Popes in a Year
#139 - Pope Sylvester II
Pope from April 2, 999 - May 12, 1003
Died: May 12, 1003
Birth name: Gerbert of Aurillac
Give me the scoop on Sylvester II.
Gerbert of Aurillac was born between 940 and 950 A.D. in the French region of Auvergne. Starting from a young age, he became well-known in both church and imperial circles, eventually becoming a right-hand man to popes and emperors as a teacher, abbot, and, ultimately, a bishop. He became Archbishop of Rheims in 991, but some drama over the deposition of his predecessor resulted in him getting the boot -- through no real fault of his own -- four years later. Pope Gregory V appointed him Archbishop of Ravenna, putting him in position to succeed the pope after his death in 999.
The pope who welcomed the Church’s second millennium took the name Sylvester. Since Gerbert had been an advisor to Emperor Otto III, he styled himself after Pope St. Sylvester I, Constantine’s advisor. He was yet another worthy pope (thank heavens), who stressed over things like making sure every appointed bishop lived a holy life and that clergy were held responsible for the sins of simony and keeping concubines. Two key acts of Sylvester's included creating archbishoprics in Poland (Gnesen) and Hungary (Gran). A Roman uprising forced both Sylvester and Otto III to flee to Ravenna for a time, but the pope was able to return to Rome before his death. Sylvester II served just four years, dying on May 12, 1003.
What was he known for?
Pope Sylvester II was most renowned for his education and intellect, both before and after becoming pope. He entered a French Benedictine monastery as a boy, then moved on to Spain, where he intensely studied both mathematics and the natural sciences. After that, he traveled to Rome with the pope’s theological advisor, Bishop Hatto of Vich, gaining the attention of Emperor Otto I and being sent to Rheims, where he would serve as a teacher at the cathedral school there. Then he took a breath.
Studies seemed to always hold a special place with Pope Sylvester, so much so that many legends grew among common people that his learning had to be from the devil. Sylvester II is credited with introducing the abacus, decimal system, and Arabic numerals (the ones we still use today) into the Latin world, as well as bringing a richer understanding of Aristotle’s philosophy to the West. While in Rheims, Sylvester apparently built a hydraulic-powered organ with brass pipes and made significant advances for the Christian world in the field of astronomy. Gerbert was not, however, known for his line of baby food.
Pope Sylvester II was the first French pope in history. To date there have been 17 French popes, including seven in a row during what’s now known as the “Avignon Papacy” (when the pope lived in Avignon, France instead of Rome). The last pontiff to hail from France was Gregory XI, in 1370.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
Around the year 1000, the oldest-known wine business that’s still in operation was founded, at France’s Chateau de Goulaine. The thousand-year-old winery is believed to be the third-oldest commercial operation in existence and the oldest European-owned family business in history
Coming tomorrow...Pope John XVII
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Guruge, A. (2010). The Next Pope. New Hampshire: WOWNH
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 2:00AM