This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 8 -- Feast of Pope Saint Sergius I

Defender of a Besieged Papacy

Sergius I -- Omnes Cantate: "Agnus Dei..."
A little context is helpful to understand why Saint Sergius is an exemplar of wise and brave leadership in the face of adversity.  To begin with, let's put him in the Church of Santa Susanna in Rome, which was built upon the Baths of Diocletian.  He had been elevated to the office of cardinal while still serving as the priest of that church. 

In September 687, Pope Conon died.  He had held St. Peter's Chair for exactly eleven months.  Factions in the Vatican representing the military and the clergy each moved to put their own man on the Chair.  I suspect that Paschal (considered an antipope) represented the military wing while Theodore (also an antipope) represented the clergy.  Both sides camped out in the Lateran Basilica and fought for control of the whole thing. 

More reasonable folks, including the military garrison of Rome, the regular people of Rome, and some clergy, decided that neither of these blokes ought to have the job.  Instead, they held their own election, in which Cardinal Sergius was elected Pope.  Theodore chose to immediately recognize the new pope's legitimacy and stand down.  He was, therefore, allowed to continue in his job as arch-priest. 

Rocks the buoy hat way better than that witch Paschal
Paschal on the other hand contacted the Exarch (governor of Italy, John Platyn, promising money for military support.  The Exarch arrived from Ravenna, expecting to get the gold -- when he found that Paschal couldn't pay, he ordered his troops to loot Old Saint Peter's Basilica.  Then they took off, leaving Sergius in charge and Paschal a prisoner.  [A subsequent investigation revealed that Paschal had experimented with sorcery.  He was, therefore, confined to a monastery for the remainder of his life, as much for his own protection as for the safety of others.] 

Eager to keep the Roman Empire in tact in spite of two hundred years of Italian anarchy, Emperor Justinian II claimed authority over the Church.  Sergius was equally eager to maintain papal independence from Constantinople, which of course led to the Dark Ages, the Great Schism, and disco.  Well, the last one's a little indirect, but the first two are bad enough to know that their fight was unfortunate.

Justinian dispatched troops to Rome to force the Pope to submit.  Some of the soldiers didn't like the idea of fighting against Saint Peter's successor, especially as they were fighting on behalf of Diocletian's successor.  I can understand how that might have led them to defect to Sergius' side.  Those remaining to General Zachary, the leader of Justinian's forces, were beset by the Roman people, who certainly did not want foreigners taking over.  As the tide went out on the Byzantines, Pope Sergius hid General Zachary under his own bed until the truce could be called and the Emperor's troops safely conducted out of the City. 

There were theological as well as political challenges during Sergius' papacy -- he supported the use of a lamb as a Christ symbol (Agnus Dei) in the face strong opposition -- but the distinguishing aspect of his tenure was unification of Vatican factions and maintenance of the Holy See's independence. 

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