« Pelagianism and Pelagius Pelagius I., bishop of Rome Pelagius II., bishop of Rome »

Pelagius I., bishop of Rome

Pelagius (8) I., bp. of Rome after Vigilius, in the reign of Justinian I., a.d. 555–560. A native, and deacon, of Rome, he had been appointed by pope AGAPETUS (a.d. 536) as his apocrisiarius at Constantinople. Under Vigilius he again held the same office, and joined with the patriarch Mennas in moving Justinian to issue his edict for the condemnation of Origenism. After this he returned to Rome, where he was one of the two deacons of Vigilius who applied to Ferrandus of Carthage for advice after the issue of the imperial edict "de Tribus Capitulis" (c. 544). Vigilius being summoned by the emperor to Constantinople in the matter of the Three Chapters, Pelagius remained as the archdeacon and chief ecclesiastic at Rome; and occupied this position when the Gothic king Totila (Dec. 546) entered Rome as a conqueror and went to pay his devotions in the church of St. Peter. There Pelagius, bearing the gospels, met him, and falling on his knees said. "Prince, spare thy people." The conqueror answered with a significant smile, "Hast thou now come to supplicate me, Pelagius?" "Yes," he replied, "inasmuch as the Lord has made me thy servant. But now withhold thy hand from these who have passed into servitude to thee." Moved by these entreaties, Totila forbade any further slaughter of the Romans. He also employed Pelagius, together with a layman Theodorus, in an embassy to Constantinople for concluding peace with the emperor, binding them with an oath to do their best in his behalf and to return without delay to Italy. They executed their commission and brought back Justinian's reply that Belisarius was in military command, and had authority to arrange matters (Procop. de Bell. Goth. L. 3).

Pope VIGILIUS having proceeded from Sicily on his voyage to Constantinople in the early part of 547, Pelagius joined him, and appears to have acted with him in his changing attitudes of submission or resistance to the emperor's will. He proceeded to Rome after the death of Vigilius at Syracuse, and was there consecrated pope, being supported by Narses, at that time in command of Rome, who acted under the emperor's orders. The appointment was not welcome to the Romans, and there was difficulty in getting prelates to consecrate him. The real cause of his unpopularity was his consenting to condemn the Three Chapters and to support the decisions of the Constantinopolitan council. A great part of the western church still, and for many years afterwards, resolutely rejected these decisions, and the chief recorded action of Pelagius as pope is his unavailing attempt to heal the consequent schism.

In Gaul Pelagius was accused of heresy. Consequently the Frank king Childebert sent to him an ambassador, by name Rufinus, requesting him to declare his acceptance of the tome of pope Leo, or to express his belief in his own words. He readily did both, asserting his entire agreement with Leo and with the four councils, and appending a long orthodox confession of faith. But he made no mention of the fifth council, or of the necessity of accepting its decrees. He praised the king for his zeal in the true faith, and expressed the hope that no false reports about himself might occasion any schism in Gaul (Ep. xvi. ad Childebertum; Ep. xv. ad Sapaudum). He showed anxiety to conciliate Sapaudus, bp. of Arles, fearing, we may suppose, the possible defection of the Gallican church from Rome. He sent him a short friendly letter (Ep. viii.), and afterwards the pall, and conferred on him the vicariate jurisdiction over the churches of Gaul which former popes had committed to metropolitans of Arles (Epp. xi. xii. xiii.). He speaks of "the eternal solidity of that firm rock on which Christ had founded His church from the rising to the setting of the sun, being maintained by the authority of his (i.e. Peter's) successors, acting in person, or through their vicars." And, as his predecessors had, by the grace of God, ruled the universal church of God, he commits to the bp. of Arles, after their example, and according to ancient custom, supreme and exclusive jurisdiction over Gaul, as vicar of the apostolic see. It cannot but strike readers of church history during the reign of Justinian I., and especially of the proceedings of the 5th council, how little the theory of universal spiritual dominion thus enunciated agreed with facts. Indeed Pelagius himself was really throughout his popedom acting as the creature of the emperor, 828who had defied and overruled the authority of the Roman see.


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