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Papal Library

Biography - Pope Sergius I - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Sergius I687-701 Saint Sergius I, son of Tiberius, native of Antioch, and educated at Palermo, or rather, as some say Syrian by descent, born at Palermo, and educated at Rome, where he became a canon regular of Saint John Lateran, was first named cardinal-priest of Saint Susanna by Leo II, and was elected pontiff on the 15th of December, 687. Justinian II, successor of Constantine IV, and the son whose hair the latter had sent as a token of filial love to Benedict II, had subsequently continued to manifest feelings of hatred and malignity. Harsh and presumptuous, he confounded the Roman monarchy with the whole world; claimed that all peoples ought to obey his laws, and believed that he had a right to sell the very chair of Saint Peter. In a council held at Constantinople, and at which only Greek prelates were present, he caused it to be decided that priests who had married previous to their ordination should be permitted to retain their wives. This council was called quinisextile, because it was, as it were, supplementary to the fifth and sixth general councils. The discipline of the West did not allow of the possibility of this rule. A hundred and five canons had been passed in that assembly, and when they were submitted to Sergius for his approbation he refused it. Irritated by this refusal to subscribe the name of the Holy See to the decision of the Greek council, Justinian publicly ordered Zachary, his esquire, to seize the pope and convey him to Constantinople. Zachary, on proceeding to Rome, found the whole people in arms for the defence of their pastor. The soldiery of the exarchate hastened from Ravenna to Rome with the same hostile design against the pope, and the city resounded with shouts and threatenings. Zachary, pursued from street to street, took shelter in the very chamber of the pope, whom he entreated to save him. The Lombard ambassadors, who resided at Rome at the same time, sent off couriers begging that Lombard troops might be sent to the defence of Sergius. Suddenly a rumor arose that by treachery, combined with violence, the pope had been carried off and embarked upon the Tiber. The troops from Ravenna immediately invaded the palace, and tumultuously demanded to see the pope, threatening to burst in the doors if they were not instantly opened. Zachary, concealed beneath the very bed of the pope, feared that he would be discovered, and entreated the pope not to desert him. Sergius promised him protection, ordered the doors to be thrown open, and presented himself to the soldiers, who kissed his hands and garments. The times had changed since an emperor had so cruelly carried off Pope Martin. The unworthy treatment of that martyr was still remembered, and it was known that Justinian was prepared to be no less barbarous than his ancestor, Constans. The pope purified the people and blessed them, and solicited the life of Zachary, which the Romans granted, and Zachary was ignominiously driven from Rome. This was the first time that the Italians sided with the pontiff in opposition to the imperial power. This pope, by his prudence, reconciled to the Church of Rome that of Aquileia, which from the time of Vigilius had been separated on account of not condemning the three chapters. Saint Sergius ordered that on the days of the Annunciation, Nativity, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and on Saint Simeon's day, that is, on the day of Purification, the people should go in procession from Saint Adrian to Saint Mary Major. Sergius had made himself beloved by Rome and by all Italy. After having saved him from so many dangers, they regarded him as their own conquest. This pope died on the 7th of September, 701. He had governed the Church thirteen years, eight months, and twenty-four days. In two ordinations he created ninety-six bishops, eighteen priests, and four deacons. He was interred at the Vatican. It was at that period that Africa fell into the power of the Mussulmans. As they had taken Carthage, the emperor sent the patrician John, a great captain, who drove them out; but in the following year they again returned in great force, recaptured Carthage and some other towns, and thus extinguished the power of the Romans in Africa, where they had ruled for eight hundred and fifty years, from the year 608 of Rome, when Carthage was taken by Scipio. On the death of the pontiff Conon, the sacred comitia were assembled. Theodore, archpriest, and Paschal, archdeacon, presented themselves as candidates to succeed him. Theodore had already been the competitor of Conon. Neither of the rivals would yield, and then it was that Sergius was elected. Subsequently, Paschal, convicted of magic, was degraded and confined in a monastery, where he died impenitent. Theodore had yielded in good faith to the authority of Sergius, and Paschal had never ceased to show anger and discontent. This biographical data is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae.

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