It’s exciting to write about a Pope who had a direct influence on something we do during every single Mass. Pope Sergius introduced the beautiful Agnus Dei to the Mass. This song is sung when the priest breaks the consecrated bread during Mass before giving us our Holy Communion(Lamb of God,you take away the sins of the world…..)This is actually a thumbing of the Holy nose to the eastern Church. In 692 Emperor Justinian called a Quinisext Council in Constantinople to put into place new canon laws. The only hitch was that they neglected to invite Rome. 102 new canon laws were passed without any input from the western Church and Pope Sergius was none too pleased at his authority being undermined. The numerous new laws now forbid many western practices like priestly celibacy and many other things,but the big one that truly offended the Pope was the banning of referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The emperor ordered(ORDERED!)the Pope to sign off on these new laws but Sergius declared that he would “rather die than consent to erroneous novelties” and Rome,in relation to Constantinople,would not be “its captive in matters of religion”. Papal fighting words were just thrown down to the emperor and Justinian wasn’t going to take them lightly. Justinian sent his own personal bodyguard(a violent man named Zacharias)to Rome to bring the Pope back to Constantinople by force and make him sign off on these new laws. The Italian militia of Ravenna stepped in to defend the Pope and Zacharias nearly lost his life. The emperor wisely decided to back down(for now),and the already tense relations between the western and eastern Churches was now in the silent treatment stage of the fighting. Pope Sergius decided that if the eastern Church didn’t like us referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God then guess what……..WE’RE GOING TO SING ABOUT IT EVERY SINGLE TIME WE TAKE COMMUNION. Thus,we have the Agnus Dei. I love it.
Pope Conon had the distinction of being the only Pope elected because he was incredibly handsome. The Pope at this time was basically in charge of the Roman army,so the soldiers now decided that they wanted a say as to who should occupy the throne of Peter. The clergy and the army went back and forth and could not come to an agreement,but then they all looked at Father Conon. He was simple,he was wise and he was Holy. He was also the son of a general. The clergy liked his holiness and the army liked the fact that he came from military blood. On top of all this is the fact that he was just an incredible presence to behold. Numerous sources talk up his appearance. This is all very weird,and it reminds me of the story of how the Continental Congress chose George Washington to lead them because he was the tallest man in the room and he looked incredible in his tailored uniform. So anyway,we have our new Pope,but there’s one thing they didn’t think through…….Pope Conon may have been the most handsome Pope ever,but he was also incredibly OLD. O-L-D old,like even old by Pope standards old. He barely lasted a year. His lasting legacy,other than his dashing good looks,was sending missionaries into Germany,at that time called Franconia. Oh if only he spelled his name with an A we could have been so close to having a Pope CONAN. Oh well,we do have a Pope Lando coming later so there’s that…..
Syrian born Pope John V only ruled for a year but his contributions to the faith before becoming Pope were immeasurable. In 680 John was the leading Roman delegate at the Third Council of Constantinople. This council was called to finally put to rest the leading heresy of the day,monothelitism. This heresy believed that Jesus had only a Divine will,and not both human and Divine as the Church teaches. It was popular with various emperors and even some clergy of the eastern Church,but Rome had always held the line on the nature of Jesus for nearly two hundred years at this point(and seemingly forever when writing this blog).John and the other Roman delegate’s defense of the nature of Jesus finally helped put to rest this long standing debate and monothelitism was officially declared a heresy recognized by both west and east Churches. This work on behalf of the Catholic faith helped to elect him to the Papacy in 685. John mostly used his short time clearing up debates about the appointing of bishops and restoring older Churches. He was buried in St Peter’s basilica(the old one)and unfortunately his tomb was destroyed by an Arab invasion of Rome in 846.
Pope Benedict II was the quintessential local boy made good. A native Roman,Benedict II had been a part of The Church since he was young,starting as a altar server and basically moving up from there. Before Benedict,whenever a new Pope was elected,confirmation had to be approved by the emperor in Constantinople. This was a very time consuming process that sometimes could take up to a year before a newly elected Pope could actually begin his Papacy. Benedict asked the emperor to do away with this custom and the emperor actually agreed! This apparently lazy and easy going emperor simply delegated this job to his exarch in Ravenna(sorta a governor of Rome),but this was just a technicality so now the election and confirmation of Popes would be in the clergy’s hands for once. In time the Popes would again have to get approval from various emperors or kings until Pope Pius X would put an end to it once and for all in 1903. Pope Benedict II would have a short time in office,but one of the cool things he did had to do with herectical eastern monothelites who were sent to Rome for punishment(whatever that might be). Benedict showed much mercy on them and simply arranged for their proper education in the orthodox theology.
Pope Leo II was basically a rubber stamping Pope. The Third Council of Constantinople had been called to condemn the heresy known as Monothelitism. The emperor of Constantinople and the previous Pope,Agatho,had called the council to condemn Monothelitism and bring together the western and eastern Churches. Pope Agatho passed away just as the council concluded,so it was up to Pope Leo II to rubber stamp all of the council’s findings into law and put this conflict behind the Church…..and then he died. Whew. I don’t what was in the Roman water back then but we’re beginning a period of one-year-and-done Popes for a while. Poor guys. Pope Leo II was known for his love of music and his charity for the poor.