Popes in a Year
#59 - Pope Vigilius
Pope from December 2, 537 to June 7, 555 A.D.
Died: June 7, 555 A.D.
Give me the scoop on Vigilius.
Pope Vigilius is a rare case, having been one of the only popes to have been an antipope prior to being consecrated legitimately as a successor of Peter. Though elected and enthroned on March 29, 537, he wasn’t recognized by the Roman clergy as true pope until after Silverius’ death on December 2 of that year. Controversy followed Vigilius wherever he went, as he sought to both battle heresy and appease the people who had put him in office. Not easy to do, and quite frankly he stunk at it.
The war between the Ostrogoths and Byzantines raged in Rome and the rest of Italy for virtually his entire papacy. One of Vigilius' only generous acts is related to this, as he attempted to send alms to the people there while he was tied up in the East. Vigilius served as pope for nearly 18 years, dying at Syracuse on his journey back to Rome on June 7, 555.
What was he known for?
The near-unanimous opinion of Vigilius is that he was little more than a greedy, treacherous sycophant with scheming ambitions of obtaining the papal office at all costs. And we’re being modest. One account of Vigilius calls a situation he was involved in to have been, “perhaps the greatest humiliation in the history of the papacy” (1) while another account describes him as a coward and a wimp (2).
First, Vigilius was complicit in the death of his predecessor, St. Silverius. He basically purchased the papacy by agreeing to endorse the Monophysite heresy at the request of the empress, Theodora. Then, Vigilius found himself caught between a rock (pun totally intended) and a hard place when demands for his allegiance came from both orthodox and heretical camps. Since being a people-pleaser never helped anybody, he suffered much as a result, eventually being imprisoned for eight years in Constantinople, and dying shortly after his release in 555.
Vigilius is commonly used as an example for why papal infallibility is bunk; opponents say he officially proclaimed heresy, but this isn’t actually the case. Though he did publicly support the Monophysite heresy, thus fulfilling his promise to Theodora, he did so
while he was still an antipope
. However, once he became true pope following Silverius’ death, it seems he was graced by the charism of infallibility, because he withdrew his support for heresy and preached the orthodox view of Christ’s two natures -- on multiple occasions -- from then on.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Two famous saints were born in the year 540, the third of Vigilius’ papacy. Both St. Gregory the Great, the 64th pope and Doctor of the Church, and St. Columbanus, the great Irish missionary and patron of motorcyclists, were born around that time.
Coming tomorrow....Pope Pelagius I
SOURCES (and further reading)
1. John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
2. Madrid, P. (1998). Pope Fiction. Chapter 15. Dallas: Basilica Press.
3. Pope Vigilius -
4. Pope Vigilius -
5. 540 -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 2:00AM