With the death of Pope Saint Symmachus who bridged the fifth and sixth centuries, his successor was Pope Saint Hormidas, a Roman born prelate who was elected on July 20, 514. During his nine year pontificate the great Saint Benedict founded the Benedictine Order and the celebrated Abbey of Monte Cassino which was destroyed by allied bombers in 1944. Hormidas decreed that a bishopric should not be bestowed as a privilege but be earned hierarchically. Unfortunately this would not be heeded by all and would be abused over the years. Hormidas died on August 5, 523.
He was succeeded by the first of twenty three "Johns" - Pope Saint John I who was born in Populania, Italy and elected on August 13, 523. He would die three years later. During this time he crowned the Emperor Justinian in Constantinople. The latter could not help the Pope when the barbaric King Theodoric invaded Italy and imprisoned John where he died in a cell in Ravenna on May 18, 526.
Pope Saint Felix IV followed John on July 12, 526 for four years. Felix was arbitrarily nominated Pope by Theodoric for the kings own devious ends and to win the people over. Felix showed so much loyalty to the good of Holy Mother Church that it incensed Theodoric and the Goth king eventually repudiated Felix, exiling him. Upon his death on September 22, 530 the Liberty of cult was restored to the Christians.
On the day of Felix' death Pope Saint Boniface II became the 55th successor of Peter. His papacy would last only two years. Unlike his predecessors, Boniface was of Gothic origin and many refered to him as the "barbarian pope" though he was in no way barbaric and permitted Benedict to build the monastery of Monte Cassino on the old temple of Apollo. Because of his ethnic origins a rival faction caused problems by electing an antipope in Dioscoros but any struggle or major problems ceased when the antipope died before Boniface did on October 17, 532.
Sandwiching Felix was the other John, Pope Saint John II who was elected on January 2, 533 after a three month hiatus due to squabbles over which faction was to hold court. Felix' followers won out and a man named Mercurius was elected. He became the first to change his name because his name represented a pagan god, therefore he began a tradition of choosing a papal name that exists to this day. Through an edict of Atalaric, the Sovereign Pontiff was recognized as the head of all bishops world wide.
Following him was Pope Saint Agapitus who ruled just under a year. This Roman-born priest was elected on May 13, 535 and died on April 22, 536. He was enticed by Theodoric to travel to Constantinople to basically spy on Justinian in discovering the latter's plans for Italy. But Agapitus went there for the people and to try to convert Justinian's wife Theodora back to Catholicism from the eutichian faith. Sadly she rebelled and poisoned Agapitus in Constantinople.
This, we find, was condoned by Justinian and prompted his sending his Byzantine armies, under the command of Belisarius to capture Rome with the Pope dead. But the cardinals and Roman people, in an emergency election, had elevated a Frosinone-born prelate to the papal throne Pope Saint Silverius. He was the last of the long string of canonized popes until Pope Saint Gregory the Great at the end of the century.
Silverius' pontificate would last a year and a half and ended in martyrdom on the isle of Ponza when Silverius refused to renounce the Papacy, dying for Christ on November 11, 537.
With Silverius' death Pope Vigilius was elected five months later on March 537 and brought stability to the Holy See as he lasted eighteen years. Despite Theodora's efforts to intimidate him, Vigilius refused to annul the condemnation of the eutichian theories which would be fully condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 553. Throughout his pontificate Vigilius, who was handpicked by Justinian, would be locked in a battle of philosophies with the Pope. Because of the interwoven connection between the two, it alienated many in the west who worked feverishly to depose Vigilius including a synod of African bishops who excommunicated the Pope in 550 and Vigilius countered by putting an interdict on them. It was punch, counterpunch. There had been a great struggle to move the center of influence from Rome to Constantinople and had Vigilius been left unchecked, because of the power Justinian held over him, who knows what the results might have been. Fortunately there were enough in the west who helped Vigilius see the light and return loyalty to Rome and the Church. Incensed, Justinian ordered the Pope's arrest while he was celebrating Holy Mass but managed to escape and take refuge in the council church at Chalcedon. There he published an encyclical which attentmpted to justify his actions and all called for a council in Italy or Sicily, but Justinian insisted it be held in Constantinople. The emperor won and thus the Council was convened on May 5, 553. Like Pope Saint Sylvester I who did not attend the Council of Nicaea in 235, Vigilius did not attend. By not attending he escaped the scrutiny of peers and came out unscathed, reconciling with Justinian and being the benefactor of the so-called Pragmatic Sanctions on August 13, 554 which were intended to establish the orderly imperioal government in Italy which had been taken from the Goths and which assured the Church the rights and privileges that helped her grow and gain civil power as we shall see in succeeding installments. Despite all of the benefits bestowed on the Italian people by Justinian through the maneuvering of Vigilius, he was not held in great esteem by the people who looked upon him as a traitor of sorts and thus, when he died in Syracuse, Sicily on June 7, 555, his remains were buried in San Marcello on the Via Salaria rather than St. Peter's for the people would not allow it.
In the next installment we shall cover the second half of the sixth century from Pelagius to the Gregorian Era with Pope Saint Gregory the Great.