Pelagius II - The Orthodox Controversy

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Pelagius IIPelagius II was a Roman, but his father had a German name, Winigild. When Pelagius was elected pope, the Lombards were blockading Rome, making it impossible to send for the imperial confirmation of the election. After an interval of four months Pelagius was consecrated without the imperial confirmation. Once pope, Pelagius succeeded in getting the Lombards to raise the siege. He then sent an embassy to Constantinople to inform the Emperor of his election and to get help. As usual, the plea brought back little but words from the palace on the Golden Horn. Later the Emperor Maurice sent a new official with the title of exarch to handle both military and civil government for the Emperor.

Disappointed with Constantinople, Pope Pelagius turned to the Franks. He wrote to Aunacharius, bishop of Auxerre, pleading with him to use his influence with the Frankish kings to come down and help poor Italy. The emperor added his pleas to those of the Pope, and the Franks did move an army down into the peninsula. But Lombard gold soon turned back the brave Franks and nothing was accomplished.

While his ambassador, the great Gregory, continued to bombard the Emperor with appeals. Pelagius himself asked Decius the exarch to protect Rome. Decius pathetically replied that it was all he could do to protect Ravenna. But at last the exarch did manage to get a truce with the wild men, and for a short spell Italy was at peace.

Pelagius took advantage of this breathing spell to try to bring the Three Chapters schism to an end. Back in the time of Pope Vigilius Northern Italy had revolted from the Holy See over the Three Chapters. Milan and Genoa had returned to Catholic unity but Northeastern Italy, led by the archbishop of Grado, remained stubborn. Actually this schism had begun at Aquileia, but the Lombards had sent Bishop and people scurrying to the island of Grado for safety. To these people Pelagius wrote letter after letter pleading with them to return to Catholic unity. It was no use. Poorly educated, they could ill understand the Pope's arguments and they remained stubborn in their schism.

The exarch Smaragdus now put pressure on them. At the Pope's request he ordered them at least to attend a council at Ravenna. When nothing came of this, the exarch bluntly ordered Archbishop Severus to enter into communion with the orthodox archbishop of Ravenna. Though Severus obeyed, once out of the exarch's clutches he quickly went back into schism. The schism dragged on, despite the efforts of Pope Pelagius II.

Pelagius worked zealously to foster celibacy among the Western clergy. He adorned St. Peter's and rebuilt St. Lawrence's. A charitable soul, he turned his own house into a hospital. His charity was needed, for at this time Rome was devastated by a great flood.

Pelagius II died, the victim of a plague, February 7, 590.

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

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