Except that he was a native of Segni in the Campagna and that his father's
name was Anastasius, nothing is known of this saintly pope's early life.
Enthroned on July 30, 657, Vitalian at once held out olive branches to the
estranged East. He sent letters to the Emperor Constans II and to Peter,
patriarch of Constantinople. The Emperor replied graciously and sent the
Pope a copy of the Gospels with a gold cover adorned with jewels. At this
time Constans seems to have abandoned his policy of persecution. The
patriarch also replied in a friendly manner. In answer to Vitalian's
exhortation to return to Catholic unity and orthodoxy, Peter replied that
he believed like the Pope. Vitalian's name was inserted in the
Constantinople diptychs. Vitalian has been accused of being too
conciliatory towards heresy, but the charge is, to say the least, not
proven. Actually his name was removed from the Constantinople diptychs
later by a more actively Monothelite patriarch.
In 662 Emperor Constans decided to go west and establish himself in Italy.
Not too popular at Constantinople, he sought new prestige in the West. When
he approached Rome he was met at the sixth milestone by Pope Vitalian and
the clergy. His stay in the Holy City was harmonious, and peacefully he
visited Rome's famous shrines. His parting gesture, however, gave the city
little cause to remember his visit with pleasure. Constans seized all the
bronze he could lay hands on, taking even the bronze tiles from the famous
Pantheon, now St. Mary of the Martyrs. Unable to cope with the Lombards,
Constans withdrew to Sicily. Here in the midst of a reign of terror, the
despot was knifed in his bath. With the accession of his son Constantine
IV, better times dawned.
Pope Vitalian had trouble with Ravenna and Crete. The archbishop of Ravenna
wished to get more independence from Rome, and had successfully appealed to
Emperor Constans II. This trouble lasted until the pontificate of Leo II.
From Crete came an appeal from John, bishop of Lappa. Bishop John had been
deposed by a synod under the direction of the metropolitan of Crete, John.
The Pope held a synod at Rome, decided that John had been unjustly
condemned, and ordered the metropolitan to reinstate him in his see.
Vitalian had the satisfaction of learning that in the great synod of
Whitby, England definitely adopted the Roman date of Easter. To England he
sent one of Canterbury's greatest archbishops, the learned and pious monk,
Theodore of Tarsus.
Vitalian was considered a firm ruler of the Church, one who preserved
discipline. He died January 27, 672. Venerated as a saint, his feast is
kept on that date.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.