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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

September 20

St. Agapetus, Pope and Confessor

THIS HOLY pope was a native of Rome, and being received among the clergy, discharged the inferior functions of the ministry in the church of SS. John and Paul. His great sanctity recommended him to the love and veneration of all who knew him, and Pope John II. dying on the 26th of April, 535, Agapetus, who was at that time archdeacon, was chosen to fill the holy see, and ordained on the 4th of May. He healed by mildness the wounds which had been made by dissensions, and by the unhappy schism of Dioscorus against Boniface II. in 529. The Emperor Justinian, being apprized of his election, sent to him a profession of his faith, which the holy pope received as orthodox, and, in compliance with his request, condemned the Acæmetes monks at Constantinople, who were tainted with the Nestorian heresy. Hilderic, king of the Vandals in Africa, having been deposed by Gilimer, Justinian took that occasion to break the alliance which the Emperor Zeno had made with Genseric, and in the year 533, the seventh of his reign, sent Belisarius with a fleet of five hundred sail into Africa. That experienced general made an easy conquest of the whole country, and took Carthage almost without opposition. Justinian sent to the churches in Jerusalem the vessels of the ancient Jewish temple, which Titus had formerly brought to Rome, and which Genseric had carried from thence to Carthage. He re-established the temporal government of Africa, which he divided into seven provinces, Zeugitana, named heretofore the Proconsular, that of Carthage, Byzacena, and that of Tripoli; which four had for governors men of consular dignity: the three others, Numidia, Mauritania, and Sardinia, had only presidents. All these were subject to the Præfectus Prætorio of Africa, who resided at Carthage. Each province had its primate, though in Numidia that dignity was not annexed to any particular see, but was enjoyed by the oldest bishop in the province, as in the time of St. Cyprian. These churches being restored to the Catholics, both the emperor and the bishops of Africa wrote to the pope, entreating him to allow that such Arian bishops as came over to the Catholic faith, should retain their sees. Agapetus answered them both, that he could not act in that point against the canons, and that the Arian bishops ought to be satisfied with being received into the Catholic church, without pretending to be admitted among the clergy, or to retain any ecclesiastical dignity. The emperor having built the city Justinianæa, near the village where he was born, desired the pope to appoint the bishop of this new see his vicar in Illyricum.  1
  Theodatus, king of the Goths in Italy, hearing that Justinian was making preparations for an expedition to recover Italy, obliged Pope Agapetus to undertake a voyage to Constantinople, in order to divert him from such a design. About the same time the Catholic abbots at Constantinople wrote to St. Agapetus, to acquaint him with the disorders and dangers into which that church was fallen. Epiphanius, patriarch of Constantinople, dying in 535, Anthimus, bishop of Trebizond, was called to that see, by the interest of the Empress Theodora. He passed for a Catholic, but was in truth an enemy to the council of Chalcedon, as well as that princess herself. The removal of Anthimus to Constantinople so much encouraged the Acephali, that Severus, the false patriarch of Antioch, and other chiefs of that sect, repaired thither, and filled that church with confusion. Agapetus informed these Catholic abbots that he was coming himself to Constantinople; whereupon they waited his arrival. St. Gregory the Great relates 1 that the good pope, in his journey through Greece, cured a man who was lame and dumb, by saying mass for him. St. Agapetus reached Constantinople on the 2nd of February, in 536, and was received by the emperor with respect. The pope, true to his trust, pressed him on the business which had brought him thither; but that prince had proceeded too far to think of drawing off his forces from the expedition into Italy. St. Agapetus therefore began to treat of religious affairs. He absolutely refused to admit Anthimus to his communion, unless he publicly subscribed the council of Chalcedon, and would by no means allow of his translation to the see of Constantinople. The empress employed all her power and all her artifices to gain this point of him. 2 The emperor also plied him both with large promises, and with threats of banishment; but the holy man was inflexible, and at length Anthimus went back to Trebizond, for fear of being compelled to receive the council of Chalcedon. The pope declared him excommunicated, unless by subscribing that synod he declared himself a Catholic; which drew upon the saint the whole fury of the Eutychian party, and of the empress. His constancy, however, baffled all their efforts, and Mennas, a person of great learning and piety, was chosen patriarch of Constantinople, and consecrated by the pope. Several petitions were delivered to St. Agapetus, containing complaints and accusations of heresy, and other crimes, against Severus, and certain other bishops of the party of the Acephali, which the pope was preparing to examine in a council, when he fell sick, and died at Constantinople on the 17th of April, in 536, having sat about eleven months, and three weeks. His body was brought to Rome, and interred in St. Peter’s church on the Vatican, on the 20th of September, the day which the Western church has consecrated to his memory. The Greeks commemorate his name on the day of his death, the 17th of April. See his epistles, and other monuments, Conc. t. 5; also Liberatus Breviar. c. 21, 22, and Anastasius’s Pontifical, especially the new edition, or Liber Pontificalis, seu de Gestis Rom. Pontificum, quem cum Cod. MSS. collatum emendavit et supplevit Joannes Vignolius, Bibl. Vaticanæ Præfectus alter: Romæ, 1756, three vol. in 4to. Cle, t. 6, Sept. p. 163.  2
Note 1. Dial. l. 5, c. 3. [back]
Note 2. If we consider the great actions of Justinian, we shall be inclined to think, that in his reign the glory of the ancient Roman empire was revived: but if we look narrowly into his vices and bad administration, we shall rank him among tyrants. This prince began his reign in 527, and died in 565. To reform the laws, which, by their multitude, confusion, and contradictions, were become a public nuisance, and the heaviest burden and oppression of the people for whose protection they were established, he caused the Code to be compiled, consisting of select constitutions of preceding emperors, which he published in 529, and more correctly again in 534. The most useful decisions of the ablest lawyers he published under the title of Digestum or Pandectæ, in 533. He caused his institutes to be composed in four books, to serve as an introduction to his Pandectæ. He added a great number of ecclesiastical and other laws under the title of Novellæ. These works compose to this day the body of the Roman or Civil Law.
  The laws, edicts, and letters which go under the name of Justinian, are stamped with such marks of gravity, wisdom, and majesty, as to surpass all the others. Though this performance does so much honour to his memory, it is certain that this prince was more desirous to give to his subjects good laws than good magistrates; he aspired not so much to the glory of impartially administering justice, as to the vanity of being a legislator to posterity; his actions were far from being examples of that equity, of which his laws and lessons were rules. (See F. Daude, Jesuit, Historia Universalis Romani Imperii, t. 2, at Wirtzburg, anno 1754.). The questor Trebonian, a heathen, the principal and most learned of all the lawyers whom he employed in compiling these works, openly sold his sentences, and suppressed, or made laws as his interest or passions inclined him, as Procopius, (l. de Bello Persico, c. 24, 25,) and Suidas (v. Trebon.) assure us.
  Justinian adorned his imperial city and other parts of his dominions with stately churches and other buildings in an elegant taste, by which he added a lustre to his empire: yet by them he seemed rather to offer incense to his own vanity, than to raise his view to more noble prospects. He rescued Africa and Italy out of the hands of barbarians: but he devoured his own subjects, studying by every act of oppression, perfidy, and treachery to amass treasures to feed his own extravagance and vices, and those of his empress Theodora, and Antonina the wife of Belisarius. Never did any prince meddle so much with the affairs of the church, as appears by the great number of laws which he made in his Novellæ, to regulate almost its whole discipline; and by an unhappy itch to be always disputing about the most abstruse theological points and mysteries of faith, in canvassing which he spent much of that time which he owed to the government of his empire. Having himself little or no learning, if we may believe Suidas, he was not happy in the choice of his theologians, and he contributed very much to widen and inflame the wounds, and increase the distraction of the Oriental churches. The issue of his presumptuous curiosity and inquiries was, that he fell into the heresy of the Incorrupticolæ which he confirmed by an edict in which he declared that Christ’s body, in his mortal state, was never liable to any alteration, or even natural passion, such as hunger, thirst, or pain, and that he ate without any necessity. (Procop. de Bello Gothico, l. 3, c. 35 et 33, et Anecdot. c. 18.)
  Procopius, a native of Cæsarea in Palestine, secretary to Belisarius in his expeditions in Africa and Italy, wrote two books On the Persian War, two On the Vandalic War, four On the Gothic War, and six On the Buildings of Justinian. In these histories the great actions of that emperor are displayed with honour. The same author left his [Greek], or the Secret History of Justinian, Theodora, Belisarius, and Antonina, which he brought down to the year 562, recounting the secret enormous crimes of those persons, and describing the court as a den of incarnate fiends rather than men. In the printed copies, some pages relating to the obscenities of Theodora are justly omitted, which are preserved in the MS. copy in the Vatican Library. The author discovers, by his inconsistency, at least, his own disingenuity. In his first works he flattered his prince, as Velleius Paterculus commended Sejanus, whom, had he wrote two years later, after the fall of that wicked minister, he would have described as one of the most execrable monsters of the human race. The last work of Procopius seems the production of disappointed ambition and spleen, and is probably in great part a collection of slander. Though the author professed himself a Christian, this he probably did with views to temporal interest; for in many parts of his last work he betrays an aversion to the faith, and an attachment to the wild superstitions of idolatry, as Eichelius proves at length, Præfat. in Procop. Anecdot. n. 17, ad 22. See the edition of Helmstadt, 1654. But we want not this secret history of Procopius to come at the true character of Justinian. [back]