Feast of St. John I (May 18)   1 comment

Above:  St. John I

Image in the Public Domain



Bishop of Rome

St. John I had a difficult pontificate.  Our saint had been a deacon and a supporter of Antipope Lawrence (in opposition 498-499 and 501-506), but had transferred his loyalty to Pope St. Symmachus (in office 498-506) in 506.  St. John I was a senior, elderly, and infirm deacon on August 13, 523, when he became the placeholder pontiff.  The native of Populonia, Tuscany, had to contend with international politics and the Arian heresy during his brief pontificate.

In one corner, so to speak, was the Roman Emperor Justin I (reigned 518-527), based in Constantinople.  He, an opponent of Arianism, the heresy that the Second Person of the Trinity is a created being, was forcing Arians to recant.  Justin I had also seized Arian churches and excluded Arians from public offices.  The Roman Emperor also wanted to retake Italy, lost to the Roman Empire the previous century.

Above:  The Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Roman Empire in 526 C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

In the other corner was Theodoric the Great (reigned 475-526), the King of the Ostrogoths, and therefore of Italy.  Theodoric, an Arian, forced St. John I to lead a delegation consisting of bishops and senators to Constantinople, to demand that Justin I reverse his anti-Arian policies.  The Pope did refuse, however, to request that the Emperor permit Arians required to convert to Chalcedonian Christianity to revert.  St. John I led the delegation out of fear of what Theodoric would do if he refused to go.  The Supreme Pontiff had good reasons to be afraid, for he recalled the fate of his friend Boethius (St. Severinus Boethius, lived circa 480-524; feast day – October 23), statesman and philosopher.  Theodoric had ordered the execution of Boethius for allegedly treasonous correspondence with Justin I.  The Papal delegation arrived at Constantinople with great fanfare on April 19, 526, shortly before Easter.  Justin agreed to Theodoric’s demands except the right of former Arians to revert.

Theodoric was a violent and suspicious man who thought that the Pope and the Roman Emperor had conspired against him.  St. John I, back at Ravenna, Italy, Theodoric’s capital city, learned firsthand of the monarch’s wrath.  The Ostrogothic king imprisoned the Pope, who died of thirst and starvation on May 18, 526.

The Pontiff’s burial at Rome occurred nine days later.

Above:  Lombard Italy and the Roman Empire, 600 C.E.

Scanned from Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1957)

The Roman Emperor, under Justinian I “the Great” (reigned 527-565), conquered Italy in 535-554.  Taking proved easier than keeping, however.  Within a few decades the Lombard invasion took its toll.  The empire controlled portions of Italy until 1071.

The Arian heresy has continued, unfortunately.

St. John I was a pious man who did the best he could in the interests of the common good, at great risk to himself.  He was, for all intents and purposes, a martyr.





Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Saint John I

triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death:

Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our

witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:1-12

Psalm 116 or 116:1-8

Revelation 7:13-17

Luke 12:2-12

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 714


One response to “Feast of St. John I (May 18)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of St. Hormisdas and Silverius (December 2) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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