Sergius I of Rome

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Our father among the saints Sergius I of Rome was the Archbishop and Pope of the Church of Rome from 687 to 701. He was one of the popes considered part of the Byzantine Papacy. His election ended the schism between the antipopes Paschal and Theodore and led to a papacy that was dominated by his response to the Quinisext Council, whose canons he refused to accept. He is commemorated on September 8.

Life

Sergius was born about the year 650 into a Syrian family from Antioch that had moved to Palermo in Sicily. He received his education in Sicily before he moved to Rome during the pontificate of Pope Adeodatus II during the 670s. Ordained by Pope Leo II, he was a cardinal-priest of the Church of St. Susanna at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.[1]

As Pope Conon was dying in 687, two warring factions vied to elect a successor. In simultaneous elections after the death of Pope Conon the archdeacon Pascal and the priest Theodore were elected to the papal throne. However, an assembled group of clergy and people ignored these elections and chose instead the priest Sergius, who was then consecrated on December 15, 687. Theodore, recognizing the support behind the election of Sergius, quickly acknowledged Sergius I as pope. Pascal, who had turned for help to the exarch of Ravenna John Platyn with offers of gold, was soon abandoned by the Exarch after the consecration of Sergius and eventually ending up confined to a monastery on charges of witchcraft.

During the early years of his pontificate Sergius had numerous contacts with England and English notables. He received King Caedwalla of the West Saxons and baptized him on April 10, 689, before his death on April 20, apparently from battle wounds. Under Pope Sergius' direction Caedwalla was buried in St. Peter's. He consecrated St. Willibrord, an Englishman, bishop of the Frisians.

Much of Pope Sergius' pontificate was involved with the canons of the Quinisext Council of 692. While he did not attend the Council, Sergius sent legates including, as apocrisiarius, the suffragan Bishop Basil of Gortyna who subscribed to the canons. However, Sergius rejected certain canons of the Council, although he continued to support political unity with Constantinople. It is unknown to which canons Sergius I objected as he declared that he would "rather die than consent to erroneous novelties". The Quinisext Council approved all eighty-five of the Apostolic Canons, while Sergius I supported only the first fifty that generally were recognized in the West. The bulk of his resistance probably stemmed from varying doctrines and practices between east and west. For example, Roman deacons were prohibited from living with their wives after ordination, Roman priests were prohibited from having married twice prior to ordination, and Roman Christians were prohibited from fasting on the Saturdays of Great Lent and allowed to consume animal blood. These and other practices differed from the Quinisext canons.

Enraged, Emperor Justinian II dispatched his magistrianus, also named Sergius, to Rome to arrest Bishop John of Portus, the chief papal legate to the Sixth Ecumenical Council and Boniface, the papal counselor. The two high-ranking officials were brought to Constantinople as a warning to the pope. Eventually, Justinian II ordered Sergius I's arrest and abduction to Constantinople by his bodyguard protospatharios Zacharias. However, the militia of the exarch of Ravenna and the Duchy of Pentapolis frustrated the attempt. Zacharias nearly lost his own life in the attempt to arrest Sergius I. Rather than seizing upon the anti-Byzantine sentiment, Sergius I did his best to quell the uprising.

Pope Sergius died in Rome on September 8, 701. He was succeeded by John VI.

References

  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590–752. Lexington Books.
  1. Horace Mann: The Lives of the Popes. Vol. I pt. 2, London 1903, p. 80
Succession box:
Sergius I of Rome
Preceded by:
Conon
Pope of Rome
687 - 701
Succeeded by:
John VI
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