John I, Pope, St.
JOHN I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: Aug. 13, 523 to May 18, 526; b. Tuscany, d. Ravenna. The liquidation of the acacian schism was viewed by the Emperor justin i and his nephew Justinian as a necessary preliminary step to long–range plans aimed at consolidating and restoring the Roman Empire. A year after the restoration of communion with Rome, an imperial decree closing all Arian churches in Constantinople and dismissing all Arians from employment in the imperial services indicated that a harder line would be followed toward Ostrogothic Italy, since a considerable number of King theodoric's coreligionists living in Constantinople had to bear the brunt of the new measure. Theodoric retaliated by altering his policy of conciliation and toleration toward Catholics. Pope John I had been a supporter of Laurentius who had made peace with Symmachus. At the time of his election he was a senior deacon but elderly and infirm. He was summoned to Ravenna to head an embassy to Constantinople to secure a reversal of the imperial policy and to obtain permission for those who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism to revert to Arianism. The pope undertook to plead the first request, but refused the second. He was received in the capital on the Bosporus (Oct. or Nov. 525) with the utmost honors; a large delegation came out as far as the 15th milestone with candles and crosses to greet him, and the emperor prostrated himself before him "as if he were Peter in person." The pope solemnly celebrated Christmas and crowned the emperor once again in a festal coronation. He celebrated Easter (April 19, 526) with great solemnity in hagia sophia, in the presence of the patriarch, the clergy, and the imperial court. The pope occupied a throne of honor on the right–hand side of the basilica, above that of the patriarch, and read the prayers aloud in Latin. Pope John remained in Constantinople for five months, successfully negotiating the return of the Arian churches, but was unable to secure satisfaction on the other points demanded by the king, thus making his diplomatic mission a failure, despite all the honors paid to him.
Suspecting that the Roman aristocracy was plotting with Constantinople against him, King Theodoric put two prominent members, the Christian philosopher boethius and his father-in-law Symmachus, to death as a warning. When Pope John returned to Ravenna, he was imprisoned with his suite and died shortly thereafter, probably from maltreatment (starvation). He was regarded as a martyr and was interred in St. Peter's. The pope brought back with him from Constantinople rich gifts from the Emperor Justin I, which were distributed among the Roman basilicas. In 526 the canonist dionysius exiguus drew up his Paschal Cycle according to the Alexandrian usage, which Rome had adopted; he began the practice of numbering years from the Incarnation, abandoning the unwieldy custom of designating them according to the era of Diocletian; this new method gradually gained acceptance under the name, the Christian Era.
Feast: May 27.
Bibliography: Patrologia latina 63:529–534, spurious letters. Clavis Patrum latinorum, ed. e. dekkers (Streenbrugge 1961) 1685. Liber pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne (Paris 1886–1958) 1.275–278; 3:90–91. h. lÖwe, "Theoderich der Grosse und Papst Johann I, " Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres–Gesellschaft 72 (Munich 1953) 83–100. h. jedin, History of the Church (New York 1980) 2:625. j. n. d.kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York, 1986) 54–55. j. richards, Popes and Papacy the Early Middle Ages (London 1979) 109–113; 118–1120. r. aubert, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, 26 (Paris 1997). g. schwaiger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 3d. ed. (Freiburg 1996).