Pelagius II, Pope

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Pontificate: Nov. 26, 579, to Feb. 7, 590. Because the Lombards were besieging Rome and the situation at the time was critical, a new pope was elected and consecrated as the successor of benedict i without waiting for imperial confirmation. The deacon (later Pope) Gregory was dispatched to Constantinople to explain the omission and beg for military help. Pelagius II, born a Goth (son of Unigild), was the second pope of Germanic extraction. The emperor could spare few troops, hard pressed as he was by the Persians, but he advised the pope to bribe the Lombard dukes and to obtain the help of the Frankish King. The pope's appeal to the Frankish bishop of Auxerre (580) was without success, but it is an anticipation, by some 200 years, of a move that was ultimately to alter the course of history profoundly. The Byzantine exarch of Ravenna finally managed in 585 to secure from the Lombards a truce that lasted until 589.

The interval was used by the pope to end the Aquileian schism. The deacon Gregory was brought back from Constantinople to assist in the negotiations. Unfortunately the patriarch of Aquileia-Grado and the bishops of Venetia and Istria were unyielding in their refusal to restore communion with Rome. The pope asked Smaragdus, Byzantine exarch in Italy, to use force against the recalcitrant bishops, but the exarch was powerless to bring about the desired reconciliation, in spite of the pressure he brought to bear.

The pontificate of Pelagius II saw the beginnings of the controversy between Rome and Constantinople over the title of "ecumenical patriarch," regularly used by the patriarchs of Constantinople since the fifth century. Pelagius II refused to accept the use of that title by Patriarch John IV the Faster and also the acts of a council held at Constantinople, which John had confirmed.

In spite of the perilous political situation, Pelagius II provided a number of important adornments to Rome. It was probably he who began to raise the presbyterium of St. Peter's so that the high altar would be directly over the shrine of St. Peter while a covered passageway would lead to a small chapel directly behind the shrine for daily Masses. The earliest Lateran monastery of San Pancrazio dates perhaps from this reign, though it is uncertain whether the Benedictine monks from Montecassino, fleeing from the destruction of the famous abbey by the Lombards in 577, were received there as a body. The pope's personal residence nearby, which he converted into a hospital, may have given rise to the present Ospedale di San Giovanni. Recent excavations seem to show that he was responsible for adding a second adjoining basilica to San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, where his portrait in mosaic appears on the triumphal arch. Pelagius II perished in a plague that followed an unusually severe flooding of the city by the Tiber in early 590. He was buried in the portico of St. Peter's.

Bibliography: Clavis Patrum latinorum, ed. e. dekkers 170507, 6 genuine letters. Patrologia latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 72:70360. Liber pontificalis, ed. l. duchesne (Paris 18861958) 1:309311; 3:9293. h. leclerq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 190753) 13.1:122224. g. b. ladner, Die Papstbildnisse (Vatican City 1941). p. vielliard, Recherches sur les origines de la Rome chrétienne (Mâcon 1941; repr. Rome 1959) 142. g. ferrari, Early Roman Monasteries (Rome 1957). j. toynbee and j. b. ward perkins, The Shrine of St. Peter (New York 1956). r. u. montini, Le tombe dei papi (Rome 1957) 112. g. schwaiger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 8:250. r. eno, Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington, DE 1990) 139142. e. ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997), 2:890891. h. jedin, History of the Church (New York 1980) 2:629. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 65. j. richards, Popes and Papacy the Early Middle Ages (London 1979) 166168.

[j. chapin]