Pope Sergius I

Pope Sergius I (c.650  8 September 701) was Bishop of Rome from December 15, 687, to his death in 701.[1] He was elected at a time when two rivals, the Archdeacon Paschal and the Archpriest Theodore, were locked in dispute about which of them should become pope.

Pope Saint

Sergius I
19th century depiction of Pope Sergius I
Papacy began15 December 687
Papacy ended8 September 701
SuccessorJohn VI
Created cardinal27 June 683
by Pope Leo II
Personal details
Palermo, Sicily, Byzantine Empire
Died(701-09-08)8 September 701 (aged 51)
Previous postCardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna (683–687)
Other popes named Sergius

His papacy was dominated by his response to the Quinisext Council, whose canons he refused to accept. Thereupon the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II ordered Sergius' arrest (as his predecessor Constans II had done with Pope Martin I), but the Roman people and the Italian militia of the Exarch of Ravenna refused to allow the exarch to remove Sergius to Constantinople.

Early life

Sergius I came from an Antiochene Syrian family which had settled at Palermo in Sicily. Sergius left Sicily and arrived in Rome during the pontificate of Pope Adeodatus II. He may have been among the many Sicilian clergy in Rome due to the Islamic Caliphate battles against Sicily in the mid-7th century.[2] Pope Leo II, ordained him cardinal-priest of Santa Susanna on 27 June 683, and he rose through the ranks of the clergy. He remained cardinal-priest of Santa Susanna until his selection as pope.[3][4][5]


When on 21 September 687, after a long illness and a reign of less than a year, Pope Conon died, his archdeacon Paschal had already bribed the Exarch of Ravenna, John II Platyn, to make him Pope Conon's successor. However, a more numerous faction wanted the Archpriest Theodore to become pope. The two factions entered into armed combat, each in possession of part of the Lateran Palace, which was the papal residence. To break the deadlock, a group of civic authorities, army officers, clergy, and other citizens met in the Palatine imperial palace, elected Sergius and then stormed the Lateran, forcing the two rival candidates to accept Sergius.[4][6]

Though pretending to accept Sergius, Paschal sent messengers to Platyn, promising a large sum of gold in exchange for military support.[6] The Exarch arrived, recognized that Sergius had been regularly elected, but demanded the gold anyway. After Sergius's consecration on 15 December 687, Platyn departed. Paschal continued his intrigues and was eventually confined to a monastery[4][6] on charges of witchcraft.[6]

Sergius's consecration ended the last disputed sede vacante of the Byzantine Papacy.[7]

Papacy (687–701)

On 10 April 689, Sergius baptised King Cædwalla of Wessex in Rome. He also ordained Saint Willibrord as bishop of the Frisians. After Berhtwald was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury by Godwin, Archbishop of Lyon, he then traveled to Rome and received the pallium from Pope Sergius.[9]

He was active in ending the Schism of the Three Chapters with Old-Aquileia in 698.[4]

Sergius founded the diaconia of Santa Maria in Via Lata on Via del Corso, encompassing a city quarter that developed in the 8th century. He also "restored and embellished" the Eastern church of Santi Cosma e Damiano.[10]

Response to the Quinisext Council

Sergius I did not attend the Quinisext Council of 692, which was attended by 226 or 227 bishops, overwhelmingly from the patriarchate of Constantinople. The participation of Basil of Gortyna in Crete, belonging to the Roman patriarchate, has been seen in the East as representing Rome and even as signifying Roman approval, but he was in fact no papal legate.[11]

Sergius rejected the canons of the council as invalid[12] and declared that he would "rather die than consent to erroneous novelties".[13] Though a loyal subject of the Empire, he would not be "its captive in matters of religion" and refused to sign the canons.[13] Writers such as Andrew J. Ekonomou have speculated on which canons in particular Sergius found objectionable. Ekonomou himself excludes the anathemizing of Pope Honorius I, the declaration of Constantinople as equal in privileges but second in honour to Rome.[13] However, all popes since Leo I had adamantly rejected the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon, which on the basis of political considerations tried to raise the ecclesiastical status of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to equality with that of old Rome.[14] Ekonomou mentions rather the approval by the Quinisext Council of all 85 Apostolic Canons, of which Sergius would have supported only the first 50.[13]

Many of the regulations that the Quinisext Council enacted were aimed at making uniform the existing church practices regarding ritual observance and clerical discipline. Being held under Byzantine auspices, with an exclusively Eastern clergy, the council regarded the customs of the Church of Constantinople as the orthodox practice.[15] Practices in the Church in the West that had got the attention of the Eastern Patriarchates were condemned, such as: the practice of celebrating Mass on weekdays in Lent (rather than having Pre-Sanctified Liturgies); of fasting on Saturdays throughout the year; of omitting the "Alleluia" in Lent; of depicting Christ as a Lamb. Larger disputes were revealed regarding Eastern and Western attitudes toward celibacy for priests and deacons, with the Council affirming the right of married men to become priests and prescribing excommunication for anyone who attempted to separate a clergyman from his wife, or for any cleric who abandoned his wife.

In a step that was symbolically important in view of the council's prohibition of depicting Christ as a Lamb, Sergius introduced into the liturgy the chant "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us" at the breaking of the Host during Mass, and restored the damaged facade mosaic in the atrium of Saint Peter's that depicted the Worship of the Lamb.[5] The Agnus Dei would have been chanted in both Greek and Latin during this period, in the same manner as the other liturgical changes of Sergius.[16]

Enraged, Emperor Justinian II dispatched his magistrianus, also named Sergius, to arrest Bishop John of Portus, the chief papal legate to the Third Council of Constantinople and Boniface, the papal counselor.[5] The two high-ranking officials were brought to Constantinople as a warning to the pope.[5] Eventually, Justinian II ordered Sergius's arrest and abduction to Constantinople by his notoriously violent bodyguard protospatharios Zacharias.[5] However, the militia of the exarch of Ravenna and the Duchy of Pentapolis frustrated the attempt.[4][17] Zacharias nearly lost his own life in an attempt to arrest Sergius.[4][18] Rather than seizing upon the anti-Byzantine sentiment, Sergius did his best to quell the uprising.[17]


Sergius died on 8 September 701. He was succeeded by John VI.


  1.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pope St. Sergius I" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Jeffrey Richards (1 May 2014). The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages: 476–752. Routledge. p. 270. ISBN 9781317678175.
  3. Horace Mann: The lives of the popes. Vol. I pt. 2, London 1903, p. 80
  4. Frank N Magill, Alison Aves, Dictionary of World Biography (Routledge 1998 ISBN 978-1-57958041-4), vol. 2, pp. 823–825
  5. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 223.
  6. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 216.
  7. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 217.
  8. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/623/workshop-of-rogier-van-der-weyden-the-dream-of-pope-sergius-netherlandish-late-1430s/
  9. Stephens, W. R. W.; Leyser, Henrietta (revised) (2004). "Berhtwald (c.650–731)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3430
  10. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 210.
  11. Wilfried Hartmann, Kenneth Pennington (editors), The History of Byzantine and Eastern Canon Law to 1500 (CUA Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-81321679-9), p. 79
  12. Hartmann (2012), p. 82
  13. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 222.
  14. Davis, Leo Donald, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787), (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990) p. 194
  15. Ostrogorsky, George; Hussey, Joan (trans.) (1957). History of the Byzantine state. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. pp. 122–23. ISBN 978-0-8135-0599-2.
  16. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 250.
  17. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 224.
  18. Ekonomou, 2007, p. 44.


  • Ekonomou, Andrew J. 2007. Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes: Eastern influences on Rome and the papacy from Gregory the Great to Zacharias, A.D. 590–752. Lexington Books.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Succeeded by
John VI
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