St. Agapetus I - Son Of A Priest

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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. Agapetus was 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 Riez, who had been condemned for immorality by a synod headed by St. Caesarius of 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 Theodoric, 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 Agapetus 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 successor, 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.

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