Popes in a Year
#56 - Pope John II
Pope from 533-535 A.D.
Died: 535 A.D.
Birth name: Mercurius
Give me the scoop on John II.
Though we don’t know when the second “Pope John” was born, we know he was a Roman by birth and he served as a priest in St. Clement’s Basilica prior to becoming pope. He was finally elected more than two months after the death of Boniface II, his predecessor, taking office just after New Year’s in 533. Byzantine Emperor Justinian continued to heap praise on the office of the pope, reportedly sending a profession of faith along with many gifts to John upon hearing of his election. John II died 28 months into his reign, on May 8, 535. He was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
What was he known for?
John II, if only indirectly, was known for having to deal with the rampant and growing problem of simony within the Church. Simony, the purchase or selling of church positions (not the selling of people named Simon), was apparently widespread at that time among both clergy and laity, with multiple riots breaking out and several bribes being attempted in the 2-month period before John’s election.
To deal with the problem, the Church turned to the Roman Senate and the Ostrogothic Court in Ravenna, Italy. Reaffirming a decree passed during the reign of (and supported by) Boniface II outlawing simony in papal elections, Athalaric ordered it to be engraved in marble and placed at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica the year John II was elected. From then on, if an election was disputed (i.e. if two or more men claimed to be pope) the Church would be forced to pay a fine of 3,000
(solid gold coins weighing 4.5 grams each), which would be given to the poor.
Pope John II is the first known pope to have picked a new, "regnal name" upon being elected to the Chair of Peter. Born with the name “Mercurius,” John thought the name unbecoming of the papal office, given that it honored the pagan god Mercury. So, he decided instead to honor Pope St. John I, who was martyred just seven years prior.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 534, Athalaric, the Ostrogothic king with whom John II had formed solid diplomatic relations, died of tuberculosis at age 18. Apparently, Athalaric was a bit of a party boy, and as such, his life of “drink and debauchery” was a major cause of his untimely death.
Coming tomorrow....Pope St. Agapetus I
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope John II -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Monday, March 20 at 2:00AM