139. Pope Sylvester II 999-1003

pope sylvester ii

Yes,I see that I’ve drawn a robot Pope,but we’ll get to that in a moment. Pope Sylvester II was basically the most brilliant man that has ever occupied the Chair of Peter,and that’s saying a lot considering Popes like Pius XII or Benedict XVI. Gerbert of Aurillac was a superstar in the Church before being elected to the Papacy(again,like Benedict XVI). A gifted child,he was raised in a monastery in Spain,where he was taught by the greatest Christian and Arab scientists and scholars. Gerbert became prolific in mathematics,grammar,philosophy,music,astronomy(even astrology)…..you name it,Gerbert not only knew it but he could teach it and probably improve on it. Accompanying the Count of Barcelona to Rome in 969,Gerbert was noticed by Pope John XIII,who soon set the young priest up as a tutor to the future Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Moving up through the ranks of the government and the Church,Gerbert was elected Pope in 999. To set the agenda of his reign and to imitate the close ties of Pope Sylvester I and Emperor Constantine 700 years earlier,Gerbert took the name Sylvester as a symbol of the unity of the Church and the State(now under Otto III). Being our first French Pope,with close ties to a German emperor,He,like his predecessors,ran afoul of Roman nobles,which tied up most of his time. While Pope,he fought against corruption and promoted celibacy amongst the clergy,which,on top of being a foreigner,earned him many enemies.
While his Papacy was anti-climatic,Sylvester’s contribution to the world cannot be overstated. He gave Europe the Abacus and promoted the use of Hindu numerals(1,2,3…..),which made calculating much easier over those clunky Roman numerals. He even built a giant Abacus in the floor of a church and had servants move the balls around while he made calculations looking down from the balcony. Sylvester built an astrolabe and a armillary sphere(a type of fancy globe),which helped him chart the stars and the planets(his measurements of where the equator was were exact and he was nearly exact on the location of the Artic circle). Being a musical genius,he constructed a new type of organ that used mathematics to harmonize notes and on top of that he gave Europe a clock of his own making(a clock!!He invented a clock!)
Due to the fact that he was a genius,he was probably aloof and probably weird and probably over everyone’s head. Making enemies and being weird is where the odd part of his legend comes in. Not knowing what to make of this pious oddball,people started making up stuff to explain how he could be so incredibly smart(never mind hard work..).So apparently he stole secret knowledge from a Islamic wizard(false). He made a deal with a devil(false) He won at a game of dice with the devil to get to be Pope(false)He fell in love with a female demon(false)He could turn invisible(false). My personal favorite legend was that he built a giant brass robotic head that could answer yes or no questions about the future(Kind of like Jim Carrey’s Riddler head in Batman Forever). Oh oh,not to mention that the bones in his crypt will rattle whenever a Pope is about to die(False…and what tha..)
I usually try to keep these things at a paragraph or two,but with Sylvester I could go on for days,he(and his weird legends),are just that fascinating…


76. Pope St.Vitalian 657-672


It had been pretty rough going for the last several Popes. Monothelitism was the major conflict between the western and eastern Churches. This was the belief that Jesus only had a Divine nature and this was in opposition to the belief in Rome that Jesus had both a human and a Divine nature. Emperor Constans II of Constantinople favored monothelitism and made frequent attempts to bend Rome to his way of thinking,including the exile and murder of Pope Martin I. Pope Vitalian tread lightly with the emperor but always held firm to the truth. He even hosted Constans in Rome and watched as the emperor helped himself to several statues and other valuable artifacts making a complete nuisance of himself. Contans moved on to other parts of Italy and sometime during his non-goodwill tour,he was murdered in his bathtub. Oh well. That’s a shame. Without the immediate threat of Contans or monothelitism to worry about,Pope Vitalian had a fairly routine Papacy. He is most famous for being the first Pope to introduce organ music into the Mass. Whether or not this is accurate is up for debate as the organ wasn’t in widespread use in Church until around the 12th century. At the very least Pope Vitalian may have introduced it in just a few Churches to test the liturgical waters. Post Reformation,music in Church has been a bone of contention between the different Protestant denominations but the Catholic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has this to say,”In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.”