Thursday, October 10, 2019

Who Was Christopher Columbus? ~ Hero or Villain? Criminal or Crusader?

Statue of Christopher Columbus near the Cooper River, New Jersey.
In January of 2018, vandals threw paint on this statue.
Each year, the media narrative assures us, more Americans are ditching the archaic holiday known as Columbus Day. After all, they claim, what's the point of celebrating a man who brought destruction to the noble and advanced indigenous civilizations of the Americas that lived in harmonious symbiosis with nature? Why glorify a man who introduced the slave trade and who actually didn't discover anything except a brilliant civilization that was already thriving?

Rather than celebrate Columbus, many would now prefer to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. I assume this would be a new holiday created by modern-day myth-builders of the Liz Warren variety—that is, goofy individuals of European descent who identify as native because it is considered "woke." Sadly, as Catholics can see from the ridiculous antics going on before our eyes at the Amazon Synod, many within the Church have drunk the fire-water and some graying relics the flower-child generation are now quite open about their preference for the naked state of nature as opposed to the awful, rigid, moralistic confines of Christendom.

However, before the rest of us benighted, non-woke Catholics meekly go along with such brazen script-flipping, we should take a fresh look at the history absent the jaundiced eye of Howard-Zinn-style intellectual dishonesty.

Were there aspects of indigenous pre-Columbian culture that are worth celebrating? Sure. However, the overall human condition in the Americas prior to Columbus's arrival is not something that anyone in their right mind wants to revive. Frankly, when one delves into the primary source material, it’s hard to argue that the perpetual warfare, slavery, torture, cannibalism and other atrocities that existed among the tribes before the arrival of the Europeans was anything other than repulsive. Even at a distance of four hundred years, it's difficult to read such accounts and not lose your lunch.

But let's start with Columbus himself and his motivations. To begin, I think all can agree that Christopher Columbus had many flaws. Though an outspoken and zealous Catholic, Columbus's greatest flaw seems to have been that he was a worldly man of his time. He saw gold everywhere and the desire that his mission be a financial success drove him ever onward. He was fixated on monetary gain largely because he wished to demonstrate to the sovereigns who had put their trust in him—King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain—that they would benefit from his bold venture and that their trust in him had not been misplaced.

That said, one should not assume that Columbus’s eagerness for wealth had anything to do with a desire to live like a an oriental potentate or accrue political power to himself. His own personal comfort and exaltation were often the farthest things from his mind. Instead, he wished to use the wealth he garnered from his discoveries to launch an even greater expedition: a new Crusade to liberate the Holy Land from from Islamic captivity. In this excerpt from a letter written by Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella on March 4, 1493, we can see Columbus's idealistic intentions clearly in the form of a vow which, in hindsight, seems ridiculously optimistic:
I conclude here: that through the divine grace of He who is the origin of all good and virtuous things, who favors and gives victory to all those who walk in His path, that in seven years from today I will be able to pay Your Highnesses for five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand foot soldiers for the war and conquest of Jerusalem, for which purpose this enterprise was undertaken. And in another five years another five thousand cavalry and fifty thousand foot soldiers, which will total ten thousand cavalry and one hundred thousand foot soldiers. [Taken from Letter to the Sovereigns of 4 March 1493]
If you read more of Columbus's writings, they are littered with similar outbursts of unrestrained enthusiasm for a new crusade against Islam.

When studying any historical figure, context is of the utmost importance. It is worth remembering that in AD 1453, forty years before Columbus's voyage and two years after his birth, Constantinople—that great capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire—was conquered by the Turks. This event sent shock-waves across a Christian Europe which trembled in fear as the Ottomans gathered their strength for additional thrusts to the west. It is within this civilizational context that Columbus's desire for a new crusade funded by riches gained from his discoveries should be understood.

One of the other common criticisms of Columbus is that he attempted to impose slavery upon the peoples he discovered. While this is certainly true, we should remember that in Columbus's day, slavery was practiced throughout the world—in Europe certainly, but with considerably greater vigor and ubiquity in the Islamic east, China, Africa, and, yes, among the native tribes of the Americas themselves. Thus, what Columbus did was in no way novel. If Columbus proposed to the sovereigns of Spain that a slave trade of the warlike Carib Indians could be established in order to offset some of the expenses involved in colonization, his fault may be mitigated somewhat by the brutal practicalities of his age. Similar suggestions, no doubt, could have come from the mouths of courtiers serving the Ottoman Empire, Ming China, Mughal India, Ivan the Great's Russia, or anywhere else at the time. To their credit, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain rejected the idea.

Much is also made of Columbus's ill treatment of the Tainos, the natives of present-day Hispanola. But a reading of his journals shows a much more complicated situation than most quick-history websites will permit. An excellent, primary-source-focused overview of the four voyages of Columbus may be found in an old book edited by Julius E. Olson entitled: The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot [published in 1906]. When perusing the sources provided in this book, the reader will see that even as early as 1493—a year after the discovery—relations between the Spaniards and the native tribes in the Caribbean had already devolved to suspicion and murder. Below, I present a summary of how events occurred soon after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, complete with excerpts from eyewitness accounts.

It is certainly worth reading these passages before passing judgment on Columbus.

When Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground on Christmas day 1492 off the coast of modern-day Haiti, the admiral was surprised to find ready assistance from a local chief named Guacanagari who helped him offload men and cargo from the stricken ship. So impressed was Columbus with his reception, that he recorded the following initial impression of the Taino in his usual effusive style:
The king (Guacanagari) and all his people wept. They are a loving people, without coventousness, and fit for anything; and I assure your Highnesses that there is no better land or people. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their speech is the sweetest and gentlest in the world, and always with a smile. Men and women go as naked as when their mothers bore them. Your Highnesses should believe that they have very good customs among themselves. The king is a man of remarkable presence, and with a certain self-contained manner that is a pleasure to see. They have good memories, wish to see everything, and ask the use of what they see. [The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, page 201]
After the loss of his flagship, Columbus did not have enough space or provisions to sail back to Spain with all his men. He therefore made a virtue of necessity and decided to leave 44 volunteers behind with the Tainos. To house them, he caused a fort to be constructed which he named La Navidad. Though the Tainos appeared friendly and harmless, Columbus and his comrades were taking no chances. To demonstrate that the Spaniards would be able to help the Tainos defend against their hated enemies, the Caribs, Columbus conducted a military drill in which arquebuses and canon were discharged, much to the shock of the natives. The editor of Columbus's journal summarizes the admiral's concerns and practical rationale as follows: “All this was done that the King (Guacanagari) might look upon the men who were left behind as friends, and that he might also have a proper fear of them.” [The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, page 209]

However, such precautions turned out to be insufficient. Some time after Columbus's departure, the settlement at La Navidad was annihilated. How or why this happened remains a mystery to this day, but when Columbus returned a year later with a much larger expedition, he met with a puzzling welcome. While approaching the site of La Navidad, the Spaniards discovered several dead bodies ashore, at least a few of which were judged to be European due to the presence of a heavy beard. When Columbus's fleet entered the bay where La Navidad had been planted, one of Guacanagari's cousins came out to meet him. Columbus inquired regarding the welfare of the Spanish who had been left in their care, and he received the following response, as taken from the letter of an eyewitness, Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca:
Guacanagari’s cousin replied that those who remained were all well, but that some of them had died of disease, and others had been killed in quarrels that had arisen among them; and that Guacanagari was at some distance, lying ill of a wound in his leg. [The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, page 300]
If this report relieved Columbus, the relief was not to last. As his ship approached the site of La Navidad, Columbus discharged two cannon as a signal, hoping for a reply from the men at the fort. He was met with silence. Landing near the site, his worst fears were realized: the fort had been burnt and leveled to the ground with no sign of survivors. The few Tainos they encountered seemed reticent and fled at the approach of the Spanish. This was a sharp contrast to the warm welcome Columbus had received the previous year. Eventually, the Spanish were able to coax a few Tainos into conversation, and the full extent of the disaster was revealed. Dr. Chanca relates:
When they were asked concerning the Spaniards, they replied that all of them were dead…The king of Caonabo and Mayreni had made an attack upon them and burnt the buildings on the spot, that many were wounded in the affray, and among them Guacanagari, who had received a wound in his thigh, and had retired to some distance. [The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, page 301]
When Columbus himself arrived on shore, new details began to emerge. Dr. Chanca continues:
We also learned that they had shown where the bodies of eleven of the dead Spaniards were laid, which were already covered with grass that had grown over them; and they all with one voice asserted that Caonabo and Mayreni had killed them; but notwithstanding all this, we began to hear complaints that one of the Spaniards had taken three women to himself, and another four; from whence we drew the inference that jealousy was the cause of the misfortune which had occurred.
For his part, Guacanagari was finally located and he welcomed Columbus with tears, explaining that some of the Spaniards had gone off with Caonabo (another Taino chief) in search of gold and had been slain. Later, Caonabo returned and burned La Navidad as well as Guacanagari's own village. Dr. Chanca tells us that there was much evidence that just such an attack had occurred. However, Dr. Chanca and many of the other Spanish remained suspicious because the wound in Guacanagari's thigh which had supposedly hobbled him, was shown to be completely healed when the Spanish physician removed the bandage and examined it. For what it's worth Guacanagari remained a faithful collaborator with Columbus for the few remaining years of his life, to the point where he was eventually forced to flee to the hills by the other Taino chiefs.

For the Spanish, however, the charred remains of La Navidad spelled the end of any illusions they harbored that the Tainos were a peaceful, loving people. And whereas Columbus had previously portrayed life among them as little short of Eden in his journal entries during his first voyage, suspicion is evident in Dr. Chanca's letter, and the enmity generated by this encounter would later lead to a full-scale war between the Spanish and the Tainos. As a result of this war, subsequent famines, and waves of European diseases that washed over them for which they had no immunity, the Tainos would be almost completely wiped over the next 30 years.

But if the Taino failed to live up to the modern Euro-inspired mythology of native peoples as peace-loving, nature-children innocents, their culture nonetheless compared very favorably to their more savage neighbors, the Caribs. Indeed, it was the Caribs who harassed and preyed upon the Tainos prior to the arrival of the Spanish with a ferocity that can scarcely be imagined. Dr. Chanca, writing during Columbus's second voyage in 1493, describes the interactions between the Caribs and the Tainos as follows:
The habits of these Caribbees are brutal….In their attacks upon the neighboring islands, these people capture as many of the women as they can, especially those who are young and beautiful, and keep them for servants and as concubines. And so great a number do they carry off, that in fifty houses, no men were to be seen, and out of the number of the captives, more than twenty were young girls. These women also say that the Caribbees use them with such cruelty as would scarcely be believed, and that they eat the children which they bear to them, and only bring up those which they have with their native wives. Such of their male enemies as they can take alive, they bring to their houses to slaughter them, and those who are killed, they devour at once. They say that man’s flesh is so good, that there is nothing like it in the world; and this is pretty evident, for of the bones which we found in their houses, they had gnawed everything that could be gnawed, so that nothing remained of them, but what from its great hardness could not be eaten. In one of the houses we found the neck of a man, cooking in a pot.
When they take any boys prisoners, they cut off their member and make use of them as servants until they grow up to manhood, and then when they wish to make a feast, they kill and eat them; for they say that the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat. Three of these boys came fleeing to us thus mutilated. [The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, page 290]
It should be remembered that it was the Caribs—not the Tainos—that Columbus first attempted to enslave.

None of this is to exculpate the later actions of the Spanish regarding the conquest of the native tribes of the Caribbean. However, by reading some of the eyewitness accounts taken from that time, we are able to get a clearer picture of the cultures Columbus and the first Spanish explorers encountered and their impressions of them. Rather than Eden, the account above of the Caribs and the practices encountered on the islands they inhabited sounds more like a vision of Hell on earth. We should pause before blindly celebrating such cultures, or accepting the false modern stereotype of the native person living in peace and harmony with all creatures and caring for the environment. If the Europeans of those times had deep and abiding flaws, certainly the indigenous cultures did as well.

As for Columbus, the records of his time reveal that he was a man who possessed many of the warts common to Europeans of his time—a harsh worldliness, a lust for wealth, and a tunnel-vision focus on his own goals. But beyond these flaws, Columbus rose well above his contemporaries as a man of unique vision, leadership, perseverance, abnegation, and courage even in the face of death.

It is for these latter attributes that the European discoverer of the Americas ought to be remembered.

We may also celebrate the advent of Christianity in the New World which did much to mitigate the more brutal aspects of both the European and the indigenous American civilizations as they collided in the 16th century. It was Christianity that created an environment in which a humble man like Saint Juan Diego could emerge from the bloodthirsty Mexica peoples and a beautiful lily like Saint Kateri Tekakwitha could bloom among the harsh woodlands of pre-colonial New York State.

As for those modern-day vandals who have no achievements of their own to celebrate but choose instead to tear down the monuments of their ancestors, or to pretend to be descended from native peoples to enhance their own resumes—their words and behaviors should inspire in us nothing but contempt.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

New regalia. No Knights.

I don't know who thought this was a good idea--but it's not.
Our parish concluded our beautiful 40 Hours devotion with a glorious Mass last night. It was a celebration of Christ incarnate in the Holy Eucharist and as such, it included profound reverence, gorgeous music, and zealous preaching—the perfect antidote to the secularized Catholic culture which has largely abandoned the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

One aspect that was missing from this Mass as compared to the recent past, however, was the Knights of Columbus. In past years, we would have a dozen or so 4th degree Knights in full regalia present. This year, we had four men in tuxes only, holding the canopy over the Blessed Sacrament during the procession after Mass. Where have all our knights gone?

Well, as it happens, the KoC board of directors decided that as of July 1, 2019, the "old" regalia of the Knights of Columbus is to be discarded. Only the new regalia — which looks like something designed by Hugo Chavez, the deceased socialist dictator of Venezuela — may be worn. As a result, the representation of the Knights in full 4th degree regalia at our 40 Hours went from about 8-12 each year... zero.

Back in 2017, when this controversy first erupted, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson explained the rationale for this change in an email. He said, in part:
"The new uniform is part of a comprehensive and necessary effort to keep our Order relevant and attractive to men, particularly younger men."
If causing the Knights to basically disappear from our parish ceremonies was part of this comprehensive strategy to make the Order "relevant and attractive to men, particularly younger men"...well, great job guys.

I would argue that this type of truly foolish misstep is what commonly happens when you have a group of older guys deciding what they think the younger guys might like. To my brother knight, Mr. Anderson, I would humbly suggest that as long as you are living, no decision is forever and clinging to a bad one in the face of overwhelming evidence only compounds the error. The time has come to rescind this unpopular diktat and reinstate the old regalia. Or at least give our brothers permanent permission to wear it.

Or, you can keep enforcing this bad decision until the membership goes the
way of the Sisters of Mercy or Sisters of Saint Joseph.
As for myself, a 4th Degree Knight who never joined the color guard but looked forward to doing so when the responsibilities of middle age subsided, I have no desire to dress like a South American socialist dictator. Perhaps at some point I'll inherit someone's "old" regalia which I can keep in a closet until it may be worn again without disobeying the mandates of the guys at the top.

Monday, October 07, 2019

"Don John of Austria is going to the war." ~ October 7, feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Click here to share this image on Facebook.
October 7 is the Feast of our Lady of the Rosary, formerly the feast of Our Lady of Victory. The date marks the 448th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, AD 1571.

The Battle of Lepanto was a miraculous victory in which the combined ships of the Christian Holy League under Don John of Austria, defeated the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in a decisive battle that blocked Turkish imperial aggression from the western Mediterranean. Six years before in AD 1565, the Knights of Saint John had gained a similarly miraculous victory over the Turks at the Siege of Malta which prevented the invaders from establishing a base from which to attack Italy. With the triumph of Lepanto, Turkish sea-power would never again threaten western Christendom on such a scale and with such high hopes of success.

Prior to the Battle of Lepanto, Pope Pius V had enjoined all of Christendom (sadly fractured by the Protestant revolution) to pray the Rosary for the success of campaign. The sailors of Don John also recited the Rosary prior to the battle. The resulting victory was attributed completely to the intercession of our Lady.

The quote on this image is taken from G. K. Chesterton's poem, Lepanto, which reads in part:
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar."
Read this entire work here at the American Chesterton Society website.

Or listen to a nice reading of the poem here done by the folks at Unam Sanctam Catholicam.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for the Church which is in distress!

Monday, September 30, 2019

"You Urge Me to Make a New Work from the Old" ~ September 30, Feast of St. Jerome

Saint Jerome instructs Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium in this 16th century
painting by Francisco de Zurbarán.
For this date in the year AD 420, the Chronicon of Prosper of Aquitaine (written in the mid-5th century) contains the following notice:
Hieronimus presbyter moritur anno aetatis suae XCI pridie kalendas Octobris.
That is, in English: “The priest Jerome died at the age of 91 on 30 September.”

His full name was Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, but he is known to later ages simply as Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church. Along with Augustine of Hippo, Jerome was one of the most voluminous scholars of antiquity whose works have come down to us. In his own book entitled: De Viris Illustribus, Jerome provides the following staggering summary of his written works:
I, JEROME, son of Eusebius, of the city of Strido, which is on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia and was overthrown by the Goths, up to the present year, that is, the fourteenth of the Emperor Theodosius, have written the following: Life of Paul the monk, one book of Letters to different persons, an Exhortation to Heliodorus, Controversy of Luciferianus and Orthodoxus, Chronicle of universal history, 28 homilies of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which I translated from Greek into Latin, On the Seraphim, On Osanna, On the prudent and the prodigal sons, On three questions of the ancient law, Homilies on the Song of Songs two, Against Helvidius, On the perpetual virginity of Mary, To Eustochius, On maintaining virginity, one book of Epistles to Marcella, a consolatory letter to Paula On the death of a daughter, three books of Commentaries on the epistle of Paul to the Galatians, likewise three books of Commentaries on the epistle to the Ephesians, On the epistle to Titus one book, On the epistle to Philemon one, Commentaries on Ecclesiastes, one book of Hebrew questions on Genesis, one book On places in Judea, one book of Hebrew names, Didymus on the Holy Spirit, which I translated into Latin one book, 39 homilies on Luke, On Psalms 10 to 16, seven books, On the captive Monk, The Life of the blessed Hilarion. I translated the New Testament from the Greek, and the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and how many Letters I have written To Paula and Eustochius I do not know, for I write daily. I wrote moreover, two books of Explanations on Micah, one book On Nahum, two books On Habakkuk, one On Zephaniah, one On Haggai, and many others On the prophets, which are not yet finished, and which I am still at work upon. {Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, Chapter CXXXV]
Jerome’s writings are filled with anecdotes of historical import. One such work is his famous letter to Eustochium mentioned above which he wrote to a young woman who had recently taken a vow of perpetual virginity. Also called De Custodia Virginitatis (On Maintaining Virginity) and written in AD 384, this lengthy missive is filled with allusions to the type of moral behavior prevalent in Rome of late antiquity, not withholding his condemnation from Christians in high places who behaved hypocritically. Here is one example from the letter:
Today you may see women cramming their wardrobes with dresses, changing their gowns from day to day, and for all that unable to vanquish the moths. Now and then one more scrupulous wears out a single dress; yet, while she appears in rags, her boxes are full. Parchments are dyed purple, gold is melted into lettering, manuscripts are decked with jewels, while Christ lies at the door naked and dying. When they hold out a hand to the needy they sound a trumpet; when they invite to a love-feast they engage a crier. I lately saw the noblest lady in Rome — I suppress her name, for I am no satirist — with a band of eunuchs before her in the basilica of the blessed Peter. She was giving money to the poor, a coin apiece; and this with her own hand, that she might be accounted more religious. Hereupon a by no means uncommon incident occurred. An old woman, full of years and rags, ran forward to get a second coin, but when her turn came she received not a penny but a blow hard enough to draw blood from her guilty veins. [De Custodia Virginitatis, Chapter 32]
Jerome here foreshadows the tone of Saint John Chrysostom who would write only a little later. Also in the same letter, Jerome admits that the course Eustochium had chosen for herself will be difficult and fraught with peril. But he encourages her to endure by holding fast to Christ:
Love finds nothing hard; no task is difficult to the eager. Think of all that Jacob bore for Rachel, the wife who had been promised to him. Jacob, the Scripture says, served seven years for Rachel. And they seemed unto him but a few days for the love he had to her. [Genesis 29:20] Afterwards he himself tells us what he had to undergo. In the day the drought consumed me and the frost by night. [Genesis 31:40] So we must love Christ and always seek His embraces. Then everything difficult will seem easy; all things long we shall account short… [Jerome, De Custodia Virginitatis, Chapter 40]
But perhaps the most famous work of Saint Jerome was his Latin translation of Sacred Scripture. This task was enjoined upon him by Pope Damasus in AD 384 and not completed until over twenty years later. This monumental labor would result in the creation of a work which would come to be known in later years as the Latin Vulgate—the standard version of Sacred Scripture in the Latin language. In his preface on the Gospels, Jerome himself explains why he undertook this tremendous task which would cause his name to be well remembered even 1,600 years after his death:
To the blessed Pope Damasus, from Jerome,
You urge me to make a new work from the old, and that I might sit as a kind of judge over the versions of Scripture dispersed throughout the whole world, and that I might resolve which among such vary, and which of these they may be which truly agree with the Greek. Pious work, yet perilous presumption, to change the old and aging language of the world , to carry it back to infancy, for to judge others is to invite judging by all of them. Is there indeed any learned or unlearned man, who when he picks up the volume in his hand, and takes a single taste of it, and sees what he will have read to differ, might not instantly raise his voice, calling me a forger, proclaiming me now to be a sacrilegious man, that I might dare to add, to change, or to correct anything in the old books?
Against such infamy I am consoled by two causes: that it is you, who are the highest priest, who so orders, and truth is not to be what might vary, as even now I am vindicated by the witness of slanderers. If indeed faith is administered by the Latin version, they might respond by which, for they are nearly as many as the books! If, however, truth is to be a seeking among many, why do we not now return to the Greek originals to correct those mistakes which either through faulty translators were set forth, or through confident but unskilled were wrongly revised, or through sleeping scribes either were added or were changed? Certainly, I do not discuss the Old Testament, which came from the Seventy Elders in the Greek language, changing in three steps until it arrived with us Nor do I seek what Aquila, or what Symmachus may think, or why Theodotion may walk the middle of the road between old and new. This may be the true translation which the Apostles have approved. I now speak of the New Testament, which is undoubtedly Greek, except the Apostle Matthew, who had first set forth the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters in Judea. This (Testament) certainly differs in our language, and is led in the way of different streams; it is necessary to seek the single fountainhead. [Jerome, Preface to the Gospels]
The complete works of Saint Jerome are a vast treasure-trove of information on life and Christian belief in the late 4th and early 5th centuries AD. If you dare to dip your toe into this ocean of late antique data, helpfully translated into English, click the link below [Note, this link will open up a PDF in your browser sourced from]:

The Principal Works of Saint Jerome.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

"Let Us Have No Mock-Emperors!" ~ The Battle of Mursa Major, AD 351

The portly profile of Magnentius may be seen on this
bronze follis from AD 352.
On this date in AD 351, the armies of the Western usurper Magnus Magnentius suffered a major defeat at the battle of Mursa Major in the Roman province of Pannonia—present day Croatia. Magnentius had decided to risk battle with the superior forces of Constantius II, the sole remaining son of Constantine the Great. This bloody conflict—which pitted tens of thousands of veteran Roman soldiers against each other—would have a profound negative impact on manpower resources of the Empire in the years ahead.

After the death of Constantine the Great in AD 337, the Roman Empire was divided among his three sons: Constantine II, Constans, and Constantius II. After a few years, this status quo proved untenable. As the elder brother, Constantine II felt that his share of the empire was insufficient, and began making demands on the youngest, Constans, who ruled Italy, Africa and Illyricum. For three years, Constans appeared to concede to his domineering brother’s requests. However, when Constantine continued to press his demands for territory in Africa, Constans struck. He arranged an ambush and had Constantine assassinated. The territories of Constantine II were then absorbed into the dominions of Constans.

Still a young man (probably about 17 when he disposed of his older brother) and now possessed of the entire West, Constans proved an energetic defender of the frontiers and a good ruler—at least at first. By AD 350, however, his disgusting personal vices and tendency to shower favors upon his barbarian guardsmen who committed crimes without check, blackened his name across much of his domain. The early 6th century historian, Zosimus, explains what happened next and how Magnentius rose to contend for the imperial power:
Constans, having thus removed his brother, exercised every species of cruelty toward his subjects, exceeding the most intolerable tyranny. He purchased some well favored Barbarians, and had others with him as hostages, to whom he gave liberty to harrass his subjects as they pleased, in order to gratify his vicious disposition. In this manner he reduced all the nations that were subject to him to extreme misery.

This gave uneasiness to the court guards, who perceiving that he was much addicted to hunting, placed themselves under the conduct of Marcellinus prefect of the treasury, and Magnentius who commanded the Joviani and Herculiani (two legions so termed), and formed a plot against him in the following manner.

Marcellinus reported that he meant to keep the birth-day of his sons, and invited many of the superior officers to a feast. Amongst the rest Magnentius rose from table and left the room. He presently returned, and as it were in a drama stood before them clothed in an imperial robe. Upon this all the guests saluted him with the title of king, and the inhabitants of Augustodunum, where it was done, concurred in the same sentiment. This transaction being rumored abroad, the country people flocked into the city, while at the same time, a party of Illyrian cavalry who came to supply the Celtic legions, joined themselves with those that were concerned in the enterprize. When the officers of the army were met together, and heard the leaders of the conspiracy proclaim their new emperor, they scarcely knew the meaning of it. They all, however, joined in the acclamation, and saluted Magnentius with the appellation of Augustus.

When this became known to Constans, he endeavored to escape to a small town called Helena, which lies near the Pyrenean mountains. He was taken by Gaison, who was sent with some other select persons for that purpose, and being destitute of all aid, was killed. [Zosimus, New History, Book II]
Magnentius soon found other western usurpers undercutting his authority. Vetranio was proclaimed emperor in Illyricum at the request of Constantia, daughter of Constantine the Great and sister of the slain Constans. At Rome, Nepotianus, the nephew of Constans and his brothers, raised a rebellion with a large band of gladiators. Magnentius soon quashed Nepotianus and opened negotiations with Vetranio while Constantius II was bogged down in a dangerous war with Persia on the eastern frontier.

This situation endured for a year and it seemed likely that Magnentius and Vetranio would be recognized as co-Augusti along with Constantius II. The son of Constantine, however, had other ideas and made a bold move, perhaps prompted by a miraculous vision of a cross in Jerusalem. Zosimus continues:
Meantime Constantius advanced from the east against Magnentius, but deemed it best first to win over Vetranio to his interest, as it was difficult to oppose two rebels at once. On the other hand, Magnentius used great endeavors to make Vetranio his friend, and thus to put an end to the war against Constantius. Both therefore sent agents to Vetranio, who chose to adopt the friendship of Constantius rather than that of Magnentius. The ambassadors of Magnentius returned without effecting their purpose.

Constantius desired that both armies might join, to undertake the war against Magnentius. To which proposal Vetranio readily assented, and they seated themselves on a throne provided for the occasion. Constantius, speaking first according to his dignity, endeavored to remind the soldiers of his father's munificence, and of the oaths they had taken to he true to his children. He then told them, that they ought not to suffer Magnentius to go unpunished, who had murdered the son of Constantine, with whom they had fought many battles, and had been generously remunerated. When the soldiers heard this, having been previously corrupted by valuable presents, they cried out, that they would have no mock emperors, and immediately began to strip the purple from Vetranio, and pulled him from the throne. [Zosimus, New History, Book II]
Reverse side of the above coin.
VOT V, MULT X on the shield refers
to vows taken by Magnentius to ensure
a five and ten year reign.
Constantius II showed mercy to the more aged Vetranio and allowed him to retire to an estate in Bithynia to live out the rest of his life.

This action set the stage for the great battle of Mursa Major. Constantius II marched his army into Pannonia and sought to bring Magnentius to battle. The cagey usurper withdrew, preferring to attempt to ambush the superior forces of Constantius. At least one of these ambushes achieved the desired result and weakened a part of Constantius’s army. This success convinced Magnentius to muster all his troops and attempt a decisive battle.

Alarmed, Constantius sent one of his bravest and most trusted officers, a man named Philip, into Magnentius's camp, ostensibly to treat for peace. In reality, Philip’s purpose was to determine the state of Magnentius’s army and to undermine their morale. This Philip did. As luck would have it, when Philip arrived at Magnentius’s camp, the whole army was drawn up in ranks. Philip immediately addressed himself to them in the following terms, according to the account of Zosimus:
[Philip began by telling the soldiers] that it did not become them, who were Roman subjects, to make war on Romans, especially as the emperor was the son of Constantine, with whom they had erected many trophies over the Barbarians. That Magnentius, moreover, ought to remember Constantine, and the kindness he had shewn to him and to his parents. That it was Constantine who had protected him when in imminent danger, and exalted him to the highest dignities. Having made these observations, he requested Magnentius to depart from Italy, and to be content with the government of the nations beyond the Alps. [Zosimus, New History, Book II]
This speech nearly caused the army of Magnentius to mutiny. In alarm, Magnentius addressed them, saying that he desired peace with Constantius and would confer with his officers to determine how best to bring this about. The next day, he addressed his army as follows:
He reminded them of the injuries they received from Constans when furious and intoxicated. That the soldiers could not sustain the enormities with which he oppressed the state contrary to all law and justice, but had inclined to what was most for the public advantage, and that after they had freed the cities from so savage a monster, they had compelled him to become their emperor. [Zosimus, New History, Book II]
Almost before Magnentius had concluded his speech, his army rose up and repented of their earlier near-rebellion. They declared themselves ready to fight immediately. With the hopes for a peaceful resolution waning, the two forces attempted to position themselves advantageously, retreating, feinting and advancing to choose a field of battle that best suited their particular strengths. From the account in Zosimus, it seems that Magnentius attempted to position his force between Constantius II and his base of operations in the east, taking cities along Constantinus's lines of communication. He was stymied, however, at the city of Mursa in Pannonia which held out against him. It was there that Constantius caught up with Magnentius and a full-scale battle ensued. Zosimus describes the unique lead-up to the conflict:
When he therefore heard that Constantius was near Mursa, [Magnentius] invented another stratagem to this effect. There was before the city a stadium or place of exercise, formerly used by those that fought for prizes, which was covered over with wood. In this he concealed four companies of Celtae, with orders when Constantius should come up, and they were ready to engage before the city, to attack the enemy by surprise, and to surround them and kill every man. This being discovered by those [friendly to Constantius] that were on the walls, Constantius immediately sent thither Scolidoas and Manadus, two of his officers. They first selected the choicest of their men, both heavy armed and archers, and taking them along with themselves, fastened up all the doors of the stadium. Having then possessed themselves of the upper steps loading into the Stadium, and inclosed the soldiers that were within on all sides, they threw darts at them. And observing some of them with their shields placed over their heads attempting to force open the doors, they fell upon them and did not cease throwing darts or cutting at them with their swords until they had killed them all. This project of Magnentius being thus frustrated, the armies met and engaged in the plain before Mursa, where such a battle was fought as had not occurred before in the course of this war, and great numbers fell on both sides...
At the beginning of the battle, it appears that some of Magnentius's men, led by a Frankish tribune named Silvanus, defected to the side of Constantius [Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, Book XV]. While this loss was injurious to his cause, Magnentius and his supporters fought on stoutly: 
...[The army] of Magnentius became more furious, nor would they cease fighting though night came on, but even their officers continued performing what belonged to common soldiers, and encouraging their men to oppose the enemy with vigor. On the other side likewise, the officers of Constantius called to mind the ancient bravery and renown of the Romans. Thus the battle continued until it was completely dark, nor did even darkness cause them to relax ; but they wounded each other with spears, swords or whatever was in their reach, so that neither night nor any other obstacle which usually causes some respite in war, could put an end to the slaughter, as if they thought it the greatest felicity that could happen to them to perish beside each other. Amongst the officers, that shewed great bravery in this battle and fell in it were Arcadius, commander of the legion called Abulci, and Menelaus, who commanded the Armenian horse archers. What is said of Menelaus is worthy of being related. He could take three darts at once, and with one shot hit three men, by which manner of shooting he killed a great, number of the enemy, and was himself almost the cause of their flight. He was killed by Romulus, who was the first in command in the army of Magnentius, and Romulus himself fell at the same time. He was wounded by a dart which Menelaus had thrown at him, yet continued fighting after he had received the wound, until he had killed the person who had given it to him.

Constantius now gaining the victory, by the army of Magnentius taking to flight, a terrible slaughter ensued. Magnentius, therefore being deprived of all hope, and apprehensive lest the remnant of his army should deliver him to Constantius, deemed it best to retire from Pannonia, and to enter Italy... [Zosimus, New History, Book II]
Magnentius mananged to survive another year before being cornered and slain at the battle of Mons Seleucus in southern Gaul in AD 353.

It is likely that Constantius felt that the Battle of Mursa Major, though a victory, was a horrible waste. Clearly, from the description above, many of the bravest imperial soldiers fell fighting each other, with some modern estimates going as high as 54,000 slain between both sides. Zosimus, writing with the advantage of historical hindsight, puts the thought in Constantius's mind that: "as this was a civil war, victory itself would be scarcely an advantage to him, now the Romans being so much weakened, as to be totally unable to resist the barbarians who attacked them on every side." 

After Magnentius's final defeat, Constantius II would go on to rule the Empire as the sole Augustus until AD 361 when his nephew, Julian the Apostate, rose against him. As an interesting side note, the wife of Magnentius—a woman named Justina—would go on to become the wife of the emperor Valentinian I, mother of Valentinian II, and become better known to history as the Arian persecutor of Saint Ambrose of Milan.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"Ambrose for Bishop!" ~ The elevation by popular acclamation of Aurelius Ambrosius, AD 374

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Here is a new book that is about to publish: The Life of Saint Ambrose by Paulinus of Milan, also known as the Vita Sancti Ambrosii. Well, in truth, it’s a reprint of a text that was originally published in 1928. It has been out of print for nearly 100 years and is the only stand-alone English translation of this ancient work currently available.

Aurelius Ambrosius is one of the towering figures of Late Antiquity. A voluminous writer and homilist, and a spiritual father to other great saints including Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose was deeply involved in the theological and political controversies of his day. He is most famous, perhaps, for blocking the entrance to the cathedral of Milan so that Theodosius the Great might not enter before repenting of a grave sin as depicted in the image above. It is no coincidence that this scene is shown on the cover of this new edition of the Vita Sancti Ambrosii.

This work is an important for three reasons. First, Paulinus was Saint Ambrose’s secretary and was therefore an eye-witness to much of what he reports. For those events which he didn’t witness himself, Paulinus makes it clear that he consulted with others who were close to Ambrose, including his sister, Saint Marcellina. Second, many of the anecdotes related in this Vita may be corroborated in the surviving letters of Saint Ambrose, the writings of Saint Augustine, or the 5th century ecclesiastical histories of Socrates and Sozomen. And third, Paulinus’s work contains details about Ambrose’s life which recorded nowhere else.

One of the most important and fascinating anecdotes in Paulinus’s Vita is the tale of how Ambrose came to be appointed bishop of Milan. Given his pedigree and his state in life at the time, he seemed an unlikely candidate for this position. While still a young man, Ambrose served as a lawyer in the court of the Praetorian Prefect of the West, who was at that time an illustrious man named Petronius Probus. Paulinus tells us that Ambrose spoke so brilliantly before Probus that the Prefect took him on as an advisor. Sometime later, Ambrose was advanced to become governor of the provinces of Liguria and Aemilia and took his office in Milan.

While he was serving in that capacity, Auxentius, the bishop of Milan, died. As Auxentius was an Arian, there was tremendous turmoil in the Milanese church as to who his successor should be. The factions, Arian and Catholic, gathered in the church and debated the question with tempers running hot. Fearing a riot, Ambrose proceeded to the scene to prevent any outbreak of violence. I’ll let Paulinus tell the rest of the story:
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And there while he was addressing the populace, a voice of a child is said to have suddenly cried out among the people: “Ambrose bishop!” At the sound of this voice the mouths of all the people were changed, all crying: “Ambrose bishop!” Thus those who disagreed most violently before, because both the Arians and the Catholics wished the other party to be defeated and a bishop of their own to be appointed, suddenly insisted on this one man with miraculous and incredible harmony.

When [Ambrose] noticed this, leaving the church, he had a tribunal prepared for himself—naturally about to become a bishop he mounted higher things. Then contrary to his custom he ordered tortures to be applied to certain persons. Although he was doing this, the people nevertheless kept shouting: “Your sin be upon us” … knowing that he was a catechumen, with the voice of faith assured him the forgiveness of all sins through the grace of baptism.

Then returning home disturbed, he wished to declare himself a philosopher. But he was to be a true philosopher of Christ, because despising worldly pomp he was about to follow the footsteps of the Fisherman, who united the people to Christ not by the ornaments of expression but by artless speech and by the doctrine of the true faith—being sent without wallet, without staff, they converted even the philosophers themselves.

When he was prevented from doing this, he had common women come publicly to him for this purpose only—that when they were seen, the purpose of the people might be changed. But the people kept shouting more and more: “Your sin be upon us.”

But when he saw that he could not carry out his resolution, he prepared himself for flight, leaving the city at midnight. Since he intended to proceed to Ticinum, in the morning he was found at the gate of the city of Milan which is called Roman. For God, Who was preparing a bulwark for his Catholic Church against its enemies and erecting a tower of David against the face of Damascus, that is, the faithlessness of the heretics, prevented his flight. After he was found and while he was being guarded by the people, a relation was sent to the most kind emperor then Valentinian, who heard with greatest joy that the judges sent out by him were sought for the episcopacy. Probus the Prefect also rejoiced because his word was being fulfilled in Ambrose, for he had said to him when he was giving him a commission on setting out—as is the custom—“Go, act not as judge but as bishop.”

And so while the relation was pending he again prepared for flight and hid himself for some time on the estate of a certain Honorable Leontius. But when the answer was made to the relation, he was betrayed by the same Leontius. For the lieutenant of the Prætorian Prefect had received orders that he should insist on carrying out the matter, and since he wished to fulfill what he had been enjoined upon him, having published and edict he warned all, saying that if they wished to look to themselves and their welfare, they should give up the man. 
And so when being handed over and brought to Milan, he recognized the will of God toward him and that he could not resist longer, he demanded that he should not be baptized save by a Catholic bishop, for he carefully guarded against the heresy of the Arians. And so on being baptized he is said to have fulfilled all the ecclesiastical offices and on the eighth day was consecrated bishop with the greatest favor and joy of all.
Thus Aurelius Ambrosius, secular official, governor of Liguria, unbaptized catechumen, and profoundly unwilling to serve, became the Bishop of Milan by popular acclamation. Later, he would be recognized as a confidant of emperors, admonisher of usurpers, discoverer of Christian antiquities, miracle-worker, hymnodist, theologian, saint, confessor and Doctor of the Church. His was truly an amazing life and one worth reading about.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

"I am receiving the reward for my deeds" ~ The Miserable Reign of Pope Vigilius, AD 537-555

A 17th century engraving of Pope Vigilius. 
Dark political machinations occur. Huge sums of money change hands. The secular power intrudes upon the domain of the Church, creating a situation whereby the reigning Pope is deposed and another is set up in his place. The deposed Pope is silenced, made a monk and sent into exile. The new Pope is secretly beholden to the secular powers who afforded him his seat. They now expect to see their temporal and ecclesiastical goals supported and advanced by the authority of the Papal office. Indeed, they are willing to coerce the Holy Father if he shows any reticence —and they’ve got a lot of dirt on him.

All of the above has indeed come to pass.

Of course, it came to pass in the 6th century AD.

In the above tale, the deposed Pontiff is Pope Saint Silverius. Born the son of another Pope (Saint Hormisdas), Silverius attained the papal throne in AD 536 following the death of Pope Agapetus who was on a mission in Constantinople when he perished. Silverius’s election was due in large part to the support of the Gothic King of Italy, Theodahad. All this occurred during a tumultuous time when the resurgent Roman Empire under Justinian was attempting to topple the Gothic monarchy and restore Italy to the empire. Shortly after, the feckless Theodahad was killed by his Gothic subjects and the more warlike Vitiges took the throne of Italy in his place. Having to contend with the invasion of Italy by Justinian’s skillful general, Belisarius, the Arian Vitiges left Pope Silverius to rule the Catholic Church in peace.

Thanks in no small part to the good will of Pope Silverius, Belisarius was able to capture Rome from the Goths in AD 537, ending over 60 years of Gothic rule. At about the same time, however, another player arrived on the scene in Italy. This was Vigilius, son of a noble Roman family, who had spent several years as Pope Agapetus’s representative in Constantinople. There, Vigilius had come into contact with the Empress Theodora who had strong sympathies toward the Monophysites.

Monophysitism is the heretical belief that Christ has only one nature, as opposed to the orthodox belief that Christ has two natures (human and divine) joined in a hypostatic union. This argument had been the cause of various schisms since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 450, as well as numerous attempts by religious and political authorities to reconcile the two sides using both the velvet glove and the mailed fist.

When Belisarius invaded Italy in AD 536, Pope Agapetus himself sojourned to Constantinople in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty between the Goths and the Romans. While there, he discovered that the Patriarch of Constantinople, Anthemius, was a Monophysite heretic and famously deposed him before Justinian and Theodora. Appalled, Justinian demanded that Agapetus rescind his deposition and threatened the Pope with banishment. To this, Agapetus replied: “With eager longing have I come to gaze upon the most Christian emperor, Justinian. In his place I find a Diocletian, whose threats, however, terrify me not.” [Liber Pontificalis, LIX. Agapetus]

At this bold public display of papal authority, Justinian quailed and the deposition of Anthemius stood. But Agapetus perished in Constantinople shortly afterwards, and with the Roman cathedra vacant, the Augusta Theodora sensed a golden opportunity. In his 6th century work known as the Breviarium, the north African archdeacon Liberatus describes what happened next:
Augusta summoned Vigilius, deacon of Agapetus, and asked him secretly to promise her that if he were made pope, he would annul the synod of Chalcedon, where the dual nature of Christ had been maintained, and would write to Theodosius, Anthemius and Severus and in his letters approve their faith, and she offered to give him an order to Belisarius to make him pope and to bestow on him 700 pounds of gold. So Vigilius gladly gave his promise, desiring the bishopric and the gold, and after making his pledge, went to Rome.[Liberatus, Breviarium, 22 – See Liber Pontificalis, LX. Silverius, footnote 1
Having hurried back to Rome, Vigilius bided his time until the military situation stabilized. Once it became clear that Belisarius held the city firmly and that the besieging Gothic army was not able to dislodge him, a conspiracy was hatched. Secret letters were revealed, purporting to be from Silverius to King Vitiges, offering to let the Goths into the city surreptitiously during the night. Pope Silverius protested his innocence, but he was accused of conspiring with the Goths by Belisarius’s own wife, Antonina—herself an agent of Theodora. The Liber Pontificalis describes the scene as follows:
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Silverius went alone with Vigilius into the [Pincian Palace] and Antonina, the patrician, was lying upon a couch and Belisarius, the patrician, was sitting at her feet. When Antonina saw him, she said: “Tell us, Lord Pope Silverius, what we have done to you and to the Romans that you should wish to betray us into the hands of the Goths?”

While she was yet speaking John, the subdeacon of the first district, took the pallium from his neck and carried it into an inner chamber and stripped him of his vestments and put on him a monk’s robe and led him into hiding. [Liber Pontificalis, LX. Silverius]
Immediately thereafter, to no one’s surprise at all, Vigilius was elected Pope. His first act was to send the deposed Silverius into exile at Patara, a city in the east. Given the chaotic situation in Rome and the power of Belisarius and Antonina, few among the clergy or the laity protested his actions or his irregular election. Later, when some friends of Silverius were able to plead his case before Justinian, the emperor took pity and ordered a trial for the deposed Pope in Rome. As a result, Silverius was brought back to Italy, but upon landing, he was seized by Vigilius’s henchmen and exiled to Ponza, a desolate island in the Tuscan sea, where he soon died of starvation.

At this point, Theodora felt that she had achieved a great victory and happily prepared to receive the spoils. According to the Liber Pontificalis, she wrote to Vigilius, saying: “Come fulfill for us what you promised of your own free will concerning our father Anthemius and restore him to his office.”

But if the Augusta expected Vigilius to simply comply, she was in for a surprise. Now safely ensconced in his office far distant from Constantinople, Vigilius gave a most unexpected reply, as recorded in the Liber Pontificalis: “Far be this from me, Lady Augusta. I spoke beforetime wrongly and foolishly. Now I do assuredly refuse to restore a man who is a heretic and under the anathema. Although unworthy, I am the vicar of the blessed Peter, the apostle, as were my predecessors, the most holy Agapetus and Silverius, who condemned him.” [Liber Pontificalis, LXI: Vigilius]

Upon receiving this audacious response, Theodora must have been furious. Seeing that her pawn had gone rogue, the empress began looking for reasons to drag him back to Constantinople. And reasons, like dragon’s teeth sown in the ground, soon erupted everywhere. Vigilius was not popular in Rome as the clergy and the laity seemed to hold a silent grudge against him for his awful treatment of Silverius. Thus, they were more than happy to provide fodder for scandal. One rumor claimed that Vigilius had struck a notary with such force that the man died. Another said that he had ordered the murder of the husband of his niece, Vigilia.

With these accusations in hand, Theodora ordered Vigilius to be seized by her agents and put aboard a ship for Constantinople. As the ship sailed down the Tiber, the Roman people threw sticks and stones after it, crying out: “Your hunger go with you! Your pestilence go with you! You have done evil to the Romans; may you find evil where you go!” [Liber Pontificalis, LXI: Vigilius]

Arriving in Constantinople some months later, Vigilius was greeted by the emperor with a kiss. But the good feelings would not endure. For two years, the imperial court browbeat the Roman Pontiff, attempting to make him compromise on matters of doctrine in an attempt to placate the Monophysite sect. Specifically, Vigilius was asked to condemn a document called The Three Chapters which was particularly offensive to the Monophysites. However, the bishops of the West viewed such an act as the prelude to nullifying the Council of Chalcedon, the true goal the Monophysites had in mind.

Thus, if Vigilius condemned The Three Chapters, the Churches of the West would anathematize him as a heretic. If he did not condemn it, the Emperor and Empress—his one time patrons—would be wroth. As a result, Vigilius walked a tightrope trying desperately to appease the imperial couple while not resorting to concessions that would be seen as heretical in the West.

It is likely during this time that the partisans of Theodora used the scandalous accusations mentioned above as leverage to make Vigilius yield on points of doctrine, threatening to reveal all unless the Pope conceded to their will. But either through sheer obstinance or thanks to a nascent terror at offending God in this way, Vigilius refused to yield, saying to the Emperor and Empress: “Do with me as you will. I am receiving the reward for my deeds.”

Finally, in exasperation, one of the members of court struck Vigilius and flung the scandalous accusations in his face: “Murderer, do you not know to whom you speak? Do you not know that you slew Pope Silverius and killed the son of a widow woman with kicks and blows?” [Liber Pontificalis, LXI: Vigilius]

In terror, Vigilius fled to sanctuary in the church of Saint Peter in Constantinople. There he remained some time while the officers of the imperial court attempted to cajole him to negotiate on the doctrinal questions which the emperor wanted settled. When Vigilius refused to budge from his place of refuge, Justinian lost patience and ordered him removed by force. The imperial officers arrived and attempted to drag Vigilius out, grabbing him by his hair, beard and feet as he clung to the altar. His grip was so tight, however, that the altar itself collapsed and the imperial officers fled.

A fresco of the Second Council of Constantinople from the
Great Lavra of Mount Athos. Pope Vigilius may not be the
figure shown bound and chained in the lower left corner,
but that would be an apt representation of his treatment
during the council.
Vigilius would eventually emerge from sanctuary and into the hands of Justinian. At this point, the sources are contradictory, but the Liber Pontificalis claims that he was held in prison and members of his clergy were sent to toil in the mines. By AD 553, Justinian had prepared an ecumenical council to deal with the matter. He had carefully stacked the deck, however, with bishops from the east whom he was sure would support his position. Realizing this, Vigilius refused to attend the council, which would come to be known as the Second Council of Constantinople. With Vigilius absent, the bishops of the council proceeded to anathematize the Three Chapters as well as their authors.

For a few months more, Vigilius held to his position while serving time in an island exile. Then, finally, worn out and sick from a painful illness, Vigilius capitulated and accepted the acts of the Council. Once he did so, Justinian allowed him to return to Rome. But the Pope never made it. He died in Sicily while on his way home less than a year after knuckling under to Imperial pressure.

While the man he disgracefully deposed--Silverius--became venerated as a saint, Pope Vigilius never did. He remains to this day one of the few early Popes who did not attain sainthood.

For a detailed treatment of this miserable episode in Church history, check out this article entitled “Church and State: The Reign of Justinian” in The American Catholic Quarterly, Volume 37, pages 266-285.

Ironically, Justinian’s victory did little to heal the schism between the orthodox and the Monophysites who yet remained in bitter separation. It did succeed in further alienating the Western Church from the East as the bishops in Italy and Africa viewed the entire affair as sordid and heavily tainted with worldly politics, blackmail and underhanded intrigue.

How this situation relates to the present state of Holy Mother Church and her position vis a vis the dominant political forces in the world today, I leave for the reader to determine as best he can.