John II - A Pontiff By Another's Name

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It was a good two months after the death of Boniface II before a successor was chosen, two months which may have been filled with shady electioneering. At last, however, on January 2, 533, the priest Mercurius was elected pope. Mercurius changed his name to John, the first instance of a pope doing this. He had been the priest in charge of St. Clement's Church on the Coelian Hill.

An official complained to the Gothic court at Ravenna that there had been bribery and that even sacred vessels had been offered for sale during the two months' vacancy. King Athalaric then ordered that the decree of the Senate against bribery in papal elections should be carved on marble and set up in the court of St. Peter's. Athalaric added to the decree that henceforth when any disputed papal election should be brought to Ravenna, a sum of money should be paid--the money to go to the poor.

John II got along well with both the government at Ravenna and the imperial government at Constantinople. Emperor Justinian sent him a profession of faith and some rich gifts, including a gold chalice that was richly set with precious stones. The formula "One of the Trinity was crucified," which had been frowned on by Pope Hormisdas, now began to be used again in the East. Emperor Justinian defended it, while those tireless watchdogs of orthodoxy the "sleepless" monks opposed it. This time the Pope approved its use. There was no contradiction. Hormisdas had frowned on it, not because it was heretical, but because the Monophysites were using it as a catchword. Now, since it was being used as a catchword of orthodoxy against the Nestorians, Pope John II approved of it.

From Gaul, John received the sad case of Bishop Contumeliosus of Riez. This bishop seems to have fallen into grave sin and to have seized some church property. St. Caesarius of Arles treated the matter in a synod held at Marseilles in 533. He sent the decisions of the synod to the Pope, and John II confirmed them. Contumeliosus was to be confined in a monastery and to make good from his own property what he had taken from the church.

John II died in 535 and was buried in St. Peter's.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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