St. Sergius - A Wiley Politician

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Sergius was a compromise choice for the papacy, an excellent one. The archdeacon Paschal had bribed John, the exarch of Ravenna. The exarch obligingly ordered his minions at Rome to put Paschal in as pope, but a large party supported the archpriest Theodore. Once more, just when things looked bad, the common sense of the majority led to a compromise. Sergius was elected. Theodore at once submitted. Paschal was forced to do so, but he sent to the exarch at Ravenna, promising him a hundred pounds of gold if he would come to Rome and make him pope. The greedy exarch came swiftly, but he was realistic enough to see the folly of overriding the majority. He coolly dropped Paschal and agreed to the choice of Sergius, but he insisted on the payment of the huge sum Paschal had promised. In vain did Sergius and the Romans protest against this outrageous demand. Not until the money was paid did the rapacious exarch allow the consecration of Sergius to take place. Sergius was a Syrian from Antioch. Probably his family had fled from the Moslem invasion, for he was educated at Palermo. He went to Rome, joined the school for sacred music, was ordained priest, and was placed in charge of the Church of St. Susanna. Noted for his devotion to the martyrs, he often said Mass in the catacombs.

Sergius received much consolation from the West. In 688 Caedwalla, the mighty king of the West Saxons, came a pilgrim to Rome seeking baptism from the Pope. St. Willibrord, an Anglo-Saxon monk, came to seek the Pope's blessing on a mission to the Frisians. Sergius consecrated him bishop and sent him off to fruitful labor among the barbarians. Then too, the old Three Chapters schism finally ended with the submission of the bishop and clergy of Aquileia-Grado.

From the East came trouble. At Constantinople, Emperor Justinian II decided that since the last two general councils, the fifth and sixth, had issued no disciplinary decrees, he would hold one to supply the deficiency. Justinian's council is, therefore, called the Quinisext (fifth-sixth). It is also called the Trullan Council because it was held in the same domed hall, the Trullus, in which the Sixth Ecumenical Council had been held. The Westerners called it the erratic synod, and with reason. For this gathering of Eastern bishops presumed to issue 102 canons, some of which were quite objectionable, notably the one which stated that Constantinople had the same rights in the Church as Rome. When Pope Sergius refused to confirm these decrees, Justinian acted to force him. He sent Zacharias, captain of the bodyguard, to bring back the decrees signed or the Pope a prisoner. It was to be Constans II and St. Martin over again. But times had changed. The imperial forces in Italy, now more Italian home guards than regulars from the East, refused to cooperate. Indeed, the army from Ravenna marched on Rome to attack not Sergius but Zacharias. Zacharias pleaded with Sergius to save him and when the army of Ravenna approached, the bold captain went to cover under the Pope's bed! Sergius calmed the soldiers, who spared the captain's life but drove him from the city. Since Justinian himself was driven into exile by a rebellion at home, there was nothing he could do about it.

It was this pious and firm Pope who ordered the beautiful prayer Agnus Dei to be added to the Mass.

St. Sergius died, and was buried in St. Peter's on September 8, 701. His feast is kept on September 9.

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

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