Spirituality for Today – August 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 1

The 60th Pope
Pelagius I

Pope Pelagius I (556 – 561)
We all know the old saying about "first impressions." The story of Pope Pelagius I is an apt expression of it. With the passing of Pope Vigilius, the then papal nuncio Pelagius was the candidate of the emperor Justinian and returned to Rome, in effect, the new pope. This papal designation, sans election, was not well received among the bishops, clergy, and laity of the Western Church. Many months passed before the consecration could take place and even then in the midst of wide dissent. Among some in Rome, it was held that he might have played some role in the death of Pope Vigilius. The support he received from Justinian caused many to consider his attitude toward the condemnation of Monophysitism (Jesus had a divine nature only) to be in question.

An image of Pelagius I the 60th PopePelagius I the 60th Pope

Pope Pelagius took unprecedented measures to proclaim his orthodoxy and to disclaim any involvement in the death of his predecessor. He set out to win over the minds and hearts of those who opposed him by his efforts to maintain order in Rome, correct abuses with the clergy, strongly opposed the act of simony (church offices and spiritual benefits offered for sale), and reformed financial practices. The pope was tireless in his concern for the poor and the victims of famine and war. In very many ways, he could teach something to our modern politicians.

Regrettably, those first impressions would not die and he faced much suspicion in the West. He came to the papacy as an elderly man and would serve as pope for only five years. He was buried in Saint Peter Basilica.

Habemus papam