St. Zachary - A Familial Pontificate

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Byzantine icon of St. ZacharyZachary, a Greek from Calabria, was not only saintly and capable, but one of those happy people with a gift for making friends. This personal charm was manifested in the first problem he faced, the recovery of four cities from the Lombards. Though Liutprand, king of the Lombards, after much dealing and negotiating, had promised to restore the cities, he did not. Pope Zachary then went directly to the king with astounding results. Not only did Liutprand give back the four cities, but he restored the Sabine estate of the patrimony, and gave the Pope outright some other cities. Pope and king had dinner together to celebrate, and Liutprand declared that he had never had so glorious a dinner. The power of Zachary's charm was even more strikingly revealed when Liutprand began to invade Ravenna.

The exarch, left without adequate help by the Emperor, cried out for help to the Pope. Zachary sent an embassy which accomplished nothing. He then went north to see Liutprand personally. The Pope was received with grateful joy at Ravenna, but Liutprand, firmly set on taking over the exarchate, tried to stop him from coming to court. When Zachary refused to be stopped, Liutprand received him graciously. This time it took argument, but again Zachary won. Liutprand ended by not only stopping the invasion of Ravenna but actually restoring territory he had already taken. St. Boniface continued his great work under Zachary. Christianity was now so far advanced in Germany that a synod could be held. Not content with his mighty missionary activity, Boniface, helped by Pippin the Short, worked hard to reform the Frankish church. Zachary helped him by wise words of cheer and received with good-humored kindness complaints that Boniface made about certain matters in Rome.

In the East, Constantine V Copronymus had succeeded his father Leo, but Constantine was even more devoted to smashing images than Leo. Vainly did Zachary urge him to return to Catholic orthodoxy.

More successful with the Lombards, Zachary once again checked an invasion. King Ratchis was dissuaded from carrying fire and sword into Roman territory. Ratchis soon after abdicated and came to Rome to receive the monastic habit from Zachary. Another distinguished prince, Pippin's brother Carloman, had already done the same thing.

In 751 Zachary received a momentous case of conscience from Pippin, the Frankish mayor of the palace. For years these mayors of the palace had ruled the Franks while the Merovingian kings vegetated. Now Pippin determined to dethrone Childeric II, the last of these shadow monarchs, and mount the throne himself. Before so grave a step, he and the nobles sent to Pope Zachary for advice. Zachary's famous answer was that he who did the work of king should be king.

It is no surprise that this genial Pope should be very kind to the poor and the sick. He was generous to the clergy and did much to restore the Roman churches. St. Zachary died in March 752. His feast is kept on March 15.

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

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