Popes in a Year
#33 - Pope St. Sylvester I
Pope from 314-335 A.D.
Died: 335 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Sylvester I.
Despite being the second pope to reign under Constantine and preside over a now-legal Church, surprisingly little is factually known about St. Sylvester's time as pope. There’s no shortage of legends, though. Around the sixth century, people started cooking up all sorts of tall (and untrue) tales about Sylvester: that he healed Constantine of leprosy and was the reason for his conversion, that he converted St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, from Judaism, that he slayed a great dragon, and that he FINALLY caught that pesky yellow bird.
known is that St. Sylvester graciously accepted seven great basilicas built for the Church by Constantine: the Lateran Basilica, Holy Cross in Jerusalem, St. Peter’s (the original), St. Paul’s, St. Lawrence, St. Agnes, and Sts. Peter & Marcellinus. He died in the year 335 and was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla. His feast day is December 31.
What was he known for?
Though St. Sylvester wasn’t actually present, the crowning achievement of the Church while he was pope was undoubtedly the Church’s first general council, 325’s First Council of Nicea (modern-day Turkey). Convened by Constantine and attended by two of Sylvester’s delegates (Vincent and Vitus), the main reason for the council was to deal with the Arian heresy, a belief that Christ was a mere man, the first creature, and the origin of all creatures who came after him. Incidentally, this was also the place where
St. Nicholas punched the very heretic himself for preaching the heresy
In addition to condemning Arianism, it was this council that produced the Nicene Creed, which we still recite after the homily on Sundays and special feast days. Though it was his delegates who signed off on the council’s conclusions, St. Sylvester’s acceptance of their decision indicates, by extension, his stamp of approval as well.
Sylvester was pope for a very. long. time. In fact, his reign is the eighth-longest of any pope in history, having been in office for 21 years, 11 months and one day. Apparently, it’s much easier to stay alive when the government isn’t trying to kill you.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
On September 14, 326, St. Helena discovered the True Cross (i.e. the cross Christ died on), the Holy Nails, and the Holy Sepulchre (Jesus’ tomb) in Jerusalem. Helena brought the nails and a portion of the True Cross back to Constantinople, but left the rest in the care of Jerusalem’s bishop.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Mark
SOURCES (and further reading)
- John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
- Pope St. Sylvester I -
- Pope Sylvester I -
- List of popes by length of reign -
- True Cross -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 2:00AM