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Pope Severinus was pope in the year 640 who became caught up in a power struggle with the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius over the ongoing Monothelite controversy.

Election and Struggle with Constantinople

A Romanmarker and the son of one Abienus, Severinus was elected on the third day after the death of his predecessor, Honorius I, and envoys were at once sent to Constantinoplemarker to obtain the confirmation of his election in October 638. But the Emperor Heraclius, instead of granting the confirmation, ordered Severinus to sign his Ecthesis, a Monothelite profession of faith.

Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople had drawn up the Ecthesis in response to the orthodox synodical letter of Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and on learning of the death of Pope Honorius had convinced the emperor to issue this document as an imperial edict in December 638, and thus valid across the entire empire. Given directly to Eustachius, the magister militum, he carried it to the exarch Isaac at Ravennamarker, with instructions that he was to ensure the Pope’s acceptance.

With its declaration of Jesus Christ only possessing one will, Severinus refused to sign it. The exarch therefore refused to confirm the papal election in the emperor’s name, a situation that endured for over eighteen months. In the meantime, Isaac was determined to achieve his aim, so he commissioned Maurice, the Chartophylax, to plunder the Lateran palace and force Severinus to agree to the Ecthesis. Maurice gathered together a party of local discontented nobles and approached the local soldiers, the exercitus Romanus, and roused them with promises to distribute the wealth of the Lateran to them. A mob soon formed and they rushed en masse to the palace.

Severinus however was prepared for them, and he managed to keep the hostile forces out of the palace. Maurice tried another tact and three days later he was admitted into the palace with the city judges whom he won over to his side. They sealed up the treasures, and Maurice sent word to Isaac that he was free to come to the palace and help himself to the accumulated riches. Isaac soon appeared, and after exiling the leading clergy within the Lateran, spent the next eight days looting the palace, a part of which was sent to Heraclius at Constantinople. Over the following months, Severinus continued to reject the emperor's compromise position on Monothelitism.

Election confirmed

Meanwhile at Constantinople, the papal envoys had continued to seek the confirmation of Severinus. At first they were clearly told that unless they would go back and persuade the Pope to accept the Ecthesis, they were wasting their time. To get around this obstacle, the legates sought to persuade an unwell and slowly dying Heraclius that they were not there to make professions of faith, but to transact business. They did say they were quite willing to put the document before the Pope, and if he liked what he saw, they would ask him to sign it. But they made it clear that if the emperor was going to force Severinus to sign it, that all the clergy of the See of Rome would stand together, and such a route would only end in a lengthy and destructive stalemate.

Over the following year the legates stood firm, and at last a clearly tired Heraclius backed down, broken by opposition both at Constantinople and at Rome against his Monothelite compromise. The emperor granted the envoys their request, and the legates returned to Rome with the news, and Severinus was finally installed as pope on May 28, 640, and Isaac quickly withdrew to Ravenna.

Actions as Pope and death

During the short time he was pope, Severinus condemned the Ecthesis. Convening a synod, he decreed that “as there were two natures in Christ, so there were two natural operations.” He also renewed the mosaics in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilicamarker. Unfortunately Severinus was already quite old when his election was confirmed, and his reign was only two months old when he died on August 2, 640.

According to the Liber Pontificalis, Severinus was described as being a kind, generous and mild holy man, a benefactor to the clergy, and a friend to the poor.

References

  • Maxwell-Stuart, P. G. Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy from St. Peter to the Present, Thames & Hudson, 2002, p. 57. ISBN 0500017980.
  • Mann, Horace K., The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, Volume 1: The Popes Under the Lombard Rule, from St Gregory I (the Great) to Leo III, Part 1 (London, 1912)


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