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.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27 -- Feast of Pope Saint Vitalian

Pope Vitalian
The villains of today's story are Archbishop Maurus of Ravenna and Emperor Constans II.  That is not only because they were antagonists to today's saint.  It is also because they were in the wrong and he was in the right. 

The Eternal City has been, from time to time, a sewer.  The slums spread up the slopes of the hills and the mobs not only ran amok in the streets, but they actually ran the streets.  The government was so weak that the only way to keep it safe was to move it to a more defensible location, viz. Ravenna.  It relocated there in 402, and remained there until Emperor Romulus Augustulus abdicated in 476.  After that, it was the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, once those fellows moved their kingdom into Italy.  The Roman Empire (Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire) reconquered it in 540 and held onto it until the Lombard invasion in the 751. 

Constans II
When Vitalian became pope in 657, the Eastern and Western Church were at odds over the Monophysite controversy.  The Eastern Church was split over the controversy while the West agreed with those who believed Monophysitism to be heretical.  Sadly, Patriarch Peter of Constantinople and the Emperor leaned the wrong way. 

Emperor Constans was not entirely antagonistic to the new Pope.  He made a state visit to Rome, staying twelve days.  He attended Mass a few times, and gave the Pope with a golden pallium, a gold-bound, jewel-encrusted codex of the Gospels, and several other valuable things.  When he left Rome, he left with bronze sculptures and bronze plates taken from the rededicated Pantheon. 

The Arms of Ravenna
Archbishop Maurus of Ravenna, however, was not quite so accepting.  He did not deny Vitalian's claim on the papacy, but he declared Ravenna autocephalous.  By this he meant that he was an equal to the Pope rather than subordinate to him.  Vitalian protested, of course, and when the archbishop did not back down, the Pope excommunicated him.  Not to be outdone, Maurus excommunicated the Pope.  Vitalian sent word to Constantinople, but the Emperor (still grumpy about the Monophysite thing) backed up Maurus.   The matter wasn't settled until 682, when Emperor Constantine IV revoked the order, re-subordinating the See under Pope Leo II and the See of Rome. 

Constans II brained with a heavy stone soapdish
So what, you may ask, did Pope Vitalian do that was so saintly?  Apart from re-energizing the mission to Britain by sending Theodore of Tarsus to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, he held his fire in the east-west conflict.  The Church was eventually riven, of course, but not then.  Every Pope who is presented with an excommunication has the opportunity to do great harm, and every one who swallowed his pride and kept the peace is a saint in this space. 

Maurus, by the way, died of natural causes; the autocephaly of his bishopric outlived him and was passed to Archbishop Reparatus.  Constans II, however, was murdered in his bath by a chamberlain who resented the high taxes his emperor demanded. 

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