John VI - A Continued Disruption

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Since there is no mention of discord at the election of John VI, it may be presumed that it went off peacefully. He was consecrated on October 30, 701. That John was a Greek is about all that is known of his early life.

Coming events cast their shadow before, and two incidents in John's pontificate form a large shadow of the approaching temporal power of the papacy. Shortly after John's accession, a new exarch of Ravenna, the Patrician Theophylact, entered Rome. The reason for the exarch's visit to Rome remains somewhat obscure, but whatever it was, his arrival excited the Italians. Marching on Rome, the Italian home guards threatened the exarch, but Pope John, like Pope Sergius, protected the Emperor's representative. He sent priests to the angry soldiers and succeeded in quieting them. They spared the exarch, but did punish some of his minions and informers.

Once more the Lombards took the warpath. This time it was Duke Gisulf of Benevento who sent his warriors swarming over Campania. The smoke of burning towns and the wailing of captives marked the progress of these wild men. The imperial authorities could not stop them, but the Pope did what he could. John VI sent a number of priests on an embassy to Gisulf to persuade him to release his captives and go home. The Pope's emissaries succeeded, but at the cost of a large ransom. In these two incidents--the Pope saving the exarch from the Italians and the Pope saving the Italians from the Lombards--may be seen an indication of the future temporal power of the papacy. Not as a glittering honor but as a burdensome duty did temporal power come to the popes.

Over twenty years before, St. Wilfrid of York had come to Rome to seek and find justice at the hands of Pope St. Agatho. Now once more enmeshed in a network of troubles and annoyances, Northumbria's great bishop came to John VI. John held a synod, which after listening to Wilfrid and his accusers, cleared Wilfrid. The Pope gave Wilfrid letters to King Aldfrid of Northumbria and King Ethelred of Mercia. After a little more trouble, Wilfrid was able to close his stormy life in peace.

John VI died in January 705, and was buried in St. Peter's on January 11.

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

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