Vitalian, Pope, St.
VITALIAN, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: July 30, 657 to Jan. 27, 672; b. Segni, near Rome; buried in St. Peter's. At his election, Vitalian notified the Emperor constans ii and his son, Constantine IV Pogonatus, by a synodical letter; in it Vitalian did not mention the typos by which Constans II forbade the discussion of monothelitism. This omission was considered a conciliatory gesture as was his letter to Peter, patriarch of Constantinople. Probably the burning issues were simply not discussed. The emperor confirmed Vitalian's election, renewed the privileges of the Roman See, and sent rich presents. The schism ended and Vitalian's name was inscribed in the dipitychs at Constantinople; he was the first pope to be thus recognized after honorius i (d. 638).
Constans II, fearing for Africa, Italy, and Sicily, terribly threatened by Muslim naval supremacy in the Mediterranean, visited Rome in July 663. Royally received by Vitalian, Constans visited the major churches, bestowing rich gifts but stripping St. Mary of the Martyrs (the Pantheon) of its bronze tile roof. After an unsuccessful attempt to check the Lombards of Benevento, he returned to Syracuse, where he remained until his death by assassination (668). Constans had oppressed his subjects with taxes, considered exorbitant, but probably necessary in the desperate military emergency.
Over Vitalian's protest Constans approved the rejection of Rome's metropolitan control by Maurus, the rebellious archbishop of Ravenna, thereby making Ravenna "autocephalous." In 666 Vitalian protested also against obstacles that Archbishop Paul of Crete placed in the way of Bishop John of Lappa's appeal to Rome, where John received justice and redress.
Deeply interested in the development of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Vitalian supported the efforts of Oswy, king of Northumbria, after the Synod of whitby (664) to establish Roman usage regarding tonsure and the date of Easter. For this purpose he consecrated Theodore of Tarsus (March 26, 668), a Greek monk living in Rome, as archbishop of Canterbury with full powers over the English Church (see theodore of canterbury). Wulfhere, king of Mercia, endowed peterborough monastery, placing it immediately under Vitalian, an early example of a monastery under papal protection.
Feast: Jan. 27.
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[c. m. aherne]