Silverius, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: June 8, 536 to 537, d. Palmaria, probably Dec. 2, 537. When Rome learned of the death of Pope agapetus I, King Theodatus imposed the son of Pope Hormisdas, the subdeacon Silverius, on the Roman clergy as a means of thwarting Byzantine intrigue by means of a pro-Gothic pope. The clergy who opposed him acquiesced reluctantly with the king's decision. The council for which Pope Agapetus had called before his death was duly held in Constantinople under the presidency of Patriarch Mennas and with the pope's suite in attendance. anthimus was condemned, as were the Monophysites severus of antioch and Peter of Apamea. The disappointment of the Empress theodora (1), who saw her desire for a restoration of the Monophysites undone, apparently led her to bargain with the Roman deacon Vigilius, papal apocrisiary in Constantinople since 533, for the election of a pope who would depose Mennas and restore Anthimus. It is not known what kind of agreement was reached, but some plan seems to have been agreed upon between the two, for Vigilius was ambitious. Theodora at first tried to win over Pope Silverius; but when he refused to restore Anthimus, she sent Vigilius to Italy with orders for the general belisarius to find an excuse for deposing the pope and installing Vigilius in his stead. Vigilius arrived in Rome shortly after Belisarius entered the city; but soon Belisarius found himself besieged in turn by the Ostrogothic King Vitiges, who invested Rome for a whole year, cutting off the aqueducts and doing considerable damage to the catacombs and cemeterial basilicas outside the walls.

Belisarius was at first reluctant to carry out the orders of the empress, for he had been kindly received by Silverius, who had convinced the civic authorities to admit the Byzantine army into Rome to avoid blood shed. But the general's wife, Antonina, a confidante of Theodora, saw to it that the imperial will prevailed. Letters were forged to implicate Silverius in an attempt to deliver the city to the Goths, and the unfortunate pope was summoned to appear before Belisarius in the latter's palace on the Pincian Hill.

What appears to be an authentic version of the facts states that, accompanied only by the deacon Vigilius, Silverius penetrated to an inner chamber, where he found Antonina reclining on a couch with Belisarius at her feet. She upbraided him for attempting to betray them to the Goths; and while she was speaking, a subdeacon ripped off the pope's pallium and took him into another room, where his clothes were removed and replaced by a monk's garb. It was then announced that the pope had been deposed and a new election would be necessary (March 537). Vigilius's complicity in this affair cannot be excused. Silverius was secretly taken out of the city and banished to Patara, in Lycia. Evidently the emperor, Justinian I, was not accurately informed by his wife about what had taken place. When he found out from the bishop of Patara, he ordered the pope returned to Rome and tried. If he had been guilty of writing the traitorous letters, he was to be free to live as a bishop in exile in any city of the empire; but if the letters were forgeries, he was to be restored to his see.

Silverius was accordingly brought back to Italy; but when he arrived at Rome, Vigilius, now pope, had him dispatched to the island of Palmaria (Ponza), in the Tyrrhenian Sea. His resignation was extorted on Nov. 11, 537; and he died shortly thereafter, probably of starvation. The Byzantine historian Procopius reports that Antonina was also involved in this plot, reasoning that Silverius's death on the island would obviate any embarrassing trial. There is no trace of any veneration being paid to him in Rome before the fourteenth century. He is first listed among the saints in the eleventh century. His remains, apparently, were never removed from the island of Palmaria.

Feast: June 20.

Bibliography: Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 187890) 66:8588, spurious letters. l. duchesne, Liber pontificalis (Paris 188692) 1:290295; 3:9192. e. caspar, Geschichte de Papsttums von den Anfängen bis zur Höhe der Weltherrschaft (Tübingen 193033) 2:229233, 769. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 190753) 13.1:121820. g. schwaiger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 9:757. r. u. montini, Le tombe dei papi (Rome 1957). h. jedin, History of the Church (New York 1980) 2:452. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 5960. j. richards, Popes and Papacy the Early Middle Ages (London 1979) 128133. w. kohl, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon 10 (Herzburg 1995).

[j. chapin]