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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

Saint John I, Pope & Martyr

saint john I

The last pope to take the name “John”, besides the John Pauls, was John XXIII (1958-1963). The first was born in Tuscany. He eventually served the Church as archdeacon and later became pope in AD 523. His pontificate was during a difficult time for those adhering to the teachings of the Church. Italy was ruled by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric who was an Arian. Arianism was a heresy that denied Jesus’ identity as truly God and truly man, the second person of the Trinity, and professed Jesus to be created by God but not “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” (Nicaean Creed). While Arianism in the fourth century sprung up in the Eastern side of the Roman Empire, it had spread among the Western Goths during the sixth century.  

When the Byzantine Emperor Justin I reinstated laws against heretics and ordered Arian priests to surrender their churches to Catholics, King Theodoric hoped the pope would intervene in support of the Arian heretics. The king summoned the pope and ordered him to intervene with the emperor on behalf of the heretics. While initially refusing, the pope was concerned that the king would respond by harming the Catholic faithful. Pope John I agreed to meet with the emperor and hoped to strike a balance. 

As the first pope to leave Italy in recent memory, John I received a solemn and grand reception at Constantinople in AD 526. Even the Byzantine emperor greatly honored the pope. The pope asked the emperor to be more merciful to heretics but could not put his full support behind the Arians as the king wished because it would deny the faith and his ministry as the successor to Saint Peter.  

King Theodoric was not happy. He had recently killed the pope’s friend, Boethius (Boethius authored one of the great works of Western Civilization: The Consolation of Philosophy). He imprisoned the pope in Ravenna and deprived him of his basic needs for survival. Pope John I died on May 18th and is honored on this day by both Roman Catholics and Byzantine Catholics. His body was later exhumed and relocated to Saint Peter’s Church in Rome, a place fitting the faithful successor of Saint Peter. Saint John I was a saintly pope and martyr. May the Lord bless the pope and all shepherds with the courage to choose the faith even when pressured from the world to deny it. 

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