celibacy was not yet the rule in the Church). As can happen, political intrigue influenced the election of Pope Silverius. In Constantinople the Empress Theodora would like the Roman deacon Vigilius, living in Constantinople at the time, to be the next pope. He has acquiesced to demands from Theodora regarding the kind treatment of the Monophysites (those who believed that Jesus had only a divine nature) and a generally favorable stance toward Constantinople both politically and ecclesiastically. Back in the West, Theodatus, King of the Ostrogoths, supported the sub-deacon Sevilius who had no ties to Constantinople. Servilius was elected pope after first being consecrated a bishop. This act had the effect of quieting the clergy who bucked at the idea of a sub-deacon being elected a pope.

The issue reached the boiling point when the new Ostrogothic King, Vitiges decided to lay siege to the city of Rome. The Byzantine general Belisarius placed troops in Rome and was received kindly by Pope Servilius. Now, Empress Theodora employed the wife of Belisarius and the general himself to aid in removing Servilius and replacing him with Vigilius. The instrument used to accomplish the task was a forged letter revealing the pope to be in league with Vitiges. The pope was forced into exile to Patara in Lycia. Investigating his case, the Bishop of Patara detected a forgery and defended the innocence of Servilius to the emperor. Justinian returned Servilius to Rome, but he was soon exiled to the island of Palmaria where he died. Pope Servilius, battered by political machinations, was buried on Palmaria.

Habemus papam