Severinus, Pope

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Pontificate: May 28 to Aug. 2, 640; b. unknown; d. August 640. Very little is known about him. He was Roman and the son of a man named Avienus, but there is no other information relating to his early life. Also the short duration of his reign makes his pontificate virtually impossible to assess. It is clear, however, that he was of an advanced age when he was elected to the chair of Peter and that his consecration as pope was hampered by his refusal to sign a Monothelite declaration of faith called the Ekthesis.

After the required three days had elapsed following the death of Honorius I, Severinus was elected pope in mid-October 638. Yet he had to wait nearly 20 months for his consecration because Emperor Heraclius demanded that the pope-elect must adhere to the Ekthesis. Since Severinus was perhaps better informed than his predecessor was about the eastern objections to monothelitism, he refused to sign the document. Since Isaac, the exarch of Ravenna, refused to allow his consecration, papal envoys were sent to Constantinople, where they began protracted negotiations for Severinus's confirmation.

While the papal envoys were being detained by the emperor, Severinus weathered a series of attacks that may have been intended to force his adherence to the Ekthesis. The violence began when Isaac's military registrar, Maurice, incited a mob of angry soldiers to attack the Lateran Palace. Apparently, the soldiers had not been paid for some time and Maurice took advantage of the situation by convincing them that their arrears of pay were held in the papal treasures. The rumor had its effect, and although Severinus himself was not hurt, the disaffected troops besieged the palace for three days. The situation did not improve with the arrival of Isaac. Ostensibly, his presence was meant to alleviate the situation, but upon gaining access to the Lateran Palace, he plundered the papal treasures and divided it among his soldiers, his officials, and Emperor Heraclius.

The papal envoys in Constantinople obtained confirmation for Severinus in June, but it came too late as the aged pope would only live for two more months. It is not at all clear as to whether Severinus found the time to officially condemn the Ekthesis and reports that he did so should be viewed cautiously. Apparently, Severinus opposed the pro-monastic policies of Gregory I, and he held the secular clergy in high regard. In the Liber pontificalis Severinus is described as, "holy, kind to all men, a lover of the poor, generous, and the mildest of men." Severinus was buried in St. Peter's, the apse of which he is credited with having rebuilt.

Bibliography: Patrologia latina ed. p. migne (Paris 18441864) 129:583586. Liber Pontificalis ed. l. duchesne (Paris 1957). j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (Oxford 1986). f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste 2 (Munich 1955) 5657.

[j. a. sheppard]