St. Silverius - A Pontiff's Son

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Romanticised depiction of St. SilveriusA 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. Silverius.

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.

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