A saint and the son of the great Pope St. Hormisdas, Silverius was to enjoy
no such glory as had his father. But if he could not follow him in his
brilliant achievements, he could imitate his virtue and devotion. Silverius
was the nominee of Gothic King Theodahad. That monarch, quivering with fear
at the imminent East Roman invasion, determined to have a loyal pope as the
zero hour drew near. He appointed the subdeacon Silverius. Since Silverius
was an excellent cleric, the clergy of Rome accepted Theodahad's choice.
But while the Goth put his candidate on Peter's throne, Empress Theodora
was taking measures to get her pet patriarch back in Constantinople and her
pet project of at least a compromise on the Monophysite heresy adopted.
She had the power and the tool to make life miserable for Pope Silverius.
Justinian's great general Belisarius, after a triumphant sweep through
Sicily, was marching on Rome. Silverius, seeing that resistance was
useless, advised surrender and on December 9, 536, the East Roman army
filed through the Porta Asinaria to enter Rome in triumph. But the Goths
were not finished yet. They deposed the useless Theodahad and made Witiges
their new king. He came storming down to Rome with a large army and
besieged the city. While this was going on, Belisarius received orders from
Theodora to put pressure on Pope Silverius to allow the deposed Anthimus
to return as patriarch of Constantinople and to surrender to the one-nature
heresy. Belisarius summoned Silverius to his headquarters in the Pincian
Palace to answer trumped-up charges of plotting to open a gate to the
Goths. He then abruptly demanded that the Pope should surrender to Theodora
by recalling Anthimus and giving in on the Monophysite question. Silverius
refused and on another visit to the Pincian Palace was seized, stripped of
his pallium, and clothed in a monk's habit. It was then announced that Pope
Silverius had been deposed. Belisarius summoned the clergy and ordered them
to elect another pope. Theodora had her creature ready for the occasion. He
was none other than that deacon, Vigilius, who had been chosen by Boniface
II as his successor. When Boniface changed his mind about appointing his
own successor, Vigilius did not despair. He intrigued with Empress
Theodora; indeed, he paid her a large sum of money and promised to carry
out her wishes as far as he could. Now he was elected to replace St.
St. Silverius was exiled to Patara in Lycia, but the bishop there wrote
feelingly to Emperor Justinian that it was a shame to see the "pope who
rules the Church through the world . . . a homeless exile." Justinian,
troubled, was about to restore the Pope when Theodora once more intervened.
Silverius was indeed sent back to Italy, but as a prisoner of his intruded
successor. Vigilius sent him to Palmaria, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea,
and very shortly afterward this noble confessor died in exile.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.