John VII - Restorer And Renovator

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Contemporary mosaic of John VIIJohn VII was a Greek of illustrious family. His father, Plato, was a curator of the imperial palace. He had done much to restore the decaying palace of the Caesars on the Palatine Hill. John became rector of the estates of the patrimony of Peter on the Appian Way. He was learned, eloquent and very devoted to Mary, the Mother of God. He seems, however, to have been somewhat timid, and timidity was not the quality most desirable in a pope who had to face the restored Justinian II.

Justinian had been overthrown and, with his nose sliced off, exiled to Cherson. Now in 705, with the help of the Bulgarians he stole into Constantinople through an aqueduct and reestablished himself on the throne. Blood flowed in torrents. The slit-nosed one, as he is termed, was not gentle. He put out the eyes of Patriarch Callinicus and sent him to Rome. No doubt the city was filled with horror stories of this Grand Guignol emperor.

Once his enemies were disposed of, the tenacious Justinian turned his attention to reviving his pet project--getting the Pope to confirm the decrees of the Quinisext or Trullan Council. It will be remembered that only the violent reaction of the Italian soldiers had saved Pope Sergius from being carried off to Constantinople because he had refused to confirm these decrees, some of which were highly objectionable. Now Justinian sent Pope John VII copies of the decrees and a letter in which he urged the Pope to hold a synod and decide which decrees he could confirm and which he would reject. This sounds quite reasonable, but Pope John was evidently too much afraid of Justinian to take the slit-nosed one at his word. He sent the decrees back unsigned and without comment. And shortly afterwards in 707, he died.

For a wonder, John had more pleasant relations with the Lombards. Aripert II, king of the Lombards, restored to the Pope the estates of the patrimony in the Cottian Alps area which had been confiscated years ago in the time of King Rothari. To confirm this restitution, Aripert sent the Pope a deed written in golden letters.

It is interesting to note that the English clergy of that day were not sticklers for propriety in dress. Pope John VII had to rebuke them for their love of the gay clothes of laymen. John seems to have inherited from his father, the curator of the palace an interest in restoring buildings. He restored the Lateran Basilica and had frescoes painted in St. Mary Antiqua.

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

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