Lanternarius Press

POPE EUGENE I, NO ONE'S PUPPET

Pope Martin was kidnapped by the exarch of Emperor Constans II on June 17, 653. He was swept out of Rome the next day and never stepped back on the Italian peninsula again. Then he was sent into exile and died in Cherson, Crimea, September 16, 655.There was no pope leading the Church from that date forward. A committee of the archpriest, the archdeacon and the head of notaries kept the Church going for over a year. By then, there was certainty that the current pope was not going to come back. The argument about the political ramifications of accepting one will or two wills in Jesus Christ had accelerated. The rejection of the Echthesis of Patriarch Sergius of years before (“Jesus had only one will”), or the Typus of Constans (“let’s not talk about it”) by successive popes lead to Pope Martin’s tragic end.

Eugenius, a long-time cleric from the Aventine, was elected to succeed Martin on August 10, 654. Some said he was elected against the will of Martin. Some said he was pushed to the forefront by the emperor to acquiesce to his demands. In other words, he was to be the emperor’s puppet. The reasoning behind this thought was that Eugenius was able to get elected even in an imperial-army controlled city and that he got accepted by the exarch. People talked it up as if Eugenius had no personal opposition to the emperor.

They were likely wrong on both counts: Just before his death, Martin heard of the election and wrote a letter showing that he accepted the results.

As far as the other argument: One of the first actions that Pope Eugene took was to send papal legates to the capital, Constantinople, with letters for the emperor. The letters were to inform Emperor Constans II of Eugene’s election and profession of Faith. A little over a year later, when the legates returned, things were not right. They brought an imperial envoy with them bringing gifts to the throne of St. Peter. The legates had been either deceived or bribed into believing the facts were different. The letters they brought back from the new Patriarch Peter of Constantinople and the emperor were obscurely written. They asked that the pope would enter into communion with the Patriarch. This was a very odd request, because there were no details as to what Eugene was to be agreeing to.

The letter was read aloud at the basilica of Mary Major in Rome. The congregation was appalled at what they heard and rejected it immediately. They then prevented Pope Eugene from leaving the basilica until he promised to not accept the offer. If the congregants had not been so adamant, would Eugene have taken the offer? We will never know.

We know that the Byzantine officials were furious when they heard Eugene had rejected the wishes of the emperor. They threatened to take care of Eugenius, mob style. During the trial of St. Maximus the Confessor, in September 656, this statement was made: “Know, Lord Abbot, that when we get a little rest from this rout of heathens by the Holy Trinity, we will treat, as we are treating you, the Pope who is now lifted up…and the rest of your disciples. And we will roast you all, each in his own place, as Pope Martin has been roasted.” This was an obvious threat from one supposed Catholic group to another.

However, the imperial government never got around to following through with the threats. In 654, the Moslems invaded the island of Rhodes. And the very next year, Emperor Constans was defeated at the naval battle of Phoenix. The imperial military could not recover fast enough.

One highlight of Eugene’s papacy was his meeting with the young St. Wilfrid, when the young monk was sent to Rome to study the ecclesiastical and monastic rites there. Wilfrid had gained the support of Archdeacon Boniface, counselor of the pope. Eugene met the monk and prayed and blessed him. This is the first known story of an English speaking monk making a pilgrimage to Rome.

In the few years afforded to Eugene, he was able to consecrate 21 bishops, to be sent all over the Catholic world.

Before Eugene could be touched by the emperor’s threats, he died June 2, 657. He is buried at St. Peter’s Basilica.

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