Pontificate: March 29, 537 to June 7, 555; b. Rome, before 500; d. Syracuse, Sicily, June 7, 555. Vigilius was a Roman deacon, son of John, the consul and Pretorian prefect under Theodoric, and brother of the Senator Reparatus. Boniface II chose him as his successor in a Roman synod (c. 531); but this designation had to be rescinded under pressure of the Roman clergy and Senate in a second synod.
Deposition of Silverius. Nothing is known of the involvement of Vigilius in the simoniacal intrigue that surrounded the election of John II (late December 532), reported by King Athalaric (Cassiodorus, Vivarium 9.15) or of the part he may have played under Pope agapetus i (elected May 13, 535) in pacifying the Roman clerical factions. He was with Agapetus in Constantinople (March 536) and on that Pope's death (April 22, 536) he entered into an agreement with the Empress theodora (1) in which he implied he would modify Western intransigence toward the Monophysites. On his return to Rome with the body of Agapetus he found silverius had been elected Pope (June 536) with the aid of the Gothic King Theodatus. In the fall the Goths evacuated Rome, and the Byzantine General belisarius took control. Silverius was accused of treason and deposed, and Vigilius was enthroned as pope by the Byzantines (April or May 537). Silverius appealed to the Emperor justinian I and was returned to Rome for trial, but Vigilius, now pope, arranged for a second exile during which Silverius died (December of 537). While extremely complicated, contemporary evidence points to Vigilius' involvement in the deposition of his predecessor and his own election.
Vigilius as Pope. As pope Vigilius set about rebuilding the city of Rome, devastated in the recent wars; he restored the aqueducts, reconstructed churches and buildings, and reopened the cemeteries. He dealt efficiently with Western affairs. He referred the request concerning penance for bigamy received from the Frankish King Theudibert to caesarius of arles and on the latter's death (August 27, 543) supported Auxanius of Arles as papal representative (noster vicarius ) in Gaul. He charged Auxanius with presiding over territorial synods, as well as with regulating episcopal travel and the use of the pallium, and he cautioned against too rapid advancement of the laity in orders. To Aurelian, successor to Auxanius, he cautioned that the bishop's first duty was to provide for the peace of the Church, and had him caution King Childebert not to be disturbed by false rumors regarding the Pope's difficulties with Constantinople. Vigilius wrote to Profuturus of Braga (March 29, 538), settling problems that had arisen concerning Baptism, Penance, and the reconsecration of churches.
Justinian and the Three Chapters. In his dealings with Eastern Church affairs, Vigilius insisted on two principles: a faithful upholding of the decrees of Chalcedon, and Rome as the final arbiter of what constitutes the faith, but, as Justinian learned, he could be intimidated away from those principles.
In 541 Vigilius accepted a dogmatic edict condemning origen, which had been suggested to the Emperor Justinian by the papal apocrisiarius Pelagius, who was replaced in Constantinople (542) by the deacon Stephen. But when in 544 Justinian condemned the three chapters, the Pope reacted by censuring not the emperor but the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, who had signed the document, though under protest. During the preparations for the siege of Rome by Totila an imperial official arrived in the Eternal City and on November 25, 545, took Pope Vigilius in custody with orders to transport him to Constantinople. The party departed at once for Sicily, but the Pope was forced to stay in Catania until the summer of 546. There he received emissaries from the African bishops exiled in Sardinia, Bishop Dacius of Milan, the north Italian ambassador in Constantinople, and a messenger from Zoilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who advised against his acceding to the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Stopping at Patras and Thessalonica in his journey through Illyricum and Greece, Vigilius received further support in favor of the Three Chapters.
Vigilius was greeted with esteem by Justinian. Although he excommunicated the Patriarch mennas for accepting the edict against the Three Chapters, he himself signed two secret agreements with Justinian and Theodora stating that he would undertake to convince the Western bishops that the Three Chapters should be condemned. He held a consultation of seventy bishops on this problem; but when facundus of hermiane offered proof that Ibas of Edessa had not been condemned at Chalcedon, Vigilius clotured the synod and asked for written opinions.
Judicatum. On April 11, 548, he sent to the Patriarch Mennas his Judicatum, in which he now condemned the Three Chapters but protected the validity of the Chalcedonian decisions. Following the death of Theodora (June 28, 548) he received complaints from Dalmatia, Arles, and Tomi in Scythia, and news of his condemnation by a council in Africa until he should retract. He did not, and in 550 the African bishops excommunicated him. Trouble was also brewing in Rome itself. His nephew the deacon Rusticus and another deacon Sebastian rudely repudiated the papal decision on Christmas day 549, and early in 550 he excommunicated them.
Ceding to the Pope's importuning, Justinian returned the Judicatum for cancellation. An agreement was made between Pope and Emperor that no further discussion of the Three Chapters would be tolerated until a council could be convoked to settle the matter, and in August 550 Justinian extracted from Vigilius a third secret promise, that he would exert every effort to have the condemnation of the Three Chapters accepted in the West. With the aid of theodore ascidas of Caesarea, Theodora's protégé, who dwelt in Constantinople and had great influence on the Emperor, Justinian broke the truce and affixed a condemnatory edict to the church doors of Constantinople in July 551. But when Ascidas and the imperial officials approached the Pope for his signature, they were rebuffed. Surrounded by Dacius of Milan, the deacon Pelagius, and several Western bishops, the Pope prepared a condemnation of the Patriarch Mennas, Bishop Ascidas, and his associates (August 14, 551), which was published only six months later. Then he fled to the rather symbolic basilica of SS. Peter and Paul for asylum and together with his court was subjected to the indignity of an attempted arrest by the praetorian prefect.
Vigilius Assaulted. Vigilius returned to the palace of Placidia upon an imperial guarantee of safety but was subjected to such harassment that on December 23, 551, together with his household he fled across the Bosphorus and sought asylum in another symbolically important church, of St. Euphemia, site of the Council of Chalcedon. Approached once more by Belisarius the Pope reacted by writing an encyclical letter to all the Christian people, in which he described the indignities to which he and his entourage had been subjected (February 5, 552). Justinian replied by ordering his arrest, and imperial officers attempted unsuccessfully to accomplish this task. The Pope was physically maltreated but clung to the columns of the altar until the people rescued him. The next day he had the document condemning Mennas, Ascidas, and their supporters affixed to the church doors of Constantinople.
In the early summer Justinian changed his policy and sent Mennas, Ascidas, and their entourage to the Pope in the basilica of Euphemia to make an act of submission, in which they expressed respect for Chalcedon, agreed to cancel all that had been written about the Three Chapters since the agreement of 550 between Pope and Emperor for a moratorium on discussion of the Three Chapters, and begged the Pope's pardon for the misdeeds to which he had been subjected.
Council of Constantinople II. Vigilius returned to the palace of Placidia on June 26, 552, was honored by the Emperor, and shortly thereafter was rejoined by the deacon Pelagius. In March 552 he had lost the support of Bishop Dacius of Milan, and in late August Mennas died and was replaced as patriarch by Eutyches of Amasea. In December 552 Eustachius was consecrated as the new patriarch of Alexandria and given instructions to curb the Origenistic monks in Egypt. Orders had also been issued convoking a general council for the early summer of 553, and on January 6 the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem met with Vigilius, presented him with a profession of faith based on Chalcedonian doctrine, and invited him to the council. The Pope sent them a written document signifying his willingness to attend but suggested that it be held in the West or at least preceded by a synod in Italy or Sicily. Justinian denied these requests but asked for the names of Western bishops who should be invited to the council.
Constitutum I. To offset the lack of Western representation Vigilius proposed a commission of himself and three Western bishops to meet with the three Eastern patriarchs to prepare for the council. When the emperor also turned this down the pope decided he would not attend the council, but instead would submit his judgment in writing. He prepared a document called the Constitutum I, dated May 24, which he tried to submit to the Emperor. The Pope condemned the doctrines ascribed to Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyr prout sonant, as they read, in the florilegia of texts submitted to him, and appended five anathemas; but he refused to condemn these theologians as heretics since they died in peace with the Church. He exonerated Ibas of Edessa. The document was rejected by Justinian as "either useless, because it agreed with the Council; or condemnable because it disagreed."
Constitutum II. Meanwhile, in its seventh session, acting on orders from the Emperor, who supplied it with the secret documents signed by Vigilius in 547 and 550, the Council condemned Vigilius until he should repent; but they made it clear to the Emperor that they were breaking communion not with the See of Rome but the one occupying it—non sedem sed sedentem. Justinian delayed publication of the Council's edict against the Pope until July 14, 553, then began a series of harassments that by December brought the Pope into subjection. On December 8, Vigilius directed a letter to the Patriarch Eutychius in which he confessed that Satan had deceived him into separating from his fellow bishops. Appealing to the example of Augustine's Retractations, he condemned the Three Chapters and explicitly canceled his previous Constitutum I. Early in 554 he was persuaded to compose a second Constitutum in which he officially condemned the Three Chapters and all who dared to defend them: "whatever is brought forward or anywhere discovered in my name in defense of the Three Chapters is now nullified." This document was published on February 23, 554. Six months later (August 13, 554) Vigilius was given a pragmatic sanction meant to regulate civil affairs in Rome and Italy. He tarried in Constantinople until the spring of 555, probably for reasons of health, and died in Syracuse on the way home.
Judgment regarding the Pope's career and turnabout in the matter of the Three Chapters is most difficult. Apparently to accommodate the pontiff after his retraction, Justinian had omitted the section of the seventh session of the Acts of the Council in which Vigilius was condemned; and this longer text was only discovered by S. Baluzius and published in 1683 (Mansi 9:163–658). Though retained only in the Latin version, it appears that the acts are basically authentic.
The problem presented to the theologians of a pope retracting decisions regarding doctrinal matters has been needlessly complicated. Vigilius was dealing with factual statements of doctrine, not defining revealed truth as such; besides, his final decision was made under duress. While he did receive aid from the deacon Pelagius and his entourage in preparing Constitutum I, that document is mainly his own work, and it is one of the finest theological tracts produced in the sixth century. As for the character of the Pope, it is certainly difficult to judge; but it is impossible to exonerate Vigilius from possible collusion in the deposition of Silverius, or changing his mind in a doctrinal dispute. His own retraction speaks for itself.
Bibliography: É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 15.2:1868–1924, 2994–3005. Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum 4.2:138–168. pelagius i, Pelagii diaconi ecclesiae romance in defensione trium capitulorum, ed. r. devreesse (Studi e Testi 57). h. m. diepin, Douze dialogues de christologie ancienne (Rome 1960). l. davis, s.j., First Seven Ecumenical Councils (Wilmington, Del., 1983), 235–243. g.every, "Was Vigilius a Victim or an Ally of Justinian," Heythrop Journal 20: 257–266. e. ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997) 2:1161. h. jedin, History of the Church (New York 1980) 2:450–455, 627–628. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 60–62. j. richards, Popes and Papacy the Early Middle Ages (London 1979) 129–133, 141–160. c. sotinel, "Autorité pontificale et pourvoir impériale sour le règne Justinien: le pape Vigile," Mélanges d'archéologie d'histoire de l'lécole française de Rome 104 (1992) 439–463. c. alzati, "'Pro sancta, fide, pro dogma patrum'. La tradizione dogmatica delle Chiese italiane di fronte alla questione dei Tre Capitoli. Caratteri dottrinali e implicazioni ecclesiologiche dello scisma," in Atti del Convegno. Como e Aquileia. Per una storia della Società Comasca (612–1751) (Como 1991) 49–82. d. j. constanelos, "Justinian and the Three Chapters Controversy," Studies in Early Christianity 7 (1993) 217–240.
[f. x. murphy]
"Vigilius, Pope." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vigilius-pope
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