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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
June 14, 2002 Issue

Life consists of making the right choices --
even if it costs us

Silverius knew he had signed his own death warrant


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

St. Silverius

When: died 537

Where: Born in Frosinone, lived in Rome, died at Palmarola or Ponza

What: Bishop of Rome

Feast: June 20

Sometimes, we are called to make decisions that require us to choose between doing what is wrong, but safe, or doing what is right, though possibly personally dangerous.

That is the situation in which Pope St. Silverius found himself. Fortunately, he decided to do what was right, even though it cost him his life.

St. Silverius' father was Pope St. Hormisdas (514-523), during whose reign the primacy and infallibility of the Roman See were stated unequivocally. Silverius was a subdeacon in Rome when Pope St. Agapitus I (535-536) died after serving for 11 months.

Silverius was chosen through the efforts of Ostrogoth King Theodehad of Italy, who wanted to keep a Byzantine candidate from being elected. After he was consecrated, the clergy of Rome agreed to accept him as bishop.

But almost immediately, problems arose. Empress Theodora and the Byzantines asked him to recognize Anthimus at Constantinople and Severus at Antioch as patriarchs. But Silverius refused because they were monophysites -- a heresy that said Jesus was only divine, although he had taken on a body and undergone the earthly life cycle.

When Silverius turned down the empress' request, he noted that he was signing his own death warrant -- and he was right.

Soon after, Ostrogoth General Vitiges began destroying suburban Rome and threatened the city. The pope and senate invited Belisarius, his Byzantine opponent, into the city. The empress saw her chance and forged a letter implicating Silverius in conspiring with Vitiges, but that failed. Next, she had Silverius kidnaped and taken to Patara, Lycia, in Asia Minor.

The next day, Belisarius -- at the request of his wife -- named Empress Theodora's nominee, the deacon Vigilius, as pope.

When the Emperor Justinian heard what had happened, he ordered Silverius returned to Rome and for an investigation to begin.

But when Silverius arrived in Italy, Vigilius' supporters kidnaped him again and, with the support of Belisarius, took him to the island of Palmarola, off Naples. He died days later.

Vigilius was now pope. But even though Theodora had chosen him, he too refused her entreaties on behalf of Monophyism.

Life includes many choices. Think of St. Silverius the next time you must make a difficult one.


(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints and Dictionary of Saints.)

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