Severinus - Waiting Under Force

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Mosaic of SeverinusHonorius had died in October 658, Severinus, a Roman, had been elected almost at once, but the Emperor Heraclius refused to confirm the election. Instead of a confirmation he sent Severinus a formula of faith--a heretical formula of faith. Heraclius, like so many other Byzantine emperors, had taken to dogmatizing. And an emperor amidst dogmas is like the bull in the china shop or at the very least, Saul among the prophets. Since the Monophysite heresy had been a source of great weakness to the Eastern Empire, Heraclius grasped eagerly at any chance to put an end to it. Now the compromise formula of one will in Christ had appealed forcibly to practical men who longed for reunion. Even Pope Honorius had been less than careful in this matter. Consequently when Sergius, the patriarch of Constantinople drew up a compromise formula called the Ecthisis, Heraclius adopted it and ordered all to subscribe. Now this Ecthisis--the Greek word means exposition (of the faith)--was downright heretical. It held that there is only one will in Christ. This doctrine is called monothelite from the Greek words meaning one will. It is open to the same objections as the Monophysite heresy itself. If Christ had no human will, He would not be true man.

The imperial officials in Italy put pressure on the pope-elect to sign this heretical formula. The exarch Isaac sent a representative to Rome who plundered the Lateran Palace. But Pope Severinus meekly waited out the storm. He had sent ambassadors to Constantinople to win the imperial confirmation from Heraclius. The task was difficult, for the emperor was determined to force his pet formula on the Pope, and of course, Severinus could not possibly sign it. At last the Emperor gave way before the firmness and tact of the ambassadors. After over a year and a half, Severinus was consecrated, probably on May 28, 640.

Once consecrated, Severinus promptly and roundly condemned the heretical formula. He also built the apse of St. Peter's. It was all he had time to do, for, an old man when elected, he died on August 2, 640.

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

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