The pontificate of St. Agapetus I, though short, is filled with interest.
The son of a priest who had been killed in the stormy days of Pope
Symmachus, he was archdeacon of the Roman clergy when elected.
evidently one of the majority which had backed Dioscorus in the struggle
against the appointed pope, Boniface II. At any rate, one of the first
things he did was to seek the decree which Boniface had issued
anathematizing Disocorus and have it publicly burned.
From Gaul Agapetus received an appeal from Contumeliosus, bishop of
who had been condemned for immorality by a synod headed by St.
Arles. Agapetus ordered St. Caesarius to give the accused bishop a new
trial. He ratified the decrees of a council held at Cathage. Of interest to
lovers of education is the fact that Agapetus cooperated with Cassiodorus
in founding his famous monastery at Vivarium.
The main interest of this pontificate, however, lies in the mission to
Constantinople which concluded it. King Theodahad, a nephew of
asked the Pope to go to Constantinople to plead with Emperor Justinian to
call off the threatened invasion of Italy. The Pope agreed to go, all the
more readily because he had learned that the Monophysites once more
threatened Constantinople. He even pledged the gold and silver vessels of
St. Peter's to raise the funds necessary for the journey.
Justinian gave the Pope a warm welcome, but would not hear of peace.
Preparations were far too advanced, he told Agapetus, to call off the
invasion. The Pope was more successful in his effort to check Monophysite
designs on the Church of Constantinople. Justinian, cultured and serious,
was an orthodox ruler, but unfortunately he was under the thumb of his
wife, the famous Theodora. Theodora, an actress risen to be empress, had
the impudence to meddle in theology. Passionately the little comedian
backed up the Monophysites, and at this very time she pulled enough wool
over Justinian's eyes to get a creature of hers with Monophysite tendencies
made patriarch of Constantinople. This man, Anthimus, had been bishop of
Trebizond. Without canonical authority he left his see to become patriarch.
Once more the Monophysites threatened Constantinople. But Pope
came to the rescue. Informed of the Monophysite tendencies and irregular
position of the Patriarch, the Pope refused to have anything to do with
him. Justinian, moved by Theodora's outcries, became annoyed. He went so
far as to threaten the Pope, but St. Agapetus replied that he had come to
visit the most Christian Emperor only to find a Diocletian. He added that
he was not moved by the imperial threats. Justinian, a good man at heart,
thought better of it, and allowed justice to take its course. Pope Agapetus
then deposed Patriarch Anthimus, and personally consecrated his
Mennas. Once more the papacy saved Constantinople from the threat of
heresy. And the Greek Church is grateful. Agapetus is celebrated as a saint
not only in the Roman but in the Greek calendar.
The old Pope was ailing and before he could return to Rome, he died at
Constantinople on April 22, 536.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.