Conon, Pope

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Pontificate: Oct. 23, 686 to Sept. 21, 687. Conon descended from a family whose origins lay in the eastern part of the Roman Empire; his father was an officer who served in a corps of the imperial army based in the East. However, Conon was raised in Sicily and entered the service of the Roman church at an early age, eventually becoming a priest. On the death of Pope john v (685686) a division occurred in Rome over the election of a successor. Traditionally, papal elections had been the prerogative of the clergy and people of Rome, their decision being subject to confirmation by the exarch of ravenna, the emperor's representative in Italy. Generally, the clerical leaders in the city dominated the election process with the laity playing a somewhat indeterminate role. On this occasion the clergy put forward the Archpriest Peter as its candidate, but Peter's candidacy was challenged by a priest named Theodore, who was the choice of what a contemporary source called the "army." This term referred to a new element emerging in Italian affairs, a landed aristocracy whose wealth and power derived from service in the imperial military establishment. During the course of the seventh century the imperial army was increasingly recruited from the local population and led by local officers who used their position to accumulate land, political power, and social status. Such a localized militia had developed in the duchy of Rome and had become increasingly interested in papal affairs. This resulted as a consequence of the important place the papal establishment played in the direction of affairs in Rome and of the increasing irrelevance of imperial policies to the interests of those involved in the militia. For example, the Roman militia played an important role in preventing the exarch from carrying out Emperor constans ii's orders to arrest Pope martin i in 649. Now the leaders of this same segment of Roman society were seeking a decisive voice in the election of the pope. After considerable negotiations the clerical party suggested a compromise candidate who was acceptable to the leaders of the army. He was the priest Conon, already aged, and according to his biography, "of uncomplicated mind." His election was duly confirmed by the exarch in Ravenna.

Conon's brief pontificate was marked by good relationships with the imperial government. Emperor justini an ii sent Conon a letter informing him that he had discovered the authentic acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680681 (Council of constantinople III) and had required the Byzantine clergy and laity to sign the document so that the council's acts would never be falsified; perhaps the emperor was seeking to assure the papacy of his intentions to abide by the decisions of that council which sought to end the heresy of monotheli tism. Justinian II also made important concessions by lowering taxes on the papal patrimonies in southern Italy and releasing dependents from the papal patrimony in Sicily who were being held by imperial officials as security for payment of taxes.

However, on other fronts things did not proceed so well. Although praised by his biographer for his concern for charitable activities, Conon's illness limited his ability to execute his normal responsibilities, including such things as ordinations. He made an ill-advised appointment when he designated a Sicilian deacon as rector of the papal patrimony of Sicily. This appointment angered the Roman clergy serving in the papal administration, a member of which traditionally filled that office. That resentment was an indication of the importance of the income of the Sicilian patrimony in papal affairs and of the claims of members of the papal administration to rights pertaining to their offices. Conon's choice of a Sicilian rector also angered the Sicilian tillers of the patrimonial lands who were victimized by the rector's greed and deception, an indication of the far-reaching impact of papal administration on Italian affairs. While Conon was still living, a key member of the papal administration, the Archdeacon Pascal, sought to assure his own election to the papal office by bribing the exarch of Ravenna. Pascal's effort resulted in another disputed election which finally settled on Pope sergius i as Conon's successor.

Bibliography: Sources. Le Liber Pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne (Paris 19551957) 1:368370, Eng. tr. in The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). Translated Texts for Historians: The Ancient Biographies of the First Ninety Roman Pontiffs to a.d. 715, tr. with intro. r. davis, 5 (Liverpool 1989) 8182. Regesta Pontificum Romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum MCXCVIII, ed. p. jaffÉ (Leipzig 18851888) 1:243. Literature. e. caspar, Geschichte des Papsttums von den Anfängen bis zur Höhe der Weltherrschaft v.2; Das Papsttum unter byzantinisches Herrschaft (Tübingen 1933) 620623. o. bertolini, Roma di fronte a Bisanzio e ai Langobardi, Storia di Roma 9 (Bologna 1941) 396401. l. brÉhier and r. aigrain, Grégoire le Grand, les États barbares et la conquête arabe (590757). Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours, ed. a. fliche and v. martin 5 (Paris 1947) 192193, 406407. j. richards, The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages, 476752 (London, Boston, and Henley 1979) 201215. t. f. x. noble, The Republic of St. Peter. The Birth of the Papal State, 680825 (Philadelphia 1989) 1516, 185, 190192.

[r. e. sullivan]